With several international cuisines joining authentic Thai and the ever-present seafood barbecues, Lipe does not disappoint when it comes to food.
The widest variety of places to eat and drink are found on and around Walking Street, a lively strip where you can enjoy a proper sit-down dinner or graze on barbecued pork skewers, fried chicken, roti (Southern Thai style fried "pancakes"), slices of brick-oven pizza from Paolo's, and excellent kebabs from a Greek man who sings in Greek while he cooks, to name just a few.
Now combined with Longtail Bar towards the Pattaya Beach end of Walking Street, the American-style Elephant Cafe is easily the best of the island's coffee shops, in our opinion. Along with hearty all-day breakfasts, they serve crusty grilled cheese sandwiches, Australian beef burgers and pulled pork sandwiches with homemade "Kansas City style" barbecue sauce. The coffee is arguably the best on Lipe, especially when accompanied by a house-baked brownie or slice of banana bread. Cocktails like the mangosteen cosmo can compete with any on the island, and you'll find a thoughtful list of imported and Thai wines to go with unexpected beers like Rogue Dead Guy Ale, which is likely to be a favourite of any Northwestern American beer snob. Drinking water is free, and all fruits and veggies are washed in purified water. They also have a book exchange to go with a laid-back staff and soundtrack that keeps things funky. With live music advertised every evening, this is also a go-to spot to unwind after dark.
Just up the strip from Elephant, the long-running Pee Pee Bakery remains a solid option for a sandwich, pizza or Thai meal. Their in-house bakery has the advantage of a street-side display where you can snatch a croissant, cinnamon roll or doughnut to take back to your bungalow. We can verify that, after years in business, they've perfected the coconut roll. Across from Pee Pee, the newish Lipe Sandwiches is a straightforward cafe that churns out better-than-average sandwiches and burgers, including in some unexpected varieties.
Around the corner on Pattaya Beach, Cafe Lipe remains one of our favourite spots for a satisfying sandwich or Thai meal. They also serve a number of teas to go with excellent coffee and fruit smoothies in a low-key setting with wooden tables under a thatch roof just off the sand. If you find yourself on Sunset Beach, don't miss the exceptional oatmeal cookies, fudge brownies and fresh bread from the long-running Flour Power Bakery, which also serves an array of sandwiches and Thai meals amid a spread of beach tables that fill up for sunset. The owner told us that the 2014 - '15 season would be her last, so get here for a taste of this beloved Lipe institution while you can.
Moving on to the increasing number of places that focus exclusively on Thai food, Nee Papaya remains a fantastic choice across from the eastern end of Walking Street. Nee started several years ago with a small stand selling only som tam, and she's still known for producing some of the island's best papaya salads (though she now has a lot more competition). In addition, her rad na talay (seafood noodles in Thai-style gravy) and panang curry are both authentic and very flavourful, and her simple restaurant with bamboo furniture had added a small barbecue stand before our most recent visit.
Back over on Walking Street proper, Papaya Mom churns out over 20 variations of som tam to go with sticky rice and barbecued chicken and pork in a no-frills eatery that befits its authentic Isaan (Northeastern Thai) cuisine. Along with fiery som tam puu pla rah (extra-pungent papaya salad with fermented fish sauce and freshwater crab), the boisterous chefs do a great job with nam tok muu (spicy grilled pork neck salad) among several other Isaan favourites. This is also a fine choice for a more conventional Thai meal; with standby's like pad Thai and green curry receiving high marks. The prices are reasonable and flavours don't hold back for Western tastes.
If you fancy a breathtaking view to go with your Thai dinner, look no further than Shambara Restaurant, located at Phuritra Resort just east of Sunset Beach. In addition to usual options like tom yum (sweet and sour soup) and deep-fried squid, the menu features beloved-by-Thais specialties like gaeng luang (sour yellow curry with lotus stems) and a wide range of seafood served with a spread of intensely flavoured sauces. While not cheap, it's worth it for the quality food served on a breezy and secluded deck with views to Ko Rawi, Ko Adang and all of the boats in between.
Countless Walking Street and Pattaya Beach restaurants compete fiercely to sell their displays of seafood for barbecue, resulting in fresh foods served in large portions at often discounted rates. Though we haven't tried all of the barbecue establishments, Rak Lay is a tried-and-true joint that's especially popular with the island's Thai visitors. Red and white snapper, barracuda, sea bass, tiger prawns and squid are a few of the more popular options. When selecting seafood, avoid any restaurants displaying sharks or other exotic fishes that have almost certainly been caught illegally.
