Surat Thani, most of the time just called Surat, is the capital of the same named province. The town is situated in Southern Thailand on the south-eastern Gulf Coast. Since decades most travelers just pass through, on their way to the famous holiday destinations of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. But for tourists who are in no hurry it is a good opportunity to experience this medium size city. The surroundings offer some very interesting attractions, unknown to most foreigners.
The name Surat Thani can be translated as “City of good people”. This region has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Till the 13th century it was for 1,000 years part of the Srivijaya Kingdom with the two dominant towns of Chaiya and Thatong. In July 1915 King Rama VI visited the area and gave the province the name Surat Thani.
Today the capital is a very important port as well as a hub for tourists. 3 of Thailand’s well known holiday islands lie just off the coast. Koh Samui is the most famous one, Koh Phangan well known for its full moon parties and the smallest, Koh Tau by divers and snorkelers admired. Surat Thani is also a start destination to the Andaman region, laying in the South West of Thailand, with famous destinations such as Phuket and Krabi. Additionally the province has two fantastic national parks, the Ang Thong National Marine Park and the Khao Sok National Park.
With approximately 125,000 inhabitants, Surat Thani is Thailand’s 8th largest city and the capital of the largest province in the southern part of Thailand. This region is a major exporter for rubber, coconuts and rambutan fruits.
The fastest and most convenient way to reach Surat Thani is by plan. The airport (IATA: URT) lies 20 kilometers to the west. From the 650 kilometer far away Bangkok are daily flights, either from Don Mueang or Suvarnabhumi Airport. There are as well direct flights from/to Kuala Lumpur available. Air Asia operates a bus service from the airport to town and back and there are taxis/tuk tuks available.
A good alternative way from Bangkok is by overnight train. The first class has private air con compartments with 2 beds and the air con 2nd class sleeping coach is very comfortable. Drinks and food can be ordered by the train steward or consumed in the restaurant wagon. The train station is about 15 kilometer west of Surat Thani. Public buses or taxis are available. If going either to Koh Samui or Koh Phangan there are combined tickets available which include the train, bus and ferry.
From the further south such as Hatyai/Butterworth travellers can reach the town by train as well.
Another travel option from/to Bangkok is by bus. There are direct air con buses from/to Khao San Road, as well as from Bangkok Southern Bus Terminal. Most comfortable are the VIP buses which have, compared to the regular ones, less seats. The long distance bus terminal is about 5 km outside Surat. City buses and taxis/tuk tuks are available.
From all major destinations in Southern Thailand one can reach Surat Thani by direct bus.
From/to the islands of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao are fast and slow ferries available. Travel time is between 2 and 9 hours. Included in the ferry ticket is normally the transfer by bus to the pier in Surat Thani.
Make sure, that you always buy a ticket from a TAT official approved travel agency. There are many scammers who will charge horrendous prices for travel, either to the islands or to destinations on the mainland.
It is most easy to get around in town by tuk tuk, otherwise by songthaew. If you hire a tuk tuk or one of these songthaew for yourself, make sure that you have an agreement on the price before starting.
This romantic garden, situated in the center, is a great place for a superb and not expensive dinner.
When staying overnight, one should have a stroll through this colorful market. The food is inexpensive and good with many local delicacies. Just buy whatever catch your eye or sit in one of the many small restaurants and during dinner watch the townsfolk.
This place is very popular for travellers to sit, eat and drink while waiting for the night boat to one of the islands.
Monkey Training College
Want to see monkeys study? Then this college is a great place to visit. It is placed just about 10 kilometers outside the center, on the way to Don Sak. Here the monkeys are trained in an animal-friendly atmosphere to collect only the ripe coconuts.
Excursion on the Tapi River
Just north of town is a huge mangrove swamp where the Tapi River flows into the Gulf of Thailand. Through a travel agency, best ask in the hotel, you can explore this vast wilderness by boat. Besides the mangrove forests with many birds you can see the traditional stilt houses from the local fishermen.
On the road to Don Sak are a few oyster farms, especially in the district of Kanchanadit, about 30 kilometers from the city center away. Here you can try the fresh delicious oysters.
Old town of Chaiya
Situated 45 km to the north of Surat Thani lays one of the oldest towns in Southern Thailand, Chaiya. Most interesting is the ancient Wat Phra Borom That. The temple is built around the old chedi which contains Buddha relicts. Nearby is the National Museum with an exhibition of sacred relicts from the old time.
Khao Sok National Park
About 90 kilometers inland, half way to Ranong on the Andaman Sea, lays the Khao Sok National Park. The area is also known as the Isthmus of Kra. It is one of the world’s oldest rainforests and for every nature lover a MUST visit. A very diverse flora and fauna can be explored and the world’s largest flower, the Rafflesia Kerrii Meijer can be found. There are jungle excursions offered, either by foot, on the back of an elephant or by kayak. There is another hidden wonder waiting, the Ratchaprabha Dam. The huge lake is also called Chiao Lan Lake. This fascinating landscape with towering jungle covered limestone mountains is often compared with Qualin in China or Halong Bay in Vietnam. Only a few people know this lake and even less have visited this gorgeous place. There are boat rides available.
Ang Thong Marine National Park
This park consists of many islands with beautiful small coves, small mountains, caves, small fresh water lakes and a diverse underwater world. It is most easy accessible by a day tour from Koh Samui or Koh Phangan.
Surat Thani has no attractive beaches, compared the ones on the islands of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao.
The best time to visit Surat Thani is from December till June with only a bit of rain. But as in other places on the south east side of the Gulf, the weather patterns are different from other areas. Normally the rainy season is much less strong during July till September with lots of sunshine. The heavy monsoon season lasts from October till end of November with sometimes very strong winds and it can rain for several days nonstop. The hottest months are April and Mai, with temperatures up to 40 degree.