Koh Lipe – an island paradise and an amazing place to spend a few days off the bike.
Whenever I have had the opportunity to stay with ‘locals’ then I have grabbed it with both hands. Some may see it just an opportunity to get a free nights accommodation but for me this is only secondary. What I really enjoy is the opportunity to meet like-minded people who tend to either enjoy cycling or travelling or even both. It was also the reason that I ended up heading to Koh Lipe because the night before Em-orn and Ple, who had let me camp in their garden in Trang, had recommended that I should go.
It was a 70km cycle to the ferry terminal in Pak Bara and I knew that there was a ferry at 2.30pm. As it was only a few hours cycle away from Trang I arrived with plenty of time to spare. The cost of the speedboat to the island was 400 Baht for me and 100 baht for the bike each way which brought the total to a nice round 1000 baht which is about £15. I could have left the bike at the booking office, and I am sure that it would have been safe enough, but I always like to take it with me and even carry it up to the bedroom wherever I am staying. It just gives me piece of mind and this way I don’t have to worry about whether something may happen to it.
When I bought my ticket for the boat I was given a numbered ticket which would prove a very definite advantage to those people who arrived early to buy their tickets and the reason will become apparent shortly.
As per the schedule we were all shepherded to the boat at 2pm ready for a 2.30pm departure. Firstly the luggage was loaded and stowed under the floorboards of the boat, which I think was to stop it bouncing around or it may have just been to save space. My bike went on last and they tied it to the rear seats of the boat so that it would not fly up and hit anybody.
Next the passengers were loaded and this is where the ticket system becomes important – they load you by number and so the first people grab the rear seats on the boat as this is where the least ‘bouncing’ occurs. Those who arrived late get to sit upfront which is where the boat tends to take off the most, and slams back down, which makes the ride for these passengers a bit like riding a bucking bronco for 90 minutes.
Once everybody was loaded it was time to fire up the engines and head off into the open ocean. The first couple of kilometers were flat as we were motoring in the lee of an island. Once we hit the open water though one of the crew went and stood on the bow of the boat and acted as a spotter for big waves while the driver literally gunned the engine. I had turned my garmin on and we were soon hitting speeds of 70kmph as we motored towards Koh Lipe. The wind was whipping up the waves and every so often we would catch the crest of a wave and the whole boat would become airborne. The opposite also happened as the boat mistimed the wave and we just about went under it instead of over it and the whole boat got drowned in sea water. Every so often the ‘spotter’ would wave his hand and everything slowed as a big wave rolled under the boat. I have no idea how the ‘wave spotter’ made it to Koh Lipe alive, but I suppose he must be used to it.
About 20 minutes into the ride another crew member started handing out black bags as a wave of people began throwing up. It began in the front of the boat, most bouncy, and worked its way backwards from there. Not exactly the nicest start to a holiday for some, but it is a small price to pay to reach a paradise island. Luckily, I had got to the ferry port early and so was sat at the back of the boat and at least I didn’t throw up unlike the last time I took a boat to an island with Andy Frame and my wife Deirbhle.
Andy had flown over from Europe and had met my wife at Angkor Wat in Cambodia for a few days before flying down to Sihanoukville to catch the boat to the island of Koh Rong Sanloem.
In the meantime, myself and a friend Robert Bergin had decided to cycle to meet them as we were training for an Ironman race at the time. The distance from Ho Chi Minh City to Sihanoukville is around 500 km which took us 3 days to cycle. When we arrived the first thing we did was to grab a beer:
The problem was that we then didn’t stop drinking until the wee small hours and we had to catch a boat early in the morning out to the island. We even lost the key to our room and so all crashed in Andy’s bed.
The next morning it was a couple of hours boat ride from the mainland on a fishing boat to Koh Rong Sanloem and I was okay for the first 30 minutes but after that I spent the rest of the trip with my head over the side as everything went overboard, including the Sambuca’s that I swear I could taste on their way back up.
After 90 minutes the sound of the engine finally changed and the revs reduced to signal our impending arrival at Koh Lipe. I think everybody on the boat was relieved to finally arrive and what a site it was that greeted us – turquoise waters and sand that you needed sun glasses to look at as it was that pearly white. This was going to be a fabulous way to spend a couple of days.
Once all of the luggage and my bike was unloaded it was time to go and find somewhere to stay. There are only 3 beaches on the island – sunrise beach, sunset beach and Pattaya beach. I fancied sunset beach so that I could watch the sun go down. As I was off the bike for a few days it was a waste of time paying the extra for sunrise beach as I was not planning on seeing it.
As it was rainy season most of the resorts had already closed for a couple of months and so it was fairly difficult to find a resort which was open and had beach front access. Apparently, as the island is part of a national park last year a lot of resorts that had been built on the beaches had been demolished as they had been built illegally. After asking at a few places without luck I was about to head back to sunrise beach when I stumbled upon Sawan Resort which was my kind of place – just 5 bungalows on stilts which were built on the side of a sandy cove.
My stilted house
The view from my bed
The view from my balcony
They only had one bungalow left and I snapped it up without even bargaining on the price. My wooden bungalow was idyllic – a bedroom, living room and terrace which looked out onto the ocean. They could have doubled the price and I still would have paid.
As it was rainy season the restaurant at my new home only opened for food from 7am until 3pm but the main ‘walking street’ where all the restaurants were based was only a 10 minute stroll away. Walking street is really the 300m path that connects Pattaya beach and sunrise beach and is now lined with bars and restaurants. The island is that small that you could walk around it in a couple of hours.
