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Tuesday, 31 October 2006

A €˜Real€™ Desert Island: Ko Lipe

Written by Jo-Ann Duff
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The 2000 film: ‘The Beach,’ based on the book by Alex Garland – starred Leonardo Di Caprio as Richard, a young backpacker told of the secret location of the most beautiful beach in Thailand. During my travels around Southeast Asia, I didn’t think for one second that part of my journey would mirror that of Richard’s – but I was mistaken…

After traveling for about 3 months, my partner and I arrived in the North of Thailand working our way overland to the Southern Islands. We reached Bangkok in October and chose to spend some time in the hedonistic backpacker district of Kho San Road. Finding a busy bar to rest our well-traveled feet, we ordered some beers and talked about our next destination.

beachOver the noise of the distorted Thai pop music and the rumbles of conversation one voice shot into our personal space like a thunderbolt: “I know where the best beach is in the whole of Thailand!” We glance up to see a very drunk westerner in his late thirties wearing the obligatory backpacker uniform; fisherman pants, white vest, a string of wooden beads and a hemp satchel. I stared back at my boyfriend intently trying my hardest to pretend he wasn’t there and continue my conversation. It doesn’t work. He plants himself uninvited next to us and begins to tell us of ‘the secret island’.

“Its more beautiful than Kho Phi Phi Don (the location of the film The Beach) and you’ll see the most beautiful sunset and the most beautiful beach you will ever experience in your life. I’ve been to all the islands and Ko Lipe tops the lot, no one really knows about it and it’s hard to reach, but if you really want to know I’ll tell you. But don’t go telling everyone alright?”

We agreed - partly to get rid of him but we were also both curious about the man and, of course, the island. We got another round of beers and took down the directions. Phuket was our next stop, but straight after we took a gamble on this strange encounter and hopped on the 8hr bus journey to the southernmost province: Satun.

From Satun’s Bang Pak Pier we caught the 4½-hour boat to the secretive Ko Lipe. There were only 3 European girls on our boat, the rest of the passengers were locals taking supplies back to the island. The boat crossing alone was worth the long bus journey. There were bright blue skies with the sun beating down and shimmering flying fish skipping across emerald green waves. We passed by Kho Petra National Marine Park, where conservationists and tourists can stay and get back to nature, and it wasn’t long until we were in calm open water. After an hour or so, tiny little uninhabited islets began popping up and the captain of the boat slowed down as we passed these mini paradises where ecosystems and wildlife have never been disturbed. Ko Lipe hadn’t been reached yet- but I knew this was going to be something special.

Anchoring a little way from what seemed like a desert island, the captain shouted “Ko Lipe!” and it hit me for the first time how remote we were. Out of nowhere-about half a dozen wooden long tail boats with brightly colored silk scarves wrapped around the helm snaked their way towards our boat. We precariously hopped in, backpacks and all and made our last short journey to ‘The Beach’. The sea around Ko Lipe is crystal clear and you can see the coral reefs and the fish below. As we approached the shore, the sun reflected on the powdery white beach so much that it was almost blinding. As we moored, little white bungalows with bright blue roofs came into view - this would be the Andaman Resort and our home for the next few days. resort


‘Resort’ is a word used on Ko Lipe, which has a very different meaning to how you or I would use it. There is electricity on the island for the few tourists and the 500 inhabitants of the island only from 6pm to midnight. Only half a dozen ‘resorts’ operate on Ko Lipe, providing basic tile or bamboo bungalows with cold water shower and fan for around £6.00 a night. There is no internet or phone, no swimming pools or cable tv and only a handful of restaurants. If you do decide to take this journey – remember there is no refrigeration so be careful what you eat or bring your own supplies.

houseAfter dumping our rucksacks, we took a walk to explore the island – it only takes around 25 minutes to walk from one side to the other. A local steered us to Pattaya Beach, so we headed off and quickly learned that Ko Lipe has no roads or paths, just well trodden routes with planks of wood to cross small streams through the tiny village. I’m sure this village has barely changed since the original settlers arrived hundreds of years ago: rickety wooden and bamboo houses on stilts with chickens clucking in the cool shade underneath; locals doing laundry and washing in tin buckets outside. The only trace of a western lifestyle is the odd TV antenna on the roof of a bamboo shack. We thought ‘what have we done?’ but the smiles and warm greetings from the women and the children soon put us at ease. We were seeing the real Thailand.

Emerging at Pattaya beach, we saw what we had been waiting for. This island is truly amazing: A long stretch of perfect soft, white sand ending with a view of the islands limestone cliffs. A few boats were moored and we saw only a handful of tourists dotted along the shore, this was meant to be the ‘busy’ side of the island! Sitting down on the soft white sand by one of only two beach hut chill-out bars, we soaked up the atmosphere and watched the most spectacular sunset: reds and burnt oranges fading to purple and then night. We knew we would never see anything like that again, perfect is the only word I can use to describe this moment. Before returning to our little bungalow, we had a candlelit seafood meal, but learned the hard way to remember to bring a torch for the return journey!sunset

The following day was spent at ‘our’ secluded beach. From here we could see Ko Adang Island and National Park, where the long tail boats can take you. As well as the wildlife, its worth checking out the Pirates Waterfall: a natural water source used long ago by pirates and smugglers, which still may be used today. Snorkeling and diving is fantastic in Ko Lipe, you can hire snorkels for about £1.00 a day and dive lessons and trips on Patttaya Beach start at about £15.00.

Ko Lipe is the closest I will ever get to experience a ‘real’ desert island – completely unspoiled – where humans and nature live harmoniously. With all the negative things happening in the world today, Ko Lipe has shown me that there are still beautiful places in the world.

Thanks to a chance encounter with a stranger, I found a place to completely relax, reflect and bask in the surroundings of what I think really is the most beautiful beach in Thailand.

 

Details:

www.kholipethailand.com

www.andaman_island_hopping.com

©Jo-Ann Duff

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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