Ko Lipe Diving Report - by Jim Broder, Starfish Scuba

Ko Lipe is the only inhabited island in the Butang group of islands. Located inside the Tarutao Marine National Park and within sight of the Malaysian Island of Langkawi, Ko Lipe is noted for its crystal clear waters, virgin forests and unusual biodiversity.

Like Ko Tao in the Thai Gulf, Ko Lipe is situated more then 50 kilometers away from the mainland, far out into the blue warm waters of the Andaman Sea. Unlike Ko Tao however, this is not just a single island but an archipelago of more then 20 major islands and at least 7 known underwater pinnacles.

Taken together as a group this area has the ability to form a single large inter-related reef system unique to Thailand. Every type of fish, mammal, reptile and bird currently residing in South Thailand can be found within the boundaries of Tarutao National Park, with the possible exception of wild tigers.

Scuba diving location map for Butang Islands

Beaches in the park are often composed of perfect white sand, soft and cool on the feet, several have waterfalls from the mountains at Ko Adang and Ko Rawi. Some are named from the wildlife commonly found there, such as Baby Shark Bay or Monkey Beach. Others are simply given a number such as Adang beach No.5, a favorite among divers for lunchtime.

Each of the islands has a certain personality of its own, although you may have to visit many times to begin to understand the location, and what is special about it.

Ko Salang

is the southwestern most island in Thailand. Above the water it is simply a granite dome, devoid of a single scrap of vegetation. Underwater however it is Marine Life Autobahn on a busy day.

Imagine a series of tall granite stones lined up like solders, completely covered in purple and red soft corals, descending in rows down into the depths further then you dare to follow.

Lionfish, Sweetlips and crayfish are all here in abundance.

Honey Island

is a small islet crowded between two much larger islands and so forms a massive funnel that channels the tidal flow around it four times a day. We have learned to be careful diving here during the full moon periods, because the drift dive here can be as fast as a rollercoaster and just as scary.

Loaded with hard and soft corals and big fish feeding, diving here can be safe and exciting if you are careful!

Ko Dong

The island has four dive sites. North, South, East and West sides. People often ask, " Lets go to the best dive sites" . And I have learned over the years to act as if that is an intelligent thing to say.

Well that's actually pretty stupid, but forgive me for saying so. Here is why;

Ko Dong - South Side

- known as Sting Ray City is a gentle drift dive. Generally a mild slope from 4 to 14 meters, coral as far as the eye can see in the shallows, sparse coral growth after 15 meters depth and an excellent chance of seeing Blue Spotted Stingray's. Nice peaceful dive, lasts about 60-70 minutes, end of dive we exit to Kamnan beach, for lunch, one of the beauty spots of the world.

Ko Dong - West Side

- has a pinnacle dive known as Rocky Reef. For me visiting this place is like going to church. It is the House of God. I feel very peaceful after a dive here. Imagine a very long high pinnacle made of stones on a white sandy bottom, depth is from 2 to 18 meters depth, takes about one hour to see it all.

Best part is the massive stone at the end, covered in corals of all description and full of fat, well fed fish.

Ko Dong - North Side

- has Monkey Bay; similar to Sting Ray City but much more steep and dramatic. Expect to see endless rows of tall coral heads, turtles and rare critters such as the ornamental ghost pipefish and sharks sleeping under the corals.

Ko Dong - East Side

- has the perfect tiny island of Ko Lokoi. Surrounded by about 90 acres of shallow coral, you could do four dives here and not see it all.

Ko Lipe's Pinnacles

8 Mile Rock

, named for its distance from Ko Lipe, this Divesite is world class. Manta Ray and Whale Shark can often be seen here as well as Big Fish feeding action at all times. This is our most famous Divesite.

Hin Daeng

(40 miles further north) this pinnacle dive starts at 16 meters down and descends like a pyramid to about 50 meters depth. Covered in soft and hard corals it is home to large schools of baitfish trying desperately to hide from the many predators, which feed on them.

