As the largest province in South Thailand, Surat Thani stretches from the brilliant white-sand shores of popular Gulf islands to forest-shrouded karsts found within 20 kilometers of the Andaman Sea. The provincial capital, commonly known as Surat, is a busy transport hub where locals unload fresh seafood as travelers hunt for ferry tickets.
Named after a city in India, Surat Thani translates as “City of Good People”, though you might feel otherwise after dealing with some of the aggressive touts and shifty travel agents. Most travelers who pass through are heading straight to/from the very popular islands of Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao. Few spend more than a night in Surat, which many see as nothing more than a place to catch a boat. We think the scenic riverfront, great food, and worthwhile day trips make it a destination in its own right.
The old Chinese-influenced Ban Don part of town features century-old Sino-European architecture that — with a bit of restoration — could be as picturesque as some of the heritage shophouses found in old Phuket town. The nearby Tapi riverfront, with its laidback night market and longtail boat pier, reminds us of Krabi’s better-known waterfront area. A boat trip into the Tapi’s tributaries will take you past old stilted houses, towering coconut trees and dense feathered palms that turn waterways into tunnels.
While Surat lacks any must-see attractions, it’s a fun place to explore fiery Southern Thai eats and poke around the old Chinese-style teashops, bakeries, and temples. The historically and spiritually inclined can head north to Chaiya for a glimpse of Srivijaya heritage at the ancient Wat Phra Borrommothat Chaiya, and perhaps a Buddhist retreat at Wat Suan Mokkh, a forest temple founded by one of modern Thailand’s most influential monks.
Nature lovers could venture south to check out the mountains and waterfalls of Tai Rom Yen National Park, where Thai Communist insurgents once plotted their next moves. Surat Thani province also includes Khao Sok National Park, home to the Guilin-esque karst outcrops of Chiew Lan Lake and some of the oldest rainforest on earth. While Khao Sok is closer to the towns of Takua Pa and Phang Nga over on the Andaman Sea coast, it can also be reached from Surat.
Then there are Surat Thani province’s biggest tourism draw cards: Ko Samui with its well-entrenched beach holiday scene; Ko Pha Ngan and its infamous Full Moon Parties; and Ko Tao with its phenomenal dive sites. All of these can be reached by a selection of ferries departing mostly from piers in Don Sak, 60 kilometers east of Surat. You could also head for the many pristine islands of Ang Thong National Marine Park or the largely empty coastal beaches in Khanom and Sichon.
Unfortunately, onward transport scams are extremely common in Surat. Do give our travel section a solid read before you book that “all-inclusive” ferry transfer to Ko Pha Ngan or tourist bus to Bangkok.
Surat Thani’s monsoon runs from late October to mid-December, when storms often lash the coastline. The province’s abundant fruit is celebrated with a yearly Rambutan Festival in early August. At the end of the Buddhist rains retreat in October, the city holds South Thailand’s largest Chak Phra festival — complete with decorated boats and parades — to honor the Buddha’s return from a heavenly realm.