For a whole fried or barbecued fish that you can rest assured has been farmed responsibly, head to Castaway Resort's restaurant over on Sunrise Beach. Their entrancing seaside deck is a great choice at any time for a French press coffee, creative cocktail, bruschetta or, our personal favourite, fried som tam. Further up Sunrise Beach and associated with Walking Street's Elephant Cafe, the Elephant Bar and Restaurant at Lipe Beach Resort is another good option for cocktails and Thai food.
If you're craving international cuisines, Lipe comes through more than you might expect for such a small island -- especially on the Mediterranean front. Down a side street that shoots west about halfway up Walking Street, La Luna is on a short list of the best Italian restaurants we've tried anywhere in Thailand. Their fettuccine, gnocchi and ravioli are handmade in house, and the pomodoro, Bolognese and other sauces strike the ideal balance between simple and flavourful. La Luna also serves massive portions of lasagna along with excellent salads, breads, wines and what's probably the best pizza on the island. It's not cheap -- 150 to 350 for pasta dishes -- but well worth it for a splurge. If you prefer an Italian feast at a beachside table, Italian-owned Blue Tribes on Pattaya Beach is another terrific option.
For more of a Spanish twist, look no further than The Box in the centre of Walking Street. This stylish and very popular cafe serves Mediterranean-inspired sandwiches on crusty bread that are arguably the best on Lipe. They also do very good burgers to go with dinner options like grilled pork loin with black pepper and blue cheese sauce. A number of creative cocktails are whipped up at the sleek bar, and the place gets lively after dark. Like La Luna, The Box is on the expensive side but worth the splurge.
Next to Nee Papaya, the long-running Namaste Restaurant still does decent Indian fare, including standards like chicken tikka masala, rogan josh and tandoori grilled meats to go with a number of vegetarian options. Lipe is now home to two more Indian spots called Bombay and Lipeh, respectively, though we didn't get around to trying them. Over near Ricci House and Sunrise Beach, Aroy Restaurant remains an adequate option if you're craving Tex-Mex style tacos and burritos.
Sidetracking all the way towards Lipe's western end on the road that winds past the forest temple and Sunset Beach, the far-flung Forever Restaurant is located just before the right turn towards Pitiusas Resort. Excellent home-cooked Burmese fare includes a tealeaf salad, while the Thai food is also very good and priced at only around 50 baht per plate (possibly the cheapest on the island). The genuinely welcoming owners make big and delicious fruit smoothies, and they'll throw a little sangsom rum in them for a little extra cash. Forever is a no-brainer if you're doing a bit of exploring amid Lipe's quiet western reaches, but it's also worth seeking out in its own right.
A summary of Lipe's dining and drinking options wouldn't be complete without a mention of Pooh's, a local institution that's been here since the days when Walking Street was nothing more than a sandy path. Owner Pooh is an enthusiastic guy who has campaigned tirelessly for Lipe's environment over the years. Serving nightly barbecue, including T-bone steaks along with an extensive Western and Thai menu, the lively restaurant/bar seems to stretch on forever and is a great place to meet other travellers. In addition to running the island's only radio station, Pooh's also plays free movies on a big screen and often hosts some good solo musicians and bands on its small stage.
Another establishment that blends dinner into party time is OMG!, located just up the road from Pooh's on the side road that winds behind the village near Sunrise Beach. Known for fast WiFi, outstanding burgers and finger foods, the atmosphere is great for relaxing with cold beer, cocktails and buckets from the full bar. OMG! also hosts movie nights and a billiards table.
After the sun goes down, parts of Lipe are energized by music and drinking -- but not the all-out debauchery found on some Thai islands. If you're on a budget, a hole-in-the-wall bar sells 100 baht cocktails just up the street from Pooh's, while the more atmospheric Mellow Mango does 20% off all drinks from 17:00 to 19:00. Also on Walking Street, Rainforest is a small bar with an upbeat atmosphere where you can grab a stool and watch the talented bartenders whip up mojitos and other cocktails using fresh fruits and juices. If you dig more of a Rasta-reggae scene that's more removed from the action, Home Bar and Koh Lipe Camping are both worth a trip along the road towards Sunset Beach.
Most travellers after some nightlife end up at one of the many beach bars lining the central to eastern side of Pattaya Beach. Peace and Love Bar is a standout thanks to fire-spinning shows that are probably the best on the beach, but you'll find quite a few others that all get it done with cold beer, straightforward cocktails, live bands (or at least a thumping soundsystem) and often seafood barbecue to boot. Time to Chill is a fine option for some live music, courtesy of a house band that relies mostly on amplified acoustic instruments and has been going strong for years.