Happy New Years!!! From Koh Kradan we took a boat further south to the island of Koh Lipe. Our Lonely Planet guide book said that Koh Lipe was a ‘hidden gem’ and an undiscovered tropical paradise, but since everyone uses Lonely Planet guidebooks, there was nothing hidden or unknown about it. The island was packed with vacationing Europeans (mostly Scandinavians escaping icy winter), thus the food and lodging was insanely expensive (the seafood cost more than in the United States!). Since we visited around the time of New Years, most of the lodging was full. We spent a day looking for accommodation, then decided it was best to leave when we realized everything in our price range was full. There is a major boat service that links the major tourist destinations of Phuket-Koh Phi Phi-Koh Lanta-Koh Lipe-Langkawi (Maylasia) in one big fast-boat, so any almost any person sober enough to stand upright can get to Koh Lipe.
The main beaches were packed with sunbathers, and a large crowd gathered every night to watch the sunset and take pictures. There was good snorkeling off the beaches, but it was just too expensive for us to stay. We did one day of diving, and then left quickly back to the mainland. We stayed a night in the Thai coastal town of Pakbara, which had actual Thai people and more reasonably priced food. The lodgings we looked into on the island were all full from December 28 to January 2. We looked high and low, but everything was booked.
When we arrived in Pakbara, we spoke with a local Thai who said there was an insane amount of tourists headed to the islands. He said normally they take 700 people by speed boat to the island everyday. That day, they had taken 2,000! Where they will stay is a good question. The supply of accommodation is lagging behind the high season demand, and thus much of the island is undergoing a construction boom with more bungalows, bars, restaurants etc. being thrown up for tourism. Undiscovered this island is not. We had a nice and quiet New Years in Pakbara and then headed for Malaysia the next day.
We are approaching one full year of traveling and since we have been good about staying within our budget, we have leftover savings. We have decided to visit Malaysia and the Indonesian island of Sumatra for an extra month (more or less). This will keep us close to the airport in Kuala Limpur, as we are beginning to send out job applications and we would like to be close to a major airport for a cheap and quick return flight when the time comes.
2011 UPDATE: This post has received an increasing amount of visits since we have returned from our trip, so we want to preface our pithy comments on Ko Lipe. We spent a year travelling, so we had developed an aversion to well known places and we had already spent a month in Thailand (after Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, etc.). Granted, we were here during the busy season since we had to be somewhere. We had expectations, or delusions, that Lipe would be uncrowded and yet Ko Lipe is a beautiful place, like many islands in Thailand. Please don’t let our snarky comments dissuade you from visiting this tropical paradise. But given the recent increase in people searching “ko lipe” and arriving at our blog, and the amount of construction we saw at the end of 2009 during our visit, don’t be surprised if Ko Lipe is more crowded or developed than expected. And as always, visiting in the off-season will also greatly improve your experience….