When I first began dreaming of Thailand, I imagined golden Buddhas seated within intricate temples, heaping dishes of pad thai followed by cheap massages, and tropical islands studded with palm trees.
Every bit of those dreams are reality in the beautiful country of Thailand.
I flew into Bangkok & explored the Grand Palace, flower markets, and rooftop bars. I headed north to Chiang Rai for the most incredible Buddhist temples I’ve ever seen, then nearby Chiang Mai for more temples & more Thai food.
Finally I headed south to face the terrible task of deciding which Thai islands to visit. Did you know there are over 1000 islands in Thailand?
Here is an overview of some popular Thai islands, highlighting my favorite: Koh Lipe!
Best Islands to Visit in Thailand
The good news is that on many more accessible Thai islands, you can find a little bit of everything. (With exceptions like Koh Ngai, where there are beach resorts, but zero cars, roads, or houses!) Especially on larger islands, you can expect to find some mix of:
But at the same time, many Thai islands are known for something specific, so you might as well head to the best islands for nightlife, diving, resorts, or whatever you’re after.
You should also try to get a feel for the level of commercialization & development on an island. A more developed island may have more activities & convenience. Less development may mean a more relaxed pace and emphasis on natural beauty. Try to get up-to-date information, as development on different islands changes quickly over the years.
Here’s a quick overview of the more popular islands… ending with my very favorite.
This is the busiest, most-developed, and biggest island, at 30 miles long. It’s also the easiest to get to, with its own international airport. Phuket is the most popular Thai island.
You can find lots of international resort chains, like JW Marriott, Sheraton Grand, Westin, Club Med. There are pockets of high-energy commercialization & highrises, like Patong. And seedy nightlife on Bangla Road. If you’re looking for relaxed beach vibes, try to stay away from those tourist hotspots.
The good news is that Phuket is large enough that you can still escape to lovely stretches of sand, like Kata Beach. Plus you can take a 30 min speed boat over to the Koh Yao Islands to escape the rowdiness, or use Phuket as an easy base for island-hopping elsewhere.
Koh Samui can feel like much more of an island escape, as compared to urbanized Phuket. It does have an international airport, but with fewer flights than Phuket.
This beautiful Thai island is more relaxed & laid-back (although tourism continues to grow). It is manicured with lux beach resorts, beach clubs, and spas. Among 5-star resorts, you can find yoga retreats and beaches with calm, clear water.
Koh Phangan or Koh Pha Ngan is best known for legendary full moon parties (or half moon, quarter moon, black moon… there are lots of beach parties on this island!).
Backpackers flock here for the late nights with fire dancers and glow-in-the-dark body paint. There’s a range of accommodation, from budget to upscale. And although there are crowds, there is still a lot of natural beauty.
Koh Tao is primarily famous for scuba diving. You can see whale sharks, rays, and sea turtles, among tons of other marine life. This is the best place for scuba diving in Thailand.
Although it’s a small Thai island, it has close to 100 dive shops! Thailand is one of the cheapest countries to get scuba certified.
It’s also famous for the stunning Koh Nang Viewpoint over smaller nearby islands off of the western coast. (Which reminds me of the viewpoint on Padar Island of Komodo National Park, nearby in Indonesia!)
As with other destinations in Thailand, be sure to research safety & check government advisories.
Koh Phi Phi is a series of six islands, one of which is where the film The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio was filmed at Maya Bay. It has those famous, towering limestone rock formations (although you can find those on other Thai islands as well, like Railay Beach near Ao Nang).
However those rocks have spurred over-tourism and over-development on the small island. The Thai government actually closed down Maya Bay from 2018 to (tentatively) 2021, for nature’s recovery.
You can take a boat into the area, but no longer snorkel or set foot on the beach. Famous travel blogger Nomadic Matt even wrote an article about why he hates the Phi Phi islands.
Many people still love the islands, but again, it depends what you are looking for. You can fly to a nearby airport in Phuket or Krabi, then easily find a boat to take you to Koh Phi Phi. Keep in mind the main island Phi Phi Don is quite small — less than 5 miles long.
