Surat Thani (often just "Surat") is the largest province of Southern Thailand. Surat Thani means City of Good People, the title given to the city by King Vajiravudh (Rama VI). It is a gateway to the islands of Thailand's Gulf Coast: Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan, and Ko Tao are much-visited destinations, as well as Ang Thong National Marine Park.
Surat Thani Airport (IATA: URT) is about 20km west of the city in Phun Phin district. Thai Airways International,Thai Air Asia, and Nok Air all operate daily flights to/from Don Mueang International Airport (DMK) and Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) Bangkok. Also there's a new direct flight from Kuala Lumpur on Air Asia. Connect by bus or rental car (buy ticket and rent in the airport) to town. Phantip Travel has bus service connecting all flights to Surat Thani. Phantip Travel (Tel. +66 77 272230, +66 77 282331) is on Taladmai Rd. Price one-way is 100 baht.
The Surat Thani train station, despite its name, is in Phun Phin, about 12 km west of the town centre. Most comfortable are the overnight trains from Bangkok, which arrive in early morning. There are always many who try to catch the tourists and sell them trips to Surat or the islands directly. Usually the most aggressive sellers are the most expensive. However, it's not a big problem to reach the city itself from the railway station. Municipal buses depart the train station for Surat Thani every 30 minutes and cost 20 baht, though the service seems to stop around 17:00. After that, the only option is a taxi, the drivers of which will come in to the station to try and find passengers. If you go outside and turn immediately to the left, there is a taxi stand with taxis charging a fixed price of 140 baht to Surat Thani. The price is clearly indicated on a printed canvas sign attached high up.
The new bus terminal is a bit outside the city's downtown core. If you are coming from Phuket, the bus will not stop at this terminal, but will continue to the old (crappy) bus station downtown. (First stop will be the train station in Phun Pin). If you want to be dropped off at the new station, ask to be let off at the Baw Kaw Saw (government bus station). If you have to backtrack via tuk-tuk, it may cost you as much as 200 baht (the same as the fare from Phuket). On the subject of the new bus station, from a visitor's perspective, it is one of the worst in Thailand. All signage is in Thai, facilities are minimal, no Wi-Fi, or good coffee, nor even the usual restaurants.
The old bus terminal in the middle of city is now frequented only by some private buses, which are however much more risky than the government buses. There are many bus companies from Southern Bus Terminal Bangkok to Surat Thani Bus terminal. If you are coming from Phuket, it takes about 6 hours to reach Surat Thani. Connections by bus, tuk-tuk, or songthaew from the bus terminal to town are available. Thais will pay about 20-40 baht, you may be asked to pay 10x that.
When arriving in Surat Thani by long distance bus (even government buses) such as one from Bangkok, Hat Yai, or Phuket, it is more likely than not that at some point in the city outskirts the bus will stop and some people will board the bus. They will ask the foreigners where they are going, and if they are going to the islands rather than the city, these people will strongly insist (in English) that the tourists should get off the bus here, to get transportation to their destination. They may be aggressive and rude. They may even try to unload your luggage from the bus to make you follow them.
If you agree to this scam, you will be taken a few kilometres away by songthaew (which will be promised to be "free") to a travel agency in the city centre, where you are likely to be asked a ridiculous price (e.g., 450-500 baht to Ko Samui) to go to your destination. If you refuse, they will try to charge you 2-3 times the regular price (60 baht/person for a trip with 5-10 fellow passengers) for a supposedly free songthaew trip from the bus. If going from Ko Samui or Ko Pha Ngan, the same may happen. If so, they will either try to sell you Khao San Road bus ticket (widely known for theft on board) or, if you happen to have a train ticket, to offer you a triple-priced taxi - as they'll smartly make you leave the bus in the middle of nowhere, your choices and arguments for bargaining will be limited. This is the most annoying part of travelling to/from Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan via Surat Thani, and the best you can do is to ignore their requests, not leave the bus in a remote places, use the official bus only, and generally follow the Thai people travelling on the same bus from the start (especially if some are going to the same destination as you).
