Attractions in Thailand : Suratthani & Ko Samui

Nakorn Sri Thammarat
Songkhla and Hat Yai
Surat Thani

Surat Thani is southern Thailand's largest province, covers some 12,800 square kilometers, and has an extensive coastline lapped by Thai Gulf waters. The provincial capital is 685 kilometers south of Bangkok. Surat Thani boasts some of Thailand's loveliest islands, namely the Penang-sized Ko Samui, Thailand's third largest island, palm-fringed jewel of a sparkling archipelago that includes the stunning 250- square-kilometer Angthong (Golden Bowl) Marine National Park. Surat Thani once formed part, and may have been the center, of the Mahayana Buddhist Srivichaya Empire, which steeped in legend and mystery, dominated the Malay Peninsula and much of Java some 1,500 years ago. Srivichaya was best described by the itinerant Chinese monk I Ching after a pilgrimage he made to India during the late 600s. Arch geological discoveries at Chaiya district indicate the former empire's splendor.

City Attractions

Khao Tapet Nature & Wildlife Center 8 kilometers from the provincial capital, along Highway 4009, the nature and wildlife center covers 1,162 acres. Many wild animals are caged. The hilltop, some 200 meters above sea level, offers commanding panoramic views of Surat Thani town, the Tapi River and Bandon Bay.

Si Surat Stupa

Known locally as Phra That Khao Tapet, and located on the summit of Tapi Hill in the Khao Tapet Nature & Wildlife center, this stupa houses Buddha relics donated by the Indian government some 30 years ago.

Tapi River Estuary

Located some 5 kilometers from Surat Thani, this area is noteworthy for its quality seafood restaurants.

Attractions - out of the city

Monkey School

The school trains monkeys to pick coconuts. Most students' are pig-tailed monkeys captured in local forests. Training usually takes some 3 months.

Oyster Farms

These are concentrated in the estuarine areas of the Kadaeh and Ta Tong rivers. Oysters found there are substantially larger than any found elsewhere. Would-be visitors wishing to see oysters being harvested may hire long-tailed boats, which carry some 8 to 10 passengers. It takes some 30 minutes to reach the farms from Ta Thong quayside

Wiphawadi Waterfall

This is located some 30 kilometers east of the provincial capital - at Pak Praek village. The picturesque and petite waterfall enjoys bucolic surroundings.

Wat Khao Suwan Pradit

Luang Pho Choi, one of southern Thailand's most revered Buddhist ecclesiastics, founded this monastery. The hilltop 45-meter pagoda contains Buddha relics and commands striking coastal views.

Suan Mokkha Phalaram

Better known as Suan Mok, this 150-acre forest temple is located in the north of the provincial capital. Suan Mok's founder, the late Bhikkhu Buddhadhasa, was highly respected both locally and internationally. His 'back to basics' form of Buddhism, mirroring that led by the Buddha's earliest disciples more than 2,500 years ago, attracted many Buddhist monks and lay mediators from Europe, North and South America, Australia and Japan. The enclave is devoid of extravagant ceremonial and elaborate chapels. The forest tranquility is ideal for a life of contemplation.

Phra Borom That Chaiya

Located some 4 kilometers northeast of Suan Mok, and 1 kilometer from Chaiya railway station, this elaborately restored and revered pagoda is believed to be more than 1,200 years old. The pagoda contains Buddha relics and provides a direct link with the Srivachaya Empire. A small adjacent museum houses artifacts from the vicinity.

Phumriang Village

Located some 6 kilometers east of Chaiya, this settlement is an arts and crafts center well known for its silver brocaded silk cloth and jute headwear.

Khao Sok National Park

Comprising largely jungle with complex mountain ranges, the park contains a great deal of wildlife, including elephants, bantengs, tapirs, bison, bears and black panthers. Places within the park worth visiting, largely by foot, include the Sip Et Chan (Eleven Stages) Waterfall, some 4 kilometers from the park office, the Tang Nam pool 6 kilometers from the park office, the Bang Hua Raed Waterfall, 3 kilometers from the park office, and the Tan Gloy Waterfall, 9 kilometers from the park office. Dormitory and camping facilities are available.

Ratchaprapha or Chiao Lan Dam

Located some 82 kilometers from the provincial capital. This scenic dam offers accommodation for those seeking tranquility.

Ko Samui & environs

The 247-square-kilometre Samui Island is Surat Thani's major tourism attraction. Located 258 nautical miles south of Bangkok, and some 84 kilometers east of the provincial capital, Ko Samui measures some 21 kilometers at its widest point, and 25 kilometers at it's longest. A 51-kilometre ring and largely coastal road encircles the island, which has numerous lovely beaches and bays, and is almost literally an island of coconuts and forested hills. Samui's best beaches line the northern and eastern coasts, the most popular being Chawaeng and Lamai, where generally attractive accommodation can be found. Bo Phud and Mae Nam are other popular beaches. Besides beaches, other island attractions include coral beds at Laem Sed and Tong Takien; the Hin Lat and Na Muang waterfalls; the phallic rock formations at the southern end of Lamai Bay; the nearby butterfly garden and honey farm; a massive seated Buddha image on Fan isle in Plai Laem Bay; a herbal garden at Ban Makam; a monkey training center at Ban Khao Phra; and Na Thon, the island's major seafront settlement where shops, restaurants and tour agencies are concentrated.

Angthong Marine National Park

This comprises some 40 islands about two hours by boat northwest of Ko Samui. The park covers 250 square kilometers, of which approximately one fifth is land mass. The most attractive islands include Ko Wua Talap (Sleeping Cow island), Ko Mae Ko (Mother island), Ko Prayat (Economical island), Ko Sam Sao (Tripod island), Ko Nai Put (Mr. Put's island) and Ko Wua Te (Kicking Cow island). Most islands comprise limestone masses reaching heights of up to 400 meters, and fringed by beaches and rain forest. An emerald saltwater lake known as Tale Nai (Inland Sea) on Ko Mae Ko is the park's major scenic attraction, and entails a mildly strenuous climb. The resultant views are well worth the effort. Another popular venue is Ko Sam Sao where an extensive span of coral reef and a huge rock arch offer scenic fascination. The park office is on Ko Wua Talap where bungalow-style accommodation is available.

Ko Phangan

This increasingly popular 191-square-kilometer island is 60 minutes north of Ko Samui. Attractions include a hilltop temple, Wat Khao Tam, ideal for meditation, the Tan Sadet Waterfall some 30 kilometers from the district office, the Hat Rin Beach, some 12 kilometers from the district office, the Paeng National Park, some 4 kilometers from the district office, and satellite islands such as Ko Tao where pristine beaches and coral reefs are found.

Special Events

Rambutan Fair (during August)

The fair celebrates the delicious fruit, first planted in Surat Thani during 1926. Highlights include floats adorned with rambutans and other fruits, exhibitions of local products and ornamental plants, and demonstrations by specially trained monkeys who harvest coconuts.

Chak Phra Festival (mid-October)

Surat Thani celebrates the official end of the annual 3-month Buddhist Rains retreat (Phansa) with the Chak Phra Festival (literally 'the procession of hauling the Buffha image'). The tradition stems from the belief that the Buddha ascended to Heaven during Phansa to preach to his mother. The festival marks the Buddha's return to Earth, and is an occasion for religious merit-making and general celebrations. Local people organize dazzling land and waterborne processions of revered Buddha images (to symbolize the Buddha's return to Earth) and boat races on the Tapi River where long boats, each manned by up to 50 oarsmen, are ebulliently raced. Religious devotion, spectacle and merriment combine to make Surat Thani's Chak Phra Festival a memorable annual event.