You probably end up on this page because you are looking for a way to get to Koh Samui. But I hope that I can convince to stay in Surat Thani for a night as well. The main reasons are two. Surat Thani has one of the most underrated rivers and canal tours in the country, and a night food market that is full of delicious southern food. Surat Thani is an important city on the southern railway net and also 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 amazing Cheow Lan lake that should be on everyone’s itinerary on a trip to the south of Thailand. Read more here.
If you have limited time you should at least experience two things in Surat Thani:
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 green monotonous 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 is normally locally arranged and on tour 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 normally don’t have roof, so bring a hat for sun protection.
The most marvelous 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 kilometer.
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 can also escape into an air-conditioned Swensen’s for some ice cream.
Link to the night market on Google maps here.
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 1 h 30 minutes.
Link to Seatran here.
Link to Raja here.
Lomprayah is a faster but a more expensive company. With their catamaran, you can travel from Koh Samui to Koh Phangan as well. 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.
Infamous or legendary, actually involving a huge area involving Northern Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and Southern China. A region where all kinds of smuggling have taken place historically. Mostly famous for opium that used to be the currency in the hills here, but also for guns, gems, human trafficking and amphetamine. There is a long history relating to this going back to the opium war. Then the migration of hill tribes into Thailand bringing opium with them. Then the trade of colonial powers like England and France and complicated allegiances during the Indo – China conflicts. The smuggling involved and involves even today various drug lords and regional armies.
Back in the days, it was the Shan commander Khun Sa, General Li Mi of the Kuomintang, and in more recent times people like Wei Hsueh-Kang, commander of the United Wa State Army and in big in the jade and drug trade. There are plenty of players and involvement and corruption is plentiful high up in the hierarchy of Myanmar’s top brass. But not digging deeper into that here, the point is just that the real Golden Triangle was and is so much more than a sign declaring where Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet. The Golden Triangle is today a tourist attraction called สามเหลี่ยมทองคำ Saam Liam Thong Kham. Locally known by the name Sop Ruak, since this is where the Mekong River meets the Ruak River.
Reginald Le May served with the British legation in Bangkok for a while and also as Vice Consul in the north. In An Asian Arcady is an account of a long trip he took by an elephant in 1914.
Below my feet the river bank went sheer down for nearly fifty feet; the river itself was a mighty expanse of water flowing swift and clear, with just the top of an island showing, and far away on the other side the bank rose fully as high again, lined with row upon row of tall palms, looking like small shrubs in the distance.Reginald Le May, An Asian Arcady, Cambridge 1926. Reprinted in Bangkok 1986.
When you are travelling to Sop Ruak there will be police and military checkpoints, a witness that trade and smuggling is still present. But the landscape at Sop Ruak, even though recently infested with casinos on the Myanmar and Laos side, is very picturesque. One of the best places to enjoy the view is to have a lunch on the terrace of the Golden Triangle Imperial hotel with the view of the border meeting of the three countries. If the restaurant is busy, they set up a buffet here with some nice springrolls, pad thai and other dishes. I always saved myself for the creme caramel dessert. Staying overnight at this classic hotel is also not a bad idea, but make sure to book a room with Mekong River view.
For my touring in the north, I have only stayed overnight here a few times. Sop Ruaks attractions consist of the viewpoint, a small tourist market and two opium museums.
What is also popular is to rent a boat to go out on the Mekong to get close to the neighbouring countries borders. A close up to the casino in Myanmar. In the old days, we usually went to the small Laotian island Don Sao. It was charming and laid back, kapok trees growing here and there. It was just to get a flavour of Laos, maybe try some Beer Laos, enjoy some knockoff deals, or buy a postcard and post it from Laos.
Nowadays the landscape has changed completely on Don Sao, with the casino, a China Town and an arena. The island is apparently on lease to China. In more recent years we have preferred not to go to Don Sao. But if you intend to, make sure that you bring your passport.
If you don’t overnight here, just a half day is more than enough before you continue to Chiang Saen or Chiang Kong.
When you are in this area it is well worth continuing to the charming riverine Town of Chiang Sean. Read more about it here.
If you like to dig in a bit deeper in some of the poppy, opium and heroin-related history to the area. Here is a YouTube video documentary about Khun Sa, the most wanted, unwanted drug lord or freedom fighter that was a friend and foe with everyone.