Ao Nang is actually not an island — in case you haven’t caught on, “Koh” is Thai for “island.”
But I wanted to include it here because it also has a nearby international airport in Krabi Town. Plus it’s another great base to begin island-hopping in Thailand.
Ao Nang is getting commercialized, but Krabi Town much less so. Plus the area is characterized by those famous craggy, sheer limestone cliffs. You can take a short boat ride over to Railay Beach to see the formations up close.
If possible, definitely visit other Thai beaches in addition to just Ao Nang, as water is not quite as striking. But the area is less developed than Phuket, in case that’s what you’re looking for as an island-hopping starting point.
Koh Lanta is made up of two large islands, the most popular of which is Koh Lanta Yai. It is the southernmost part of Krabi Province, and you can get to Koh Lanta from Krabi Town by a ferry, speedboat, or even van (that will do a ferry crossing).
Koh Lanta is charming & sleepy (the majority of homes got electricity in just 1996!). It is slow-paced, but there is a little bit of everything, due to its large size, which is about 20 miles long. The best way to get around is by motor bike, It is also a good jumping-off point for seeing other islands in the Adaman Sea.
This cluster of small islands is a great place for a quiet, remote beach getaway. They are separated from each other by a 30 minute boat ride, and have yet to be roped into the typical tourist routes (like Koh Phi Phi or Koh Samui). It is still easy enough to access them via regular speedboats from the mainland in Trang or Krabi.
Koh Mook, the largest & most populated of the three, can be traversed on foot in about 30 minutes. The island also has roads, motorbikes, and tuk tuks. The two main beaches are Sivalai Beach & the popular Charlie Beach. However the main tourist draw is Emerald Cave.
Emerald Cave is actually a sinkhole that can only be accessed at low tide. You can hire a longtail boat to take you to a cave entrance, where you jump into the water and swim with a headlamp through the dark waters. You emerge on beautiful white sand beach with turquoise water, but you are almost guaranteed to share the experience. Lots of tourists take day trips to the cave from surrounding islands.
Koh Kradan & Koh Ngai are even more quiet than Koh Mook. Neither one has roads or motorized vehicles. The accommodations are primarily mid-range to luxury, although a few budget options exist.
Koh Ngai is on the more expensive end. The only developed part is along the eastern coast, where there is a long strip of beach lined by hotels. The rest of the island is jungle, with a couple hiking trails. Longtail boats can take you between the pier and your hotel. Hornbills might greet you at sunrise!
Koh Kradan has fewer accommodation options, but offers remote beaches, some hiking trails, kayaking, and snorkeling in coral reefs from the shore.
Consider these small islands if you are looking for quiet seclusion, and able to pay a slightly higher price to get it.
Koh Lipe is my favorite Thai island that I have experienced so far. It has been called by some “the Maldives of Thailand.” Read on for everything you need to know before visiting Koh Lipe.
Why Visit Koh Lipe?
Koh Lipe has been called “the Maldives of the Thai islands” and has been said to have the best beaches in Thailand.
The island paradise is in the Andaman Sea — significantly farther south than many other popular Thai islands (It’s much closer to Malaysia than Bangkok!). This does add to the travel time, but means that the island is less developed & crowded. You won’t find the same crowds as easily-accessible destinations like Phuket.
- There are plenty of hotels & restaurants to choose from, but still lots of preserved nature areas to explore.
- You can get around easily by walking or hiring a tuktuk, but there aren’t any cars or busy roads.
- There are small tour companies to help you with water activities & nearby islands, or you can easily adventure on your own.
In my opinion, Koh Lipe strikes the perfect balance of just enough tourist infrastructure, without the over-development that detracts from natural beauty & culture!
…Plus the beaches, water, and natural beauty are arguably the best of any of the Thai islands.
Getting to Koh Lipe
Like I already mentioned, traveling to Koh Lipe can require a lengthy journey. I would recommend you spend at least 3 days on Koh Lipe to make the journey worthwhile; stopping at other islands on the way can help to break up the journey as well.
Koh Lipe is actually Thailand’s southernmost island! It is a short 2 hour boat ride away from the Malaysian island Langkawi, and many backpackers will cross the country borders via this route.
