A Few Days in Koh Lipe

Our flight from Singapore to Hat Yai went relatively smoothly, other than my snapping at one of the Tiger Air staffers telling me my bag couldn’t be carried on board as it was “too big.” I snapped back that I had paid to board early and that it would fit in the overhead – which of course it did because I’m not an idiot.

We landed at Hat Yai and in the short time it took us to collect my checked bag and get to the taxi stand, it started pouring – like crazy, biblical pouring. The airport was mobbed and getting a taxi arranged was surprisingly easy despite the pandemonium surrounding us. The rain quickly passed and we were soon at Red Planet, our home for the night before heading onto Koh Lipe.

I’d booked the place ages ago, apparently while feeling parsimonious and unwilling to spring for the extra US$40 to stay at the fancy place down the road. There was nothing really wrong with the place at all – though it was rather barebones and the room was quite a bit less soundproofed than one might have hoped. The room held two beds, a TV and a safe, along with a bathroom stocked with two towels and a soap dispenser mounted to the wall of the shower. Eh, it was fine.

And, as is typically my experience in Thailand, the staff were lovely. The young woman who checked us in was kind enough to bend the rules for me and store one of my bags for the four days we’d be in Koh Lipe – made schlepping to and from the boat so much easier. And our broken safe was fixed within about five minutes of calling to report the problem.

Once we settled in, it seemed like a good idea to get a massage – and so we did! Happily, Thai Odyssey is just next door to our hotel and it was a very nice little place with excellent service and great prices. Our therapists were very good – though as is often the case when I travel with Ak, they assumed Ak was farang as well and were quite shocked when he spoke to them in Thai. It certainly makes things easier for me having Ak around to translate my instructions – though the Thai word for “sciatica” proved to be a stumper.

For dinner, we went to a dim sum place Ak knew about called Kor Nang Tae Tiem, which was conveniently right behind our hotel. I was a bit confused at first: out front was a big display of little dishes on ice of all sorts of stuff that didn’t look much like dim sum, as there were no dumplings – but then right behind that were stacks and stacks of bamboo steamer baskets, reassuringly filled with dumplings. Rather than ordering from the table or a pushcart, we just picked out everything we wanted and it was steamed to order! I even recognized the word “moo dang” (that’s Thai for barbecued pork) when the proprietor was describing the dumplings and yelled, “Chai, krab! Chai, krab!” (“Yes, please! Yes, please!). I’m so Thai…

As we waited for our large variety of selections to finish steaming, I wondered aloud to Ak about the prices. Given how reasonable prices were, I figured it’d be THB70 to 100 per dish – that’s about US$2 to $3. I was astonished when he told me everything was THB16 each. In other words, about fifty cents a plate!

Everything was delicious, too. It’d been a long day, what with sitting around the lounge at Changi Airport and getting those long massages – we’d really worked up an appetite. So much so that a Round 2 of plates was clearly in order. This was one of my favorite meals of this whole trip.

In fact, we loved it so much, we were back the next morning for breakfast! Happily they open early and we were able to stuff ourselves with more dim sum before we were picked up for the two-hour drive to Pak Bara, where we’d take a boat to Koh Lipe. The drive and the boat trip were both uneventful, save for the rather chaotic atmosphere of the ferry terminal in Pak Bara. I was convinced our bags would not wind up on the same boat as we did – but I’m happy to report not only did they make it, they were not dropped in the water when being unloaded.

The arrival on Koh Lipe is a decidedly low-tech affair: all of the boats from the mainland back up to Pattaya Beach and passengers jump off into knee deep water and wade ashore. Let’s just say I was glad I knew this was the drill before boarding the boat, so I was well-prepared wearing my Keen lesbian sandals.

A scooter with a sidecar took us and our bags on the short trip to our hotel, the Idyllic Concept Resort. There were a couple of small hills to drive over – which required to our driver to gun it and really get up some speed so that the tiny scooter could get all three of us plus luggage to the crest. It was rather exhilarating…

As for the hotel? Well, let’s just say all my research had paid off. Ak and I both loved it. It was really on the nicest stretch of Sunrise Beach – the views in the morning were spectacular. We had an “iSky” room, which meant we were beachfront. Everything was really comfortable – lovely service from all of the friendly and gracious staff, but still a laidback feel.

And the food! I figured the food would be fine – as it turned out, it was excellent. Not like “oh, this is pretty good for hotel food” but “if this were in Bangkok, it would be on my list of favorite restaurants.” Their larb moo may have been my favorite that I’ve had anywhere. The breakfast was probably the weakest link – but it’s a buffet and leaned a bit more Western, which was not their strongest suit. But we wound up eating all of our meals here, thanks not just to the great food, but the beautiful setting, with plenty of outdoor tables, some directly on the beach.

I think it was on our last evening that we were seated near a group of tourists who’d just arrived. They were being very particular about what they ordered – and by “particular,” I mean “annoying.” And they were ordering PASTA! Like fettucine alfredo or something! I mean, who flies halfway around the world to sit on a beautiful beach in Thailand and then orders Western food? Then they made ordering ice cream for dessert into a confusing ordeal, again addressing their server with condescension. Surprisingly, they were not Americans…

Anyway, we did wander into “town” one day for a bit of exploring and had a few drinks at a place over on Sunset Beach to compare and contrast (verdict: sunrise is better) – but mostly we just hung out on the beach every day, reading, swimming and making friends with a handful of beach dogs (including an adorable young ‘un we christened “Sandy”) who call this section home. It was, for lack of a better word, idyllic and I could not have asked for a better spot to get in some serious relaxing time.

We did venture out for a snorkel trip I’d booked long before our visit with an outfit called Paradise Tours. Unfortunately, I would not recommend them. They contacted me two days before I left U.S., asking for my deposit which I’d made months earlier. I was engaged in a back-and-forth in the middle of the night via email with them. They did find the payment, but it was irritating and their initial tone was tinged with accusation. Once in Koh Lipe, when we presented ourselves at their office in town the morning of our tour, a surly woman told me how much I still owed in addition to my deposit – no “hello” or “thank you” or even any eye contact.

And to top everything off? After all of that agita and my reservation made ages in advance, they did not take us on the tour I’d chosen and paid for – a longer tour with stops at Monkey Island and several other locations a bit farther from Koh Lipe. They did refund part of my payment when I complained – but it didn’t really make up for the fact that I didn’t get what I thought I’d planned out so carefully in advance.

At any rate, the trip was quite nice once we got going. It seems the tour company just acts as a middleman for the locals piloting the boats, so off we went with our guide and captain for the day, along with a Japanese couple and their adorable 4-year-old daughter, Miko. She was quite taken with me and insisted on holding my hand on the walk to the beach, where we all piled into a traditional long tailed boat. She also practiced her very competent English and demonstrated particular facility with, “Hello! Nice to meet you.”

It appeared that our various snorkel destinations were the standard Koh Lipe spots, judging from all the other boats and tourists on the various little islands we stopped near. But the water was clear and we got to see a good variety of fish and do a bit of shoreline exploration at a couple of places. Had a simple boxed lunch on a beach – and meals really do taste better after a morning of snorkeling while sitting on the beach… I think our trip could have been just as easily (and frankly, more conveniently and competently) been arranged through our hotel. My advice would be to give Paradise Tours a pass.

Other than the snorkel trip, we spent a very leisurely four days on Koh Lipe. I was certainly sad to head back to the mainland on Sunday – but this being my fourth trip to Thailand, I was really looking forward to getting to Bangkok. As much as I enjoy exploring new parts of the country, there is certainly something to be said for getting back to a city that feels a bit like home to me now.

 

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