Travelling from Koh Phangan to Suratthani inevitably means calling to Koh Samui en route. The distance between Koh Phangan and Koh Samui is about 25 km, and it is approximately 30 km more from Koh Samui to the mainland port of Donsak. The total travel time, including waiting time at Koh Samui, is 1½ hours if travelling by high speed ferry and up to 2½ if choosing a slower and cheaper operator. The route is well served by a number of companies including Lomprayah, Seatran Discovery and Raja Ferry.
From Koh Phangan to Suratthani by ferry
All ferries from Koh Phangan leave from Thong Sala pier. It is located on the western side of Koh Phangan. Be ready to pay at least THB100 for a seat in a shared songthaew to get to Thong Sala pier from any of the neighbouring bays or Haad Rin and up to THB250 if you start from any of the northern beaches like Thong Nai Pan.
On the mainland, ferries dock at Donsak where different companies use their own piers. Donsak sits some 60 km east of Suratthani Town. You can buy tickets from Koh Phangan to Donsak and then organize your onward transport at the pier but it is not advisable as prices offered at the pier are hefty: taxi drivers know very well you do not have many options to choose from. That is why it is wise to get a combination ticket from Koh Phangan to your next destination, be it Suratthani Town proper, Suratthani train station or Suratthani airport. In fact, this is the way the locals prefer. Combination tickets are sold by a number of companies and include your ferry ride from Koh Phangan to Donsak and a bus or a minivan ride to the chosen destination. Prices on combination tickets start from THB380 (for Suratthani Town) and go up to THB800 (Suratthani airport) and vary greatly depending on the operator with Lomprayah being the most expensive but the most reliable and fastest one.
Lomprayah and Seatran Discovery
Lomprayah and Seatran Discovery are the two operators providing the fastest service from Koh Phangan to Suratthani. They offer similarly priced tickets (e.g. a combination ticket to Suratthani train station costs THB650-THB700) with Seatran Discovery taking a bit more time due to a longer stop at Koh Samui.
Lomprayah has four departures a day, at 7.20am, 9am, 12pm and 2.30pm, while Seatran Discovery has only two: at 8am and 10.30am. Both companies sell combination tickets to Suratthani train station and Suratthani airport and offer very similar service.
Tip There is not much difference between taking Lomprayah and Seatran Discovery in good weather. But when the sea is mossy it is probably better to opt for Seatran as opposite to Lomprayah catamaran, which rides the swell, Seatran rather cuts through it, making rocking not so severe. It is especially important if you are prone to seasickness.
Raja operates huge car ferries between Donsak, Koh Samui and Koh Phangan. They are slower than high-speed boats by both Lomprayah and Seatran, but are more stable and cheaper. Raja departs from Koh Phangan every other hour with the first ferry at 5am and the last one at 5pm. A combination ticket from Koh Phangan to Raja office in Suratthani Town at the corner of Si Wichai Road and Soi Si Wichai 16, just opposite Krungsri Bank, costs THB400 and the whole trip takes 4 hours, out of which 2½ hours are a trip between Koh Phangan and Donsak.
Some operators with their own fleet of vans and buses use Raja ferries to offer combination trips from Koh Phangan to Suratthani, among them Phantip being the strongest one. Tickets with Phantip cost insignificantly less than with Raja Ferry themselves: e.g. THB380 vs THB400 to Suratthani Town, but Phantip’s office where they bring passengers is located more centrally than Raja’s: by Kaset 1 Market.
Why travel to Suratthani
Suratthani (well, or Chumphon) is your inevitable port of call on the mainland on the way from Koh Phangan or Koh Samui to further destinations anywhere in Thailand. The town is a large transportation hub where you can catch a bus or a train to Bangkok or destinations down in the Deep South. There are no less than 20 daily flights from Suratthani airport to both Bangkok airports with Thai AirAsia, Lion Air, Nok Air, Thai Smile and Thai Airways and one recently introduced AirAsia flight to Chiang Mai at 2.50pm (1¾ hour).
