One of the things I love about living in Thailand is that if you want to spend your time soaking up some sun at an island paradise, there are tons of options to choose from (check out our experiences in Koh Mak and Koh Phayam!). This past Christmas/New Year holiday we decided to visit Koh Lipe for the first time.
Koh Lipe had been on our radar for years, but this popular destination was usually packed with tourists during the holidays, and our desired resort was often fully booked a year in advance. That was not the case this year. We were easily able to book a beachside bungalow just a few months before our vacation at 30% of their normal high season rate. It was a Christmas miracle!
Of all the islands that we have visited in Thailand, I have to say that thus far Koh Lipe is our absolute favorite. The beaches are pristine, the waters crystal clear with excellent snorkeling meters away from the shore, and more importantly tons of places with great food and drinks.
In this article, I share some of the things to do, places to eat and drink, and places to stay in Koh Lipe based on our 11-day experience there. I think you’ll be impressed at just how much this little island has to offer.
But first, let’s get YOU there!
How to get there?
From Bangkok, there are 3 ways to travel to Koh Lipe: plane, train, or bus. We chose to take the fastest way, which because of airfare deals, wasn’t much more expensive than a sleeper train car. It was a heck of a lot faster, though.
We let our hotel arrange the mini-bus ticket from Hat Yai Airport to Pak Bara Pier and the speedboat ferry from the pier to Koh Lipe and the returns (round trip for 1 person was 1,500 baht).
In a nutshell, this is what our travel experience timeline looked like:
0705: Depart Bangkok’s Sukhumvit Airport for Hat Yai Airport (1 hour 20-minute flight)
0930: Depart Hat Yai Airport via mini-bus to Pak Bara Pier, Satun (1 hour 30-minute drive)
1130: Depart Pak Bara Pier via speedboat to Koh Lipe (2 hours due to 2 stops at island national parks)
1330: Arrive at Koh Lipe!
It feels like a long day traveling because it’s an early morning start and just about as much time is spent waiting between each journey leg as traveling. But once you arrive in Koh Lipe you’ll find that it was worth the journey’s effort!
If you’re feeling adventurous and interested in getting to Koh Lipe from Bangkok by train or by bus, this article provides those details.
Things to do in Koh Lipe
One of the reasons Koh Lipe has become our favorite beach destination in Thailand is that this little island paradise does a great job of balancing idyllic relaxation with plenty to do. Here are just a few of the activities that encompassed most of our time which you can enjoy, too.
#1: Hit the beaches
If you go through all the effort to get to Koh Lipe, I’m pretty sure beach time is something that’s important to you. Fortunately, Koh Lipe offers several amazing beaches which can accommodate whatever you’re in the mood for. For a complete guide to 5 of their beaches, this article was was very helpful for us.
The 3 most popular beaches are Pattaya Beach, Sunrise Beach, and Sunset Beach. What is wonderful is that each is walkable to the other.
Pattaya Beach is where you will arrive and depart by speedboat. It’s one of the most popular beaches because it is so long and wide, and lined with hotels, bars, restaurants. If you’re looking for a beach party or to be able to walk along a long flat stretch of sand, this is the ideal beach for you.
Sunrise Beach is a very long stretch of sand that’s more narrow in parts. It is dotted with resorts and beach bar/restaurants, but what sets it apart from Pattaya Beach is that it’s much more chill and there’s excellent snorkeling meters away from the shore. It’s also the beach you’ll want to visit early in the morning to watch…wait for it…the sunset.
On the other side of the island, Sunset Beach is much more secluded and offers fewer services. Currently, there’s a small bar and resort at one end of the beach. People come here at the end of the day to witness the sun going down and to get some exercise chasing a spunky kleptomaniac pooch who has no qualms about pilfering through unattended bags or running off with one of your flip-flops in his mouth. You have been warned.
#2: Rent a kayak
After so many days spent lounging about on the beach, we began to feel like we needed to be more active. I can think of no better activity to simultaneously work your arms and back, whilst completely filling in your farmer’s tan than taking a renting a kayak. Many of the resorts on Sunrise Beach offer to rent a kayak at day or hourly rates. We found a couple of hours was just enough time to remind us that we are not in the great shape we thought we were.
