KOH LIPE, THAILAND
Koh Lipe is a small island close to the Tarutao National Marine Park in the South West of Thailand. It has good off-the-beach snorkelling – I’d say it was among the top five places in Thailand for it. There is moderate diversity in the coral species, although there is not much of the classic staghorn-coral gardens than you might find in, say, the Philippines or Indonesia. There’s a pretty good population of colourful reef fish, plus you can also find more interesting species such as batfish, lobsters, sting-rays and moray eels.
There are good facilities and beautiful beaches up-top.
All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.
– – – –
By far the best snorkelling is around the drop-off that runs along Sunrise beach on the East coast (marked B to C, on the map). In my opinion, Sunrise beach is also the best beach on the island (softer sand, fewer crowds), so let’s start there.
Underwater, there is sandy bottom with the occasional small patch of coral. The snorkelling in area A isn’t particularly outstanding, but there are often big packs of grey parrotfish and moon wrasse scavenging around, and, more interestingly, I have occasionally seen blue-spotted stingrays and moray eels here.
Entering the water from the beachlets near area A is handy if you want to swim out the 100 metres to the uninhabited rocky island, Koh Usen. It is also a useful entry/exit point for the rest of Sunrise beach if there is an extremely low tide. Mostly, access into the water is not much of a problem in Lipe, but there is a big tidal-range and things can get very shallow at spring-tide lows. In the very worst case, you can get in the water at A and swim around the back of Koh Usen and approach the drop-off (at B) from the seaward side, but it’s a bit of a hike. 95% of the time you wouldn’t need to go to such effort.
Watch out for longtail boats passing around area A, taking tourists between the resorts and the long-distance ferries on Pattaya beach. Also, there can be a bit of a current parallel to the beach when the tide is turning. Neither one is a massive problem.
Koh Usen is rocky around the edges. There are some sandy shallows on the Lipe side where you might find some interesting critters sheltering, like this juvenile batfish:
Going round the far side of rocky Koh Usen is a bit of a schlep, but there you will find several attractive fish species that feed-off the algae on the rocks – like these powder-blue surgeonfish, lined surgeonfish and the beautiful but timid orangespined unicornfish.
I have also seen a couple of black-tip reef sharks there, off in the deep. Scared about sharks ? Read this.
The reef-proper starts at area B (roughly 100m straight-out from Idyllic Resort). Starting here, and running the whole (1km) length of Sunrise beach, you have a long, wide strip of reef at depths of 1m to 3m. At the edge, the reeftop has a drop-off, starting around 3m and goes to at least 10m.
Between B and C, you have about 30 x 1000 metres of reef to potter around on. If you are starting from the beach and you haven’t found a solid chunk of reef around area B, then you haven’t swam out far enough. Just keep going, away from the beach.
Note that about one third of the coral is dead. Much of the living coral is simple hump-coral in various shades of brown, so it isn’t going to be the technicolour cornucopia you might want, but there is plenty to see and lots of interesting crevices to nose-around in for wildlife.
Pretty much everywhere off Sunrise beach you can see common species like parrotfish, nemos (anemonefish), colourful clams; damselfish and wrasse.
For more information on underwater beasties, have a look at the Specieslist.
All these pics were taken snorkelling off Sunrise Beach:
all images on this site are clickable for bigger versions
The reef is pretty interesting all the way along its 1km length and it is your best choice for snorkelling on Koh Lipe. If there has to be an exact best spot, it’s at D, near the drop-off (about 120m out), directly opposite Castaway resort. Castaway have a line of yellow flags flying on the beach, so you should be able to see where you are from these. But don’t get too hung-up on the exact best spot – it’s pretty similar all the way along the dropoff.
If you are entering the water from part way along Sunrise beach, be sure that you swim far enough out to find the reef-proper and the drop-off. Closer to the beach, the coral is pretty sparse and patchy and not very special. You sometimes see people getting out of the water looking unimpressed, because they didn’t swim out far enough to find the reef.
That said, it was somewhere in the shallows there that I bumped into this uncharacteristic patch of gorgeous purple porites coral:
I also found a bit of staghorn coral in the shallows toward the northern end, and a few other interesting coral species:
While we’re on the subject of corals – there’s very little soft coral on Lipe. In fact, this is about the sum-total that I saw at Lipe:
However, I did see a lot more soft coral on a daytrip to some neighbouring uninhabited islands about 5 km away from Koh Lipe. I cover this in detail in another page here.
– – –
Continuing North along Koh Lipe’s Sunrise beach, the small offshore islet Koh Kra has a cute little beach bisecting it.
There are lots of broken shell fragments on the beach there, so wear something on your feet of you are going to stop here.
Point E, just to the North of Koh Kra is another good spot for interesting coral and fishlife:
Generally, the fish around Lipe are a bit nervous around people and will swim away of you get too close. But, for unknown reasons, one morning I found heaps of friendly fish all lounging around area E, waiting to have their pictures taken, like this.
There was also a shoal of needlefish, cruising around the shallows near Koh Kra,
This hermit crab, was wandering around a chunk of hump coral.
And this Scorpionfish, confidently sitting on the bottom at about 2 metres depth.
