I visited 6 Thai islands - one I recommend has beautiful beaches and better-than-Instagram sunsets
- I spent weeks before my recent trip to Thailand trying doing research on the "best" islands to visit.
- After visiting six islands in two weeks, my top recommendation for people seeking a relaxing vacation on an incredibly gorgeous island is to book a trip to Koh Lipe.
- Koh Lipe is a strikingly beautiful place, with electric blue water, white beaches, and jaw-dropping sunrises and sunsets.
- The island is also manageable in size, offers great snorkeling trips, and serves as a perfect jumping-off point for island hopping.
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Planning the perfect island vacation to Thailand takes a lot more Googling than it feels like it should.
You have to book flights and find hotels. You need to find the right time to visit, plus how much you need to budget. And, if you're traveling to the Thai islands, Googling is also part of the process of answering a key question: Which of the hundreds of islands should you make time to visit?
For weeks, my Google history was littered with searches like "What island in Thailand is best" and "What Thailand island should I go to" and "Thailand island ranking?" I decided to focus my efforts in the Andaman Sea, knowing I would eventually be flying out of the conveniently located Phuket. The Instagram-famous Phi Phi Islands seemed like a no-brainer. And, a friend convinced me to take some time in the low-key Koh Lanta.
But, after visiting six islands in two weeks, I can say that my favorite island has been one that wasn't even on my original schedule.
I added Koh Lipe to the list of destinations last minute, after rerouting my trip due to coronavirus. And, I could not be happier with my decision.
Koh Lipe is the kind of place that feels like it should only exist on Instagram, with white beaches and electric blue water that is more striking in person than in photos. The sunrises and sunsets were borderline spiritual experiences. The island is manageable in size, easy to navigate, deeply relaxing, and an easy starting point for more island hopping.
The only issue with Koh Lipe is the worry that its growing popularity could turn it into another overcrowded tourist frenzy. So, if you're planning an island getaway in Thailand, I recommend you book a trip to Koh Lipe now - before it is too late.
Koh Lipe is one of the southernmost islands in the Andaman Sea, near Thailand's border with Malaysia.
It is also one of the most beautiful places I have been in my life. Waking up every day to the blue water and lush greenery, I felt like I was living in a simulation based on the platonic ideal of an island getaway.
The L-shaped island has three main beaches: Pattaya Beach (which is more resort- and nightlife-centric), Sunrise Beach, and Sunset Beach.
Based on the quality of sunrises and sunsets alone, I would put Koh Lipe high on my list of the most beautiful places I have visited in the world.
I stayed at a bungalow resort in between Sunrise and Sunset Beach. Almost every day, I woke up at around 6 a.m. to walk 10 minutes to see the sun come up on the eastward-facing beach.
Around sunset, I'd walk five minutes from my bungalow to Sunset Beach to sip a beer and watch the sun go down.
The island is just as beautiful in the light of day. I would find myself looking at the turquoise water, unable to believe that the colour could be found in nature.
I would be happy to have spent my time on Koh Lipe doing nothing but laying on the beach, taking a dip or just watching the waves come in.
But, despite fully embracing the island lifestyle, I was technically working while I was on the island. So, I spent a lot of time in the center of town on "Walking Street."
The island has a small but bustling area filled with restaurants, small shops selling beach essentials, and a few crucial pharmacies and 7-Elevens.
Koh Lipe is not as cheap as some backpacker destinations, but it's still relatively inexpensive.
I spent $47 (R883) a night for a bungalow with a view of the ocean; you can easily find a hostel for $10 (R187) a night. Most meals cost me between $3 (R56) and $9 (R169).
Koh Lipe is extremely easy to get around. There are no cars and few motorbikes on the island, but it's easy to walk pretty much anywhere you want to go.
Plus, it's easy to grab a tuk-tuk from most places on the island for a set fee of 50 baht (about $1.50).
Not staying directly on one of the main beaches let me avoid some of the more touristy aspects of the island. At the same time, being able to walk anywhere gave me the freedom to explore over the course of five days.
It's also incredibly easy to get off Koh Lipe, with a wide selection of day trips that are mostly focused on diving and snorkeling.
Most snorkeling trips are 600 to 900 baht ($19 to $25). The standard routes to the inner or outer islands can get a bit crowded, as most tours run on the same general schedule.
Still, you'll see incredible beaches and a shocking amount of fish. As someone who got a few low-key jellyfish stings, I'd suggest wearing a rash guard if you have one!
If you want to visit some beautiful and mostly empty beaches — for free! — show up to help pick up trash.
Organisations like Do It By Heart send out boats of volunteers to pick up trash on nearby islands. While part of the time is spent collecting plastic bottles and garbage left by tour groups, you also get to visit some incredible, smaller islands.
Getting to and from Koh Lipe is another reason it's high on my list for vacation spots. It's not super convenient, but the journey is manageable and sets you up for further travels in Malaysia or Thailand.
Koh Lipe is one of the closest Thai islands to the Malaysia boarder. I arrived via a two-hour speedboat ferry from Langkawi, after a short flight from Kuala Lumpur — a relatively painless route that included going through immigration and customs on the beach.
It's easy to get to other islands in Thailand from Koh Lipe, making it a great destination to kick off an island-hopping adventure. During high season, Koh Lipe is the last stop before Langkawi on a ferry that travels to other islands including Koh Lanta, Koh Phi Phi, and Phuket.
Koh Lipe's beauty is making it an increasingly popular destination for travelers from around the world, which could be a cause of concern for the island's future.
James Abbott, founder of coworking space KoHub on Koh Lanta, was one of a number of people to express concerns to me that Koh Lipe was becoming too commercial. At times, the crowds in areas such as Walking Street, Pattaya Beach, and the island's northernmost point could take away from the beach fantasy.
I can't deny that Koh Lipe feels like a tourist destination. You shouldn't book a trip here if you're seeking some kind of "authentic" immersive cultural experience. And, if you want a party island, there are probably better options.
But, I found it easy to walk a bit away from the main stretch of beach and find spots where it felt like I was the only person on the island.
Booking a resort a bit away from the busyness of Pattaya and parts of Sunrise Beach made my stay feel like a relaxing retreat from hoards of travelers.
I also may have had a slightly skewed experience in terms of crowds. When I visited, the island was slightly less busy than it can be during high season, due to the drop in tourism across Southeast Asia due to coronavirus fears.
Despite the tourists and the recent rise of resorts, a chill and quirky vibe continues to live on at Koh Lipe.
Koh Lipe tops my list of island recommendations in Thailand because it offers up an island fantasy in one gorgeous, manageable package.
As someone visiting Thailand for the first time, I wanted to go somewhere I could relax on the beach, get to other islands easily, and not have to worry too much about getting around.
Koh Lipe met and exceeded my expectations in every way.
Less than two weeks after leaving Koh Lipe, I'm already plotting a return trip to the island.
I know that I need to head back relatively soon, as the island risks being completely overrun by visitors from around the world.
But, for now, if you're thinking of taking a trip to Thailand and are seeking an island paradise, I can't think of a better destination than Koh Lipe.
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