Where to eat and drink: Ko Lipe

Ko Lipe: Where to eat and drink

With international cuisines joining authentic Thai and the ever-present seafood barbecues and street bites, Ko Lipe does not disappoint when it comes to food. The growing nightlife scene can be a lot of fun as well.

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Street food
Sometimes the best snacks are enjoyed while people watching on a curb or strolling down Pattaya Beach at sunset. In early evening, Walking Street and other busy lanes are stacked with grilled pork skewers, fried chicken, tasty kebabs, flaky roti, crispy spring rolls and traditional Thai sweets. Quality pizza slices can also be scored -- soft New York-style at E2G and crispy Italian at Paolo’s. Wash it all down with a fresh coffee, fruit shake, cold beer or cheap cocktail, and then move on to a coconut ice cream or gelato.

It's easy to graze streetside on Lipe. : David Luekens.
It's easy to graze streetside on Lipe. Photo: David Luekens

Cafes & bakeries
Morphing like a culinary chameleon from breakfast spot to lunch-and-dinner cafe to happening bar, Elephant is a Walking Street institution. The avocado toast with poached eggs and cherry tomatoes was the best breakfast we had on Lipe. You’ll also find free drinking water, fresh coffee, baked goods, several types of Australian beef burgers and crispy grilled-cheese sandwiches, to name a few. WiFi is intentionally missing but you can grab a book, game or guitar, or chat up the cool staffers. Prices at this American-managed spot aren’t much cheaper than at your average cafe in the States, but we’ve never been disappointed.

On Pattaya Beach, Swiss/Thai-managed Cafe Lipe (not to be confused with the newer Cafe de Lipe) remains an excellent option for a sandwich or Thai meal with a sea view. They also serve a number of teas to go with strong coffee and smoothies in a laid-back setting under a thatch roof just off the sand. Back on Walking Street, Pee Pee Cafe and Bakery is another old standby with enticing doughnuts and croissants staring you down from a streetside display. While the baked goods don’t stack up to Pee Pee’s, Harmony’s air-conditioned cafe on the lane behind Sunrise Beach is a good option for a chocolate croissant and fresh coffee on a scorching day.

The best breakfast we had on Lipe was at Elephant. : David Luekens.
The best breakfast we had on Lipe was at Elephant. Photo: David Luekens

The old Flour Power Bakery has sadly closed on Sunset Beach, but you’ll still find an excellent bakery a couple of hundred metres behind the beach at Kafair Hut. Playing soothing ambient music on a terrace beside the forest, the cafe serves herbal teas and fresh coffee along with delicious house-made breads, hummus and pesto. Sandwiches feature imported mozzarella, brie, cheddar and gouda, and they don’t skimp on portions.

Expect great sandwiches at Kafair Hut. : David Luekens.
Expect great sandwiches at Kafair Hut. Photo: David Luekens

Lipe’s popularity among Thai travellers results in a terrific selection of eateries representing most regions of the kingdom.

On the lane behind Sunrise Beach, Nee Papaya excels at authentic and reasonably priced dishes like mieang pla pao (grilled fish with fresh leafy greens and sticky rice noodles) and pad hoy lai (spicy stir-fried clams) along with a full page of vegetarian options. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the fiery laab neua (minced beef salad) or som tam with “century eggs” rendered black and super salty after a long pickling process. The place is very popular but staffers with good attitudes usually find a way to squeeze everyone in.

Another standout is Papaya Mom with its streetside grill and fruit stand fronting a spacious dining area on central Walking Street. The gai yang (grilled chicken) and tam taeng (Isaan-style cucumber salad) are excellent and the mortar-and-pestle chef whips up more than 20 variations of som tam. If you can handle real-deal Thai, go for tam Thai kung sod (papaya salad with raw prawns); pad chaa talay (sizzling seafood with fresh chillies and peppercorn); pla tom kumin (cumin-flavoured Southern Thai fish soup); or laab muu tort (deep-fried balls of minced pork and herbs). The raw beef salad also expresses how far Lipe’s Thai food scene has shifted away from watered-down curries for Western tastes.

Authentic and reasonably priced seafood—and more—dishes at Nee Papaya. : David Luekens.
Authentic and reasonably priced seafood—and more—dishes at Nee Papaya. Photo: David Luekens

In a similar vain is Chiang Khan, named after the Northeastern Thai town where its owners hail from. Serving well-balanced gaeng om, an herbaceous Isaan curry that’s more like a soup, along with several types of som tam and other spicy salads, it’s located north of Walking Street on the lane behind Sunrise Beach. You’ll find several other no-frills Thai eateries up this way that are great for an affordable meal, with basic options like pad Thai and fried rice fetching around 60 baht.

Countless Walking Street and Pattaya Beach restaurants compete to sell displays of seafood for the barbecue. Rak Lay is a tried-and-true spot on Walking Street, serving red and white snapper, barracuda, sea bass, tiger prawns and squid along with Southern Thai specialties like gaeng som pla, an intense orange curry with fish. Nearby Progress is an enormous and popular restaurant pouring draft beer alongside an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet for 490 baht per person.

