There are many beautiful beaches around the sunny island of Singapore, but one particular island that captured my heart is Koh Lipe. Less well-known and popular to Singaporeans, this island offers crystal clear water that you can swim and snorkel alongside fishes. If you are lucky, you can even see sea anemone growing just off the shore! With multiple white sandy beaches, this is a good place if you are seeking a holiday retreat or looking for a break in-between your backpacking holiday from Malaysia to Thailand.
Where is it and when should you go?
Koh Lipe is located at the West Coast of Thailand in the famous Andaman sea, just beyond the border between Malaysia and Thailand. It is slightly further north of Langkawi. It is rich in it’s marine life due to it’s location, and whale sharks used to visit the island regularly. There are multiple dive sites around the island, and you can find many dive shops on the island itself.
There are only two seasons on the island, the wet or dry season. Visiting the island at different timing of the year can be a very different experience. Below is a rough guide on the weather across the 12 months.
- Peak season – December to January
Usually crowded but with the lowest rainfall, you can enjoy most of the sunny island if you are fine with crowds. Accommodation also tends to be most expensive during these months.
- High season – October to November, February to March
Slightly less crowded than the peak season, you can visit the island with a hope to have more space on the beach for yourself. That said, the line between the peak and high season is thinning as Koh Lipe becomes more popular with tourists from abroad.
- Low season – April to June
The high season ends around early April. Rainfall is expected to increase. Despite that, rain does not usually fall continuously throughout a single day. We visited the island in May, with some light showers in the early morning, or occasionally, afternoon. There wasn’t much crowd while we were there, but that said, Koh Lipe is getting popular. I think this is still a good time to visit if you want to escape the crowd. Be prepared for rough waters if you are coming from Pak Bara by speedboat.
- Rain season – July – Sept
While transportation from Pak Bara to Koh Lipe runs throughout the year, ferries from Langkawi stops by June and resume in October. Rainfall is usually the highest during this period. The sea can be rough and ferries from other piers beside from Pak Bara are usually not in operation. Most of the shops on the island are closed.
Getting in and out
There are two main routes to get in and out of Koh Lipe. The most convenient and comfortable way is to get in from Langkawi. The other route, less travelled by Singaporeans will be to enter Koh Lipe from Pak Bara. I shall briefly introduce you to both routes to help you get your planning going.
- Singapore to Hat Yai Airport to Pak Bara Pier to Koh Lipe
Duration: The total time to get from Hat Yai to Koh Lipe is estimated to be 4 hours. The time from Hat Yai to Pak Bara pier is approximately 2.5 hrs, and the ferry to Koh Lipe from the pier is 1.5 to 2 hrs. Ferry departs at 3 timings daily to Koh Lipe. More schedules are available during high season. The first ferry departs at 9.30 am while the last ferry leaves Pak Bara by 3.30pm.
Ticketing and timing: There are now connecting tickets that can pick you up from the airport or hotel in Hat Yai directly to Pak Bara, where you will transfer to the ferry at the Pak Bara pier. If you are intending to head down to Koh Lipe from the airport, you will need to make sure your arrival timing allows adequate time for you to transit to Pak Bara and catch the ferry to Koh Lipe. You will probably need to depart Hat Yai by 12 pm to catch the last ferry at 3.30pm. If you are staying overnight in Hat Yai, you can arrange to leave Hat Yai by 8 am to catch the earlier ferry at 11.30am.
Compared to 5 years ago, there are many ways to purchase the combo tickets now. From booking online to arranging with travel agents, you can find your preferred arrangements. You can use sites such as 12Go Asia to see the list of operators providing the combination tickets, or to check the schedules of the buses and ferries. (Proclaim: I have never booked through the website myself, so be sure to check reviews before booking). If you have time, you can also walk around Hat Yai to source for travel agents offering the same services, which was what we did previously. Be sure to make some price comparison before booking.
