A gateway to the beloved tropical trio of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao, the quaint town of Surat Thani in southern Thailand is often overlooked as a tourist destination. Sure, you won’t find Samui’s emerging gay scene or even Phangan’s fabulous beaches here, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a few, magical memories in Surat Thani.
Since most travellers merely travel through the laidback town, its centre hasn’t changed much over the years and authentic Thai culture still colours Surat Thani’s bustling night market and places of worship. For a city very much located along the established tourist trail, it offers a surprisingly off-the-beaten-track experience. Returning from the islands and got another night in Thailand? Don’t move.
Koh Lamphu is perhaps the closest thing to a getaway from what’s already an idyllic destination. A green island nestled into Surat Thani’s sinuous Ta Pi River, the small body of land has been put to good use, serving as the city’s prime public park. Saunter down the main walkway and you’ll eventually see all of it (not that things were hard to find, this being a rather manageable islet): from exotic flowers to a range of pretty pavilions and a children’s playground, in case you brought the little ones. Koh Lamphu is a great place to go for a walk, bring a book and observe rural Thai life!
Smack-bang in the centre of town, Wat Sai is Surat Thani’s most prominent and elaborate temple, though don’t expect the splendour of Bangkok’s Grand Palace. Instead, this is a more local affair where visitors are free to roam, pray and meditate if they desire. Visit the ornate wihaan, arguably the heart of the temple grounds, for a refreshingly untouched and original Thai interior made from dark teak wood. Next to the usual assortment of Buddha statues, food offerings and pictures of Thailand’s royal family, there are a number of truly masterly woodcarvings on display here. Back in the courtyard, monks send shy smiles your way as you pass them – this is rural Thailand at its best.
Surat Thani night market
If you’ve stayed at Wat Sai until late afternoon, you’ll no doubt have noticed a wave of energy flooding the adjacent Tonpo alley from about 5 pm onwards. Cheers and laughter mix in with upbeat music as the first kerbside street food vendors start frying bananas and blending dragon fruits into iced smoothies – Surat Thani’s daily night market might just be the most fun place anywhere between Samui and Phuket. Snap up some goodies and souvenirs for your loved ones back home; indulge in a dizzying variety of Thai delicacies and don’t forget to make friends: the night market is a cheerful environment where friendly locals get chatty!
Pra Cha Rat floating market
Another day, another market? Sounds good to us. No visit to Thailand is complete without a trip to a floating market and luckily for you, you won’t even have to get up in the middle of the night for this one. Pra Cha Rat market kicks off roughly at 9 am and lasts until early afternoon. Rent out a scooter (your accommodation will no doubt be able to assist) and make your way to nearby Bang Bai Mai, where boat-bound vendors and buyers negotiate the price of rambutan fruits over coffee and tea in what can only be described as a quintessentially Thai spectacle – there’s hardly a more authentic way to end a 24 hour stay in Surat Thani!