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I visited Koh Lipe in 2015 when I first wrote this Koh Lipe snorkeling guide. It has come to my attention since then that Koh Lipe is not what it once was and that much of the land was stolen from the original inhabitants as far back as two decades ago. I no longer support travelers visiting Koh Lipe.
I highly recommend visiting one of the quieter and less developed Thai islands instead, where locals own many of the accommodations, travel agencies, and restaurants. Koh Mook, Koh Mak, and Koh Kood are all great options.
Beach life on the island paradise that is Koh Lipe was pretty damn sweet so it was going to be hard to drag ourselves away from its calming shores, but there was one activity that managed to entice us: a Koh Lipe snorkeling day trip in the pristine Tarutao National Marine Park.
Tarutao National Marine Park is made up of 51 islands, including Koh Lipe itself. Many of the islands are small, remote, and uninhabited, making them difficult and expensive to get to independently.
The best way to affordably see a few of these stunning islands is to jump on a day trip from Koh Lipe, snorkeling and island-hopping, and there are a number of tours to choose from.
I’m pretty sure that any of the tours on offer would have been amazing but for me, choosing one was a no-brainer. I wanted to snorkel with bio-luminescent plankton.
Embarking on Our Koh Lipe Snorkeling Day Trip
The plankton tour started after lunch and would take us to three islands where we could snorkel and swim, followed by dinner on one of the largest islands in the park, Koh Adang, before we were dropped in the waters off Koh Lipe to experience the plankton.
It is something that has been on my bucket list since I read ‘The Beach’ years ago and I was so excited I was finally going to see the natural underwater light show for myself.
After lunch on Walking Street, we hopped in a covered long tail with the guide and the other four people on our tour then headed out to sea from the sandy shores of Koh Lipe.
The water was translucent and remarkably blue, like the sky we were traveling under. It was a beautiful day to be at sea.
The first stop of our Koh Lipe snorkeling and island-hopping adventure was Jabang, an underwater seamount covered in colorful soft corals.
The corals were a few meters under the surface and although I could see them and they were indeed beautiful, I couldn’t get too close as I am the worst free diver ever. They were mostly red and pink and reminded me a lot of burgeoning rhododendron trees.
I really wish I had an underwater camera, luckily my friend did and we shared it. In the future I will make sure I get my own, there are some great budget underwater cameras on the market.
There were a few schools of stripy yellow fish near the surface getting very close (they thought we had food for them perhaps?) and I saw a school of small purple squid gliding by which was pretty special as that was something I had never seen before.
Hin Ngam was our next stop and was much better for snorkeling as the colorful coral was much closer to the surface and was a lot more varied than Jabang. The visibility was super clear and there were so many different types of fish, including cute little clownfish (Nemos!).
I had started feeling a bit sick floating on the surface at exposed Jabang but as soon as I exited the boat in a calm cove of Hin Ngam, I quickly started feeling better.
After we had finished snorkeling off the boat, we continued around the island and pulled up to shore to get out and explore. Hin Ngam is unique in that it is entirely covered in polished black stones.
It is only small but we walked around and stretched our legs before floating in the shallows, surrounded by small fish.
Koh Yang was next for snorkeling. I didn’t think the coral was as varied or colorful as Hin Ngam but I enjoyed swimming to shore onto a small, white sand beach. I sat in the warm shallows talking to some of the others from the boat.
The water was impossibly clear there, accentuated more so by the white sand bottom. I could have sat there all day.
Koh Adang was our last island stop and where we were given an awesome chicken curry dinner on the beach, followed by fresh tropical fruit.
After brilliant sunshine all day, storm clouds had begun to gather and surround us. Lightning flashed in the ominous black clouds to either side of us and thunder rolled through the air toward us in an audible wave.
The air felt electric and I sat on the beach as the sky darkened further. I could see the heavy rain hitting the trees on the other side of the lake in front of us then moving quickly over the water, unsettling the formerly still surface.