As noted above, the "Bus Terminal" in the centre of town has mainly local buses there. At least some buses from Khao Lak go to this point and not to any other bus terminal. It seems that buses to other places, e.g., Krabi, do go from here though.
Beware a nasty scam though!
There is a tuk-tuk driver in a red/orange one (most are blue). To take us to the hotel he slurred "two hundred" into "twenty" remarkably well indeed! Admittedly the hotel was well out of town some 4 km, but this is still a ridiculous price. In the morning, since the hotel was in the middle of nowhere, he "only" charged 150 baht into town, but to get us to the Krabi bus he dropped us at a travel agent, Tanaporn Travel, directly opposite where the Krabi bus was leaving. Address is 442/313 Talatmai Rd, close to the old bus station. They charged more than twice the correct bus price and it appears that the taxi driver, and also the bus conductor (who gave a knowing smile and did not even inspect the ticket) are also in on the scam. Buy tickets on the buses only! Correct price is 140 baht each (we paid 285 baht!)This was the 10:00 bus to Krabi. (It takes about three hours to get there).
If you are arriving at the train station, and your plans call for transit to Phuket, buses depart every few hours, until about 15:30. The ticket price is very reasonable by Western standards. Travel time is three to four hours. The bus departure area is about 100 m away from the train station. For specific directions, just ask the representative at the railway information desk.
You can take the ferry from any of the islands nearby, taking about an hour. There is food on board and movies as well.
From islands such as Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan, and Ko Tao a ferry ride takes between 7 and 9 hours depending on whether you take the fast or slow boat. The slow boat from Ko Tao is overnight and features mattresses for sleeping. The skipper is especially friendly.
The ride will generally cost 500-600 baht depending on the season. Be wary of black market tickets as people will try to sell you tickets for over 2,000 baht, promising food and DVDs included in the price.
Always go to a TAT-approved travel agency.
When you get off, there are two ferry companies with departures every 30 minutes (Seatran Ferry and Raja Ferry). There is a bus ride included with the trip (note the strange system of paper tickets combined with circular stickers that you stick on your shirt). It is a 45 minute bus ride down backroads from the ferry terminal to Surat Thani. More than one ferry terminal serves Surat Thani.
Tuk-tuks cost around 10-20 baht/per person) around the town. Hail one on any major road with a wave or yell, negotiate a fare, and sit on the bench in the back.
- Monkey Training College, 24 Moo 4, Thungkong, Kanchanadit (8 km from town, direction Don Sak.), ☎ +66 77 227351, or +66 84 7455662. An interesting place to visit. The owner trains monkeys to become coconut collectors. The training is done in an animal-friendly fashion. No punishments are given, only rewards. Also offers home stay ("home stay" is a word frequently used to indicate basic accommodations, and joining the host for meals) in two basic bungalows.
- Kampan (กำปั่น), Amphur Rd. A romantic garden setting makes Kampan a great spot for a dinner date. It's classy, but not too expensive. Massaman curry with chicken, 80 baht.
- Night Market (Talat Sanjao - ตลาดศาลเจ้า), Tri Anusonn Rd at Namuang Rd.. Walk the block and pick up whatever treats catch your eye, or grab a table at one of the restaurants and watch the market scene as you dine. Freshly juiced fruits, corn on the cob, squid-kebabs, fried chicken, saffron rice, pad Thai, sushi.
- Night Pier (ท่าเรือกลางคืน). A popular spot for tourists to eat and drink beer before boarding the night boat to Ko Tao or Ko Pha Ngan. Lots of food carts selling seafood and noodles and standard Thai fare at only slightly elevated prices. If you walk further down the road toward the bridge, you'll find fruit vendors galore.
- Coolin' Out Club Surat Thani, 233/133 Karunrat Rd. Jazzy little hole-in-the wall bar with chilled-out ambiance and some of the best music for hanging out in all of Surat. The owners, Art and Joy, are friendly and good conversationalists, and Art makes high-quality cocktails. Prices for beer are high (90 baht for a small bottle), and mixed drinks range between 120-200 baht each.
