Surat Thani Travel Guide

IMG_1288.jpg by razvan.orendovici

In a nutshell

Surat Thani is known as the gateway to the islands on the east coast of Thailand. With easy access to Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao, many don’t even stop to think about what Surat Thani has to offer other than its port, let alone actually stay to find out.

Why go to Surat Thani

The town has received quite a bad reputation thanks to the transport scams and ticket touts, however, if you look past that, Surat Thani has plenty to offer the intrepid traveller. Although you won’t get the golden beaches of the country’s famed islands, you’ll grasp an insight into Thai culture, explore some great national parks and dine on delicious southern cuisine!

Surat Thani is full of culture and if you need somewhere to wind down after partying on Koh Phangan we recommend staying for a few days in Surat before heading off on your next adventure. Whether you simply want to wander around Surat’s Chinese-style waterfront or head out on day trips to local national parks there are plenty of things you can do with Surat Thani as your base.

The wats or temples around Surat Thani are unusual in that they represent Srivijayan culture in Thailand. This was a centre of Buddhism that expanded across southeast Asia from Sumatra in Indonesia. It is therefore interesting to visit sites such as Wat Phra Borommathat Chaiya in Surat Thani to gain an insight into the history of Buddhism in Thailand. You can also compare and contrast these to other temples in Bangkok and Chiang Mai to see the differences between them based on when and why they were built.

When to go to Surat Thani

Surat Thani lies on the east coast of Thailand and is pleasant for the majority of the year. The only time this coastline is notably affected by the weather is during the monsoon season between October and December. Boats will still depart from Surat Thani out to the islands at this time. However, there may be fewer departures and some may be cancelled at the last minute if the weather is particularly bad. The town can be whipped by quite heavy rain at times so it’s best to head into the shops and temples during the wettest parts of the day.

If you’re looking to combine your stay in Surat Thani with a trip to the islands (as most people do) we recommend visiting between January–August.

Where to stay in Surat Thani

Most travellers bypass Surat Thani entirely on their way to the islands, and therefore the infrastructure hasn’t really expanded in the same way that is has in Koh Samui or Koh Phangan.

As a result, there is less variety when it comes to accommodation in Surat Thani than some of the other hotspots in Thailand. Rather than offering cheap backpacker hostels, mid-range hotels and flash boutique lodges, to suit all clientele, Surat Thani tries to tick every box with a few large-ish, good-value hotels with decent amenities. This means that you will get a fairly good hotel at a modest price, but don’t expect offerings at either end of the accommodation spectrum.

Where to eat in Surat Thani

On the islands, restaurants cater to all different tastes and usually present toned-down Thai flavours and western dishes. In Surat Thani, however, you can expect to find some delicious local dishes with southern Thai flavours known for having quite a kick!

Check out the street food at the night markets, fresh seafood that comes in from the Gulf each morning and any of the tasty southern curries which pack a punch. Food lovers will be able to eat their way through Surat Thani stopping at noodle joints, bakeries and street food vendors along the way.

How to get around Surat Thani

Most travellers are likely to stay in one of the centrally-located hotels in Surat Thani, in which case, you can generally walk around all the city sights on foot.

If you want to head further afield there is a frequent bus service and songthaews can often be caught along many of the main roads. Speak to your hotel to find out where the closest stop is.

If you’re going out on a day trip from Surat Thani, you’re likely to have transport provided, so hiring a car or motorbike is probably not necessary.

How to get to and from Surat Thani

Surat Thani is a transport hub on the east coast of Thailand. It is easily reached from a range of destinations across the country and is the main gateway to the islands. There are a few options of how to travel from Bangkok to Surat Thani:

If you are travelling by overnight bus from the west coast or the capital, you will have to stop in Surat Thani before changing to a catamaran or ferry to take you to Koh Samui, Koh Phangan or Koh Tao, though the latter is easier reached from Chumphon. The bus from Bangkok to Surat Thani takes approximately 12 hours.

Alternatively, you can take the scenic route by train allowing you to take in the sites of the east coast as you travel down. This journey takes between 9-12 hours depending on the time of day you travel.

If you’d prefer a speedy journey from Bangkok to Surat Thani you can fly internally. You can fly with a range of airlines including Air Asia and Nok Air which takes around 1h15.

Is Surat Thani safe?

Generally, the locals in Surat Thani are known to be friendly and welcoming. In fact, the city’s name actually translates as “The City of Good People”. However, as with anywhere in the world there are some people trying to make a fast buck. When you are trying to buy ferry tickets, only purchase them from reputable travel agents or alternatively book online with Lomprayah and pick up from the ferry ticket office. Do not purchase tickets from random people on the streets as this is the easiest way to be conned!


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