Have you ever seen groups of 2-meter giant barracuda in a feeding frenzy just in front of you? Or came eye to eye with a grouper larger then you? This season we spotted 13 Manta Ray swimming around in group formation, possibly mating, also have seen Pygmy Devil Ray and Leopard Shark here recently.

This place is totally wicked at peak current times and not for the weak or inexperienced.

Stonehenge

As the name implies this is a series of tall monolithic stones at the top of a pinnacle about 15 minutes away from Ko Lipe. Excellent all round dive.

Pakaseem Pinnacle

can be found in the western edge of the park. This area averages about 15 meters deep and descends to 50 meters along the edge. Eagle Ray, Turtles, Cuttlefish and many other marine animals call this place home.

Jabang

- located right in the center of the Marine Park - this site is home to just about every species of fish that you can imagine. The site is made up of granite stones shaped similar to building blocks rising up from the seabed into a structure with a series of tall points at its peak.

As we descend slowly in single file down the anchor line and regroup at the bottom, 18 meters deep, we can then swim around the base of the pinnacle in buddy teams, observing what is here in abundance. Such as hard and soft corals, at least 6 types of eel such as snake eels, different types of Lionfish and Stonefish.

Squid and Cuttlefish try to hide here and succeed in attracting the larger predators such as Sailfish.

As we swim our way up the structure we can see other interesting things, such as the obvious symbiotic relationships between the cleaner shrimp and the Moray Eel or the Barrel Sponge and its parasitic worms as they live out their daily lives together.

We do our safety stop here at the top of the stones, where the walls are completely covered in a thick carpet of purple and pink soft corals, as unusual and delicate as a flower garden from an alien world.

Also worth a mention is Ko Lipe's very own shipwreck. M/V Yong Hua was a Thai fish factory ship, which caught fire and sank near our dive shop in 1994. Now resting on her side in 42 meters of water, she is completely covered in marine life and full of big fish.

Deep, dark but safe this is a very exciting dive. Due to the depth (average 34 meters) of seawater you must be an Advanced open water diver or a Deep Diving student to legally dive this excellent wreck site.

50 Mile Rock

otherwise known as Palau Perak. Located in Malaysian waters, we are not supposed to go there without immigration permission, but sometimes we do.

Schooling sharks, giant fish everywhere, water too deep to drop the anchor. The wall dive here is unbelievable. We will be back someday.

The beauty of Ko Lipe has to be seen to be understood. Fortunately we were not hit at all by the recent tsunami that caused such destruction further north, although some dive sites such as Ko Yaang were severely damaged with most corals uprooted and thrown about.

In Ko Lipe itself there was no wave as such, just an unusually high tide, about one-meter higher then normal. Luckily no one was hurt and no boats were lost.

Ko Lipe is normally left alone during the 'Off' Season from May to October. The ferries from the mainland stop arriving, resorts and shops close up and the local Chao Lay people resume their daily routine of gathering food from sea and forest and the reef is left alone in relative peace.

The best time to dive in the National Park is from February to June when the sea conditions are calm and clear. Underwater visibility can reach 30 meters and the only divers you will see are your buddies.

There are several dive shops on the island. Starfish Scuba has been diving this area since 1993 and has American, English, Austrian and Swedish PADI diving instructors.

They are located at Lipe resort and can be reached at 074-728089 or on their www.starfishscuba.com

Sathun South Diving has opened a scuba shop at the new Asia Resort and can be reached at tel: 074-728111.

And a new local diving outfit has opened at the islands only village, Chao Lay Divers may be reached through Chao Lay Resort tel: 074-728117

Finally it is important to note that the travel advisories of some western nations are in affect only on the South East provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani provinces, hundreds of kilometers from Ko Lipe which is located in Sathun province on Thailand's South West coast.

Report by Jim Broder - starfishscuba NOSPAM @ UNMUNGE starfishscuba.com (please remove the SPAM prevention)