That night I headed into ‘town’ and found an Italian Restaurant and had a pizza and a few beers which was very nice. There were not that many people around and most of the restaurants and bars were closed. I was tucked up in bed by 9pm.
The next morning I strolled down to the beach restaurant and had a leisurely breakfast.
After that it was time to head out and check out the beaches. I cycled round the island taking pictures and sampling life on the island. The beaches were simply stunning and completely empty even though there were only 3 of them.
After spending a few hours being a beach bum I cycled to the area where the locals live as it always fascinates me that tourists come for a few days and spend a veritable fortune, while there is normally a fairly large fishing community based on the islands who live a fairly hard existence. The village where the locals live is completely different to that of the tourist areas – the accommodation is tin shacks not wood or concrete, the roads are rutted earth rather than smooth concrete and there is no running water in the houses.
As there is no running water in the village to wash and use the loo there is a block of communal showers which is behind the fruit vendor in the photo below.
When I was in the village there was a group of teachers going from house to house working with the mothers and children to give them a basic education – reading, writing and maths seemed to be the order of the day. One of the teachers spoke very good english and she explained that on the island there is a school but not all of the children attend as they are needed at home to work with their families. Instead, the teachers at the school visit the homes a couple of afternoons a week.
There didn’t seem to be any resentment to me being in the village and the woman were happy for me to join their lessons as they sat on the porch of their homes, while the men let me join them for tea as they sat around in hammocks under the trees. The trees in the village seemed to be the focal points for life with different groups of people gathered under the largest trees in the village.
As it was getting late it was time for me to head home for a bit of sunset action and a cold beer. When I got back to Sawan Resort the receptionist Eve asked if I would like to join the staff at a bar later that evening as their boss was throwing an end of season party for them. Never one to turn down a free night out I said that I would head to get food and meet them at the bar afterwards.
I only have one shirt with me which is my ‘going out’ shirt and it had not seen the light of day since Bangkok. It had been rolled in my bag for the last few weeks and when I took it out it was badly creased. If you haven’t got an iron the next best thing is a kettle and I promise you that you can iron a shirt with a kettle and the result is below:
My food of choice that night was Mexican, as both Italian and Mexican are foods which I cannot get on the road, and as they say a change is as good as a rest. When I arrived at the restaurant I asked the guy if he was Spanish as he looked like a very tanned hispanic fella (centre in picture below), but he said that he was from Thailand. When I asked him why he had opened a Mexican restaurant he said that he did so because nobody else had!!!!!
At least I knew that the food would be fresh as when I ordered he headed off on his motorbike and came back with a pack of chicken breasts some squid. If you are interested in what I had it was chicken tacos, and a personal favourite of mine, although not specifically Mexican, squid with garlic and pepper.
One thing that always amuses me in restaurants is spelling mistakes on the menu. This place went one better though as down one side of the restaurant was a 10 meter banner showing a number of the dishes from the menu.
I am always amazed that people pay, what often equates to a lot of money for them, and the end product is slightly off. I think that my favourite menu mistake was in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam when a restaurant in the expat district, which you think would be able to find an English expat to proof read the menu, advertised deep fried poodle on their menu. I know that it was in Vietnam, and therefore perfectly possible, but I assure you it was a mistake. I will leave it to you to work out what it should have been.
After food it was time to go and meet the staff for a few beers at the bar. When I got there Eve and Chai were already there and they explained that the rest were getting the food and coming to the bar so I ordered a beer, and the girls something blue, and we chatted while waiting for the others to arrive with food.
Five minutes later the rest of the staff trooped in with a mountain of food and we took over a corner of the bar. Everybody organized themselves on cushions on the floor while the food was put out.
Once arranged the boss pulled out a bottle of Chivas Regal and the bar owner brought across glasses, ice and soda.
Despite the obvious language barriers we had a great night:
At 2am the staff were still going strong but I had a 9am puke boat, sorry I meant speed boat, to catch back to the mainland and so headed back home. One of the staff gave me a lift home before heading back to the bar to carry on drinking.
I have no idea what time they eventually wrapped it up but when I went down to the beach to grab some toast before heading for the boat all of the staff seemed to have made it into work.
The boat ride back was in some ways better and others worse than the ride over. The winds were not blowing and so the seas were calmer which meant that no ‘wave spotter’ was needed. This meant that the driver could floor the engine and we literally ‘flew’ back to the mainland. One of his jumps was a little too high and when we came back down to earth the engines spluttered and gave up. We were dead in the water and it took them nearly 30 minutes to fix the issue.
During this time the boat was at the mercy of the waves and bobbed merrily from side to side which brought a fresh round of puking from most people on board. Not sure if they weren’t prepared for it, or what, but there was a lack of plastic bags on board and so people were sticking there heads over the side which was fine until the boat rolled the other way. I will let your imaginations picture the scene.
They eventually got the engines running again and we set off once again at breakneck speed for the mainland where we arrived safe and sound if just a little shaken up.
This was the end of a couple of amazing days on one of the most beautiful islands that I have been too in a fairly long time, and a great way to finish my Thailand adventures. I am seriously thinking about only visiting islands with an airport in the future though as boat rides really are in no way a romantic way to arrive on an island during rainy season.
Koh Lipe really is a beautiful island and if you get the chance to visit I hope you do so.
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