Once upon a time, in a cliché far, far away, Koh Lipe was THE iconic "Paradise Lost" – a backpacker secret, somewhere to set the compass towards, whatever the hassle. Now, no more – Thailand's coast includes almost fifteen-hundred islands, and Koh Lipe is a Top-5 honeypot – not just with the traditional backpacker set, but also Thai tourists and a bunch of affluent Pacific Rim locals. This is no Phuket, no Patong though – it takes a bit of work to get there and Lipe's DNA still contains the vital strands of a great tropical island experience - walkable size, no cars, world-class beaches, friendly fellow travellers and the unique feeling you've made the perfect travel choice. Remarkably, the island still has something for everyone, with both extremes of Pattaya Beach bookended by two very different resorts – one 300 baht a night, the other almost 6000 – same beach, same view. I didn't get a chance to visit Lipe when I passed by in 2009, so this time I wasn't going to miss out…
Want to know how I arrived on Koh Lipe? - go here.
Go HERE to see the full 360º panorama of this amazing Koh Lipe pic (sadly not mine!)- worth a look.
Walking Street is Lipe's Sunset Boulevard, its La Rambla, its Khao San Road. A scruffy, 2 metre-wide, under-a-kilometre-long strip of badly laid concrete links the Southern end of Pattaya Beach to the centre of Sunrise Beach. No more than a five minute walk at a brisk pace from end to end, but hot and humid here and we're all on holiday, so let's leave the brisk pace for back home please shall we?
You'll have to make up your own mind about Walking Street. For the purists, it symbolises everything wrong with the "New Lipe", though the street is nothing more than a simple product of supply and demand. On a typical night, hanging out with Sophie, a snorkelling tour buddy from Germany, and her impossibly-cute son Diego, the street delivers everything a visitor needs. First, a pre-dinner snack for Diego at the mad Roti place run by a gang of smiling Malaysian girls - they've just printed 30 or so of the most insane pancake combos on a big sheet of PVC outside, and waited for the happy (and hungry) tourists to turn up. Moving on, head East up to Raklay Seafood for 150-baht-fresh-off-the-boat barracuda steak, veg pad thai and mango shakes, before a stroll down to Lekka Lipe for a couple of scoops of imported gelato served by a chic Italian woman and finally that all-important Big Chang over ice on the beach at Pattaya Song.
Ultimately, I LIKED Walking Street, particularly the Eastern end where it merges with the outskirts of the Chao Ley village and gets a bit scruffier and a little more "local". Keep an eye open and you'll catch some neat insights into island life. The alley between the back end of my resort and the village passed a small, open-fronted Thai massage shop, shoulder season empty most of the time with the staff short on customers but long on friendly greetings whenever I wandered by. One morning though, rather than lounging around, texting or chatting, the masseurs were all kneeling respectfully in a semi-circle. In front of them on one of the platforms were two monks surrounded by a multitude of food dishes and incense sticks – an evocative tableau and one I can't imagine being played out in a hairdressers back home. Or, when was the last time you were passed by a moped driven by a smiling 10 year-old girl, baby brother and two equally young friends piled on behind? So yes, Koh Lipe is busy, expensive and over-developed, but also charming, atmospheric and friendly.
It's the island's signature sand strip, but daytime on Pattaya was a little busy for my tastes. As the day ends though, its charms unfold. The rigours of the day's swimming and lounging over, half the island happily perambulates the water's edge, enjoying the sunset. With a not-entirely-awful "Italian" pizza joint hawking 100 baht double slices from late afternoon, sitting in the sand with a cheeky can of Chang from the minimart and a slice of margherita is the perfect "I-would-never-do-this at-home-naughty-but-oh-so-nice" culinary intermezzo - just to tide me over until dinner, you understand?
Then, as the last of the light fades, Pattaya shifts gear again – from the island's largest open-air tanning salon into the island's largest open-air seafood restaurant. Neat rows of tables appear in the sand, each block sectioned off with burning torches and menus stands under little pyramids of LED light, flanking trays of local seafood on mountains of ice ready for the choosing. Dinner, a few beers and then plan tomorrow's snorkelling trip - perfect.
Bits and pieces
- The all-important beer price index - A Big Chang at the Sunrise end of Walking Street is 100 (Check out Nee Papaya for cold cheap beer and bargain seafood), whilst Up West on Pattaya 170 might be your unpleasant surprise for the day. Get out of town to the remoter, shack-like operations though and things drop down to 80. For those who prefer not be hammered on a single bottle (Chang tastes like 5%, says it's 6.4% and feels like 8%), Singha is everywhere for 20-30 baht more a bottle.
- For those who want to keep the cost of a meal well South of 100 baht, a great Thai option is the stall with the red sign about 20m from the Pattaya end of Walking Street on the right (South).
- I had a great 5 day visit, but it's not hard to see that tourism and uncontrolled development is uncomfortably close to destroying the reason so many people fix their compasses on the island as a destination. Do what you can - refuse plastic bags at the mini marts and support places like Pooh Bar which offer water refills.