Popular for its coral gardens and white beaches, Surin Islands are one of the most famous diving and marine life viewing sites in the world, no doubt the best in Thailand, Koh Surin Islands are an archipelago of five islands within Mu Ko Surin National Park, in the Andaman Sea, Phang Nga province. The islands are 55 km off the coast, 100 km north from Similan Islands and just 18 km from the oceanic border of Myanmar.
The main islands are Ko Surin Nuea and Ko Surin Tai which are only 200 meters apart, the corridor between both islands is shallow and a popular place for snorkelling. The other three small islands are Ko Ri, Ko Khai and Ko Klang. This archipelago is one of the very few untouched places in Thailand. Other than a small Moken (sea-gypsy) village and the National Park premises, there are no other buildings on the islands.
Why would I want to visit Koh Surin islands when I live in beautiful Krabi where islands abound, you may ask. Well, I’m taking advantage of the unusually quiet high season to travel a bit further than usual and to try out excursions that I wouldn’t normally have the time to take. Was also after a change of scenery and some really stunning snorkelling experiences, which is what Koh Surin is famous about.
Once in Khao Lak, we checked in at conveniently located The Briza Beach Resort. The next morning we woke up relatively early, had a large breakfast at the hotel and drove to the pier (for those who don’t have their own car, transfer is provided by Sea Star), where we had a second breakfast served at the Sea Star dock. We then registered for our tour and were given mask, fins, snorkel, a towel and a practical carrier bag. You are free to bring your own snorkelling equipment and only take what you miss. Sea-sickness pills and relaxing balms are also available free of charge.
It took about 2 hours to get to Koh Surin and the sea was a little rough during part of the trip, but it calmed down before we reached our destination.
The first stop was the Moken village in South Surin. The Moken people are divided into three different groups living along the Andaman Coast of Myanmar and Thailand – in the Mergui Archipelago, in Surin and in Phuket and Satun provinces. They are animists and are known as ‘sea-gypsies’ since until recently they used to live on boats, only to settle down in temporary villages during monsoon season. The Moken of South Surin are one of the last groups living in semi-traditional ways. These people survived the tsunami unharmed thanks to their strict bond with the sea and to their knowledge of earthquake-generated big waves, that made them run for their lives when the tsunami hit Thailand in 2004. Most of their village was destroyed, though, and had to be rebuilt.
The village is a settlement of about 60 huts and houses facing a spectacular bay. One of the first things you notice when you reach the village – besides the cute children and cats running around – are the totem poles that represent the spirits of the Moken ancestors.
I decided to take a walk along the only sandy path that runs through the village under the 11am sun: the locals were resting in hammocks hanging under their stilt-houses, or chatting and eating in the shadow; some kids were playing on the beach or selling handmade wooden souvenirs – “50 bath, only 50 bath”, they kept saying – others were bathing in the ocean, the toddlers were chasing chickens or kittens, the babies were sound asleep in their mothers’a arms or in improvised cribs made of cotton or rattan. The sun here lashes all its heat in the dry season, leaving everybody sleepy and lazy.
We left the Moken to their siesta and went out at sea for the first snorkelling stop of the day. Visibility was not as good as in Similan, but that may vary (in fact, it had been the opposite back in January), and overall I had a great 40 minutes of underwater exploration. We then went to North Surin to have lunch at the National Park premises, the only area in Surin Islands where it is possible to sleep: there are tents or A/C bungalows. Lunch was basic but tasty – fried chicken, chicken and vegetable curries, some fish, muffins and cookies, coffee, cold drinks – and there was enough time to go for a walk or a swim at the beautiful beach near the campsite.
After spending about an hour at the beach, we moved to the channel between North Surin and South Surin for two more snorkelling stops. I was looking for turtles, sharks or manta rays -the best period to see the latter being February to April – but without any luck. I anyhow lost myself completely in the warm, calm, shallow waters, shooting photos and videos of clownfish in their anemones, unicornfish, surgeon and parrotfish, starfish, purple and blue clams, puffer fish, hard and soft corals. It was soon time to get back aboard the speedboat and start the journey back to Khao Lak. Snuggled up in my seat with headphones on to cover the noise of the engines, a fresh breeze messing with my hair, I fell peacefully asleep only to wake up while we were entering the pier.
I recommend this trips to all sea-lovers: even if you’re not keen on snorkelling, you will have a good chance to spot some corals and beautiful fishes (and, with a bit of luck, turtles) since most snorkelling areas have shallow waters, giving you plenty of opportunities to be amazed at some of the healthiest and most colourful reefs in Thailand.
Good to know:
- Surin Islands are part of an archipelago of five islands within Mu Ko Surin National Park, Phang Nga province. They are located 55 km off the coast, 100 km north from Similan Islands, less than 20 km from the border with Myanmar.
- The best time for snorkelling and diving is December to April when the wind is weak and the water temperature around 29°C.
- The park closes in rainy seasons, usually from mid May to mid-October, but dates may vary. During the peak season, around 400 to 800 visitors travel to Surin every day, which is less than those who visit Similan Islands, but it’s not exactly ‘quiet’.
- There is one small village of the ethnic Moken group, locally known as ‘Chao Lay’ or sea-gypsy. The Moken are sailors and fishermen who live mainly in the Burmese Mergui Archipelago.
– feed the fish, even if they follow you and beg for food
– touch or step on any coral or sea life.
– take home sand, sea shells or any sea life.
– put tons of sunscreen before snorkelling: it’s toxic for the marine life. Wear a long-sleeved t-shirt instead.
In Khao Lak, Fantasia Asia and Asian Itinerary stayed at The Briza Beach Resort, one of Fantasia Asia’s partner hotels. The Briza Beach Resort has spacious, bright rooms settled around a large swimming pool, with partial or full sea view depending on the category chosen.
This beach resort has a laid-back atmosphere, and Khao Lak’s many restaurants, shops and bars are only a few minute drive away, as it’s the pier from which most sea-tour companies depart for Similan and Surin.
We chose operator Sea Star because it’s one of the most popular boat operators in the area, and one of the few that is still open despite the Covid pandemic that badly hit Thailand’s tourism industry.
WATCH FANTASIA ASIA VIDEO OF THE TRIP HERE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_Mzjcj46t8