It’s Wed Jan 14 and we’re on Koh Lipe in the Andaman Sea, the farthest south we can go in Thailand before hitting Malaysia. We arrived here Monday, after taking a longtail boat from Libong to Had Yao pier and then the Tiger Line ferry to Lipe. The ferry is small and fast, shaped like a barracuda. We sat on deck chairs on the top deck for the 2 and 1/2 hour trip; it was really fantastic weather, sunny and cloudless.
When we arrived at Pattaya Beach, Lipe several long tail boats were waiting there to ferry us and our mountains of baggage to the beach. Having been dumped there, the first order of business was to find a place to stay. We persuaded a local guy with a motorcycle and sidecar to take us up the hill to the north to the Mountain Resort overlooking Adang Island and the inlet. This will be our base for the next ten days. Ty rode on the seat behind the guy and I was in the sidecar with our hundreds of pounds of baggage – the ride was like being on the Mad Mouse at Playland – weeeeeeeeeeeee!! That is, until we came to the last hill and the cycle ground to a halt. We had to push it up the remaining few meters.
The resort has many bungalows arranged on the shady hillside above the beach and a cavernous, atmosphere-less lodge house restaurant. We’ve taken to calling it the “wind tunnel” because sitting there is like sitting in front of a jet engine blast. The wind is relentless in the morning and evening. The first night it was so strong I was worried that a tree would blow down on us but we lived through the night. Below, on the beach, are the Karma Bar and one of the hundreds of Thai massage parlours. Many longtail boats are parked in the water at the bottom of the stairs, waiting to ferry customers back and forth to the other islands and the mainland.
Two sets of steep, long stairs allow people to get from the beach to the bungalows. We made the mistake of eating dinner in the resort restaurant the first night we were here – bad move. There were more wait staff than customers, and it was a bit disconcerting watching them watch us and pounce on us as soon as we glanced over at them. Most of the food was quite bad, Thai food made bland and tasteless for the European palate. The only exception was the Tom Yum seafood soup (not on menu) – that was very good and the most expensive thing on the bill. The resort is anonymous, in the sense that, unlike on Libong, no one here says hello or even acknowledges others – each linguistic or cultural group sticks to its own kind; Swedes, Germans, and Italians are the main clusters, with the odd North American.
Tuesday we walked into “town”, along a sandy path through the forest and onto the main drag, a very narrow paved motorcycle path. This area of the island, pretty much in the centre, is where most of the shops and restaurants are. These primarily consist of massage parlours, bars, coffee houses and restaurants, with the odd convenience store and small bookshop thrown in. Visually the place reminds me quite a bit of Ganges on Saltspring Island, with shops and businesses in among the trees. It is quite pretty and quite touristy. Almost everything seems to have been designed with the European and North American tourist in mind and people flock to the places that seem familiar. It is sad to see that almost no-one patronises the places run by local people because they’re not as done up or “funky”.
After having a coffee at a bakery we walked to the south end of Pattaya Beach, where we found what looked to be an abandoned resort and a custom house occupied by one lone soldier in camouflage carrying a submachine gun. Behind the shiny new bungalows and funky shops are the workers’ hovels, all tin roofs, chickens, and rusted corrugated metal, many with satellites dishes for the ubiquitous TVs. Here the women wash laundry for the resorts and the men ride around on motorcycles.
From there we crossed the island on foot and went body surfing at Sunrise Beach. The howling wind there really kicked up the waves and we had a great time frolicking in the water. After that, we continued on around the point to “our” beach below the Mountain Resort bungalows. After a cool one at the Karma Bar we retired to our room for a siesta.
In the evening, after a coffee break at Kafair, we walked back to Pattaya beach and watched the locals play beach volleyball and the beach dogs scratch themselves. One older gent with long wavy dyed black hair and a very dark tan graced us with the sight of his black speedo swimsuit pulled down to expose his stringy buttocks as he sunned himself into that all-over tan – I had to avert my eyes …. Strolling along the beach at sunset was very pleasant – everyone was out enjoying the gentle breeze and the sun going down. Dinner at Fino’s consisted of a cashew nut and bacon pizza and, by 7 pm, it was pitch dark. We walked back over hill and down dale, using our night vision lights to see where we were going, and arrived without incident at the Karma Bar, where Ty proceeded to drink the place out of Cuba libres until late.
So far, my impressions of this place are that it is entirely devoted to extracting money from western tourists (it’s a fair bit more expensive than Libong) and allowing old hippies to flourish in reggae bars and peace and love coffee shops. If you were wondering what happened to everyone from the 60s and 70s, they’re here on Lipe, wearing tie-dyed batik and beads, letting both hair and breasts swing in the breeze.
Unlike on Libong, where we were two of about 30 tourists on the island, here we are faces in a crowd. There seems to be very little left of authentic Thai life here. On Libong, the villagers carried on with their lives pretty much indifferent to the two resorts, making sheets of rubber and fishing. Here the only occupation seems to be catering to the tourists. This sign says it all: “Koh Lipe finish because Swedish arrive”. Evidence of the 2004 tsunami is here, too. The old Andaman Resort bungalows destroyed by the tidal wave stand rotting behind the rows of new ones built since 2004.