You don’t want to stand on a Scorpionfish, they have venomous spines on their back which can do you a serious injury. Generally, there aren’t too many underwater things that are going to hurt you in Southern Thailand, but here are a few to keep an eye out for:
I have written some notes on snorkelling ‘dangers’ (and how to avoid them) over here.
There can be some current around point E (it runs parallel to the main beach). If there is a current running, it may be going from G to E to A, or in the opposite direction, A-E-G. For an easy life, work out which way it is running (look at buoys, moored boats, swimmers), then walk to the upstream-end and float down along the reef. Most of the time there is no current.
Heading North (West) from E, the reef fades out and its back to boring sandy bottom. There are some pillars from a derelict pier around F,
which provides shelter from currents and attracts some fish. I saw this uncommon juvenile boxfish there:
The beach is gorgeous, but I couldn’t find very much spectacular underwater. Mostly plain sandy bottom with the occasional bommie of Hump Coral and a few nemos:
Not wanting to miss anything I decided to swim round the lesser-visited North side of the island. It took 7 hours to get from Mountain Resort (G) round to Pattaya beach (K), so I don’t recommend doing it. There’s not much underwater worth seeing anyway.
A better option is to walk the 15 minutes over to Sunrise Beach for snorkelling that is 10 times better.
Heading (south) West (towards point I), you would go past Mia Luna Beach; Bila Beach and some remote, inaccessible beachlets which look cute, but suffer from lots of plastic waste washed up on them. There is nothing much of interest snorkelling-wise on this stretch.
At the cape, near point (i), there are a few rocks with the usual collection of algae feeders, but, there’s not enough to make it worthwhile making the long swim out here. There were a family of excitable monkeys on the rocks of the cape. There are no roads or tracks down that way so hopefully they will stay undisturbed.
As you get closer to the Pattaya end, there are a couple of isolated beachlets (which you can also reach overland from the road/track that runs West past Bila Bungalows), but there is nothing special to see underwater.
Unsurprisingly, the species on view are generally the same on this side of the island as they were on the East side, although I did see this one Blue Ringed Angelfish which I didn’t see any of on Sunrise.
There are some more isolated clumps of coral as you head round towards Pattaya beach (K). There are also some rocks and associated fauna.
Actually, there is reef all the way along Pattaya beach (about 200m out), but with all the boats coming and going, it’s just too dangerous to swim out there. If you want to snorkel at Pattaya beach, pick one of the two ends, K or L. There are rocks and a some coral at each end. The better of the two is K, near the rocks outside Sanom Resort. There are lots of isolated bommies of hump coral around there:
and you can find interesting critters like lionfish, morays and even oriental sweetlips hiding underneath them.
Personally, I would prefer to take a ten minute walk across the island to the more extensive reef off Sunrise beach, but areas K and L are also a good option in the evenings when the sun is over this side.
Just to complete things, I swam round from L to M, then on to A. Generally, there’s not much of snorkelling-interest on this long, isolated stretch. There are a few big-rocks with nooks and crannies to poke around in near M if you fancy making the effort, but it’s quite a long way – over an hour’s swim, and the better stuff is close to Pattaya beach at L. Also, there’s quite a lot of boat traffic going around that headland, so stay in the shallows to avoid it.
Dry/peak season is ostensibly November to April, but the climate has been quite erratic over the last few years, so you can still get rain and winds 6 weeks either end of this.
Prevailing winds are mostly from the East in dry-season. This gives a nice cooling breeze on Sunrise beach, but when it picks up, it can also reduce underwater visibility and blow in sting-y jellyfish (annoying, but not life-threatening). Good visibility here is generally about 10 metres. I have also seen it down to 3m.
The coral at Lipe didn’t seem to be affected by the temperature change that caused problems around the Andaman sea in June 2010. There must be some deepwater currents or something.
The water temperature has always been a pleasant 28-ish celcius when I’ve been there (between October and May). Very comfortable – you can stay-in the water for ages without getting cold.
You can rent snorkelling equipment and kayaks at various places around the island.
There is hardly any soft coral on Koh Lipe itself, but there is quite a lot of it on nearby islands. You have to take a longtail boat to reach these. It is pretty cheap to join a tourist snorkelling daytrip. I did some of these and have written a separate page on Koh Lipe environs.
There are about ten diving shops around Koh Lipe I haven’t dived here, but they say it’s reasonably good. See the Dive site maps page for a map of local dive sites.
There are no ATMs on Lipe. A couple of the big resorts can give you a cash advance on a credit card at an extortionate mark-up. They also change travellers’ cheques at not-very-good rates. (edit: apparently ATMs arrived on Lipe in 2014).
Edit: As of 2013, one place on Lipe is advertising Glass-bottomed kayaks to rent – “Benji Glass Kayak at Forra Pattaya Resort”.
Here are a few Gratuitous Pretty Pictures, taken off Koh Lipe:
If you want to see more Gratuitous Pretty Pictures from Lipe, there’ s a separate page full of them here (Link)
Other links :
If you have come here via a link or a search engine, you can see a menu of all the places I have written about by clicking here or on nemo’s nose, at the top of the page.
Written: May 2012 Last edited: April 2015