share of the catch for dinner.
A team of local educators and civic club members recently
traveled from Chiang Mai to Koh Lipe to assess ways in which English
language skills could help the children of the almost 1,000 Urak Lawoi who
live there, popularly known as the “Sea Gypsies”.
The group traveled from Chiang Mai to Hat Yai by air, and
then crossed land by van to Satun Province and the port town of Pak Bara.
Satun is a multicultural province, with almost 70 percent of its population
Muslim and nearly 30 percent Buddhist.
Koh Lipe (Lipe Island) is part of Satun Province, and is
located 80 kilometers from Pak Bara in the Adang Archipelago of the Andaman
Sea, an exquisite chain of small islands that have yet to be fully developed
for tourism. The Archipelago became part of the Tarutao National Marine Park
in 1974, and is a rapidly growing destination for divers who come to enjoy
the 288 fish and 137 coral species there.
Fenton interviews students.
From Pak Bara, the group went by speedboat to Lipe
Island, a rough journey given the cross currents between the islands and the
depth of the swells in the sea. The prevailing belief that it is not good
for the boat to adjust the speed downward produced a hard ride that was
disruptive to the fishermen en route and the tranquility of the beach on
arrival. The ferry at Pak Bara takes about four hours, but offers more
comfortable passage. Book at Pak Bara so that you can see the vessel you
will be traveling on. The monsoon season lasts from May through October. The
seas are rough during this time, and most public transportation does not
operate to the smaller islands. Most of the small resorts also close during
the monsoon season.
Lipe Island is quite small, only about five square
kilometers. There are no paved roads on the island and there is no motorized
transportation for tourists. But the island is also relatively flat, and
it’s easy to walk to any destination. There is no bank or ATM on the
island. Internet connection is available at several of the resorts and at
the school, but it is expensive compared to the mainland. Only DTAC mobile
Accommodation on Lipe Island is basic, and generally
consists of small cabins grouped together near a restaurant and called a
“resort”. Most are sparsely furnished. Bathrooms are equally Spartan.
There is no hot water, and electricity is generally turned off from 7 a.m.
until 6 p.m. The weather is warm but pleasant, and island breezes blow
Burke, team member, interviews mothers.
There are four main beaches on Lipe Island and a few
small, secluded ones. Pattaya Beach is the main one, and most of the
bungalows and restaurants are located there. It’s located in a bay, and
beautifully picturesque. The sand is white and powdery on the beach, and the
beaches are not crowded even during the high season. Nobody rents beach
chairs or umbrellas on the beach yet, but that type of entrepreneurship is
just around the corner. Don’t miss Sunset Beach at – well – sunset.
And don’t forget your camera. Sunlight Beach is on the eastern side of the
island near the Sea Gypsy village. Two tiny islands are just off this beach,
and snorkelers can often be seen swimming from one to the other. Karma Beach
is also quite lovely.
crosses protect the fishermen.
The Urak Lawoi village, school, people and fishing boats
should not be missed. Although the Moken, Moklen and Urak Lawoi are all
referred to as “Sea Gypsies”, in reality they are not the same peoples.
They have different origins, cultures and languages. The language of the
Urak Lawoi is not written down. Many of them also speak Thai. Historically
the Urak Lawoi were semi-nomadic sea people who kept permanent houses on
land but were nomadic in their food foraging practices. They are animist in
their beliefs, and the crosses we saw along the beach are believed to keep
the fishermen safe.
Life is rapidly changing for the Sea Gypsies with increasing contacts
with tourists and other outsiders, integration into larger fishing
economies, and modernization. The school is surprisingly well equipped for
its 200 students, with several computers that offer internet access as well
as a satellite teaching program. There is a solar power system. The children
are lively and appear healthy, and spoke easily with our Thai speakers. As
you would expect, they are all good swimmers. We watched with delight as
they swam out to meet the fishing boats in the evening, and then walked back
to our resort for some of the most delicious fresh grilled squid I’ve ever
speedboat on the beach.
coming home with their catches.
Beach on Lipe Island.