With more than 1,400 islands, it’s hard to decide which ones to visit in Thailand. Everybody tends to visit the same ones but what if I told you there’s a beautiful group of islands that are still off the main tourist radar? The Surin Islands are a group of islands in the Phang Nga Province, close to the popular tourist hub of Phuket, but fortunately they still don’t receive the mass tourist attention that some of its neighbour do. Part of the reason is that there are no hotels on the islands, if you want to stay overnight you have to camp on the beach, and partly because it’s a long journey to get there. If you want to be part of the few people to visit these pristine islands with soft white sand, crystal clear turquoise water and rich marine wildlife, this is the guide for you. In this ultimate Surin Island guide I’ve included everything you need to know to plan your visit to these beautiful islands.
- 1 What are the Surin Islands?
- 2 How do you get to the Surin Islands?
- 3 Some details about camping in the Surin Islands
- 4 Essential things to know about the Surin Islands
- 5 Essential things to bring to the Surin Islands
- 6 What is there to do in the Surin Islands?
What are the Surin Islands?
The Surin Islands, also known as Mu Koh Surin National Park, is an archipelago formed by five islands in the Andaman Sea, just 60km away from the Thai mainland. They’re known for their pristine white sand beaches, crystal clear turquoise water and lack of “development”. While the Surin Islands will fulfil all your beach paradise expectations, don’t expect it to be a luxury holiday. There are some lodges and bungalows in the archipelago, but the majority of visitors sleep in tents at the camping grounds on Koh Surin Neua, the biggest island of the archipelago.
How do you get to the Surin Islands?
Boats to the Surin Islands set off from Khura Buri Port and take between 1 and 1.5 hours to get there, depending on the speedboat you are on. The speedboat ticket price is around 1,700 THB per person.
Khura Buri is 200km North of the popular Patong neighbourhood in Phuket, where most tourists stay when travelling to this part of Thailand. This is a 3.5 to 4 hour drive depending on traffic, so I would highly discourage trying to visit the Surin Islands on a day trip from Phuket. You would spend most of your day getting there and back and not nearly enough enjoying the beauty of these stunning islands.
Instead, why don’t you experience sleeping on a tent by the beach? I’m not a camping person, I never have been (at most I’ve tried glamping in the desert in Morocco), but sleeping in a tent by the beach in Koh Surin Neua and waking up with the sound of the birds and waves was really magical. If you book a diving tour these often also have the opportunity of staying in a live aboard cruise boat.
Some details about camping in the Surin Islands
The camping grounds on Koh Surin Neua are managed by the National Park office. The price for one tent is 300 THB per night and each tent sleeps two people. Pillows, sleeping bags and mattresses aren’t provided but you can rent these directly at the reception for 60 THB for the whole set (or 20 THB per item if you already have one of the three things yourself). We booked the camping, speedboat transfer and minivan transfers from Khao Lak and then return to Phuket directly with the National Park organisation.
When you first arrive Khura Buri Port you will be offered coffee, tea and breakfast while you wait for all the minivans to arrive. Once everyone is there you will be sharing the speedboat with people that are only there for the day trip. You will arrive together at Koh Surin Neua (spot number 1 on the map below) where you will then be picked up by a long tail boat that will take you to spot number 2, from where after a brief 3 minute walk in the mangrove trees you will arrive at the national park office and camping grounds (number 3 on the map).
The camping facilities include shared toilets, a bar, restaurant and the opportunity to book snorkelling or long tail boat trips from the reception. The kitchen of the restaurant is only open at meal times so make sure you don’t miss them! The beach right in front of the camping area is called Mai Ngam Beach and is easily one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. There are a number of swings and hammocks attached to the trees right by it where you can relax.
When the time to leave the Surin Islands arrives (very sadly) you need to check at reception at what time the long tail boat transfer sets off. This will take you back from point number 2 to point number 1, however, the speedboat pick up might not be for another two hours after that. This because the long tail boats have to set off from spot number two before the tide becomes too low (for us this was around 1:30PM) but the speedboat didn’t leave until 3:30PM at the end of the snorkelling day trips. That means you get to enjoy some more beach time, we walked over to spot number 5 where there is a beach where the boats don’t dock so you can enjoy the clear water better.
Essential things to know about the Surin Islands
Whether you are only visiting for a day or staying overnight there is a 500 THB per person per day park fee that you have to pay when you arrive on the Surin Islands.
There is a different local currency
At the restaurant and bar of Koh Surin Neua you can’t pay in normal Thai Baht. The island has its own currency, which you can get from the park reception in exchange of THB. The exchange is 1:1 and you will receive these paper coupons that resemble Thai Baht. Don’t ask me why they do this, I haven’t quite figured it out myself. Just make sure you get enough coupons from reception when they’re open as it’s not open 24/7. On the other side of the island where the speed boats dock (number 1 on the map) is another small café where they accept normal Thai Baht.