We certainly earned our post paddling pilsners after kayaking out to the small island Koh Kra which faces Sunrise Beach!
#3: Snorkel Day Trip!
There are many dive and snorkeling tour operators on Koh Lipe. I am not a scuba diver, but I do enjoy snorkeling. Though there was plenty to see just off the shores of Sunrise Beach we were told that for some amazing diving we should take a half-day tour. Fortunately, we just happened to be staying next to Mr. Bank’s tour booth.
For 2,200 baht we could rent the entire long-tail boat for half a day, hit various dive sites around the other neighboring islands, and for an extra 100 baht/person enjoy a massaman curry lunch. Spread amongst 5 friends we felt that was a very fair deal!
Leaving at 9:00 we spent the day swimming at various reef sites and small islands with unpopulated beaches. One of the stops was an island that was basically a bunch of black and white striped rocks. Not much for diving but an interesting photo op. We enjoyed our lunch at a national park and then hit one last island on the return back with a break to enjoy some watermelon.
Thus far, this was the best snorkeling experience I’ve had in Thailand. The waters near Koh Lipe are rich with a diverse group of vibrant sea life. Each nook and cranny of coral reef seemed to offer a new species of fish of peculiar shape and coloration.
Mr. Bank has been operating the Nemo Lipe Travel snorkeling tour for over 30 years and has assembled a great group of boat captains that ensure you safely have a great snorkeling experience. You can find his booth next to the Castaway Resort on Sunset Beach. You can reach him by LINE, WhatsApp, or WeChat at +66822695325. If you’re looking to take a snorkeling tour I highly recommend him.
#4: Walking Street
Another reason Koh Lipe was immediately placed as our favorite island destination is that it’s completely walkable. Mopeds with side carriages are available to ferry you and your luggage about the island, but a leisurely 20-25 minute stroll easily takes you from one end of the island to the other.
Unlike Koh Chang, Koh Lipe is also blissfully relatively flat.
No matter how much time you spend on the island, one destination you’ll find your feet taking you to is appropriately named Walking Street. This narrow blue paved path begins its way at Pattaya Beach and winds its way until ending near Sunrise Beach. There are few roads on the island, but nearly all of them connect to Walking Street eventually.
Walking Street lined with souvenir shops, bars, restaurants, tattoo parlors, chemists, and convenience stores. Thus it is your one-stop destination if you want to do some shopping or are hungry/thirsty. In fact, two of the eateries that I recommend can be found on Walking Street…let’s take a walk!
Koh Lipe’s Places to Eat & Drink
Of all the islands that we’ve visited, Koh Lipe seems to have the best selection of great food places, with a variety of cuisines, and bars that are conveniently accessible. You can easily eat at a different restaurant for every meal for every day of your stay and never get bored.
Here are a few of the places that really impressed us during our 11-day stay, and directly contributed to us having a wonderful food experience in Koh Lipe. By no means does it mean there are no other gems left to be discovered, and I welcome your suggestions if you know of any for us to discover when we return (please comment in the article if you have suggestions)!
#1: Elephant Bar and Restaurant
Some days we’d be in a mood for something healthy for breakfast or lunch. Their smoothie bowls and salads were the answers we needed for that craving. But their offerings weren’t strictly for the health-conscious. They served the best Eggs Benedict I had on the island (both the ham and smoked salmon options), and their patty melt hamburger was just the thing I needed when I was craving Americana deliciousness.
Come here for the friendly service, delicious food, and extensive menu that’s sure to satisfy that craving you have!
#2: Papaya Mom Restaurant
It’s an island so don’t be surprised when you’re walking about and there are tons of restaurants with fresh seafood on display. If fresh seafood is the only thing you have on your mind then I recommend just walking about and finding a place that has on display what it is that you want. But if you want seafood, grilled meats, and traditional Thai dishes for your meal then I highly recommend Papaya Mom Restaurant.
This is the ideal place to go when you’re a group of folks who all want something different. Their menu offers a wide variety of dishes, all very reasonably priced, and served quickly. Pictured are a few of the dishes that we had (we were a group that had many) that I highly recommend if you visit!
