A small island in the Andaman Sea, Ko Lipe lies off the southwestern tip of Thailand near the country’s border with Malaysia. Although the island is on the edge of the Tarutao National Marine Park, which encompasses some 50 islands, Ko Lipe is outside of the park’s jurisdiction. With few laws in place to restrict development, the island’s pretty bays and beaches are becoming crowded with shops and bars. Around 500 Chao Ley people, also known as sea gypsies, once had the island to themselves. Today, they’ve sold off most of their land to developers, although they still populate villages on the island’s east side.
The uninhabited islands and reefs that surround Ko Lipe, however, are in pristine condition, and that has made Lipe an attractive home base for snorkeling excursions. Over a quarter of the world’s tropical fish species inhabit the waters around Ko Lipe. The currents are calm and the water is clear and free of larger predatory fish. Scuba diving is a popular activity as well, both around Ko Lipe and the nearby islands. For advanced divers, the Yong Hua shipwreck is an interesting dive. The commercial fishing ship that sank in 1996 is already covered in marine growth. Although the currents in the area are strong, hardy divers will encounter colorful schools of tropical fish lurking in the wreckage.
Ko Lipe’s four main beaches have something to offer every visitor. Popular Pattaya features a broad array of cafés, bars, bakeries and restaurants. As their names imply, Sunrise and Sunset beach sit on opposite sides of the island. A quick tour will allow visitors to choose their favorite relaxation spot. A walk across this tiny island takes little more than an hour.