In our family, we have a special love for Khao Lak. We have been enjoying the long walkable beaches with all those incredible sunsets since the pre – tsunami times. It did take some time from the tsunami 2004 until we came back again though. Not so much out of fear of a new tsunami, more of a coincidence. But once we were back we just kept coming just like in the old days. From Chiang Mai it is very convenient to fly to Phuket. Less than two hours and then it is just 1.30 to 2 hours drive to Phang Nga province and the paradise of Khao Lak. We just prefer the more quiet laid back atmosphere compare to the more intense Phuket. (Well, talking pre-Covid Phuket) .
But when you have passed over the 660 meters long Sarasin bridge that separates Phuket from Phang Ngha is feels like you are entering a slower and more relaxed world. Up to what you like of course, but for us the winner is the more tranquil and classy Khao Lak area. Khao Laks name comes from the top of a mountain, basically the Lak mountain. Basically, it was just a small village and a rubber farming community when some Thai people started up some bungalow business in 1986.
I personally always loved the lush and the green and the fact that Khao Laks resorts are embedded in this environment and the don’t kind of interfere with each other. The owners of the hotels in Khao Lak almost seem to have some kind of consensus (again pre – pandemic) as to not allowing big, low cost group tour agencies to push them around regarding the prices. Even though you see groups in hotels in Khao Lak, no company or nationality has ever been too dominant on a particular resort we have stayed in. Sun chairs are rarely directly on the open beach, you will find them in the shade in direct connection to the beach. They can be quite close to one another but you still don’t get that feeling while walking the long beaches
Khao Lak is also perfect if you don’t fancy boat transfers. The transfer from Phuket Airport is a scenic transfer apart from the first part that you might spend in heavy traffic on Phuket island. There is also a possibility to reach Khao Lak from Krabi. So you don’t have to feel restricted to Phuket Airport. Krabi airport is expanding at the moment. The transfer from Krabi will take you 2,5 to 3 hours counting in the traffic.
I will not claim that these are the best resorts in Khao Lak. But we have great experience in the family from the four resorts listed below.
Very new hotel. Bali meets Santorini kind of style. Stylish with Feng Suei installations, bamboo and straw roofs. Very good pool and an enjoyable stretch of beach. Just outside the hotel, there are a few restaurants and shops. A short car ride ride from the hotel you find the “Loud Burp” restaurant offering some of the best seafood in the area. The restaurant has seatings for dinner. Popular among the local crowd. The a bit strangely named Isarn Seafood restaurant is very close to Eden as well. The food in Eden is decent, and the breakfast ok. Maybe it is richer during non pandemic times. However the breakfast room is quite small. What is impressive is the bakery at Eden, both the cakes and the presentation is something to write home about. One of the owners bakes herself, so it is a great homemade touch. Loved their Macadamia cake. Just 1h 15 minutes to Phuket Airport.
Another impressive and modern Khao Lak resort. Very close to Eden. Kalima has more than one pool area and lots of different activity areas, you can borrow a kayak and paddle into the mangroves and close to the elephant nature park. Actually, you can see the majestic animals coming down for their morning baths. Very kid friendly resort, almost an all inclusive touch. The beach is ok, but a little less impressive than the other hotels mentioned here. We enjoyed the restaurants very much, but the breakfast had a feel of quantity before quality. The hotel is also close to Phuket Airport.
Mega sized and classic installation in Phuket and Khao Lak, this hotel is very close to Khao Lak downtown. Easy just to walk there. The hotel has a lot of sunbeams, a nice pool. Great Thai decorations and some birdlife in the area. If there is anything to complain about it will be the size of it all. But again a luxury problem, older people can find the walk to and from the lobby quite tough. Some heavy stairs on the way. The hotel has a fantastic breakfast, in a fanciful breakfast room.
We have been to Manathai three times. When the kids were younger Manathai had many great offers for kids. We could sleep in one room all four of us. No need to book two rooms. They also had free ice cream for kids everyday in those days, and if adults ate in the hotel restaurants the kids could get free meals. They also have a very nice club for children. Manathai is 4 star hotel but with a 5 star hotel service. Great pool, great beach, and many choices for breakfast. The hotel is a bit far from downtown Khao Lak and a longer drive from Phuket Airport. We honestly didn’t leave the hotel much. There were two restaurants very close to the hotel on the beach. Hope they will reopen after Covid.
Haven’t stayed at JW Marriott but it is apparently top class according to friends that are regulars there. Many families choose Sands hotel because they have built a kind of waterpark within their hotel area. It is nowadays a play-land for kids. Personally, I have never been disappointed anywhere in Khao Lak. But that is maybe just because I love the area so much. But on the whole, hotels here are top – notch.