Not many travellers decide to spend at least a day or two in Suratthani proper and in fact there is not too much to see and to do in the town itself – if you are after large-scale attractions. But Suratthani is a nice place to get the taste of hot southern flavours and browse the streets full of houses featuring Sino-European architecture. You will hardly meet other international travellers hanging around what means it is the right place to savour ‘Thailand for locals’ – without obtrusive touts and inflated prices.
Suratthani town can serve as a convenient base for trips to Khao Sok National Park (2 hours, from THB250), a massive protected area featuring rain forest, lakes and karst formations. One of the wettest places in the whole country – you are almost 100% sure to be caught by the rain there, – Khao Sok boasts an incredible biodiversity. It is home to over 5% of the world’s wildlife species, and one of the largest flowers on the planet, Rafflesia, blooms there in winter.
Songthaews, tuk-tuks and orange air-conditioned buses which head to the large ‘new’ bus terminal hang around Downtown transportation hub Talat Kaset 1 between Soi 8 and 10 Talad Mai Road. Transport to Suratthani train station located in the town of Phun Phin is also found there.
Downtown transportation hub Talat Kaset 2 is almost opposite the first one, between Soi 31 and Soi 33 Talad Mai Road. It is used by buses and vans which head to destinations in the neighbouring provinces, such as Chumphon, Phuket, Trang, Krabi and Phang Nga.
Bo-Ko-So, a long-distance bus terminal, also called the ‘new’ bus terminal, sits 7 km west of town close to the major four-way intersection of route 401, 417 and Si Wichai. Orange minibuses from Talad Kaset 1 bus station bring you there for THB10. This bus terminal serves buses to Bangkok, Chiang Mai and some other destinations in the north and on the Eastern Seaboard.
Where to stay in Suratthani
Strangely enough, budget backpacker-friendly guesthouses are almost non-existent in Suratthani. There are actually three main recommendations on choosing your accommodation in Suratthani. Staying in the city centre puts you in the middle of the action with great street food, markets, two local bus stations and several temples to have a look at within walking distance. Check Namuang Road and Talad Mai Road between Talad Kaset 1 and Fresh Market. This area, though convenient and very atmospheric, may prove too noisy. If you need a quieter place to stay, go to the large Tesco Lotus supermarket a couple km southwest of town on route 401 where you find a handful of good mid-range hotels. If islands of the Gulf is your next destination, instead of staying in the town proper you can head to Donsak, some 60 km east of town, and look for accommodation there by the new Lomprayah pier and the pier facing Koh Raet. In fact, there are surprisingly nice bungalows at reasonable prices there.
Things to do in Suratthani
Going local is the best strategy to get most from this ‘City of the good people’ as the name of the town suggests. Apart from mouth-watering Southern dishes and traditional Muslim curries offered in the street markets and several interesting temples among which Wat Sai probably deserves special attention, there are other things to do and places to visit.
- Explore the historical district of Chaiya where some of the ruins of Srivijaya era can still be seen.
- Hunt for simple yet beautiful red, yellow and black cloths woven in Ban Phum Riang fishing village.
- Make a romantic cruise along the Tapi River, partly overgrown with mangrove forests, or even opt for a homestay on its banks.
- Have a look at monkeys at the Monkey training centre in Kanchanadit district, 13 km from Suratthani.
- Plan a day or two for Khao Sok, arguably the most diverse and spectacular national park in Thailand.
Onward travel from Suratthani
If you are going to continue your journey from Suratthani to Bangkok, consider taking one of the most convenient night trains – #86 and #84 – leaving between 6.30pm and 9pm. The last departures of the day from Koh Phangan with both Lomprayah and Seatran (at 2.30pm and 10.30am) get to the train station in time to catch either of the two. There are flights to Bangkok from Suratthani airport any time of the day between 6.30am and 9pm but do not forget to arrive to the airport at least one hour before your flight.
If you are heading further south from Suratthani to Hat Yai or Padang Besar to cross the border to Malaysia, train #43 at 4.45pm, offering seats only, can be your best bet as all the other trains pass through Suratthani between midnight and 8am.