This article was published in Travel3Sixty April issue and is written by Donnie Sinongco.
There are two things I am certain of. One: Not everyone has heard of Surat Thani. Two: For those who’ve visited Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Samui, Surat Thani is nothing but a transit point to the said islands. I haven’t backpacked for the longest time and so, my buddy and I decided to revisit our then-pastime. Luckily, AirAsia introduced Surat Thani as its latest destination recently. However, the flight commencement date didn’t coincide with our intended date of travel. Hence, we decided to take a train there but chose to return with AirAsia. We took the train from Kuala Lumpur to Butterworth in Penang. Then, we hopped onto a Thai train that took us to Surat Thani. After a total of 18 hours by railway, we arrived at this small town in South Thailand.
Instead of heading straight to the town, we decided to visit the outskirts first. Our first destination was Khao Sok National Park, a sprawling rainforest with a rich ecosystem. The park is roughly a two-hour drive from Surat Thani train station. We took an air-conditioned bus heading to Phuket to get to the park. Getting to the resort was equally exciting as it was located quite deep in the forest. There is a good selection of resorts to spend a night or two in the park. Our choice was Our Jungle Tree House. The resort was aptly named as the accommodation was designed to look like tree houses. Sitting almost 10 meters high, the units offered breathtaking views of the forest. Flanked by a towering limestone cliff on one side, the stay in this tree house was pure bliss, as we were serenaded by the sounds coming from a nearby stream and various species of birds frolicking in the cool forest breeze.
Having enjoyed the stay in the forest and in a tree house, we returned to Surat Thani late in the afternoon a few days later. Timing was perfect as we arrived to witness the battle of the setting sun against the rising moon.
If Bangkok has the Chao Praya River, Surat Thani has the Tapee River, where you can view the sunset, or walk along its banks and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere. The streets of this town come alive in the evening with night markets selling all sorts of stuff. There are also some small shopping malls but the entire stretch of Namuang Road is enough to satisfy even the most ardent shopaholic. It is also very easy get about in this town to visit its attractions.
The must-see landmark in the central district is the Phra Borom That Chaiya. The intricate roof and elaborate design on this temple building is testament to the deeply religious outlook of the Thai people. There are several other wats and Chinese temples around, a sign that this place has a good mix of Chinese and Thai who live in harmony.
A primary reason why travelers may miss the chance of exploring this southern province is that the town and its surrounding attractions have not been well publicized in the recent past. Before coming to Surat Thani, I too was ignorant of the place. Thankfully, with the arrival of AirAsia to this region, Surat Thani is finally opening up its treasures to the world and will no longer be a mere stopover.
GETTING THERE AirAsia flies three times a week to Surat Thani, Thailand from Kuala Lumpur. Go to www.airasia.com for details.