Surin Islands

The Surin Islands are one of the most overlooked destinations in Thailand – but also one of the most beautiful. Many tourists head to Similan Island, which is now very-well known, and often busy during the months when it is open from November to May. But Surin is much quieter and largely unspoiled. Consider a day trip to the Surin Islands as part of your holiday in Thailand, or if you’ve already booked a tour to Similan Island, squeeze in an extra day to visit Surin – it is well worth it!.

The Surin Islands in Thailand

The Surin Islands in Thailand

Location

The Surin Islands are a small archipelago of five islands 55km off the south west coast of Thailand. They lie just a few miles from the ocean border with Burma. The Surin Islands can be reached from Khao Lak, Khura Buri or Ko Phra Thong in the Phang Nga Province. If you’re already staying in Phuket or Krabi, and would like to visit either Similan Island or Surin, we recommend staying a night or two in Khao Lak. The journey from Phuket and Krabi to the piers where tours set off from is about two hours in mini van, but only a 15 minute drive from Khao Lak. The boats for the day trips leave at around 9am, so guests have to be at the pier nice and early, so it is easier to stay in a hotel overnight that’s just a short drive to the pier. Nightlife in Khao Lak is laid back but enjoyable, which makes an overnight stay there before your trip to Surin very pleasant.

Day trips

Day trips to Surin Islands are not as frequent as tours to Similan. Why? The area is not as well-know and not as popular. Plus, Surin is further from the mainlaind than Similan and Tai Chai, so the speedboats take a little longer to reach there, using more fuel, and so the tickets are a little bit more expensive.

Arriving at the Surin Islands by speedboat

Arriving at the Surin Islands by speedboat

Expect to pay around 300THB or 400THB more for the trip to Surin. Tours to Surin are also not as regular as the other islands. Trips to Similan go everyday, with some companies taking two or three boats there. But even the big companies might only run one or two trips a week to Surin. Make sure to check before booking hotels or travelling to Khao Lak, which days the trips to Surin are scheduled for. Sea Star Andaman run excellent tours to Surin.

What’s included in a day trip to Surin? 

A typical day tour to Surin will include breakfast at the pier, a 90 minute speedboat ride to the islands, snorkelling at the first site for around 45 minutes, snorkelling at the second site for 45 minutes, a visit to the one of the islands that is home to the Thai sea gypies Moken People, lunch at a different island and a short walk through the jungle and some time on the beach, then snorkeling at a third site before taking the speedboat back to the pier.

The homes of the Moken people, which were rebuilt after the tsunami in 2004

The homes of the Moken people, which were rebuilt after the tsunami in 2004

As you can see from the itinerary above, the trip is varied and includes plenty of snorkeling, as well as a unique insight into the Moken people, where you can meet them, talk to them, and buy some of the nik naks they sell on their small island home.

Snorkeling

Surin is one of the best locations for snorkeling in the Andaman sea. The waters at the snorkeling and dive sites are not as busy as Similan, but they have lots of beautiful marine life. Most tour operators will provide fins, snorkels and masks for people to use. For complete beginners, those who cannot swim, or people afraid of the sea, there are also life jackets for them to wear while they try snorkeling for the first time. Snorkeling is safe and fun, which makes it perfect for people who have never done it before. We highly recommend trying it.

There are many beautiful snorkeling sites around the Surin Islands

There are many beautiful snorkeling sites around the Surin Islands

Surin is also one of the best places in the world for diving. The islands are home to the Richelieu Rock, which is about 200km northwest of Phuket and home to some of the most stunning marine life in the world, including whales, sharks, fish, mantra ray, barracuda and many more species. The standard day trips to Surin for tourists do not include scuba diving. For this you’ll need to find a diving shop in Khao Lak. There are lots of diving tour operators in Khao Lak, and they offer one day,two day or three day trips staying on liveaboards. These boats are only really for experienced divers, not beginners or general tourists, and they don’t stay on the islands for beach trips.

Moken People

The Moken people, pronounced Morgan people, are a small tribe of nomadic sea gypsies that roamed the ocean for thousands of years living on wooden boats and moving from island to island. They began in south China around 4,000 years ago before crossing the Malay peninsula and moving towards the Thai ocean border with Burma.

The Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 destroyed the wooden homes of the Moken people on Surin, and for a short time they had to move onto the mainland. There was some debate about the nationality of the Moken and questions  about whether they should be settled on the mainland. However, the people agreed that they wanted to return to their traditional way of life. The Thai government have now settled the people permanently on Ko Surin Nua (the most northern of the two big Surin Islands) and gave the people Thai ID cards.

There were once around 4,000 in this tribe, but now just 300 live on the Surin islands. They maintain their unique way of life hunting and fishing in the sea, and also taking part in some of the day trips, ferrying guests around on their wooden longtail boats.

The Moken people are expert free divers and can swim to depths of 30 minutes without any masks or breathing equipment. They have very clear vision under water and have developed an amazing ability to control their own buoyancy – being able to float naturally underwater or stay submerged on the seabed.

Read more about the Moken People in National Geographic or in this article from the Guardian ten years after the tsunami.

Conclusion

We highly recommend a trip to the Surin Islands as part of your holiday to Thailand. If you are staying in Phuket or Krabi and would like to visit one island, go for Surin or take one day trip to Surin and one day to Similan. The islands are beautiful and seeing the ancient way of life of the Moken tribe on a day trip to the Surin Islands is fantastic.

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