- Lamoon, Amphur Rd. A pub run by Kai, who recently returned to Surat after spending many years in Switzerland. He is fluent in both English and German and has created a beautiful beer garden which also has some indoor seating. The food isn't the best, but the surroundings, the atmosphere and the clientèle more than make up for that. Friday night parties with lucky numbers and drinking games are a regular occurrence as are (fortunately very short) acoustic performances by a local American teacher.
- Ban Don Hotel (Near Ban Don and Na Mueang Rd). A place for really cheap and clean rooms, but for 300 baht, don't expect anything fancy. Most rooms don't have air-con or hot water and the entrance is through a shady looking restaurant. But, if you're looking for a place just to stay a night while passing through, it's pretty good for the price. 300 baht.
- Myplace@surat Hotel, 247/5 Namuang Rd (Not far from Tapee Hotel, a couple of minutes walk from the river and night market). Single room, fan, toilet outside, start at 199 baht. Bath inside from 290 baht. Clean good-sized rooms. Free Wi-Fi.
- Phangan Guesthouse & Hotel, 402/7 Taladmai Rd (Near the corner of Taladmai and Taladmai Rd, near the minibus station and between the two bus stations), ☎ . Clean and convenient. Basic and friendly. Fan for 300 baht, air-con room for 400 baht. The owner is really nice. Each room is named after a Surat Thani provincial city.
- Tapee Hotel (On Chonkasem Rd, it's about a 10 min walk from the two bus stations). The price differences range from fan to air-con and view. Bright entrance, staffed front desk, and short distance to the market and bus stations. The rooms are older, very clean, and the air-con worked quietly. There are two English-language channels on the TV (Al Jazeera and Star Movies), one Spanish and one Cantonese, in addition to local channels. and it had a hot water shower. Five minutes from the waterfront and night market, which you should not miss. Turn left from the lobby, right at the next main road and follow your nose. The walk home later in the evening is interesting, as many of the short-time hotels have their ladies out, but the area is safe. 450-550 baht.
- Thaireungruang Hotel (A block or two from the old bus station in the middle of town). Business hotel. Relatively nice, quiet, clean and good-sized rooms. Some have TV and hot water (probably just the air-con rooms). Wi-Fi available via username and password for 100 baht/24 hr. The hotel staff are very helpful and polite and speak enough English to answer your questions. This hotel also has a free shuttle service to the bar Chilling Out. Fan single from 280 baht, air-con double, 450 baht.
- Grand Thara Hotel, 1/144 Donnok Rd, ☎ , fax: +66 77 287185. 450-550 baht including breakfast.
- 100 Islands Resort and Spa (Outside city centre. If your taxi driver doesn't know where it is, he should know where Tesco-Lotus is. The hotel is near there.). Clean, spacious rooms. Wide range of facilities and amenities including air conditioning, minifridge in the room, a pool, spa, and restaurant on-site. 770-1,200 baht.
- Princess Park Hotel, 19/19 Leangmuang Rd, ☎ . 650-900 baht.
- Diamond Plaza Hotel, 83/27 Sriwichai Rd, Moo 2 Makamtia District (It's on the outer edge as you enter from Phun Phin railway station), ☎ . Reputedly the best hotel in town although on a dismal commercial stretch of road. 1,500-3,000 baht.
- Ang Thong National Marine Park
- Khao Lak — coastal resort region and diving centre just north of Ko Phuket
- Khao Sok National Park — jungle adventures
- Ko Pha Ngan — home of the infamous Full Moon Party
- Ko Samui — backpacker paradise gone up-market
- Ko Tao — popular diving spot and a good place to get certified
|Routes through Surat Thani|
|Bangkok ← Lang Suan ←||N S||→ Phatthalung → Butterworth|
|Bangkok ← Lang Suan ←||N S||→ Nakhon Si Thammarat|
|Bangkok ← Lang Suan ←||N S||→ Trang|