Far out in the Andaman Sea, the formidable mountains of Ko Adang rise over Ko Lipe like a protective uncle. The two islands are so close together that if arriving to Lipe at Pattaya Beach, you may very well assume that Adang's lushly forested southern eminence is part of Lipe's interior. In fact, the two neighbours could hardly be more different.
While both islands are technically part of Tarutao National Park, development and mass tourism have taken a firm hold on Lipe. In contrast, Adang and other neighbours, like Ko Rawi and Ko Dong, remain completely blanketed in old-growth jungle. Measuring in at 30 square km, Adang's sloping peaks can be seen from as far away as Ko Bulon Lae and Langkawi in Malaysia.
Boasting white-sand beaches, hiking trails, waterfalls, viewpoints and snorkelling sites where you don't have to worry too much about the threat of boat traffic, Adang is most often visited as a day trip from Lipe. Those seeking solitude might settle into a simple bungalow or tent near the national park headquarters, easily visible from Sunrise Beach on Lipe.
The island's name comes from the Malay udang, or "prawn" -- the shallow sea was once full of them here. This partly explains why Thai authorities faced a hazardous fight against illegal dynamite fishermen after the islands had been declared a conservation area in 1974. On one occasion, 10 park rangers in a longtail boat were ambushed with gunfire before retreating to Adang's Laem Son and radioing a helicopter to rescue them.
Some 30 years earlier in the 1940s, prisoners-turned-pirates from Ko Tarutao's long-since defunct prison camp
favoured Ko Adang as a place to hide out and stash their booty. They're said to have plotted attacks on merchant ships from atop Chadoe Cliff, now a fairly easy-to-reach viewpoint where travellers can soak in breathtaking vistas over Lipe, Tarutao and an endless blue-green sea.
The best way to admire Ko Lipe.
While the vast majority of this vast island is uninhabited, a small Urak Lawoi sea gypsy settlement
has persisted in an east coast cove for over a century. A local told us that they first fled here from Ko Lanta after the Siamese military attempted to enlist the men, choosing Adang for its distant location and many hiding places. Most of the area's Urak Lawoi now work on Lipe and are increasingly forgetful of their native language and customs.
Apart from the sea gypsy village and national park facilities, the only other development we're aware of is a small resort that was illegally constructed on a south-facing beach in 2011. It had yet to open by 2015 and there's a good chance that, rightfully, it never will.
The largest island of the Adang archipelago, Ko Adang looms roughly 60 km west of the mainland off Satun province in far southwestern Thailand. Nearly all visitors arrive at the western beach from Ko Lipe by longtail boat. The visitor centre, restaurant, bungalows and campground are all located here under a grove of casuarina trees just back from a beautiful beach, made less beautiful by a constant barrage of tidal garbage
Pockets of coral are located all around Ko Adang and much of it is in fairly good shape, making for some fine snorkelling opportunities. A sign at the visitor centre describes some of the coral formations around Ko Adang — some look like flowers, mountains, deer or cabbages, apparently. Snorkels can be rented at the visitor centre, but keep an eye out for spiky sea urchins!
The park official who we encountered at the visitor centre was helpful enough, providing info on accommodation and how to reach some of the sights.
The 150-metre-high Chadoe Cliff
is Adang's biggest attraction and indeed what entices many travellers to pop over from Lipe. Steep in places, the trail begins near the park headquarters and cuts through bamboo forest on the way up to a series of rocky lookouts. Every Lipe souvenir shop sells postcards picturing views from here. Wander around at the top and you'll find a hidden viewpoint overlooking Adang's rugged interior.
Reachable via an easier trail that begins at the far western end of the beach near headquarters, Pirate's Falls
are more of a series of gentle splashes between boulders. Said to have been a freshwater source for the Tarutao pirates, it does include a few small pools of crystal-clear water that are worthy of a dip amid the unspoilt jungle.
More spectacular is Kinaree Waterfall
, a narrow but tall waterfall that runs down a steep cliff on Adang's east coast. Our boatman backed out of a promised trip to Kinaree during our last visit, saying the sea was too rough, but we've heard that some cliff jumping can be done here. Other waterfalls include Rattana and Chon Salat; both reachable by a boat ride followed by a hike.
But not too bad!
Adang also boasts several secluded beaches
that can only be reached by boat, including a black-sand stretch on the north coast. Most of the coastline consists of huge boulders backing into forest. Ko Rawi and Ko Hin Ngam are also very close by to the west, and these are often combined with Adang on longtail boat tours from Ko Lipe
There are no ATMs on Adang
, so grab some cash on Lipe if you're planning to stay for a while. The nearest medical facilities, internet, travel offices and police presence are all on Lipe as well. If wanting a bungalow around Christmas / New Year or any Thai holiday, it's wise to book ahead through the DNP website (link in the accommodation section). Park facilities shut down each year from April 15 to November 15, but Adang can be visited as a daytrip from Lipe at any time of year.