Far, far south, near Thailand’s restless and troubled border with Malaysia, lies a quiet and unassuming green island, rising from a sea of calm teal, the unsung hero of the Andaman Islands, Koh Lipe.
Hopping from the ferry boat into turquoise waters, we knew instantly we were going to like it here. With our backpacks on our backs, we set off down the beach in search of our hotel.
A short way down Sunrise Beach, the sign for Walking Street welcomes visitors to the kind of vibe they can expect here. As the name suggests, the street — in every sense Koh Lipe’s main road and the only one of any commercial import — supports no cars. Neither do other roads on the island. Walking Street is a winding and narrow avenue lying on aged concrete and beach sand, abutted by a charming single-storey gauntlet of dive shops, travel agents, pancake carts, restaurants, clothing stalls, bars, and coffee houses. Everything slows down, and in no time at all, there’s a sense that you’ve discovered something special, something faraway, something almost imaginary.
Laundromat, Thailand style
Koh Lipe’s beaches — which all rank among the finest in the region, perhaps even the world — linger in the streets themselves: sand underfoot, the indebtedness of everything to the sea (beach clothing, fresh coconuts, dive shops, seafood), the smell, salty air, the fresh sea breeze, tanned skin. The streets spill out onto the beaches — people laze on cushions and sip cocktails as the sun goes down, phosphorescent plankton dazzles in the shallows as tiny waves lap the shore, the gentle sound of music carries out over the sand, over the sea, as the sun gives way to darkness.
For three days and three nights rain threatened — and sometimes appeared — from the unwaveringly grey skies above. We could only imagine what the waters of Koh Lipe must look like in brilliant sunshine; this is what they look like on a bad day!
Lesser-visited parts of the island and surrounds were beautiful too, perhaps even more so. A day’s scuba diving yielded little in the way of macro life to look at, but plenty of small critters, luminescent fish, dazzling corals, plentiful schools of reef fish of many kinds, and views of unparalleled beaches and islands — memories to last a lifetime.
On our last afternoon on Koh Lipe, the tide swept out to reveal a sandbar a hundred yards offshore. We waded out to the sandbar and had it all to ourselves. It was late afternoon, and for a brief moment on this majestic southern outpost of the Andaman Sea we stopped — and looked back over Koh Lipe, its white sandy beaches and cloudy skies and lush green hills and dark soft coral and shallow translucent light-green waters that rolled up onto the sand in a ceaseless gentle whisper.