If you fly into Bangkok, you should take a domestic flight down to Krabi Town or Phuket. (The nearest airport is in Hat Yai or Trang, where you can take a boat from Pak Bara, but when I visited there was a travel advisory for Americans to avoid that part of Thailand due to civil unrest.) Koh Lipe itself does not have an airport.
When I traveled to Koh Lipe, I flew down to Krabi Town for two nights, took a ferry to Koh Lanta to visit for a few days, then a speed boat the rest of the way to Koh Lipe.
Other than the flights, I did not reserve any of the transportation in advance — I simply compared prices after asking around with hotel staff and local tour operators. I arranged and purchased most tickets the day before travel.
Here are the details of my journey:
Map showing the pier in Krabi Town, where you can take a ferry to Koh Lanta
The pier in Koh Lanta, where you arrive from Krabi Town, and depart for Koh Lipe
There is one late-morning ferry to Koh Lanta per day. I was able to walk from my accommodation in Krabi Town to the ferry port: Chao Fah Park Pier. The boat dropped me off at Khlong Mak Pier on the northern end of Koh Lanta. Many tuktuks were waiting at the pier to take tourists onward to their accommodations.
If you want to transfer to the pier directly from the Krabi Town airport, there is a cheap local minibus you can try to take into town. Or you can hire a taxi. I’m sure you could even find a van to take you to Koh Lanta from the airport, although it would be more expensive.
In addition to the ferry from Krabi Town to Koh Lanta, you can also opt for a seat in a van. The van will pick you up from your hotel in Krabi Town (or nearby Ao Nang), drive down the coast and then do a short ferry crossing onto the island of Koh Lanta, before dropping you off directly at your Koh Lanta accommodation. Your hotel in Krabi Town or Koh Lanta can help you arrange the van service — or you can ask local tour operators.
I opted for the ferry service because I had read some awful stories online about tourists being crammed into the vans for the 2+ hour journey. Depending on who is driving the van, they may make many local stops along the way to add more passengers, even if all seats are filled, or even deliver mail. So the van service can be a bit unreliable.
To travel onwards to Koh Lipe, you have to take a speed boat. (There is no ferry service from Koh Lanta, and if there was, it would take far too long.)
I had been dreading the speed boat because it can quickly turn into a treacherous journey depending on the weather, leading to a choppy journey. There are also several different companies to choose from, and I had read that many have delays, engine problems, and over-crowding. So I was really preparing myself for the worst!
But I’m happy to report that I had a fairly uneventful journey.
I bought my speedboat ticket in Koh Lanta from a tour company across the street from my hotel. After some negotiations, they agreed to throw in a free van transfer the next morning to the pier. The boat showed up on-time, and the skies were clear. The journey lasted about 3 hours, with some stops along the way at neighboring islands.
Over the course of the journey, I noticed most other passengers nodding off to sleep, despite the bumps. I’m guessing that everyone around me took some Dramamine at the start of the ride! Luckily there were plenty of empty seats for everyone to comfortably spread out for their naps.
There is no pier on the small island of Koh Lipe, so your speed boat will idle off-shore while some longtail boats approach, to ferry passengers to the beach in small groups.
You will arrive on Pattaya Beach, at the end of Walking Street — the busiest street on the little island. There are shops, vendors, and restaurants galore. From there, you can walk anywhere on the island in 20 minutes or less.
When I got to shore, my hotel had given me a phone number to call for their complimentary pick-up. A tuktuk arrived and whisked me through the pedestrian streets, as I soaked in the new sights. (If your hotel does not offer this, don’t worry — you can hire a tuktuk easily from the beach. Or walk!)
Speed boats arrive in Koh Lipe at Pattaya Beach. There is not a dock, so you will have to wade through the ocean or wait for a longtail to pick you up from the speed boat.
Koh Lipe Travel Recommendations
Overall, I have a few pieces of advice for your lengthy journey to Koh Lipe:
- Prepare to get wet! Some islands do not have piers, so you might have to walk through shallow water or transfer on smaller longtail boats. Plus you are likely to get splashed on the speedboats. Just secure your valuables and plan for you & your bags to get wet.
