Everything you Need to Know about Surin Islands
Mu Koh Surin National Park, found some 60 km off the west coast of Phang Nga province, and 100 km north of the Similans, is an archipelago of 5 islands: Koh Surin Nuea, Koh Surin Tai, Koh Ri, Koh Khai, and Koh Klang. The excellent diving, snorkelling, hiking and game fishing are what most visitors come for, and those hoping to find a quiet refuge from the tourist traps and urban centres will be delighted with the islands' lack of "development". Those seeking convenience, comfort and 5-star service had best choose another destination - or travel there on a luxury liveaboard cruise.
The main island of Surin Nuea has several bays, the largest being Ao Mae Yai on the southwest, which features calm waters and safe anchorage. On the southeast side is Ao Luek, which has shallow corals and an abundance of marine life. Ao Mai Ngam is where the National Park's office is found, as well as a 2-kilometre walking path. There's good snorkelling and swimming here off its long beach. Ao Chak at the north of Surin Nuea is a beautiful bay of pristine coral reefs.
Surin Nuea is also home to a community of around 150 Moken, or "sea gypsies", who have settled there on a semi-permanent basis for several decades. The Moken spend much of their lives on their boats, called "kabang". They survive mainly through the gathering of shellfish and other marine life from the reefs and mudflats rather than fishing - their practise of collecting shells, snails and other marine resources for sale is technically illegal due to Surin's national park status, but according to a UNESCO report, "The Moken [of the Surin islands] tend to escape the attention of both the Local Administration and the central government since their population size is considered negligible and their situation too complicated."
Illegal fishing activities of commercial fishing boats - and to some extent the careless practises of some snorkellers and pleasure boaters - pose a greater threat to the islands' ecology than the Moken.
The second most visited island is Koh Surin Tai, which draws snorkellers to its main bay, Ao Tao, on the east side. Koh Ri, Koh Klang and Koh Khai (also called Koh Torilla) each feature areas of unspoilt reefs, with healthy live coral being particularly abundant off Koh Khai.
The major drawcard for divers to the area is the famed Richelieu Rock, a coral-covered pinnacle, which for reasons still unknown attracts a fair number of whale sharks. Click for more on diving in the Surin islands and area
Getting to the Surin Islands
Rough seas make travel to the Surins difficult during the southwest monsoon months of May-October, and sometimes impossible. Khura Buri Pier, some 125 kilometres north of Phang Nga Town, is the nearest launching point to the Surins, where ferryboats regularly make the 4-hour trip from November-April. Boats may also be arranged from Amphoe Kapoe Pier in Ranong Province, with trips taking about 7 hours. Note: Like all national parks in Thailand, there's an entry fee of 200 baht for foreign visitors.
The most hassle-free and often cost-effective way to reach the Surins is by arranging a tour that departs from Phuket. Most dive and game fishing operators in Phuket can arrange liveaboards, or you can book a trip by speedboat here. Day tours feature visits to several different snorkeling locations plus lunch at the national park headquarters. The speedboats used take only an hour to reach the islands. Read a review of Surin Islands by speedboat day trip...
There are lodges, bungalows and tents that may be booked through the Royal Thai Forest Department. For more information, contact Mu Koh Surin National Park, Amphoe Khura Buri, Phang Nga, 82150 (Tel: 076-491378, 076-419028).
There are few facilities aside from a park-operated restaurant on Koh Surin Neua, where scuba diving and snorkelling equipment are also available for rent. Many visitors, particularly divers, opt to spend the night on pre-arranged liveaboard boats.