Excursions you can make from Khao Lak, Ko Khao Kao, Surin, Similan and Tachai islands. In April 2021 the charge to go to Similan Islands was about 1800 baht per person. Or why not go over to Takua Pa for a great food experience. Famous for Dim Sum and authentic Chinese food. This is a very friendly old mining town and once a harbor. Read more here about a wonderful Dim Sum brunch at Takua Pa.
Don’t miss the chance to visit the wonderful Khao Sok nationalpark with its stunning scenery at the Chaew Lan lake. Read more here: Khao Sok and Chaew Lan lake.
There are also excursions to learn Thai cooking and visiting Elephant Conservation camps. Again a bit unclear what the situation will look like post – covid.
Hotels in Khao Lak have been offering amazing promotions during the pandemic. Eden Hotel as low as 1200 baht per night for a standard room. Eden hotel have been selling vouchers on their website during the pandemic.
A friend of mine stayed at Marriot for 3500 baht per night, inclusive of breakfast. So as long as the pandemic is here, there are definitely discounts.
Sunsets are exceptional in Khao Lak. To quote Angela Abraham, “The sunset comes as a settled heart to the horizon, as if the sky itself could speak of love”. Angela Abraham@descriptionari
The loud, noisy, big Burp restaurant. Excellent local seafood place In Khao Lak that often fills up with the local crowd. See the link here.
For fair European, or rather more Scandinavian food Viking was always the place we would go. The restaurant always included Swedish style pizza salad to all main dishes. Last time we were in Khao Lak, the restaurant seemed to be closed though.(Will advise you to do a you an update via Google Maps).
E-Sarn Seafood next to Eden Resort was surprisingly good.
Be Friend restaurant just outside Manathai used to be the local favourite. Tables and chairs in the sand. Great sunsets. Hard to say if they are still there due to the pandemic. But just a 5-10 minutes walk to the right from Manathai.
Most of the time we have ended up eating in the hotels, or just a short walk on the beach you might find a great local restaurant.
Chiang Mai, the ancient capital of Lanna holds an enormous temple treasure. Here is a photo odyssey of some of the incredible temples in and outside the city. I earmarked only 20 out of 300+ temples to explore! But we all need to start somewhere.
Temples are great witnesses of past times. Even though some buildings are not the same original buildings in full as when they were built, they still carry a story from that time in history. In Chiang Mais history prosperous times went together with temple building and renovations. It comes hand in hand. You can often find parts of the old temple somewhere in the vicinity, a relic, a gong, a part of the old roof. Some of the temples host small museums. It is not necessary to be a Buddhist to find interest in temples. If you arrive in the early morning or early evening there might be monk sermons and chanting. There is often a certain Buddhist peacefulness and some sense of a mystery that one is not yet part of that adds to the atmosphere. A feeling of escapism.
Temples are architecturally interesting and reminders of ancient Lanna and Thai culture. Even though Buddha is officially not recognized as a God in Therevadha buddhism, temples are still built for eternity. While normal peoples houses were not. So temples are often the best remains of history that we have, with their meditation halls and temple towers in brick or sandstone. Stupas or chedis are memorials of enlightenment and is considered to bring enlightenment to the present. The temple towers named, stupas, chedis, prangs and many other names have the function to demonstrate the enlightenment and wisdom that comes with it to be a victory over ignorance. The escape from suffering made Buddhist followers overwhelmed by joy so they started to build stupas by the millions. Stupas are sermons in stone and often they also claim to hold relics of the Buddha. They help people turn their minds from the hedonistic pleasures and directs them towards their own higher potential. So to understand Chiang Mai, the old kingdom of Lanna and indeed Thailand and a majority of its Buddhist population.
Please do take your time to visit some of the magnificent temples we have in Chiang Mai. There is no lack of good coffeeshops with cool air-conditioning for those needed breaks when you feel a bit “templed out” once in a while. Also try to look for the small soi / side street temples, or the ones in the countryside that tourists don’t visit as much. Then you can often truly feel that calm and harmony that comes with the territory.
Location click here.
Location in Google maps here.
Location in Google maps here.
Location in Google maps click here.
Location in Google maps here.
Location in Google maps here.
Location in Google maps here.
Location in Google maps here.
Location in Google here
Location on Google maps here.
Location in Google Maps here.
Location on Google here.
Read more about the temple on this link. Sights in Chang Puak and Sri Poom Road.
Location on Google maps here.