Try a som tam and grilled chicken at Papaya Mom. : David Luekens.
Try a som tam and grilled chicken at Papaya Mom. Photo: David Luekens

Over on Pattaya Beach, Family and Ding Ta-Lae are both solid choices if you prefer a barbecued dinner at a candlelit table on the sand. Also worth a mention is the long-running Sunrise Restaurant, a Thai-European spot that’s popular with diving instructors just north of Varin Village on Sunrise Beach. For a Thai splurge in a quiet setting with great sea views, Serendipity Resort’s On The Rocks serves well-balanced coconut curries with crab and king prawns along with cocktails and some Western bites at Sunrise Beach’s southern corner.

For an authentic Italian splurge, look no further than La Luna on a side lane off central Walking Street. The fettuccine, gnocchi and ravioli are handmade in-house, bread is baked on site, and the sauces are simple but flavourful. They also serve huge portions of lasagna along with salads, pizzas and unexpected cocktails like cosmopolitan and negroni. It’s not cheap -- 150 to 400 baht for pasta dishes -- but you won’t leave hungry. If you prefer an Italian feast at a beachside table, Kioskino at Forra Diving Resort and the restaurant at Blue Tribes Resort are also worth a look on Pattaya Beach.

If you're after Indian on Lipe, say Hello! : David Luekens.
If you're after Indian on Lipe, say Hello! Photo: David Luekens

With an upbeat scene at the heart of Walking Street, The Box is a stylish and popular Spanish spot serving Mediterranean-inspired sandwiches on crusty breads that are some of the best on Lipe. They also do fantastic burgers along with tapas, steaks and grilled pork loin with black pepper and blue cheese. Creative cocktails pop out of the sleek bar and the place is lively after dark. The Box is also on the expensive side but worth the splurge.

Also on Walking Street, Hello Indian delivers flavourful chicken tikka masala, rogan josh and baigan bartha along with a typical spread of grilled tandoori meats. Over on the lane behind Sunrise Beach, the older Namaste is also a solid Indian option grilling up nan and chapati beside the street.

Maya Bar raises the game. : David Luekens.
Maya Bar raises the game. Photo: David Luekens

Lipe’s nightlife scene is anchored on Walking Street but also includes some atmospheric bars on both of the main beaches. A growing number of gap-year party types find their way here, but mostly you’ll find people in their mid twenties to forties preferring chilled-out conversation set to downtempo and reggae. Aside from occasional parties at some of the larger beach bars, you won’t find all-night techno bashes or drunken muay Thai rings.

At the centre of Walking Street, the newish Maya Bar has an elegant design with crimson floor cushions fronting a streetside bar along with a second bar situated in a dimly lit room further back with classy carpets and plenty of private nooks -- this would be our first choice for a date. A little closer to Pattaya Beach, Rainforest is a cosier spot with an artistic vibe and an angled bar that makes it easy to meet other travellers. Made out of a longtail boat, Elephant’s bar fills up after dark as acoustic musicians perform reggae and rock tunes while encouraging staff and patrons to sing along. Also check out Sawasdee and Corner Bar if you’re after more of a classic pub scene on Walking Street, or OMG! behind Sunrise Beach for billiards and more of a freewheeling party vibe. There’s also Pooh’s, a long-running bar and restaurant on Walking Street showing movies leading up to low-key live music on most nights.

Sea La Vie is worth a trip for a beachside drink or three. : David Luekens.
Sea La Vie is worth a trip for a beachside drink or three. Photo: David Luekens

Replacing the old Peace and Love Bar, a massive nightclub called Art Beach Club opened with a blitz of flashing lights and concrete barriers on eastern Pattaya Beach in 2016. We’d skip that in favour of the venerable Reggae Bar a little further down the beach, or Blue Tribe’s similarly chilled-out beach bar which is now run by On, the personable owner of On’s Living Room in Satun. Both of these spots set up candlelit mats and cushions on the sand and often host fire spinning performers.

Sunrise Beach is a lot quieter than Pattaya Beach and Walking Street, but Sea La Vie is worth a trip for its smiley bartenders and spacious confines that include a bamboo loft with huge lanterns hung from an umbrella tree -- at high tide the surf splashes right up to the candlelit beach chairs. A little further north, the Happy Vibe Bar next to Salisas Resort has a similar vibe.

Happy Vibe: What is says on the can. : David Luekens.
Happy Vibe: What is says on the can. Photo: David Luekens

Further inland you’ll find a few laid-back bars for the Bob Marley worshippers. The legendary Home Bar turns heads with its wild red, green and yellow “decorations” and signs advertising “shit cocktails” and “bad service” near the inland entrance to Mountain Resort. Philosophical and self-proclaimed “crazy” owner Mr Nor carved the place out the jungle back when Lipe was still an obscure destination. He’ll lead you through meandering conversations about the meaning of life—expect an earful if you bring pettiness to the table. If you want the Rasta scene without the weirdness, pop over to Rock Stones Bar on the road leading to Sunset Beach at the centre of the island, where happy hour starts at 4:20. It’s oddly set next to a mini football pitch hosting night matches under the lights.

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