Telaga, Langwaki > Koh Lipe, Thailand.
If you're heading towards Koh Lipe from Langkawi in Malaysia, two choices await - the "slow" ferry from Kuah, or one of a handful of speedboat services, the newest of which, complete with slick online booking, is based at Telaga Harbour on Langkawi's Northwestern coast.
There's nothing even remotely "Exotic Asia" about Telaga Harbour - expensive yachts and Sunseekers abound, with the Panorama Langkawi cable car just visible in the misty hills above - everything here is very First World and very "New Malaysia". Telaga's "International Departure Terminal" is just a simple open seating area with a friendly guy to talk you through the check-in process, a flat screen showing the History Channel, plus a little snack bar. With a Petronas gas station mini-mart around the corner for stocking up on dried mango (the Malay stuff is far nicer than the Thai brands, trust me) what more do you need? If the answer to that question is a KFC and a restaurant, then just look next door.
On time at 9.30am, we wandered down the jetty ramp and were away within minutes, sliding slowly out of the narrow harbour neck before our captain pointed the bow Northwest and pushed the throttles forward.
Your Langkawi to Koh Lipe journey will be quick, but limited fun. Even with a flat calm sea there's no point in attempting to talk or read with four roaring outboards 10 feet behind you. Stylish (pink, lemon, acid green!) disposable ponchos were handed out but not really necessary as very little spray made its way into the cabin. Not much to see apart from the odd fishing trawler but, less than an hour for the whole trip and, since Thailand is an hour behind Malaysia, you arrive on Lipe pretty much when you depart - 9.30am for the morning departure...
As Lipe grew larger over the bow, the skies began to clear until, almost as the speedboat throttled down and rounded the headland into Pattaya Beach, the sun finally put in an appearance for those all-important desert island arrival shots. Surprisingly, the Telaga speedboat fare includes the transfer from mid-bay moored pontoon to the beach, so no 50 baht longtail tax this time and that's it - you're standing on a beautiful beach in the Land of Smiles - physically if not officially.
Thai immigration, Koh Lipe style
Rewind a couple of hours to the speedboat terminal in Langkawi and you might remember that the nice check-in lady kept your passport. Why? Well, since the formalities of entering Thailand take place on an open beach, with bars and restaurants beckoning in every direction, a “positive inducement” is obviously needed to keep everyone focused on the paperwork and away from the cheap Chang. So, since there's nothing that makes a traveller sweat more than being separated from their passport, the system works VERY well.
With the sand between your toes on a blindingly white beach, just answer your name when called, say where you're staying (prob best to have a resort name in mind, even if, as me, no actual booking existed) and then wait. My passport emerges freshly-stamped within 5 minutes and that's it - you're free to go - welcome to Koh Lipe people...
- Getting to Telaga harbour: Langkawi taxis are expensive by Asian standards, but are at least fixed price - my trip from Kuala Melaka Inn cost 24 MYR - the same price quoted by both my airport taxi guy and the motel desk.
- Like most, I received just a 15-day entry pass since I entered Thailand overland.