#3: Benny’s on the Beach
Sometimes I just want to eat something that makes me feel healthy. But it’s got to be delicious, too. Benny’s on the Beach is a little vegetarian restaurant/beach bar on Sunrise Beach that has a small menu of lip-smackingly delicious healthy vegetarian food.
The Jackfruit and the Falafel Tacos are two items I highly recommend. Their fresh homemade flatbread makes this a divine dish you can sink your teeth into. For tasty vegetarian dishes, I highly recommend Benny’s. You can learn more about their philosophy and story here.
#4: Bombay Indian Restaurant
When I’m doing the beach bum thing, my diet is usually loads of Thai seafood with breaks of Western food when I crave something different. Indian cuisine has never been on the menu at any of the islands I’ve visited in Thailand. But I knew that I’d be visiting Bombay Indian Restaurant because so many of my friends recommended it to me when they learned I was going to Koh Lipe.
Not only did we visit, but we also ate there 3 times. They serve the best Indian food I’ve had in Thailand. It was so good in fact that I wrote this article about them. If you enjoy Indian food you absolutely HAVE TO visit this restaurant during your visit to Koh Lipe.
Seriously, I would go back to Koh Lipe just to visit this place.
#5: Sea La Vie Bar Beach Bar
You may have noticed the cover picture (and first picture) in this article. It is a daytime view of Sea La Vie Beach Bar. The picture above is the nighttime. Of all the bars that we visited (I’m not ashamed to admit there were many), this one offers the best ambiance and the best drinks (especially if you’re a fan of high octane cocktails like me).
Located on Sunrise Beach, this bar offers very friendly staff, serious drinks with a kick, and a very chill atmosphere of music and waves rolling in. This is a must-visit place after dinner if you want to keep the night going!
Where to stay in Koh Lipe…
There are many places to stay in Koh Lipe that can fit any budget. What really matters is what area you want to stay in. We chose the Sunrise Beach area because we knew we’d be spending much of our time on the beach, wanted access to good snorkeling, and wanted quiet evenings. If partying and meeting new people is more your style Pattaya Beach and the Walking Street area are good places to stay. If you’re a hermit, check out the places that are outside of Koh Lipe’s more populated areas such as Sunset Beach.
I don’t recommend a hotel unless I’ve been there. So my recommended places to stay list is pretty short!
Castaway Resort Koh Lipe
For us, Castaway Resort Koh Lipe was the place we’d been wanting to stay for years but couldn’t because it was always fully booked and quite pricey during the high season. Their food was great, service very friendly, and rooms cozy. We were lucky to be able to book a comfy bungalow near the beach which was near the restaurant/bar, and afforded breezes from the sea.
The pros of this hotel are that it’s quiet, cozy, and the staff is very attentive. They pride themselves on being eco-friendly. The cons of the resort are that there’s no hot water in the rooms (you get used to it–but you still dread that bracing first couple of minutes) and there’s no air conditioning. During the December-January time frame that we visited, we were comfortable with just the ceiling fan. However, I am not sure how comfortable we’d have been if it were staying during the hot time of year (though we’d probably have enjoyed the showers more!).
The resort has a PADI divemaster on staff that conducts scuba training and certifications. While we were there they were running specials where guests could stay for free if they enrolled in the courses. If that’s of interest to you reach out to them directly for that deal!
Koh Lipe is an absolutely fantastic island to visit, and there’s no better time to do so than RIGHT NOW.
Yes, it seems to be a hassle to get there, but it is totally worth the time and effort. It is currently our top choice as an island destination in Thailand when we’ve got the time off to enjoy it.
I hope that this article helps you to discover it more, but even if you don’t take my recommendations you will still love this island.
For those of you who have been kind enough to read this entire article, here’s a little video treat of our experience.
I want to hear from you!
Should you decide to travel to Koh Lipe I’d love to hear your feedback in the comment section below, directly to me, or via message on either the Chow Traveller Facebook page or Chow Traveller Instagram (and feel free to like/follow these pages if you want to learn about more foodie gems). However you choose, I’d love to hear from you!