Then it finally hit and I hurried to the shelter of the boat with the others.
A tropical storm raged around us for the next half hour then when it eased, we headed out to sea again for the last stop of our trip and the one I had been excited about the most. We were going to see the bio-luminescent plankton.
Swimming With Bio-luminescent Plankton
Our boat stopped off the rocky shore of Koh Lipe and we were told to jump into the inky depths. I was reluctant, as were the others because we couldn’t see any of the plankton from the boat. One of the guys on our tour jumped in first and as soon as he said he could see them, you couldn’t keep me out of that water.
The water was murky and of course, it was very dark but sure enough, once I started moving my arms and legs, I could see glowing green lights in the darkness. It was them! They weren’t as bright as I had imagined them to be (or seen pictures of) but they were there and I was ecstatic.
The plankton reacts and light up when there is movement in the water so I exhausted myself pretty fast by maniacally moving my arms and legs backward and forward.
After about fifteen minutes we all got back on the boat for the short trip back to Pattaya Beach, exhausted but happy. It was a great end to an incredible day.
With the waters surrounding Koh Lipe crystal clear and teeming with marine life, it was the perfect place for a day of snorkeling, in fact, it was some of the best snorkeling I have ever done.
A Koh Lipe snorkeling and island hopping tour is a definite Thailand must-do if you love the underwater world.
Nemo and his friends are waiting for you.
Have you been snorkeling with bio-luminescent plankton? Did you do a Koh Lipe snorkeling and island-hopping tour? I would love to hear about your experience!
Big thanks to my friend Kerry who took a lot of the photos above as I don’t have an underwater camera.
How to Plan Your Koh Lipe Snorkeling Trip
Booking Your Koh Lipe Snorkeling Trip
There are a number of tour operators on Koh Lipe and they mostly offer the same snorkeling trips. Check them out the day before you want to go and decide which one has the best price for you.
If you want to do the same tour I did, look for the Jabang – Hin Ngam – Koh Yang – Koh Adang afternoon snorkeling trip with bioluminescent plankton spotting at the end.
How to Get to Koh Lipe
The most common way to reach Koh Lipe is by flying to Hat Yai from Bangkok or other points in Thailand, then booking a bus and ferry combo to get you from Hat Yai to Koh Lipe.
You can also reach Koh Lipe from Koh Lanta by ferry, and you can travel from Krabi to Koh Lipe by bus and ferry.
If you liked this post, why not check out some more of my Thailand content:
- Fun Things To Do in Koh Lanta For Budget Travelers
- Don’t Miss Koh Libong: One of Thailand’s Most Authentic Local Islands
- Why I Didn’t Love Koh Tao
- A Fun Thai Adventure: Exploring and Rock Climbing in Railay Bay
- Koh Phi Phi Island Tour: A Day at ‘The Beach’
- One Week Koh Lanta Guide: The Imperfect Island of my Dreams
- Thong Nai Pan: A Quieter Side to Koh Phangan
- Things To Do in Koh Lipe: A Real Thai Paradise
- Falling in Love with Pai
- Temple Hopping and Stuffing my Face in Chiang Mai
AHH I SO wanted to visit Koh Lipe on my trip to Thailand this month, but monsoon season probably isn’t such a good time for it so… Koh Tao it is! 😛 I loved swimming with the plankton in Maya Bay – so magical!
You can save it for next time. I’m sure you sill have a blast on Koh Tao too
I love this! I just snorkeled for the first time between Cancun and Isla Mujeres…over the MUSA museum. It was beautiful, but I am so jealous of you! You were seemed to be able to get a lot closer to the coral and natural life than I was. Everything looked blue rather than colorful lol.
Thanks Ashley! I also snorkelled of Isla Mujeres and my boyfriend at the time actually was bitten by an over-eager fish there! The snorkelling was so great off Ko Lipe because I could get so close to the coral. The coral was more colourful in real life, the camera makes it look very blue 🙂