Read more about the temple here.
Location in Google click here.
Read more in a separate article here, Wat Ban Den a Dreamlike Vision.
Location in Google maps here.
Location on Google maps here.
Location on Google Maps here.
Location in Google Maps here.
Frangipani is the flower that many of us foreigners instantly fall in love with in Thailand, or South East Asia. You most probably encountered the flowers in a spa bath in Thailand, if you have ever been to one. The Laotian even made it their own flower. It is the symbol of the national carrier Lao Aviation, and declared a national flower. In Laos it is called Dok Champa. Plumeria is the more scientific name and it derives from Charles Plumier, a French botanist (1646 – 1704). He was regarded as one of the most important botanical explorers of his time, Plumier served as a botanist to King Louis XIV of France. He did many journeys to the New World documenting plants and animal species. The name Frangipani comes from the name of a 16th century Italian nobleman who created a perfume with a similar scent used for gloves.
Often named Temple tree, this tree is appreciated all over the region, but it is originally from the West Indies. (Source Plants in the Tropics). In the region, the tree is believed to protect you from ghosts and demons.
After the introduction of the early rainy season this year our trees are now in full bloom.
The tree drops leave all year round, but mostly during the dry season. So the tree can be & like a coral looking creation with flowers in bloom but no leaves. If you cut off a branch you will have milk-white liquid pouring out of it, but the cuttings can be replanted and in no time in the tropics, it will grow to become a tree. You can grow a rainbow of Frangipanis since the choices of flower colours is so varied, and the perfume is divine.
Frangipani is not hard to grow but demands a lot of work due to the leaves. The long leather-like leaves drop all the time, so every day you have to work out to pick up large amounts of leaves.
Plumeria or Frangipani is truly an iconic symbol of South East Asia. And it does give you some nice shadow in your garden.
Mon Cham(Jaem) used to be a location where a lot of Royal Project vegetable produce was grown, and to some extent still is. After becoming more known to the public from a popular drama series this became a kind of hot spot in the mountains near the valley of Mae Rim. 2013 we went to what was one of the few glamping sites at the time, ran by the Royal Project with excellent food, nice views, a small field with flowers and a private toilet for your tent on the slope.
But as I mentioned the situation has exploded up there with new camping and glamping sights. Not very different from how a once – isolated paradise beach suddenly becomes mega popular. And it is hard to criticise the hilltribes from profiting and making a living from it. However, there has been a decision to clear the area of some of this camping grounds, not being legal and the land actually designated as grounds for growing vegetables.
If you decide to go here, it will be a warm hearted atmosphere with lots of Thai tourist checking in rather late, enjoying hot pots, and drinking until early morning when they often leave quite suddenly as well. If you are looking for that quiet, isolated camping site. You should probably search somewhere else.
Mon Cham is also OK for a day trip. Come and take selfies with fields of flowers, and enjoy good coffee.
Here are some of my photos from January 2013. It was indeed a rather cold night. But I still remember the panorama views and the fantastic scones and coffee in the morning.
Mon Cham is situated on a hill ridge in a place called Mong Nong Hoi village in Mae Rim. First it was a forest called Kiu Seau. Then, villagers converted the area to opium production. For a long time it has been part of a Royal Project, that took over and changed the area into vegetable production. Recently so many terraces are turned into camping sites. Also, on the top of the mountain Mon Cham has a famous viewpoint called ‘Mon Long’, people go there to see the” sea of mist”.
The chips maker shows a lot of creativity on the market when it comes to inventing new tastes of chips. It has been a kind of trend among tourists in Asian tourism to hunt for new exotic flavours from famous brands. I am first and foremost thinking of all the different Kit Kats(new flavour of the year every year) that you can explore in Japan and different versions of Coca Cola(remember the white one that was supposed to look lite water but tasted like a bad version of Sprite).
So when in Thailand forget about salt and vinegar, sour cream and extra barbecue. Why not explore Lay’s local chips flavours. Bring home some inexpensive souvenirs.
Here are some examples of tastes that are VERY Thai indeed. Even some very Esan/Isarn that is North Eastern flavours.
Lay’s was founded in 1932 by Herman Lay in Tennesse, Nashwille. Currently owned by PepsiCo.
If you are interested in these unique Thai flavours, try the first 7/11 or Mini Big C. A quick search on Google will also reveal that they are sold online.
May the list continue😁.
