There are two ways to get from Koh Samui back to the firm land: you either go all the long way by ferry from Suratthani to Koh Phangan and then Koh Tao to reach Chumphon or make a quick hop to Donsak to continue your journey to other destinations in Thailand from Suratthani. The latter is undoubtedly quicker, cheaper and easier, so if you are not going to spend a couple of days on Koh Phangan or Koh Tao but need just to get to the mainland, buy your Samui–Suratthani tickets right away.
There are several piers on Koh Samui which serve high speed and slow ferries to the mainland, the most popular being Na Thon pier in the western part of Koh Samui. Ferries also dock at Lipa Noi, in the west, and Mae Nam and Bang Rak in the north. Ferries leaving from Na Thon pier, make the shortest ride between Koh Samui and Donsak pier in Suratthani (30 km), while starting from Mae Nam or Bang Rak makes your sea journey some 20 km longer. Depending on the operator and the pier, expect to spend from 45 minutes to 1½ hour on your sea journey.
From Koh Samui to Donsak by ferry
Lomprayah high speed catamarans whisk you from Na Thon pier on Koh Samui to Donsak in 45 minutes (four departures a day); Seatran Discovery takes just a bit longer (two boats from Bang Rak pier).
Raja operates large car ferries departing from their Lipa Noi pier every hour from 5am till 7pm. Seatran follows the same schedule with their own car ferries, sailing from Na Thon pier.
Tip You can always hop onto these car ferries as a passenger without prior booking. If you are travelling by your own/rented car, it is highly advisable to get your tickets at least one day in advance otherwise you will most probably end up queuing for at least a couple of hours – if you are lucky enough to catch a ferry the same day you arrive at the pier!
From Koh Samui to Suratthani by combination ticket
Different ferry companies operating between Koh Samui and the mainland use their own piers, located in Donsak, a district some 60 km east of Suratthani Town. While it is possible to buy tickets from Koh Samui to Donsak as described above, we still recommend considering a combination trip. This kind of trip is offered by many (almost all) ferry companies serving the route. Besides the ferry ticket it includes your onward transportation by van or by bus from the pier in Donsak to Suratthani Town, Suratthani train station or Suratthani airport. Such tickets cost a bit more compared to ordinary ferry tickets but are worth investing in as the task of organizing your transport from the pier to your next destination by yourself can be quite hard. Transportation options at most piers are limited to taxis, and taxi drivers at Donsak are not very flexible with their rates.
Lomprayah, Seatran Discovery and Raja Ferry all offer combination tickets. Expect to pay THB600 for Koh Samui–Suratthani train station route and THB700 for Koh Samui–Suratthani airport with both Lomprayah and Seatran. Lomprayah provides the fastest transfer – 2¾ hours to the train station and 3 hours to the airport – and its last ferry of the day departs from Na Thon pier on Koh Samui at 3.30pm. There are also Lomprayah boats at 8am, 9.45am and 12.45pm.
Seatran Discovery is a bit slower – 4 hours to Suratthani airport – and has only two departures a day from the company’s pier at Bang Rak (9am and 11.30am).
Raja Ferry is the cheapest among the three – as well as the slowest one, but it has a taxi+ferry+van/bus combination ticket with pick up from your hotel on Koh Samui and drop off in Suratthani Town, train station or airport included for THB440/THB500/THB550 respectively. Joining them at their pier at Lipa Noi is even cheaper (from THB340). Phantip Travel, which uses Raja ferries and their own van and bus fleet, have similar prices.
Why travel to Suratthani
Suratthani is your inevitable port of call on the mainland on the way from 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 spices, and one of the largest flowers on the planet, Rafflesia, blooms there in winter.
Getting around in Suratthani
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.