Still a tropical idyll occupied by Chao Le fisherpeople although the main beach – Pattaya – is now fairly densely populated by tourist bungalows and resorts, though thankfully all are rather low-key and there are no multi-story complexes yet.
Koh Lipe is a beautiful island that attracts many returnees, mainly because of the laid-back and gentle populace, excellent snorkelling in some of the clearest waters in the Andaman Sea, blindingly white sand beaches and terrific seafood. The island is also extremely popular with young families. While much of the accommodation is poorly thought out, the island is still a delightful getaway with an unspoilt charm and snorkelling that is highly rewarding. Among the marine life that can be spotted in coral reefs only 60 m out are trumpet fish, sergeant majors, blue-spotted ribbontail rays, angel fish and anemones. There are also fishing and diving expeditions and an excellent massage operation on Pattaya Beach, set up by staff trained by Wat Po – especially Mr Chai (nickname) Bovornpar and Mrs Thanaporn Chimmalee, who also offers reflexology and other body treatments. The Chao Le have also managed to keep their culture and language and hold a traditional ceremony called pla juk twice a year. For this, a miniature boat is built out of rakam and teenped wood by the villagers. Once the boat is completed, offerings are placed in it, and the Chao Le dance until dawn and then launch the boat out to sea, loaded with the village’s communal bad luck. One hopes that Bangkok interests which are casting their eye Lipe-way will not take away what little control the Chao Le still have and bring them bad luck in the long run.
There is a proposal to lay the island’s first paved road behind the beach resorts for the island’s small fleet of motorbikes, the engines of which soon fill with sand from too much use on the beach. Now only paths criss-cross the island. The combination of a tiny island and rampant tourist bungalow expansion creates a dilemma as the accommodation along both sides hems in the resident Chao Le and intrudes on their privacy. Some resorts even back directly onto villages with the unfortunate effect that tourists in bikinis can too easily stroll into a communal shower occupied by the modest Chao Le, as few of their homes have running water and bathrooms. It is also true that while certain resorts have a surface aura of cleanliness and order, this is quickly dispelled by the smell of burning plastic as rubbish disposal here is largely accomplished on a chaotic and sporadic basis.
The Chao Le areas are clearly at shanty town level which makes one wonder what benefits they are receiving from unchecked tourism. Indeed, it was only in 1940 that Koh Lipe officially became Thai territory – up to then it was unclear whether the Chao Le here were Malay or Thai. Locals maintain that the Thai authorities encouraged them to plant coconut trees to show that they had settled, presumably on the basis that occupation is as good as ownership....
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