- Monsoon season is May-October. During that time, the boat rides are likely to be choppier, with more limited schedules.
- If you travel during high season, arrange your transportation & accommodations in advance. During low season, you could probably arrange everything day-of and be fine.
- When possible, arrange transportation through your hotel. That way they can arrange door-to-door pick-up & drop-off. If you feel like they might be overcharging you, you could always shop around at local tour shops to get an idea of the price to expect.
- Don’t be afraid to ask locals for advice. At the front desk of my hotel in Krabi Town, I explained that I was worried about getting seasick, so they recommended the ferry to Koh Lanta, rather than speed boat (bigger boat = more stability). Most people seemed friendly and happy to help.
- If you decide to travel between Koh Lipe and Langkawi, Malaysia, know that your passport will be confiscated during the boat journey. This is just the way they handle the boarder crossing. I opted against this, as I did not feel comfortable to risk having my passport out-of-sight, but many backpackers still take this route.
Things To Do in Koh Lipe
Once you finally arrive at this island paradise, I promise the journey will have been worth it! You can choose to fill your days with a lot or a little, but here are my top recommendations for what to do in Koh Lipe.
1. Go to the beach!
I’m guessing that if you are the type to island-hop in Thailand, you love beautiful beaches. Koh Lipe had some of the most beautiful beaches I have ever been to!
Here is an overview of the main beaches in Koh Lipe, starting with my favorite:
This is a small, idyllic beach that sits at the northernmost point of the island, and tends to be quiet and uncrowded. It sits below Mountain Resort Koh Lipe, but there are no bars or restaurants along the beach itself. To get here, you can cut through the resort property from the road, or walk north along Sunrise Beach.
The coolest feature is a narrow spit of fine, white sand that stretches out into the turquoise sea to form a shallow bath of water. All of the water is calm, turquoise, and clear. You can watch fish dodge you feet, and swim 50 yards out to an idyllic sand bar.
Longtail boats will occasionally sail by, and you can view neighboring islands like uninhabited Koh Adang from the beach. You can lay in the sun, or find shade under a palm tree.
Bulow Beach is calm, uncrowded, and hands-down beautiful.
Sunrise Beach spans most of the eastern coast of Koh Lipe. It is studded with romantic resorts, dive shops, and lively beach bars. Walking the entire length (from one end of the island to the other!) takes only about 20 minutes.
To get to Sunrise Beach, you can cut from the road through any resort property, or find a marked path. I found a narrow dirt path that led to Sea La Vie Bar — a lively outdoor bar with perfect island decor.
There is a lot more going on at Sunrise Beach compared to Bulow Beach, with lots of longtail boats anchored along the shore. But you will still find that same perfect, turquoise, calm ocean, lapping against white sand. And in the distance you can look at cool islands and rock formations like Koh Usen and Koh Tarutao.
Definitely don’t miss Sunrise Beach!
Pattaya Beach is a large beach along the southern coast. All speed boats arriving in Koh Lipe anchor offshore here. Eager longtail boats bring passengers to shore. In addition to the transportation hub, there is a lot of activity at Pattaya Beach, similar to Sunrise Beach. There are resorts, bars, and restaurants.
The beach is directly connected to the main road on the island, Walking Street (named so because there are no cars on Koh Lipe — only tuktuks and pedestrians!). So there can be a lot going on.
I walked from Walking Street onto Pattaya Beach at night and even found multiple fire twirlers entertaining dinner guests! Pattaya Beach is the closest thing you will find to the party atmospheres of Phuket or Koh Phangan while on Koh Lipe.
A fourth Koh Lipe beach not to be missed is Sunset Beach. As it sits on the northwest coast, the very best time to visit is of course during sunset.
Sunset Beach is in a more remote area, with some scattered resorts, but mostly just lush vegetation. A bit more off-the-beaten-path.
To get here, you will have to take some jungle paths and follow wooden signs. You might pass by some cool, hippie bars nestle in the woods. You can stop in for drink specials, then friendly locals will point you in the right direction.
Definitely plan to catch a beach sunrise and sunset in the same day while visiting Koh Lipe!
