"THE MALDIVES OF THAILAND"
Koh Lipe forms part of the Butang archipelago, which is situated to the west of Koh Tarutao. This is a group of around 20 islands; some are large and mountainous with primary rainforest and fringed by coral reefs; some are tiny rocky islets made of diorite, which is similar to granite but with less quartz. The Butang archipelago has the largest tides in Thailand and currents can be strong, leading to a very rich marine life. This is the reason why scuba diving, freediving and snorkeling are so special in these waters.
The year is split into two seasons; the dry season starts in November and finishes in May. From November to February, the northeast wind (the Chinese monsoon coming from the east coast of Thailand) blows every night, bringing refreshing cool air. This is partly the reason for the Chao Leh village being on the northeast side of the island. March to May is the hottest part of the year; the northeast wind dies and the southwest monsoon has not yet arrived. This is the best period for diving.
The rainy season "Green Season" starts in June and finishes towards the end of October. The southwest monsoon, which comes across the Indian Ocean, brings a lot of rain. There is only one connection per day at 11.30 A.M from Pakbara. The Island benefits from a pause in visitors and has a chance to recover ecologically. Forra Diving hopes that Koh Lipe will not follow the example of Koh Phi Phi and open to tourism all year round.
The inhabitants of Koh Lipe are known as the Chao Leh, which means “people of the sea” in Thai, or sea-gypsies. The Chao Leh who settled along the Western Coast of Thailand form distinct social groups. Those living in Koh Adang, Koh Lipe, Koh Bulon and Koh Lanta are known as the Urak Lawoy and originated from Malaysia and Indonesia. To Kiri was the first village headman of Lipe. In 1909 he visited the islands many times on invitation from the governor of Satun. The King of Thailand later gave him the island and some Chao Leh from Koh Lanta came and settled on Koh Lipe. Today there are around 700 Chao Leh living in Koh Lipe and Koh Adang and around 200 in Koh Bulon Don and Koh Bulon Leh.
The Chao Leh language reflects the Polynesian Malay roots of their forefathers. They also retain their animist beliefs and believe in the spirits of their ancestors, the island and the sea. Bad spirits cause trouble such as illness. Good spirits protect the fishermen. Twice a year, during the full moon in late May or early June and late October or early November, the Chao Leh hold a spiritual festival called pla juk or loy rua, where they pay respects to the memory of their ancestors and in particular, To Kiri, their founding father. They build an elaborate two meter long boat out of rakam and teenped wood into which they place food such as chili peppers, fish, rice and cakes. They also put in cut hair and nail clippings. The festival lasts three days with dancing and much drinking every evening. On the third day they set the boat to sail. If it does not return to shore it is a good omen for the following year, if it does then not so good.
The creation of Tarutao National Marine Park and its recognition by UNESCO as a world heritage site in 1973 marked the end of the total freedom of sea gypsies. Settlements in Koh Rawi and Koh Adang were displaced to promote protection of the coral reefs and rainforest, hence their culmination on Koh Lipe. Their village is situated on the northern coast of Koh Lipe and protected from the southwest monsoon winds, which begin in May and end at the start of November.
Tourism and the introduction of money started in the mid-eighties and the first resorts were built in the nineties.
FORRA DIVE RESORT & LIVEABOARD SUPPORT " THE PROJECT URAK LAWOI "
HOW TO GET THERE?
Koh Lipe can be reached from Pakbara pier in Satun province, southwest Thailand and Langkawi, Malaysia. Pakbara is around one and half hour drive from Trang or Hat Yai. You can get a minibus transfer or a private taxi to Pakbara from in front of the train station in both cities, or directly at the airport. To catch the last speedboat to Koh Lipe, the latest you should leave these two cities is 1.30 P.M, as the last speedboat departs Pakbara pier at 3.30 P.M. The speedboats operates all year around! Pakbara pier is the most used departure point for Koh Lipe.
Both Trang and Hat Yai can be reached from Bangkok by plane, train or bus. You can also easily get to Hat Yai from Malaysia and Singapore.
A ferry service from Langkawi in Malaysia directly to Koh Lipe operates every year from the 15th of October to the 15th of May, with passengers clearing Thai immigration in Koh Lipe, in front of Bundhaya Resort or Bunga Resort.
This direct connection during the high season from nearby Langkawi to Lipe has made the route Kuala Lumpur or Singapore - Langkawi - Koh Lipe shorter than the classic route Bangkok - Hat Yai or Trang - Pakbara - Lipe. It is now the preferred route for Europeans and Asians coming for a short visit directly to Koh Lipe.
Domestic and short haul flights in this part of Asia are offered by Thai Airways, Air Asia, Nok Air, Bangkok Airways from Bangkok to Hat Yai or Trang and by Air Asia, Malaysian Airlines and Tiger Airways from Kuala Lumpur to Langkawi or Singapore to Hat Yai.