Tips to get out:To get out of Koh Lipe by the same route, we requested for our accommodation to help us book our ferry tickets. Get this done the day you arrive to secure the tickets home. After reaching Pak Bara, we walked around the pier and book with a travel agent to catch a minivan back to Hat Yai.
On a side note, expect some chaos when transiting from the minivan or bus to the ferry. You may need to take some initiatives to check your ferry tickets and timing to ensure that you do not miss the boat.
- Langkawi to Koh Lipe (Not available from mid-June to early October, check the schedules before arranging for the trip)
This route is more direct. There are two jetty that you can catch a ferry to Koh Lipe, Kuah Jetty and Telaga Harbor (Telaga opens only during specific months in the year). You can either get the ferry tickets at the jetty or book through online platforms. Tropical Charters offer ferries that depart from Kuah jetty while Telaga Terminal depart from Telaga Habour. (Again, I’ve not booked with them before, so do find might a little more before booking). Ferry schedules are limited, so be sure to check the timing and coordinate your arrival and departure out of Langkawi. To be safe, I will usually arrive in the country one day earlier and plan for my flight one day later, after returning back to Langkawi. You should also check-in to the ferry terminal at least 2 hrs before the departure timing. You will be expected to clear immigration at the jetty and also upon arrival in Koh Lipe. You will be transferred from the ferry to a speedboat, on a off-shore platform as there are no pier for the ferry to dock on Koh Lipe.
You will probably arrive in Pattaya beach. From there, you can walk down to your accommodation, or use one of the long-tail boat-taxis to your accommodation.
Places to stay and things to do
There are three main beaches in Koh Lipe, Sunrise beach, Sunset Beach and Pattaya beach. Sunrise beach stretches more than a kilometer and has knee-deep water that seems to stretch for miles during low tide. It is not as crowded as Pattaya beach, but a short walk to the main walking street is required, where you can get food or drinks. It is a good place for snorkeling and you will be able to catch fishes or even sea anemone at parts of the beach where fewer long-tails dock.
Pattaya beach is livelier, and is a stone throw away from walking street. There are also some bars lined-up along the beach. As the beach is sheltered from strong waves, many long-tail boats dock in the area. Sunset beach is relatively shorter, and as you guessed it, provides a good view of the sunset. There are not many amenities in this side of the island, and much less convenient than the other two beaches.
The island can be covered simply within 2 hours walk, maximum. It really is an ideal place if you are looking to sit by the beach, read a book, take a dip in the waters or feel the afternoon breeze blowing gently as you close your eyes to relax. It is also a heaven for divers, as the dive spots had ample of beautiful soft corals while we were there. Whale sharks were known to be sighted in the area as well. There is a walking street where there are bars, food and shops selling souvenirs. However, most of the shops were closed during the low season.
Things to take note
Cash is king: We didn’t see any ATMs while we were there, though reviews indicated that there are some. My advice is to change enough money before going over to Koh Lipe. Also, expect prices on the island to be slightly higher than the average, as everything from fruits to beer are imported from the mainland.
Proper wear: Whether you are coming from Pak Bara or Langkawi, it is best to wear strap-on sandals if you do not want to lose your slippers in the water. The boats will dock you in the shallow waters of the beach, and you might be expected to waddle to the shore with your luggage. Make sure you waterproof all your clothes, just in case the bags ends up in the water.
Crazily exciting boat rides: The rides by speedboats from Pak Bara can be pretty rough, and may not be for the faint-hearted. Down a life-jacket if provided. You may also want to take motion sickness-pill if you are prone to sea-sick.
Don’t over-cramp your schedule: Lastly, many things can happen on the small island. Whether boat rides are delayed due to poor weather conditions, or tickets are sold out during high season. Give yourself ample of time between your flights, and getting in and out of the island. My advice is not to schedule your flight the same day you depart the island. The last thing you want to do is to end up stressing over a beach getaway!