Just recently my old Honda City broke down just when I was about to park it at a barbers shop near a 7/11 not far from my home. At the exact spot where the car stopped there was a lottery vendor, and this lady had a customer. First, they looked a bit shocked by my awful parking, but when they saw that the car was overheated and me going to 7/11 to buy some water for the cooler they both started to write down the number of my license plate. Once I got the car started again I moved it park a bit in the shadows not far away from the hairdresser’s shop. But the very moment I stepped in to cut my hair, the lady directly asked the same question.
–What’s the number of your license plate hihihi?
This is maybe the most classic way to look for a good lottery number nowadays, to check the license plate number, and it seems that no tragedy is too morbid to get good luck from. It happens frequently after accidents that license plates are checked. I heard stories from quarantine hotels in Bangkok now during the covid pandemic that staffs have been buying lottery inspired by the room number where they have encountered cases of people with covid.
Some people in Bangkok will look up a shrine in Sukhumvit 77 to get the blessing of a spirit to win the lottery. The spirits name is Mae Nak. She died prematurely while giving birth and her husband was at the time not home. The husband Maak was fighting in a war.
Mae Nak dearly loved her husband so her spirit refused to move on to afterlife. When the husband returned home he knew nothing about the death of his wife. The couple went on living as nothing had happened.
One day the husband realized that she was just a ghost and he hid from her in a temple. The local ghost doctor came to the rescue and cut a piece of Mae Naks forehead bone and captured her spirit in a bottle.
Later, a shrine committed to Mae Nak spirit was constructed. The folktale is over 100 years old but to this day people still go to the shrine for guidance and trying to get signs to win the lottery and some men go there to try to avoid military service. The get the right draw in that lottery. Since Mae Naks husband was called to battle it is said that she is not in favour of military service and can be of help if you want to avoid it.
Many years ago a snake fell on my chest from some temple ruin in Sukhothai historical park. It fell to the ground and I lightly stepped on it, but it didn’t bite. It just escaped. But my two Thai friends were so happy and said: – Khun Per. This means that you will meet your partner soon. Wasn’t sure if it was a good thing or not. But at the time I was more busy trying to calm down a bit after what for me was a completely new and unique happening. Also dreaming of a snake is said to a message that you soon will meet a partner. And some people might think that seeing a small snake is equivalent to choosing number five in the lottery, and a large snake is a sure number six.
In Thailand you might also be surprised to see when a neighbours house has been invaded by bees. They just leave the beehive and the bees swarming around. This is very much considered to be a totem of good luck. Listening to a gecko calling ” geeechoo” “geechoo” 7 times should also be a good reason for buying a lottery ticket. And if a small lizard enters your house, speak to it softly and kindly and you will have some great fortune coming your way.
The classic superstition that you can not cut your hair on Wednesdays in Thailand. That it would be bad luck has probably something to do with the fact that royals had their haircut on Wednesdays in the past so it was both the fact that hairdressers were not available and that it was absolutely a no do to cut the hair as a common person on a Wednesday. No way that you could compare yourself to nobility.
Always consult the monk or fortune teller to get the perfect date for a wedding, starting a company, taking a new car out of the showroom , prior to installing the foundation pile for a new house, and arranging the house warming party. For our familly we have done all of this. The monks decided the wedding date. Actually they moved the date from just a few days from before the tsunami 2004 to a month earlier. Which for me was extremely lucky, otherwise I would have had most of my family on holiday in Phuket during the tsunami. Monks recommended we have a silvered coloured car. Lucky us that we wanted the same. Well, 14 years later it is still working. We did get the blessing and sprinkling of the car. Thai people can be very pragmatic though. If they disagree with the colour suggested by the monks they might buy whatever color of the car they prefer, but to be on the safe side they will have a sign on the car saying that this is not a white car, it is a black car or ! That would please both sides, monks and car owner.
Something that is fairly common in Thailand is name changes if you consider yourself a victim of bad karma. So bad events are not always something good anyway. If you need a name change, you will look up a holy person that will find a more suitable name for you looking in to events and birthdate and more in your personal history. Sometimes, it is enough to correct bad luck with repeated visits at temples. A Thai friend was a bit unlucky to kill a snake in her house by throwing the heavy spirit house on the snakes head. Two bad things in one call there, destroying a spirit house and killing a large animal. But it was all adjusted by enough temple visits.
Anyhow, I always found the perspective that something unlucky can anticipate something good as a bit charming. In Europe, I remember often hearing people worrying that something bad would happen to them after they had some luck or a stroke of success. So when in Thailand, take your chances to buy lottery tickets when “shit happens”.