Ko Lipe : When 'Paradise' becomes a victim of its own popularity?

Koh Lipe Travel Blog

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Stevie faces down the breeze on the mega-power speedboat to the Koh Turatao National Marine Park :)
Hello again gang!  You join me now, my nose and eyes peeking over the prow of the mega-horse powered Pak Bara to Ko Lipe speedboat.  Five monstrous looking 225cc Honda outboard engines are strapped to the back of this beast and churning the sea to a frothy, foamy cosmos in its wake.  Up front the wind is ripping through my sun-rusted locks and wind induced tears are streaming down my face despite the shades.  Every now and then the boat, big as it is, launches off a wave causing some wincing when we all come crashing back down onto our respective ankles, feet and knees.

I journeyed down by bus from Krabi yesterday and a nice Swiss girl Miriam and I slummed it on accommodation in the pier point town of Pak Bara by fluking 100 Baht per head for a bed each in a family’s spare utility room.
Beautiful seclusion... a shore fringe at Koh Turatao.
  We, plus lots of other lovely peeps, Jessica & Christina (Germany) and Bobby & Mary (England/ Ireland) chief among them ( Mary, your family’s pub ‘Ma Murphys’ will be one of my very first points of pilgrimage when I return home!) are now all bound via the speedboat for various drop offs within the Ko Tarutao National Marine Park, a cluster of approx 51 mostly unpopulated islands within a 1,400km square area of the Andaman Sea at the very southern extremity of Thailand’s marine borders.  As with most of Thailand’s National Parks a 200 Baht entry fee is required.  In theory valid for 1 week, but hey, who’s checkin’?!

The principle islands for tourism purposes are the Park headquarters, and largest island of Ko Tarutao (where the boat stops first), Ko Adang and Ko Lipe.
The perfect sands and waters of a little atol that the speedboat stops to let us admire.
  Sadly I only have about 3 days before my current Thai visa expires so not wanting to spread the experience too thin I have plumped to spend my time on the last of these.  Ko Lipe seems to rank very highly in the reconstituted Chinese-whispers and recommendations that lace the breeze of enamoured and outdated travel chatter and experiences on the trail and in the guidebooks.  “An unspoilt island paradise”, “A backpackers haven… one of the last!”, the Nov 2006 ‘Rough Guide’ has it pinned as ‘something of a frontier maverick’ whatever that might mean?  But it sounds enticing to me!

Mary, Bobby & Miriam left at Turatao, it’s Jess, Chris and I who disembark onto the mid-sea platform from the speedboat to catch a group Long Tail onto Ko Lipe’s shore.
Hat Pattaya beach, looking less choked than usual, Ko Lipe
  Unless your group specifically require/ demand otherwise this will entail being taken to the 1km or so stretch of Pattaya Beach.  It is either here, fringing the beach’s edge or running along one of the main ‘roads’ in land that the majority of accommodation and island amenities are to be found.  Ko Lipe proved a little tricky for me straight off the bat to try and keep my  budget down.  My initial reactions to the sight of the island and Pattaya beach (more of those later) were disappointing to say the least and a search for any bungalow or room for cheaper than about 600 Baht proved sweaty and near fruitless despite the fact I lugged all my gear a good long way off the beach front, and back again, and then back in land again!  In the end, desperate and not wanting my mounting ire at the situation to poison my response to Ko Lipe too far, I settle grudgingly for a nice enough bungalow for 500 Baht.
:) TB love!!!
 

Hearkening back to the rose-tinted reputations that this island has, as a super-chilled backpacker, or ‘hippy-trail’ haven it must be said that whilst this may have been true, even in the not too distant past, Ko Lipe has quite clearly turned that final corner; that point of financial no return where hyper-developed tourism has made its nest firmly upon the island with all that that entails.  I will start by emphasising that there is still plenty that is serene and beautiful about Ko Lipe if sought out and they will feature in my writings of this time in my journey.  But I found it - one could almost say educative, or at least eye-opening - to bear witness to an island; a destination just moments (relatively speaking) after the balance between commercial concerns and those considerations of environmental appeal and respect therein has begun to tip too far in favour of the former.
Shored up Long Tail


