You probably end up on this page because you are looking for a way to get to Koh Samui. But I hope to convince you to stay in Surat Thani for a night. The main reasons are two. Surat Thani has one of the most underrated rivers and canal tours and a night food market full of delicious southern food.
Surat Thani is an important city on the south of the railway net and hosts a harbour. Before Bangkok Airways built the airport on Koh Samui in 1989, you had to take the ferry to Samui from here. Now there is an option to fly direct from Bangkok and not only by Bangkok Airways.
From Surat Thani, you are also close to the small resort town of Khanom; read more here. You are also just an hour from the fantastic Cheow Lan lake that should be on everyone’s itinerary on a trip to the south of Thailand. Read more here.
Surat Thani city has two main attractions
If you have limited time, you should at least experience two things in Surat Thani:
Tapi River ride in Nai Bang
Many people have been on the khlongs/canals in Bangkok to see the life along the river there. But the delta of Surat Thani will take you through very lush vegetations with nipa(nypa) and coconut palms as well as areas of mangroves. The nipa grows in brackish water. It has long leaves rising in the typical palm like tufts from the rootstock.
The delta is a world of tunnels framed in green and shadows dancing on the water surface when the sunlight sippers through. Look out for cormorant lizards gazing in the sunlight. Now and then, a brightly blue coloured kingfisher will add some variation into the monotonous green landscape, and sometimes white cranes are spotted, also contrasting with the viridescent vegetation.
Weathered old wooden household’s blend with modern concrete buildings, and kids still bathe from the doorsteps of their houses.
This tour usually is locally arranged and on time; we have been with a fisherman named Khun Panu. He will demonstrate his skills with the knife on how to make different handicrafts and decorations out of the nipa stem.
Boats here usually don’t have roofs, so bring a hat for sun protection.
The marvellous thing is that he has a long tail boat that doesn’t sound like “hell”.
Tapi River is the longest river in southern Thailand. It got its name from an Indian river. (แม่น้ำตาปี) The source is in the Khao Luang mountain. The river empties into the Gulf of Thailand at Bandon Bay near Surat Thani city. The total length is 230 kilometres.
San Chao the shrine night market in Surat Thani
The market gets its name from the shrine San Chao and consists of is a small alley with shops located on both sides of the road. The entire route is full of local delicacies. You can spot an abundance of fried chicken, pad thai noodles, and the most exciting southern curries (Kao rat gang). You choose from a few curries from the shop and add as topping on your rice, or you can order many curries on separate plates. Some restaurants have chairs and tables. Some are more the mobile hawker style. If you had a hot evening, you could also escape into an air-conditioned Swensen’s for some ice cream.
Link to the night market on Google maps here.
Going to Koh Samui?
Are you planning to go to Koh Samui? There are multiple options. Seatran and Raja ferries operate from Don Sak on the mainland. Don Sak is about one hour from Surat Thani by bus. The trip to Koh Samui takes roughly one h 30 minutes.
Link to Seatran here.
Link to Raja here.
Lomprayah is a faster but more expensive company. With their catamaran, you can travel from Koh Samui to Koh Phangan. The link to their webpage is here.
Throughout the years, I have stayed at the unremarkable but decent Diamond Plaza hotel in Surat Thani. It works perfectly for one night. Nothing fancy, clean and big rooms, though.