|$1 US = 35 Thai Baht
I decided to skip the Malaysian island of Langkawi, and go right to Ko Lipe just across the Thai border. ("Ko" means island in Thai.) My friend Simon from Summation spoke very highly of the small, remote, and layed back Lipe Island.
Ko Lipe is in the Ko Tarutau Marine National Park area, which is an archipelago consisting of 51 islands. Only five islands have any regular ferry service to them, and only Lipe has small hotels and other services for travelers. This area is probably less built up since it is difficult to get here. If the area looks familiar, maybe you saw the fifth season of Survivor in 2002 which was set and filmed in these islands.
It was an all-day trek to get to Ko Lipe. First a bus from Penang to the Southern Thai town of Hat Yai, stopping for Immigration. Some guys from a tour company "greeted" the bus in Hat Yai, moving in as soon as the doors opened. They arranged a mini-bus to the port town of Pak Bara, and then (I thought) a ferry to Ko Lipe. The first ferry was actually a small fishing boat which went to Tarutau Island. From there we got the speed boat (also not a ferry) to Lipe. But the speed boat stopped offshore and we were herded onto yet another small "longtail" boat and dropped off at our hotels. There are no cars or even roads on Lipe, so the longtail boats just drop you off on the beach.
Ko Lipe is very much what you think of as a tropical island. It was so small you can walk across the island from beach to beach in 20 minutes. I found a place to stay called Varin Resort which had small bungalos with "air con" which was nice. I decided to do a day of scuba diving while here, so I got to see some of the small surrounding islands, and have lunch on the beach.
I ended up hanging out at a cool place called Pooh's Bungalos. I used their Lotus Dive Shop for my scuba day, and their restaurant and open-air lobby area was social and nice. There was a big storm one night when I was there, so I decided to stay and check my email. I had to wait a bit since all the computers were being used. Right when one came available there was a bright flash and what sounded like an explosion. Lightning had struck the roof of one of Pooh's buildings. The resulting power surge caused everyone on the computers to get a big electrical shock! Anyone holding a mouse or keyboard screamed and fell on the floor. Wow!
I think the best thing about Ko Lipe is that there is a village of around 700 sea gypsies living here, called the Chao Leh. These people are very sweet, making a living for themselves through fishing and the cultivation of vegetables and rice. They say that some of their children learn to swim before they can walk.
Next stop is Phuket.