An Introduction to the Surin Islands
The world renowned Surin Islands form part of the Mu Koh Surin National Park. The park is located about 60 km from the west coast of Phang Nga province. Or about 100 km north of the Similan Islands. The Surin Islands are an archipelago of five islands. Namely, Koh Surin Nuea, Koh Ri, Koh Khai, Koh Surin Tai and Koh Klang.
Most visitors to the National Park come for the crystal clear turquoise waters. Other’s come to snorkel or dive the most extensive coral reef in Thailand. The Surin Islands have relatively low numbers of visitors. It’s also rich in marine life. These two factors combine to make the Surin archipelago one of the best diving and snorkeling sites in the world.
Where in Thailand are the Surin Islands?
The Surin Islands proximity to the deep ocean waters of the nearby continental shelf make it the perfect spot to see larger marine life. During the season, it’s a great place to encounter giant Whale Sharks and Oceanic Manta Rays. Numerous species of endangered sea turtles nest on the islands. Though relatively uncommon species, divers and snorkelers on multi-day liveaboard tours, have a higher chance of seeing these majestic and iconic creatures.
As well as the excellent diving, many visitors also enjoy hiking the rugged main trial on the largest island. It’s the only track that runs over the mountainous jungle-covered interior. Much of the inland forested areas are off-limits to visitors. The Parks primary aim is to provide a sanctuary for wildlife rather than easy access to humans! Nonetheless, it’s not too difficult to encounter troops of monkeys, large lizards and numerous bird species near the park office or on many of the beaches.
For some visitors, