Koh Lipe is a small island in the Adang-Rawi Archipelago of the Andaman Sea, in southwest Thailand. Koh Lipe was originally settled by a group of sea gypsies (chao leh in Thai), originally from Malaysia, known as the Urak Lawoi’ people. This island is very close to the Malaysian border. The boat ride from Langkawi Malaysia was only 1 1/2 hours long. Arriving here was like landing in paradise. The ocean was clear and blue, the sand was soft and white and everyone was smiling on the beach. This beach reminded me of my first visit to Koh Samui over 15 years ago.
Koh Lipe hasn’t been poisoned by tourism yet. There weren’t any vendors selling things on the beaches or rows of loud bars and touts trying to pull you in. This was virtually untouched. Yes, there were tourists, hotels and restaurants but not enough to make you feel crowded. There was something here most of the beaches had been missing – space. I fell in love before my feet hit the shore.
We stayed at the Ten Moons Resort. It is owned by Urak Lawoi’ people (natives of Koh Lipe). A man from Spain partnered with the Urak Lawoi’ owners and made it an upscale resort a couple of years back. Located on a hidden cove away from all of the madness of Pattaya beach, it was truly a gem. The hotel manager (Jackie) was from the United States. I’ve never been happier to see another American doing something out of the ordinary. Not only did she speak the language, she was a single mom when this journey began. I can’t think of a more fearless thing to do in life.
I met a her little girl Noi while staying at the hotel. She was 7 and knew 8 languages. She could swim further than most adults and had friends from all over the world that she communicated with via Skype. She showed me her treehouse on the beach and told me stories about her experiences and nature around the island. Together we collected 115 hermit crabs on the beach and put them into a plastic bucket. I told her to watch after them when I ate lunch. She came to the table and informed me that someone had accidentally kicked the bucket over and some of them escaped. If that person only knew the back breaking efforts it took to collect those, maybe they would have been more careful. I challenge any adult to bend over looking for hermit crabs in the hot sun for 2 hours without a back ache. In the end, her little heart of gold brightened the island even more. I’ve never met a child that knew so much at such a young age. She was fearless just like her mommy.
The sun rises at 6:39am and I got up almost every morning to see it. It was like being at concert waiting for the performers. People were out with their blankets and children waiting to see the phoenix rising. I taped it on my iPhone in the time lapse mode.
One of my favorite things on this island was a dog named Smiley. Smiley had her nose bit off by a rival pack of dogs when she was a puppy. She looks like she is smiling all of the time. She lives at the Ten Moons hotel and is a little star to most of the visitors. I built a small bond with Smiley by always hugging her and calling her by name. Because of her condition she only has half of one nostril. This causes sneeze attacks when she is excited. She can’t stop herself once they start. It’s fun to see people’s faces when they first see her. Some people stare, some are scared and some are intrigued. She has her photo taken all of the time by people from around the world. While at dinner I heard a hotel guest say,“I got some great shots of that dog today”. Smiley met me on the beach every sunrise. It was so fun to see her appear that early. She was always excited and wanted to give kisses and be loved.
Smiley had a brother named Ruffie. He loved to fish during low tide. He wades in the water looking for fish and crabs. Ruffie also met me at sunrise each morning. He would dig for crabs and play with them until they were dead. I loved the attention and he loved my blanket on the beach. Both of them made my day and were there to walk us to our room the nights we left the property.
There were many street dogs on Koh Lipe. They were everywhere and looked like the same breed mostly. Some of the dogs were branded on their thigh with a letter and number. I never got an answer to why they were numbered.
There were also a few pampered pets that belonged to store owners. These pets really stood out from the street dogs. They hung out with their owners in the stores they managed or worked in.
The street dogs kept to themselves and were open to being petted. 7/11 was a popular hang out for dogs. They slept on the stairs while tourists and locals stepped around them. I’m guessing it was the cold air conditioning that blew on the stairs each time the door opened that made this spot the most desirable.
Walking Street is like the main drag of the island. This is where shopping, dining and massages line the paved sidewalks with marked up tourist prices (which are still very low). Every late afternoon we went and had massages and ate dinner there twice. The locals live in houses and tin huts along the way. They were very friendly and helpful towards the tourist too.
We went to all you can eat seafood and Thai food buffet at Progress Restaurant. This included picking your own fresh seafood and fish filets to have grilled, over 15 Thai dishes, a tempura station and live music. The price was $14.00 (USD) and worth every penny. The spread of fresh fish was spectacular.
We had our own cove on the beach. Unfortunately a travel blogger put this hidden area out on the internet awhile back and now travelers seek it out. Doug asked a traveler on the beach how he found out about this cove. His reply was “my friend told me”. Word travels fast on special places in the world. Especially now that people have access to the internet.
I had no worries or stress on this island, I was totally care free. My highest level of stress came when I saw two backpackers come to our remote corner of the beach and set up under the tree I wanted to sit under. When I came back from breakfast they had moved into a sunnier area leaving their trash behind under the tree. For some reason that infuriated me. I said a prayer and then went outside and moved their trash back to their area next to them. Littering on a beautiful beach is a sin in my book. Needless to say there was friction in the air when they discovered their trash next to them. After a standoff of them moving further and further into the sun, leaving the trash, I decided just to do the next right thing. I picked it up and threw it away myself. Problem solved. I didn’t have to worry about saying my rehearsed response when they walked off leaving the trash at the end of the day. I was free. And the problem was solved, I never saw them again during our stay.
I learned from my last visits to Thailand not to order any American dishes listed on the menus. Some of the menus even use stock photos of sandwiches and steaks but they never look like that when served. This time around I just stuck to Thai food and I was much happier at every meal. Of course I had to learn the hard way. I spent 30 days ordering “western” dishes in Thailand previously, and every time I was disappointed. Staying at a nice resort, I dabbled in a few western dishes. The kitchen at the hotel had two chefs. A Thai chef that specialized in the Thai dishes and a Spanish chef that specialized in the western dishes. Only here did I not strike out on ordering western food. Everything was great.
Even though we were staying in a beautiful beachfront property. With all nature comes the creepy crawlers. It all started on the beach. . . . I saw something that looked like a stick but it was moving. It was a huge jungle beetle with spots and super long tentacles. I’ve never seen anything like this before. It was frightening. Knowing this could make it’s way to my towel, ideas of how to move this thing far away from us weren’t coming fast enough. While everyone looked on, Doug got a large leaf, scoped it up (his legs stuck to the leaf) and flung it in between some ocean rocks. Whew! I found out later that this thing can cause itching all over the body if it bites you.
Moving forward two days later, I hear Doug let out a scream in the bathroom of our room. I ran into to find a tan gigantic spider with a flat body on the wall over the toilet. This thing was huge with long needle tipped legs. We called the front desk on this one. They sent a guy over to “kill” it. While myself, Doug and a housekeeper looked on, he just picked it off the wall and threw it outside the room. Simple as that. I couldn’t believe it. We named that employee Spiderman. The rest of the day we wondered where and how the spider got into the room and where is it now.
Koh Liipe was a very special place. This is a place I would return to for sure. It’s very hard to get to without going through Langkawi Malaysia but worth it. My only hope is that the island doesn’t get run over with tourism like Phuket and Koh Samui. Because it’s not crowded and filled with vendors and prostitution I loved it. It felt like paradise and the beaches and streets weren’t crowded. There was enough space for everyone and the water was crystal clear. It was the happiest day when I arrived and the saddest day when I left. I loved Koh Lipe.