Best Islands to Avoid Tourist Crowds in Thailand
Thailand is getting more and more popular with international visitors every year and some of the most famous destinations are literally getting destroyed through over tourism, Koh Phi Phi and Maya Bay are prime examples of this.
If you are you looking for a more relaxing and authentic experience there are still some islands which are quiet and less touristy as they are not currently on the mainsteam itinerary.
These are some of the top islands to consider visiting in Thailand which are quiet and so far still not that touristy:
- Koh Lipe
- Koh Phayam
- Koh Yao Noi
- Koh Jum
- Koh Bulon Lae
- Koh Kradan
- Ko Tarutao
These islands are getting more touristy, but they are still very quiet destinations compared to some of other islands in the south, for example Koh Samui, Phi Phi and Koh Tao.
Most Thailand tours still don't include these islands in the itinerary, meaning it is really only for the more independent of traveller who is really willing to get that little bit further than the most popular/easier to get to islands.
One of our featured travel writers, Chris Mitchell, recently travelled to to Koh Lipe and shares why you should add this special island to your Thailand itinerary.
Koh Lipe - A Quiet Island Paradise
One way or another, human beings seem to be on a perpetual search for what they deem to be “paradise.” As an English major, I spent a fair portion of my time reading poetry and novels of those who felt they had found paradise, were in search of paradise, or in John Milton’s case – lost it.
For a long time, paradise only occurred to me that as an idea, something that none of us could ever find or attain. And then, from a distance, I caught a glimpse of paradise on the horizon. My boat coasted through the water, narrowly avoiding the precious coral reef and banked on the shores of heavenly Koh Lipe, a beautiful small island located just off the west coast of southern Thailand.
As you can see, it isn’t the largest island in the Andaman Sea by a long shot, but there is something truly special about Koh Lipe. When people think of Thailand they envision the busyness of Bangkok, the jungle trekking in Chiang Mai, the touristic excesses of Koh Phi Phi, or perhaps the legendary full moon party on Koh Phangan.
Rarely do they consider Koh Lipe, which is tucked deep in the South near Malaysia’s famed Langkawi Island, and the Malaysian mainland. Koh Lipe is the type of island you arrive on, and then quickly muster up a plan to stay longer than you anticipated. I met a kind man from the Netherlands there who told me, “9 out of 10 people who arrive on Koh Lipe never leave.”
Before I delve into my own personal assertions about Koh Lipe, let me first provide you with some information about the island.
Getting to Koh Lipe
Firstly, it should be noted that this isn’t the easiest island to get to, but it’s well worth the hassle. You may have to be patient with the ferry schedule, especially in the low season, but you’ll make it there if you’re committed.
High or low season, you can usually find transport to Koh Lipe from Pak Bara. Part of the majesty of Koh Lipe is that it isn’t yet completely “discovered”, unlike other islands in Thailand, which are commonplace destinations to young European and Western tourists alike. Paradise, after all, should be a little off the beaten path.
If you aren’t sold yet, then I’ll have to come up with a reason or two to persuade you. How about three?
Koh Lipe is comprised of three main beaches – Sunrise Beach, Pattaya Beach, and Sunset Beach.
The lengthiest, and perhaps most impressive beach is Sunrise, and it boasts a majority of the swanky resorts on Koh Lipe. Sunrise Beach is where your ferry boat will likely arrive, and it’s a lovely first glance of Lipe.
Pattaya Beach lies in the south, and it’s hidden away with a few resorts and boats of its own. The lesser-known Sunset Beach is in the North West and, although modest, it’s still pleasant. In fact, there isn’t much of the island that isn’t pleasant.
There is certainly no shortage of options when it comes to accommodation on Koh Lipe. However, finding a place that fits your budget can be a little tricky. Before long, it may also be difficult to find a place with any vacancy as well.
As my budget when backpacking in Thailand was next to nothing, I opted for a quaint little bamboo hut on the beach. Although, it should be noted, you can find some world-class honeymoon worthy places to stay if you’re looking. My girlfriend and I were more than happy in our humble little beach abode, and the price couldn’t be beat on the island.
For the record, we stayed at “Lipe Beach Resort,” and I’d happily stay there again. The staff was pleasant, the food was quality, and the drinks weren’t too pricey. What more could you want? I should also add that the people of the island and on the island make it that much more special. The Thai people there celebrate their heritage, are keen to smile as you walk past, and strike up a conversation at will with whatever English they’ve got in store.
By the people “on the island” I’m of course referring to the foreigners. I met some remarkable people while there who’d spent many months on tiny Koh Lipe, and didn’t have much incentive to leave anytime soon. I should also mention that you’ll find all the Thai food you could desire here. Koh Lipe is pure magic.
Aquatic Travel Opportunities
The turquoise, crystal waters surrounding Koh Lipe are downright seductive. I recognize that everyone describes the waters of Southeast Asia as “turquoise,” but these are truly turquoise. A hardware store would do well to base a paint on this colour, as they would surely sell a few million buckets. If you managed to stay dry during your time on Koh Lipe, then you either drastically missed the essence of the island, or badly injured yourself getting off the ferry.
During my visit there, my girlfriend and I kayaked around the entire circumference of the island. That isn’t much of a feat considering the size of it, but it’s still something I had yet to do elsewhere. The water is so clear that you feel as if you’re snorkeling from the seat of your kayak. Kayaking isn’t even close to the limit of what you can do in the waters around Koh Lipe. You can also visit other islands nearby which are part of the Tarutao National Marine Park (consisting of over 50 islands) for some stunning views. Koh Lipe is also famed for its plentiful snorkeling sights, and diving opportunities galore.
Anytime someone says that they’ve gone to Thailand, I immediately ask them, “Did you go to Koh Lipe?” Rarely do I hear the words “yes,” and that pains me after beholding the beauty it possesses. That is, I suppose, why I feel so passionate about writing this article. I’ve been lucky to travel quite a bit in my life, yet a little known island in the very south of Thailand remains near the forefront of my travel experiences. It is my hope that this island won’t be spoiled by the influx of tourism that is sure to come, and I am indeed hopeful.
I’m hopeful because of the calm pace of the island, the general respect of the foreigners there, and the warm hearts of the people. Next time you think of Thailand, forget about crowded Bangkok and worn-out Koh Phi Phi. Think about Koh Lipe.
By Chris Mitchell