In a nutshell
Surin is famous for its incredible Elephant festival and its intriguing historical sites that send shivers down your spine. A visit to Surin is not difficult to motivate – keep reading, pack your sunscreen, your camera, and tell mom you’ll be back soon.
Why go to Surin
An absolute must (if you can put aside any ethical concerns about the festival) is the Surin Elephant Festival. Reason enough to visit Surin, the festival is a 10 day extravaganza. Elephants perform tricks, partake in races, and even adorn the responsibility of respective positions in a team and engage in a game of football. The highlight of the festival, though, is the ‘battle’ that is performed at the end. A rendition of a time so long ago is played out with hundreds of foot soldiers and many elephants. If you’re going with the family, be sure to get the VIP tickets to get great seats and a guide who can explain the ins and outs of it all.
One of the biggest attractions to tourists is the ancient Khmer ruin known as Ta Muan. Right on the border between Thailand and Cambodia, the ruins consists of three temples. The temples are a portal to ancient times, and provide the culturally inclined history buffs with all sorts of clues and hints about its history. The ruins are absolutely beautiful and make for some incredible emotive photo opportunities. The ruins are free to enter and are protected from any sort of commercialisation.
Besides Ta Muan, there are numerous other small ruins that are well worth a visit. While they are not easy to find, they are possibly the most worthwhile of the lot. Do some strong researching, speak to locals, get a little lost, and you may just have a shot. Pack a bag full of bananas and water for the road.
When to go to Surin
Rainy season in the province stretches through from May to October, so, should you be keen to explore the streets and general outdoors without a raincoat and dry-bag, then you’d do well to avoid these times. The dry season then, from November to April, is when you want to visit the province.
Where to stay in Surin
Around the Elephant Festival, rates for guesthouses and hotels increase dramatically. Expect to pay up to fifty per cent more.
There are many basic and somewhat unimpressive hotels around Surin. For less than 400 THB, you can grab yourself a basic room with no hint of whistle or bell.
There are a few small guesthouses run by locals that provide a more unique and enriching experience. Baan Chang Ton is one of these places. For less than 600 THB you can enjoy the comfort of air-conditioning and the extra homey touches the owner makes.
Slightly more upmarket options are on offer, too. Among these options, the Surin Majestic Hotel is a strong option. The hotel is right nearby the bus station, which makes it is easy to setline in Surin, or easy to get out when it’s time for the next big thing. Rooms start at 1, 200 THB and head up to 2, 200 THB for a suite. The rooms are fantastic and are well worth the money spent. If you’re looking for the most luxurious experience possible, make a move for the Thong Tarin Hotel.
Where and what to eat in Surin
While you may be so very far from home, and while that fact can feel very obvious at points, the food scene in the city will make you feel a little closer to all that you know. There are several Western joints that can cook up a meal that goes far beyond just looking like what it should, and actually tastes downright delicious! There are too many spots to mention, but if you head to the area right around the bus station, you will be inundated with possibilities. There you will find everything from English breakfasts to Norwegian meatballs.
For some local fare, head to the central market. The market is open all day and late into the night, and is in full-flux in the early evening. All the Thai classics, along with some more mysterious and bugs and insects are on offer. Get some!
If you want to sit down with a bottle of water, a spicy curry, plastic chairs, Thai smiles and homey smells, head to Koka restaurant. It has fantastic food at very affordable prices.
How to get around Surin
Getting around the city presents absolutely no issue at all. A wealth of options is at your disposal. With the closeness of attractions and utilities in the city, the fit, impoverished, or romantics can afford to skimp on the cost of transport pretty regularly. This means you can afford that dessert, that beverage, or that cheesy tourist t-shirt!
If you are going to make use of the many options before you, then this is what you need to do. Simple trips around the city are best done in tuk-tuks or motorbike taxis. The latter of these is far more unnerving and should only be done once. Maybe twice if you’re in a pinch.
There are pink songthaews that runs routes through the main roads of the city, making stops at the bus and train station. When you’re just getting in, these are what you want to be looking for. Short rides in or out of the city centre shouldn’t cost you more than 40 THB.
Motorbikes allow the greatest sense of freedom and often end up being the most economically savvy choice. The Farang Connection, a restaurant right near the bus station, has motorbikes for rent for 300 THB for the day, with discounts if you use it for two or more days. The safety conscious and picnic-having, dream life living travellers can rent a car for themselves and all their goodies from the Farang Connection too.
How to get in and from Surin
Unfortunately, Surin doesn’t have an airport itself. However NokAir have come through for the little guy and provide a service that can get you there pretty speedily. The ‘Fly and Ride’ service from the company will fly you into the closest airport (Buriram airport) and will have you hop into a minivan for the last part of the journey.
The train is an easy way to get into town. There will be no switching between modes of transport, you’ll have oodles of space, and will have your ears filled with the timeless sound of the wheels on the tracks. Ticket prices vary greatly. You can grab yourself a third-class tickets for as little as 73 THB (which you may just end up regretting), a first-class seat for around 350 THB, and even sleeper options for a tad more. The train departs from Bangkok eight times a day and takes nine hours to arrive in Surin. There are three departures in the morning, and five in the afternoon and evening. Check the schedules online to find a time and book a ticket. The return journey to Bangkok departs from Surin at 05.20, 07.55, 09.40, 11.30, 16.40, 19.30, 20.25, 21.00 and 22.00.
First class government busses depart Mochit Bus Station every hour from 07.00am to 12.00am and then again from 6.00pm to 11.00m. The busses are relatively cheap (from around 340 THB) and are very reliable. Bring enough warm clothing to get you through the coldest winter – bus conditions are notoriously freezing. The bus takes around 7 hours.
Getting in from Chiang Mai is easiest via the bus, too. However, prepare yourself for a long night. 13 hours and 900 THB is what it’ll cost you. Bring a book, a fully-charged phone, and if you can spare the space, a blanket.
Getting in from and out to the surrounding provinces is easily done via a minivan. Head to the bus station to grab one. The minivans leave very regularly and are inexpensive.
Is Surin a safe place to visit?
Safety in Surin is not a major concern. Insofar as you are conscious about your baggage and your other possessions, it is unlikely that you will find yourself in any trouble. That being said, always trust your instincts if you feel unsafe - politeness and etiquette must take a back seat to safety.