The West

Sacred heights to new seas
Sacred heights to new seas

I had to climb a sacred mountain in Sri Lanka to find out about the Thai island of Koh Lipe 60km off the coast in the Tarutao marine park and close to Malaysia.

I was told about Lipe last year on my early morning descent of Sri Pada (Adam's Peak) by a Swedish woman, who nominated it as her favourite among the Thai islands she had visited.

I was puzzled because I had lived in Bangkok for six years and here I was being told about a favourite island that I had never heard of. I decided there and then I would visit it on my return to Thailand a few days later. Until then, my own favourite spot among the islands had been Lanta, which you reach by ferry after flying to Krabi from Bangkok. This was the route I again followed on my way to Lipe.

For many years I have stayed with Supanee and her husband at their friendly Aloha resort on Lanta. I was among their first guests many years ago and we still joke that the stickers hadn't been peeled off the bathroom fittings then.

Aloha is at the opposite end of the road to the jetty and is just a five-minute walk to the town, past dive shops and the island's most popular seafood restaurants that are perched on stilts above the water.

The sunsets through coconut palms from Aloha are tropical magic as you look west towards Phi Phi island in the distance. Around a headland is a very long sandy bay with excellent swimming that is resorts from beginning to end. The development has been mind-bendingly rapid this century as when I first visited there was not even a sealed road from the town.

Again, I took a day trip from Lanta to snorkel at Coral island (Koh Rok) - a much-anticipated second visit to this Andaman Sea pearl where the coral and fish are spectacular, though it's a two-hour jaunt in a speedboat to get there. Although I had planned to stay at Castaway Resort on Lipe (and would still recommend it), Supanee arranged a great deal at Mountain Resort. I decided to follow the connection with the Sri Lankan sacred mountain. Sure enough, when I reached the resort next day, there was a deja-vu-like steep flight of steps reminiscent of the challenging last stage near the summit of Sri Pada.

I had taken the slow boat to Lipe, making many stops along the way. Mai pen rai (no worries). I had a good book - A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian - and was in no hurry, but a more expensive speedboat would bounce you there faster.

As if fortune had a hand in this journey from its sacred mountain beginnings, another surprise - this time around my book - would be played out at the end.

There is no jetty at Lipe nor a sealed road. Like bygone days of Victorian-era travel, bags are transferred to long-tail boats and then to the beach. Another long-tail boat makes the journey to the resorts. Until you know the system it's a bit chaotic but at times like these travellers have to trust and hope that things work out. They did.

I spent three supremely relaxing nights at the Mountain Resort reading, sleeping, meditating and writing. It has sweeping views from the huts and restaurant. On my last two days I transferred to Moonlight Bungalows on the main beach for a cheap and basic hut so I could catch the ferry easily on my last morning.

There is an attractive little market which leads off the main beach. It has a good variety of restaurants, travel agents, bars, ice-cream shops, a bakery and coffee shops. There was no loutish behaviour and everyone seemed to share a common understanding that this was a Thai tropical paradise.

But Sunday school it is not. There are some colourful sea gypsy characters in the bars and I noticed quite a number of transgender waiters. Something in the food?

I went snorkelling on two days and would rank it with my best experiences underwater, especially as I was the only swimmer on my boat to see a poisonous and elusive lion fish - coincidentally the name of my hut.

One snorkelling trip includes a short stop at Tarutao island where you are forbidden to remove any of the countless pebbles at the risk of offending its spirit and bringing bad luck upon yourself.

For good luck, visitors can try to make a column of 10 pebbles. It was no easy feat under a glaring tropical sun and required some patience, though eventually I managed to erect a stable pile.

But what about A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian? I was glued to it to the last page and have just vague memories of looking out the ferry window as we made various stops at Andaman Sea islands on my return journey.

I turned the last page as the ferry prepared to dock at Phuket and my mind switched back to practical mode - the need to find accommodation.

It was one of those holidays when everything worked out if I just trusted my autopilot. Within minutes of reaching the beach I had landed a cheap and clean room up a winding flight of stairs more Left Bank Paris than Patong Beach.

After eating and sleeping, I found a local bar around the corner where a big and gregarious Ukrainian was offering to buy drinks. I returned the favour, after dashing upstairs to my room, by pressing into his hands with some emotion a slightly worn copy of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian.

·Frank Molloy teaches English as an additional language/ dialect at Cyril Jackson Senior Campus in Bassendean

The West Australian

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