Bouncing down the rutted dirt track, coconut palms standing sentinel on both sides, there were three of us perched precariously along with our luggage on the open sidecar attached to the struggling moped. Our journey had started many hours earlier but we had finally arrived at our first stop in Thailand, the beautiful island of Koh Lipe in the far south.
Half the fun is in getting there!
In reality our journey (April 2015) had taken much longer than expected, was far too rushed and far too stressful. That's what you get if you try to travel from London to Bangkok (via Dubai in our case with the brilliant Emirates), switch airports in Bangkok to get to Hat Yai, then Hat Yai to Pak Bara and finally Pak Bara to Koh Lipe in one non-stop trip. That was 3 flights, two taxis and a crammed-in speedboat ride all with full luggage in tow and the best was yet to come. The final surprise was being offloaded at a floating pier just off the beach at Koh Lipe to transfer for the final few hundred yards in a long-tailed boat to the beach where you had to leap into the water and carry your luggage off the boat and drag it up the sand. Quite the arrival after more hours on the move than I care to remember. Take it from me dear reader, an overnight stop in Bangkok or Hat Yai would be the wiser course of action should you ever decide to head in the same direction. Whoever first coined the phrase "half the fun is in getting there" definitely never attempted this trip in one go. You have been warned!
Finally we had made it though - Koh Lipe, the southernmost island in Thailand within view of neighbouring Malaysia was indeed a sight for sore eyes. Sloshing precariously through the surf over the coral rocks with a hefty suitcase on my head, we found ourselves on the island's main and bustling strip of golden sand known as Pattaya beach. The friendly driver from our hotel quickly found us and helped to (over)load our luggage onto his typically local transport for the short uphill thrill ride to our final stop at the lovely boutique Sawan Resort. The resort buildings are built into the cliffs above sunset beach where we dutifully checked in and proceeded to collapse after a quick drink and supper in the hotel restaurant. Air-con on, mosquito net down, good night!
Good things come to those who wait (or do their research well.)
After the trials and tribulations of the proceeding day's travel it was an absolute delight to step out onto our balcony that first morning with a freshly brewed cup of coffee to take in this magnificent vista. The view over Sunset beach and across the coral-studded bay and channel to the neighbouring island of Koh Adang with its jungle-clad mountain provided the perfect tropical backdrop. This was no lucky coincidence though, a lot of pre-trip research had gone in to finding the resort that would give us the experience we wanted - in this case tropical views and relaxation.
Koh Lipe is only a small island and while there was plenty of development going on around the main town, it has avoided the large scale tourist trappings and manufactured 'experiences' so far with the main attractions being the beaches, snorkelling and diving, boat trips around the surrounding archipelago and the main restaurant and souvenir hunting drag of Walking street. This meant a very pleasant laid-back atmosphere prevailed, perfect for winding down.
Above and Below- Exploring the Island
Being a water lover, much of my time was spent out on the resort kayak paddling around the bay and usually with a fishing rod along for the ride. The bay is relatively shallow so the targets were small reef-fish and I found fly fishing with small weighted clouser minnows and bonefish flies caught a few different species as you can see below, and one truly weird one which I have yet to identify. It had an extendable mouth which I presume it must use to squeeze in between the coral but if anyone knows it's name please comment on this post with the answer! For the anglers among you, there were a very few small blue-fin trevally around which are one my favourite tropical sporting species but I only saw them when snorkelling.
If I spent a good few hours out on the water fishing, then I spent a great many more just floating around with a snorkel and mask which was fascinating. There was so much life going on under the water and within easy reach of the beach directly below Sawan Resort but of course swimming a bit further out increased the variety and numbers of fish, sea urchins, clams and other sea life to spot. In other areas you had to swim out a little way from the pure sand of the beaches to reach the coral heads further out but once you did you were rewarded with the same experience. There were plenty of good sized parrot fish sporting all the colours of the rainbow and I was able to follow a mixed school of these and other fish as they moved from rock to rock, grazing on the crustaceans and algae on them. The parrot fish have such hard beaks for doing this that I could hear the scraping and crunching clearly underwater adding another dimension to the experience. Perhaps my favourites though were the clown fish darting in and out of the large sea anemones. I never get tired of seeing these little Nemo's in their bright orange and white livery and thanks to my Olympus Tough TG-2 compact waterproof camera I was able to capture this little piece of video to share with you.
More research went into that purchase too and I can thoroughly recommend one, although now I want the latest TG-4 version (see link above) which also has RAW file capability giving more power to those of us that like to be able to process our own images further.
The rest of our time was shared between walking and lazing on the beaches, enjoying the great food and a little bit of shopping on Walking Street too. As with most tropical resorts in Thailand and around the world, sunset is one of the highlights of the day and rarely disappoints. We gathered with other visitors and locals on both Sunset and Pattaya beach a couple of times to watch the sun slowly disappear in a blaze of orange and gold below the horizon which then usually meant it was time to eat. One of the glories of Thailand is of course its now globally popular cuisine, and one of the best ways of enjoying it is sitting out in the fresh air on the beach sampling the local seafood. We came across a wonderful display of fresh seafood at Dong Ta-lay Seafoods on Pattaya beach (home of the delicious squid and also the spelling mistake further above) where they took our choice of fishes and grilled, fried or barbecued them right there for us as we liked. Fantastic and washed down with a fresh coconut juice (out of the shell of course) it was perfect. It is also worth mentioning the filled pancakes that seemed to be the staple snack on the island with several establishments on Walking street cooking them fresh to order with sweet or savoury options.
All good things must come to an end!
My wife, daughter and I thoroughly enjoyed our first visit to Koh Lipe and in particular our stay at Sawan Resort. It is a beautiful island with lovely friendly people and a great place to unwind and soak up some sun. You have the choice of one or two large hotels, to smaller boutique establishments like ours and then the usual selection of backpacker resorts too - something for everyone really. Because of the boat ride to and from the mainland I would recommend to travel light if you can and you won't need much more than your shorts or sarong, flip flops and swimming costume anyway.
Our week's stay had come to an end and it was time to pack up and move on to the next phase of our journey, visiting family in Nakhon si Thammarat and that will be the subject of the next instalment of 'Travels in Thailand'.