As goes with many islands within Thai national parks, permanent settlement and development are prohibited for reasons of natural preservation, but Ko Lipe populated by the chao ley peoples is a bit of an exception.  Out of respect for the fact that they and their families were forced to move here in the mid-20th Century by the Thai government, no attempts are made to hamper their needs.  These needs being facilitated near enough 100% by island tourism, the over-development that‘s currently ongoing was inevitable I suppose.  All fine and well, but even talking to some of the ‘locals’, those running dive centres etc, they say that even in the last 12 - 18 months something fundamental has altered in the character of the island that may spell the death knell, at least, of those old romantic preconceptions of the place as an unhurried, soul-nirvana.
Footprints in the sand ... ya gotta love those photographic cliches
  And when the reputation goes, the money often moves on too.  

Pattaya beach itself, far as I’m concerned is a bit of a horror.  Don’t get me wrong, it’d be lovely were it not for the fact that the entire of its length is choked, and I mean completely choked with marine traffic, whether it be speedboats or Long Tails.  They never end!  Only a specific, roped area of the Railay beaches were given over to the modest Long Tail traffic, but here chaos reigns and obliterates the function of the beach for all safe, scenic paddling and swimming purposes.  

There’s a curious mix of visitors here.  Backpackers and decades-tan-darkened ex-pats as evident as you’d expect in this ’frontier maverick’ island but wealthy family package tourism has now firmly plonked its overweight butt on these shores too.
  Bungalow and resort development continues a-pace (some pretty high end stuff…some not so) making a bit of an eyesore of some of the islands interior and the main concreted avenues that criss-cross this small, very walkable island (not much more than 1.5 - 2km in any particular direction shore to shore) are cluttered with mini-marts, tourist agencies, pretty low-grade restaurants, bars,  internet cafes, tattooists and massage parlours.  Nothing out of the ordinary for any self-respecting Thai island trying to make its way in the world - “jus’ like anybody else mate, jus’ tryin’ ta earn a livin’ an’ ‘s m’right at do so pal!” -  it’s just a little less, well?… expected here I guess.
Sunset at Pattaya beach
  The shock of hot expectations dunked in the cool waters of reality a little too quickly, and fracturing as a consequence, causing a crack, a flaw to course through the core of my response to the place.

I stroll around the area around Pattaya beach, bumping into Jess and Chris from time to time.  It’s not quite what they’d expected either.  I get pro-active about the coming days booking a diving excursion for tomorrow and also buying my tickets to Langkawi, Malaysia for 2 days time at a cost of 1,100 Baht (£22).  Time for bed.  I promise to be more positive about things tomorrow!
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Stevie faces down the breeze on th…
Stevie faces down the breeze on t…
Beautiful seclusion... a shore fri…
Beautiful seclusion... a shore fr…
The perfect sands and waters of a …
The perfect sands and waters of a…
Hat Pattaya beach, looking less ch…
Hat Pattaya beach, looking less c…
:)  TB love!!!
:) TB love!!!
Shored up Long Tail
Shored up Long Tail
Footprints in the sand ... ya gott…
Footprints in the sand ... ya got…
Sunset at Pattaya beach
Sunset at Pattaya beach
Bobby and Mary on the speedboat...…
Bobby and Mary on the speedboat..…
Bungalows, painted brightly on Pat…
Bungalows, painted brightly on Pa…
Long Tails on Pattaya beach
Long Tails on Pattaya beach
Ko Adang, the large island reserve…
Ko Adang, the large island reserv…
Long Tail prow (detail)
Long Tail prow (detail)
Dried palm (abstract)
Dried palm (abstract)
Monks at the waters edge.
Monks at the waters edge.
Beach hut (abstract)
Beach hut (abstract)
There are lots of dogs running aro…
There are lots of dogs running ar…
Beach (abstract)
Beach (abstract)
Beach tide drift detritus (abstrac…
Beach tide drift detritus (abstra…
Patterns in the sand (abstract)
Patterns in the sand (abstract)
Somebody else carved a heart in th…
Somebody else carved a heart in t…
Ko Lipe greenery (abstract)
Ko Lipe greenery (abstract)
Tree Print (Ko Lipe)
'Tree Print' (Ko Lipe)
Pattay beach light
Pattay beach light
Koh Lipe
photo by: Mezmerized