Alcohol is banned from the Surin Islands
Starting in December 2017 the government banned alcohol from the Surin Islands National Park. The bars and restaurants on the islands don’t sell alcohol and you’re not allowed to bring your own from the Thai mainland. If you do bring alcohol with you and get caught with it there are extremely high fines and you could even risk some jail time.
There is poor mobile connection and limited Wi-Fi
The dining area of the camping grounds on Koh Surin Neua has Wi-Fi but this is powered by solar panels so the connection isn’t great. Furthermore everybody will try to connect at meal times, overload the system and then it’s definitely not going to work. Depending on what mobile network you’re on you might also not have phone and 3G reception either. I purchased a Thai SIM card with DTAC when I first arrived in Thailand and I had no signal, my friend with an Italian Vodafone SIM card had functioning data. If you really want to enjoy the islands why not put your plane in airplane mode? No alcohol and no contact with your friends, work or family back home, sounds like the perfect relaxing detox holiday to me!
Essential things to bring to the Surin Islands
If you have more camping experience than me I probably don’t need to remind you of what you should be bringing with you, however if you want some top tips here are a few essentials I recommend taking with you to the Surin Islands.
Power bank: There are plugs in the restaurant area where you can charge your phone, however these are not always turned on. If you can I recommend taking a charged power bank with you to avoid having to wait for someone to free the plugs and then having to leave your electronics there as they charge.
Fast drying towel: Towels aren’t provided by the camping area and I couldn’t see them selling or renting them so I would recommend bringing your own fast-drying towel with you.
Sun block: You won’t be able to buy it in the Surin Islands and if you’re planning on spending the whole day at the beach you will need it!
What is there to do in the Surin Islands?
So now you know all the basic information about the Surin Islands, you might be wondering; “what can I actually do once I’m there?” How does sitting all day on a beach with fine white sand and crystal clear turquoise water sound? Just kidding, while that is, for obvious reasons, one of the best and most popular things to do in the Surin Islands, there are also other things you can do here.
Snorkelling is one of the most popular activities you can do in the Surin Islands. We booked it at the National Park office by our camping area and paid 200 THB per person for a 2-hour long tail boat snorkelling tour. The snorkelling tours are available both in the morning and afternoon, just make sure to check the departure time at reception since this changes every day due to the tides. They took us to two different spots in different islands of the archipelago and it was some of the best snorkelling I’ve done in a long time.
Since the snorkelling tours set off when the tide starts to go down the corals are very close to the surface. Furthermore the water in the Surin Islands is extremely clear, which makes for great visibility, meaning you’ll be able to see corals and fish everywhere you look. One thing to note is that on the way back to Koh Surin Neua the tide will have gone down and the boat won’t be able to take you all the way to the shore, you’ll have to walk on the rocks for a bit to get there. This is where you water shoes come in handy (check also my Thailand packing list for more packing advice)!
I haven’t been scuba diving in the Surin Islands but I know this is also a popular activity while there. Having seen how clear the water is and the amount of corals and fish we saw while snorkelling, it’s easy to see why! However the national park office doesn’t organise scuba diving tours so you will have to arrange this before arriving at the Surin Islands.
Visit the local Moken Village
In the Surin Islands you have the opportunity to visit a local Moken Village built on wooden stilts. The Moken people are known as “sea gypsies” since they used to be sea nomads, but they have now settled in small villages and islands like this one.
Rent a private long tail boat
If you’re a big group or don’t want to wait for specific times to do the snorkelling tour, you can also rent a private long tail boat. You can book this directly at the reception and the prices vary from 4,000 THB for a full-day and 2,000 THB for a half-day. It obviously depends on the boat but I’ve been on long tail boats with other 15 people plus crew so if you’re a large group this works out much cheaper. That way on top of snorkelling you can also ask our captain to take you to the Moken Village on Koh Surin Tai, the second largest island in the Surin Islands National Park. Being a private tour you also have the added benefit of choosing your own start and end times.
Have you been to the Surin Islands before? How did you find it? Let me know in the comments below! I visited the Surin Islands on my second trip to Thailand and absolutely loved them, they were by far the highlight of my 10 days in Thailand and can highly recommend them to everyone. Although I know that as time passes and more people visit the Surin Islands will probably stop being the blissful paradise they currently are, for now they are truly stunning and I would try to visit before it’s too late. The combination of soft white sand, crystal clear turquoise water, abundant marine wildlife and the experience of sleeping in a tent by the beach makes it a truly unique and spectacular experience.