2. Go diving or snorkeling
3. Rent a kayak
Many dive shops and resorts have kayaks for rent. You can get a different perspective of the island, and explore small coves and beaches that aren’t easily accessible by land.
4. Stroll down Walking Street
There are about two main streets on the little island of Koh Lipe, and this is the largest one. Here you will find souvenir-filled shops, restaurants competing for your business, street food, open-air bars offering drink deals, and local tour offices. Pedestrians and tuktuks share the narrow road.
You can walk the entire street in under 10 minutes, from Sunrise Beach to Pattaya Beach. This is a great option for dinner or bar-hopping, after lounging all day on remote beaches.
5. Get a Thai massage
No list of things to do anywhere in Thailand would be complete without this one! No matter where you are in Thailand, you can usually find an authentic full-body Thai massage for about 200 baht (about $6 USD)! Just be sure to leave a tip as well.
6. Explore nearby islands
Koh Lipe has a privileged position inside of Tarutao National Marine Park, meaning it is surrounded by many pristine, uninhabited islands.
Tour companies will take you on day trips to nearby places like Koh Adang, Koh Hin Sorn, Koh Lugoi, and other others. There you can hike, snorkel, and experience even more remote beaches. If you don’t want to do a group day trip, you can always hire a private longtail boat as well.
When To Visit Koh Lipe
Like many islands, Koh Lipe has a high season with better weather and more tourists, and a low season with more rain and fewer crowds.
Low season: May-October
Low season corresponds with monsoon season in Koh Lipe. There is a lot more rain, and consequently fewer tourists. Some hotels, shops, and restaurants may be closed or schedule construction. Fewer boats make the journey to Koh Lipe, so be sure to check the schedules in advance; they might not be running everyday. And keep in mind you are more likely to have rough waters during your ride, which could trigger seasickness. But you will get even better prices and fewer crowds!
High season: November-April
Make sure you make transportation and accommodation reservations in advance! Many places book full this time of year. There is a ton of sunshine, and you’ll find larger crowds and steeper prices. But keep in mind it is still a relatively remote place, and prices all across Thailand are relatively cheap!
I visited Koh Lipe in early December. I booked my speedboat ticket a day in advance, and the seats were about half full. I booked a hotel room well in advance. The crowds I found were mainly on Walking Street, and I still had a very easy time finding empty stretches of beach. December was a great time to visit.
Where To Stay in Koh Lipe
Since Koh Lipe is such a small island, and you can walk from end to end in 10-20 minutes, it does not make a huge difference where you stay. You will always be very close to beaches and restaurants.
The exception is if you want to stay directly on the beach. Sunrise Beach has the best selection of beachfront resorts in Koh Lipe. The resorts farther north, towards Bulow Beach, become even more secluded — with palapas, beach chairs, and umbrellas for guests to relax under.
There is also a good selection of beachfront resorts on Pattaya Beach. You can find some budget beachfront accommodations as well, just not as many.
Cheaper accommodations tend to be inland. However keep in mind that you will still be able to walk to the beach from any inland hotel within 5-10 minutes, since the island is so small. There is also a good selection of hostels on Koh Lipe.
While on the island I stayed at The Reef Hotel — a modern property with plenty of western comforts, located in the center of the island. I paid about $50/night during high season, which included a great European breakfast at the on-property restaurant.
So… Should you visit Koh Lipe while island-hopping in Thailand?
My short answer is: yes!
If you travel the entire way to Thailand, I think it is worth it to extend your travels a bit more to reach this amazing place.
Overall when deciding which Thai islands to visit, you should consider what type of experience you want to prioritize. Lots of activities? Natural beauty? Depending on your answer, it might be worth your money & time to reach this lesser-known, more remote Thai island.
Koh Lipe is a small island with minimal development. To reach it requires a longer journey than Thailand’s most popular islands.
These facts about Koh Lipe mean you can have a less commercialized, more simplified experience. Out of reach of overwhelming crowds, you can slow down your pace. You can easily explore on foot. You can find a quiet, pristine spot to enjoy unspoiled nature. And this is the draw of Koh Lipe.