Surat Thani (สุราษฎร์ธานี) is a city on the Central Gulf Coast of Southern Thailand. At approximately 125,000 residents, it is the eighth largest city in Thailand. It is also the capital of Surat Thani Province.
Surat Thani (often shortened to Surat) is the largest province of south Thailand. Surat Thani means "City of Good People", the title given to the city by King Vajiravudh (Rama VI). It is a gateway to the islands of Thailand's Gulf Coast: Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao. They are much-visited destinations, as well as Ang Thong National Marine Park.
Surat Thani Airport (IATA: URT | ICAO: VTSB) is about 20 km west of the city in the Phun Phin District. Thai Airways, Air Asia, and Nok Air operate daily flights to/from Don Mueang International Airport and Suvarnabhumi Airport Bangkok. Also there's a new direct flight from Kuala Lumpur on Air Asia. Phantip Travel has bus service connecting all flights to the airport from Surat Thani. Phantip Travel (Tel. +66 77 272230, +66 77 282331) is located on Taladmai Rd. The price one-way is 100 baht.
The Surat Thani train station, despite its name, is located in Phun Phin, about 12 km west of town centre. Most comfortable are the overnight trains from Bangkok, which arrive in early morning. There are always many touts who try to snag tourists and sell trips to Surat or the islands directly. Usually the most aggressive sellers are the most expensive. However, it's not a big problem to reach the city itself from the railway station. Municipal buses depart the train station for Surat Thani every 30 minutes and cost 20 baht, (15 baht to the new bus station). Walk left out of the station and look for the red (old) bus. This bus will stop at the new bus station just at the edge of town. After this stop it's still 5 km to the city centre. The bus service appears to stop in the late evening. After that, the only option is a taxi, the drivers of which come into the station to try to find passengers. Instead, go outside and turn immediately to the left. There is a stand with taxis charging a fixed price of 140 baht to Surat Thani. The price is clearly indicated on a printed canvas sign attached high up.
The new Surat Thani bus terminal is located a bit outside the city; however if you plan to go directly into the city, it is usually possible to ask for a stop before. The old bus terminal in the middle of city is now frequented only by some private buses, which are riskier than the government buses.
There are many bus companies offering services from the Southern Bus Terminal (Sai Tai) Bangkok to Surat Thani.
If you are coming from Phuket, it takes about 6 hours to reach Surat Thani. Connections by bus, tuk-tuk, or songthaew from the bus terminal to the main town are available.
When arriving in Surat Thani via long distance bus, such as one from Bangkok, Hat Yai, or Phuket, it is more likely than not that at some point in the city outskirts the bus will stop, and some people will board the bus. They will ask foreigners where they are going, and if the answer is that they are going to the islands, these people will strongly insist (in English) that the tourists get off the bus here, to get transportation to their destination. Their behaviour will be far from the usual politeness and calmness of Thai people. They may even try to unload your luggage from the bus to make you follow them.
If you take a scammer up on his offer, you will be taken a few kilometres away by songthaew (which will be promised to be "free") to a travel agency in the city centre, where you are likely to be asked a ridiculous price (e.g., 450-500 baht to Ko Samui) to go to you destination. If you refuse, they will try to charge you 2-3 times the regular price (60 baht/person for the trip with 5-10 fellow passengers) for a supposedly free songthaew trip from the bus. If going from Ko Samui or Ko Pha Ngan to Bangkok, the same may happen. If so, they will either try to sell you Khao San Rd bus ticket (widely known for theft on board) or, if you happen to have a train ticket, to offer you a triple-priced taxi. As they induce you to leave the bus in the middle of nowhere, your choices and bargaining power will be limited. This is the most annoying part of travelling to/from Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan via Surat Thani, and the best you can do is to ignore their requests, not leave the bus in remote places, use the official bus only, and generally follow Thai people who are travelling on the same bus from the start (especially if some will go to the same destination as you).
As noted above, the bus terminal in the centre of town has mainly local buses there. Buses from Khao Lak go to this point and not to any other bus terminal. It seems that buses to/from other places, e.g., Krabi, do go here as well.
Beware a nasty scam though! A tuk-tuk driver in a red/orange vehicle (most are blue) slurred "two hundred" into "twenty" remarkably well indeed! Admittedly the hotel was well out of town some 4 km, but this is still a ridiculous price. In the morning, since the hotel was in the middle of nowhere, he only charged 150 baht into town, but, to get us to the Krabi bus, he dropped us at a travel agent, Tanaporn Travel, directly opposite where the Krabi bus was leaving. Address is 442/313 Talatmai Rd, close to the old bus station. They charged more than twice the correct bus price and it appears that the taxi driver, and also the bus conductor (who gave a knowing smile and did not even inspect the ticket) are also in on the scam. Buy tickets on the buses only! Correct price is 140 baht (we paid 285 baht!). This was the 10:00 bus to Krabi (takes about three hours to get there).
If you are arriving at the train station, and your plans call for transit to Phuket, buses depart every few hours, until about 15:30. The ticket price is very reasonable by Western standards. Travel time is three to four hours. The bus departure area is about 100 m away from the train station. For specific directions, just ask the representative at the rail information desk.
You can take the ferry from any of the islands nearby, taking about two and a half hours. There is food for purchase on board and movies on some boats as well.
From islands such as Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao, a ferry ride takes between 7 and 9 hours depending on whether you take the fast or slow boat. The slow boat from Ko Tao is overnight and features mattresses for sleeping. The skipper is especially friendly.
The ride will generally cost between 500 and 600 baht depending on the season. Be wary of black market tickets as people will try to sell you tickets for over 2,000 baht promising food and DVDs included in the price.
Always go to a TAT approved travel agency.
When you get off the ferry on the mainland, there are two ferry companies with bus departures every 30 minutes (Seatran Ferry and Raja Ferry). A bus ride is included with the ferry (note the strange system of paper tickets combined with circular stickers that you stick on your shirt). It is a 45 minute bus ride down back roads from the ferry terminal to Surat Thani. More than one ferry terminal serves Surat Thani.
Tuk-tuks are small local vehicles (cost around 10-20 baht) that cruise the town on short hops. Hail one on any major road with a wave or yell, settle on the destination and price, and sit down on the bench in the back.
Most travellers in Surat Thani are on their way to or from the islands: