Suratthani City is the administrative centre for the Suratthani Province that includes Koh Phangan. It is the eighth biggest city in Thailand and remains the gateway to Southern Thailand. While many tourists fly in and out of Koh Samui Airport, just as many catch a plane, train or bus to Suratthani from where they transfer to the islands in the Gulf of Thailand.
Cheap Hotel in Suratthani
The Thai Rung Ruang (191-199 Rungruang Rd, Surat Thani. T: (077) 273 249, (077) 286 351) is a good cheap mid-range option in the center of town for about 500 Thai Baht. It offers big rooms with double beds or two twins both fan and air-con. The hotel has an attractive lobby and a dining area. However, just around the corner is the night market where you can see an eye-catching selection of Thai street food as well as Thais at play, enjoying browsing the stores and having a bite to eat.
Rung Ruang Mansion is conveniently located near plenty of travel agents and the private bus station (the government bus stop has moved to a spot on the outskirts of the city). For those looking for an early start in order to get to Myanmar and back in a day this hotel has been an ideal stop over point. Recommended travel agent is Phangan Tour 2000: it is the best provider of bus/boat tickets to Koh Samui and Koh Phangan.
While Suratthani City is not an attractive place to explore the province itself is full of wonderful places to visit. Not only does the province contain the Samui Archipelago it also has Khao Sok National Park. This is one of the best national parks in Thailand. It is reached via the Suratthani-Takuapa road and takes a couple of hours from the city.
Khao Sok National Park
The national park covers 728,000 square kilometers. A big chunk of the province has been given over to wild habitat for a variety of flora and fauna. Animals you can spot include:
“gaur, banteng, sambar deer, bear, Malayan tapir, macaque, gibbon, serow, mouse deer, porcupine, marbled cat, wild boar, and Asian wild dog. It also acts as the natural habitat for several for several bird species.”
According to the park website.
There is also canoeing, white water rafting, water tubing, mountain biking, hiking and camping to enjoy. There are plenty of cheap package deals to be found at travel agents offering 1 or 2 nights in the park. A bit of research on the net can find you the tour that suits you; and being Thailand, it is also possible to travel independently to the park.
The park contains a large lake with impressive limestone rock islands to explore by canoe. There are several companies with lake bungalows on the lake. They vary in luxury, but they are in a spectacular location.
100 Islands Resort and Spa
If you do decide to come and go from Suratthani city a few times a better accommodation option is 100 Island Resort and Spa. The address is 19/6 Moo 3 By pass Road, Makhamtia, Muang Suratthani, Thailand 84000. And the telephone number is +66(0) 7720 150-8.
The hotel is a little bit out of town but the relaxing atmosphere and better facilities lead many to consider the 100 Island to be the best hotel in Suratthani. It feels like a proper resort. There is a pool and spa. You can enjoy a sauna, a massage or a facial treatment. There is also a restaurant and outdoor bar.
A present (Feb 2013) a twin room costs 700 Baht, and a room with double bed costs 1,000 Baht. This price includes breakfast. Since majority of the customers are well off Thais, or Chinese-Thais touring or doing business, the breakfast has a great selection of
fried rice, noodles, curries, salads, and fruit but not so appealing Western options.
The hotel has two restaurants, one of which is outside with a BBQ station and chef. For more eating options as well as shopping opposite 100 Islands Resort and Spa is a shopping centre with a large Tesco Lotus, Home Pro store, cinema complex, and several chain restaurants including KFC. The complex shuts down at 9pm.
Other food options include nearby food stalls. I ate a very tasty noodle soup in the nearby noodle stall, one of the best I have had in Thailand. It cost 90 Baht for two and included side dishes like fresh herbs and pork crackling, which are added to the soup to taste.
The hotel is architecturally interesting. It is built in the style of a Southern Thai mansion. The lobby is magnificent with wooden panelling and two grand staircases. The rooms are well-appointed, with air-con, satellite TV and decent bathrooms.
You need to take a taxi to reach transport terminals. It’s about 10 minutes (50 to 100 Baht per person) to get to Phangan Tour 2000. It’s a 25 minute journey to the train station (350 baht by private taxi) in Phun Phin, and a 35 minute journey to the airport (around 450 baht for a private taxi).
Suratthani might seem like a chore but it needn’t be. It is a bit ugly and seedy in places but it is a pleasant staging post for exploring southern Thailand. The city has a few good hotels, plenty of shops and generally a laid-back feel. Moreover, Suratthani is well connected by air and has several boat options to the islands. There is also a handy rail link that goes nearly the entire length of the ‘leg’ of Thailand from the Malaysian border to Bangkok.