Thai Islands: Koh Lipe and Koh Ngai

Warning: If you’re struggling through a cold northern winter, the pictures in this post may offend you. Or they may help you daydream your way through the next blizzard.

From Malaysia, we headed north to Thailand, hopping from island to island in the Andaman Sea like birds (by plane and boat), never setting foot on the mainland. Our first stop was Koh Lipe (koh means island in Thai). It’s a small but rapidly developing island with beautiful beaches of white powdery sand.

Koh Lipe is located amid larger, mountainous, uninhabited islands of a national marine park, which provide a green backdrop for its sea views. There we snorkeled, walked on the beach, took boat trips around the nearby islands, and volunteered for a big beach cleanup project in the national park, which picked up 125 bags’ worth of trash that had washed up on shore!

Plastic bottles pile up on Koh Lipe until they can be shipped back to the mainland for recycling

Our second island stop in Thailand was Koh Ngai. We couldn’t resist the lure of an island so small and quiet that it has no roads or wheeled vehicles of any sort and is only inhabited during the six-month tourism season.

Most of Koh Ngai consists of jungle-covered hills and rocky coastlines. The only developed area is the eastern side of the island, which has a mile-long beach of fine sand and eight or nine lodging options—ranging from tents to an ultramodern hotel block with a pool. We opted for a middle ground, beautiful Coco Cottages, which boast a pretty green setting and one of the best restaurants on the island. 

It was an utterly peaceful place, with nothing to do but read, swim, snorkel, eat, walk on the beach, bob on the waves in big inner tubes, watch the changing light play over the rocky islands dotting the horizon, look for birds and monitor lizards, and watch boats go by. Our cottage was a big splurge ($100 a night, versus our usual budget of about $25 a night), but we had lots of editing work to do to help pay for it. And Coco’s breezy beachfront tables made the most gorgeous office imaginable.

These “longtail” boats are the main way to get around Koh Ngai, or to get from the beach to ferry boats moored offshore in deeper water

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