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Friday, 13 February 2009

Ko Lipe

8th – 13th February

Not for the first time, we were caught out by a public holiday. We got talking to a few people on the boat who’d tried reserving accommodation but had had little success. Unperturbed we set off for Sunrise Beach and the Andaman resort – the place we’d agreed on with our friends Ben and Alison who were due to arrive from the UK. It seems that a bank holiday over the next two days had led to a massive influx in Thai tourists and indeed there was no room at the inn, all the beach huts were taken! There was just one (concrete) bungalow available for 1000 baht - around £20…what happened to £5 a night?!! We dithered about the room while Ady necked a bottle of Fanta, but knackered after our 20 hour epic journey, gave in and forked out the funds for the room (but not before negotiating a 10% discount first!).

The Sunrise beach was really quite stunning (and clean – we’d heard about a burgeoning litter problem here) and we definitely prefer this over the main beach Pattaya where a constant stream of noisy, longtail boats come and go. We secured a basic bamboo beach hut the next day for a whopping 600 baht, set amongst Andaman’s pine trees and just a short distance from the beach. At the very northern end of the beach, close to where Andaman meets the Mountain Resort is a stunning peninsular of sand that juts into the crystal clear sea, and from where you can swim out to an offshore sandbank and the coral reef beyond. Unfortunately you have to share this with half the tourists of Sunrise bay!

Following in the vein of Thailand’s exploitation of it’s other islands of natural beauty, Ko Lipe as a whole has most definitely been “discovered” and is wholeheartedly on the fast road to overdevelopment, if the number of plush resorts (with more being built) and their residents are anything to go by. Certainly there was no need for that visit to Seven – Eleven; you could buy anything you so wish right here on your doorstep! Despite the difficulty in reaching the island, the place seems completely geared towards wealthier holiday makers on short trips, prices baring more in common with the Spanish Costa’s than any of the other Thai islands, let alone the developing country of which it is part. For the moment at least, travellers (regardless of time or budget) are coming independently in fewer numbers but it’s only a matter of time before this changes and this small island is overrun with tourists and subsequently troubled by insufficient infrastructure.

Moaning aside, (and of course we were only too aware of how our visit also contributed to the tourism explosion) we spent a few chilled days soaking up the stunning surroundings and were joined on our third day (in style, by speed boat) by Ben and Alison, close friends from home. They bought welcome news and even more welcome (only kidding!) presents – special thanks to Stacey and of course to both Ben and Alison for running around collecting (from half of the UK) and carrying everything! It was so great to spend some time with people with whom we didn’t have to make any special effort, or explain our life history to! Unfortunately, post hospital discharge, Ady was on strict orders not to drink, so we didn’t get that big night out (or several) that we all assumed we’d have. Probably just as well as the two of us, ultra lightweights by now, would have fallen after a few buckets! Still, we had some great meals out and the three of us enjoyed a few cocktails, Ady happy on Fanta orange and it’s multitude of colourings!!

We chartered a boat from our resort and our boat driver took us on a tour around part of the neighbouring national park (Ko Lipe falls just outside of and is hence unprotected). There was opportunity to snorkel at each of the four different sites for as long as we wanted – the beauty of not hooking up with a group of twenty! The coral was interesting enough but there were just so many fish, as many in a small area as we’ve experienced diving. Ben managed to take some pretty cool photos with his new all singing snorkel mask cum camera gismo.

On the Friday we’d arranged to meet up with Rhiannon (Alison’s friend from home who very kindly put us up in Bangkok) in Krabi for the weekend. We’d booked a transfer with Tiger Line via Pak Bara to Ao Nang, from where we planned to head for the beaches of Railay or Ton Sai. Expecting a return journey similar to the one we’d arrived by and looking forward to a morning sunbathing on the deck it was a bit of a shock when we got herded onto a small speed boat. Still, we managed to grab some of the few seats outside, on the bow, only to find the smiles wiped off our faces as we encountered huge waves and the front of the boat crashed noisily and almost painfully against them. It was impossible to move, let alone read or have a conversation even. A few people managed to find room at the back of the boat, at which point the lighter front end bounced even more and we didn’t know whether to laugh or cry! Thank god no one was seasick or it would have been a very messy experience! After two hours the sea calmed and we cruised the last half hour in moderate comfort. We can quite honestly say this was the worst crossing in our year so far!

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