Apr 08 2013
Part of what makes Ko Lipe so enticing is that while it offers comfy accommodation, 24-hour electricity and a wide selection of food, it’s also surrounded by several pristine national park islands. A boat trip to Ko Hin Ngam, Ko Rawi and Ko Adang sprinkles a bit of nature, adventure and perhaps an evil curse or wish-come-true on to that beach holiday.
With a young boat driver, aptly named Boat, at the helm of our hired longtail, we set off at 09:30 and cruised north. The mountains of Lipe’s two larger and more rugged neighbours, Ko Rawi and Ko Adang, soon came into view, but we first diverged at a snorkelling site called Bak-a-lat. Boat told us that soft coral can be seen here, though we gave up after struggling through poor visibility and throngs of other snorkellers.
Our disappointing start was quickly forgotten when we slapped on our flippers once again and dove into far less crowded and clearer water just south of Ko Hin Ngam. This time, a half-hour slipped away in what seemed like a heartbeat as we explored a seascape that’s home to tropical fish and spiky sea urchins that pulsed on the surface of deep green coral.
Back on board and with fingertips like raisins, Boat slid his boat up to the curious stone beach of Ko Hin Ngam, or “Island of Beautiful Stones“. While most Andaman islands boast sandy beaches, Ko Hin Ngam is a magnet for stones that wash ashore after being polished by untold time in the deep. Piled high and almost entirely uniform, the dark grey stones are so smooth that it’s a pleasure to walk on them with bare feet. Some appear as perfectly oval grey discs while others bear intricate spirals of mother nature’s design.
Though it’s tempting to pocket a stone or two as souvenirs, a local sea gypsy legend tells how the island was created by a greedy god who hordes the stones. Anyone who steals one is believed to be cursed by the god until the stones are returned. It’s not uncommon, we learned, for wayward “thieves” to send stones by international post to the Ko Adang national park office along with desperate letters begging for them to be brought back to the island. [Ed's note: A woman I was travelling with several years ago told me she took one -- and was run over by a longtail the next day.]
Ko Hin Ngam’s resident deity might make life hell for those who defy it, but the god is also thought to bless visitors who enjoy its stones in a respectful way. Anyone who creates a tower 12 stones tall that doesn’t topple before they leave the island is believed to be granted any wish they desire. Although the island is aesthetically unique, it’s probably this superstitious promise that explains why so many Thai visitors are often found here.
With no stones in our pockets, Boat shoved off and navigated due north towards an unspoilt powdery white sand beach on the south shore of Ko Rawi. Here we enjoyed a simple lunch of rice, chicken and fresh fruit on a broad boulder shaded by gently swaying palms. With bellies full, we followed a stream into the jungle as frogs leaped into crystal clear pools, monkeys rustled in the brush and majestic white birds soared from old-growth tree tops.
Upon returning to the beach, we came across a sign stating that a Thai king visited this very shore 200 years ago. King Rama III apparently “spent five months in (the island’s) arms and cried when he left”, so it’s no surprise that this sublime stretch of sand is known as “King’s Beach”. There’s no doubt that its beauty is suitable for royalty, but we weren’t complaining about having it entirely to ourselves.
Once Boat had enjoyed his fill of fresh pineapple and watermelon, we skirted the west coast of Ko Adang and its dramatic rock formations that look to have been tossed here by a far bigger god than the one on Ko Hin Ngam. Though we explored Ko Adang on a previous visit, we had no qualms with sinking our feet into its own luscious white sand once again.
With midday sun beating down, we climbed the steep trail that leads up Chadoe Cliff and were rewarded with some of the most spectacular views in the entire Andaman Sea. Ko Tarutao loomed to the east as we looked straight down on the cerulean blue water that rims the shores of Lipe and Adang. In the end, we concluded that a cliff jump from the top of Chadoe was a little too daunting (next time we’ll remember our wingsuit), but we did go for one more swim off the beach before rousing Boat from his slumber and returning to Lipe.
Not only did our little exploration at sea make for a fun and adventurous day, it was also a welcome break from the ultra-relaxed atmosphere of Lipe. We paid 1,500 baht to charter the longtail from 09:00 to 16:00, lunch included. It’s also possible to join a group boat trip for 550 baht per person, although these are typically more centered on snorkelling with fewer chances to explore the islands on foot. If you like the look of Boat’s boat, he can usually be found laying low at Gipsy Resort when not off maneuvering the waves.
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