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.
Surin station guide
Surin - Bus
Surin is the capital of the small but densely populated province of Surin in Thailand’s Isaan region. Air-conditioned buses run every hour from 07:00 to 22:30 between the town and Bangkok’s Mochit bus terminal. There is also train service from Hua Lumphong station.
From the bus station, there are regular VIP and local services to Isaan cities like Nakhon Ratchasima, Roi Et, Sisaket, Khon Kaen, Buri Ram and Maha Sarakham. Chiang Mai, Pattaya and Rayong are other destinations that can be reached directly from Surin.
Surin’s bus station is located just north of the centre of town on the main north-to-south Pattamanon Road. The station is small but there are several food and drink stalls.
There are many temples to visit in and around town, plus an annual three-day elephant festival held each November when accommodation is hard to obtain.
Surin - train
Travelers from Bangkok can reach the province of Surin via SRT train from Hua Lamphong Station in Bangkok. The travel distance is approximately 420 kilometers. The train station is located at the north end of Thanasan Road.
Surin was an isolated and self-sufficient Thai province until the opening of the railroad in 1922 where Surin's economy and resources were exposed and bridged to the wider world. The railway served as a mode for Chinese and Indian merchants to ship goods in and out Surin.
Kap Choeng - Bus
The Thai town of Kap Choeng is located close to the Chong Chom border crossing opposite the Cambodian village of O Smach. This village is the closest international immigration point to Siem Reap and Cambodia’s legendary temple city of Angkor Wat. Chong Chom is a much quieter crossing between the two countries than Aranyaprathet-Poipet.
Kap Choeng is around 400kms east of Bangkok. People travelling to Kap Choeng usually take buses to Surin and then change to a local service for the final 70kms. Buses from Bangkok’s Mochit terminal depart at hourly intervals for Surin from 07:00 to 21:00 every day. Buses from Surin to Kap Choeng leave regularly in the morning, but are less frequent in the afternoon; the last service is at 17:30.
Another option for the final leg is a mini-bus. There are around seven every day in each direction. On the plus side mini-buses are faster than regular buses, but they have less legroom and are slightly more expensive. Some services continue on to Chong Chom.
There is an interesting market at Ta Kap Choeng with both Thai and Cambodian products on sale. Ta Muen Thom is about 50kms away and is one of several Khmer temple ruins in this part of Thailand. Accommodation in Kap
Rattanaburi - Bus
Rattanaburi is a town located deep within the Isaan region. It is not on the mainstream tourist circuit and offers glimpses of the Thailand of yesteryear. It is around 500kms from Bangkok and has no airport or train station. Bus is the only feasible option for getting here. Buses from Mochit terminal in Bangkok usually travel via Nakhon Ratchasima, Buriram and Surin before arriving in Rattanaburi.
Buses terminate at the station on the northeast side of Rattanaburi. There are around 10 buses in each direction every day, with around half travelling overnight. The trip can take up to 6 hours 30 minutes. It is best to pre-book tickets online to save hanging around at Mochit for hours waiting for a seat.
Sanom - Bus
The district of Sanom stands in the northern portion of northeast Thailand's Surin province. The main town, formerly called Ban Nong Sanom, offers few tourist attractions aside from the temples of Wat Bueng, Wat That, and Wat Si Sawang Khok Sa-At. The nearest bus station is in Rattanaburi, which offers eight-hour VIP bus service to Bangkok's Mochit station.
The provincial capital, Surin, includes a larger bus station as well as a rail station which are just 300m apart. Buses travel to Bangkok's Mochit 2 station, while trains service the Thai capital's Hua Lumphong and Bang Sue stations. Passengers can also take a minibus from Surin to Chong Chom, the closest border crossing to Cambodia. Surin contains most of the province's hotels. The modern Surin Majestic and the older Petchaskem Hotel are both handy to the bus station.
Sikhoraphum - train
Sikhoraphum is the capital district of Surin Province. Sikhoraphum has its own Railway Station that serve both passenger trains and freight carriers, but more frequently for the former.
Sikhoraphum Railway Station is part of the Northeastern line originating from Bangkok, 500 kilometers westward and terminates 200 meters east near the Cambodian border. From Hua Lamphong Station, trips would take 7 hours or more depending on the type of train.
Non Narai - Bus
Non Narai is a district in the province of Surin in Thailand’s rural northeastern region. The district lies to the northeast of the city of Surin and borders the province of Si Sa Ket. Surin is linked to Bangkok by regular bus service from Mochit terminal and by train from Bangkok’s Hua Lumphong station.
Provincial buses service Non Narai frequently throughout the day. The buses are generally the rather old, second-class type that are seen running within the provinces across the country – and they can be rather cramped when full. Normally it’s fine to turn up at the bus station and buy a ticket on the day but, when possible, it’s better to buy in advance.
Chumphon Buri - Bus
Chumphon Buri is a small Isaan town in the very northwest part of northeast Thailand’s Surin province, around 358kms from Bangkok. The town has its own small bus terminal and numerous Chumphon Buri bound air-conditioned buses depart Bangkok’s Mochit terminal, arriving in the town some five hours later.
An airport in Buriram makes it possible to fly to the area and then take a taxi or local bus to Chumphon Buri, which is less than a one-hour drive away. There is also a railway station in Buriram, so Chumphon Buri can also be reached from Bangkok by train from Hua Lumphong station.
Chumphon Buri’s bus station sits on the west end of the town off of Highway 2081 near the Chumphon Buri District Office and the Thung Sri Chumpon Municipal District office. The station itself has little to offer, though there are a few local shops and ATMs close by. It is recommended to reserve a seat online in advance, as buses are often full.
Places of interest in and around Chumphon Buri include Wat Klang Chumphon Buri, Ban Taklang Elephant Village and Wat Dong Yai Pao. There are few accommodation choices in Chumphon Buri itself apart from Mueanfun Resort, though there are many in nearby Buriram.
Tha Tum - Bus
Tha Tum is a sparsely populated district in northeast Thailand's Surin province. The town of Tha Tum contains a small bus station from which passengers can board buses to Bangkok's Mochit station. Passengers can also purchase tickets to the smaller communities of Roi Et and Surin from the single ticket counter.
Tha Tum's main attraction, however, is located in the village of Ban Ta Klang. A show about elephant training takes place at the Elephant Study Centre each Saturday morning. This training centre also includes elephant rides and an exhibition about Ban Ta Klang's history as well as elephant raiding equipment displays. The closest hotels are situated in Surin, the provincial capital. Discounts are available at Thong Tarin Hotel, Petchaskem Hotel, and Surin Majestic outside of Surin's November Elephant Roundup festival.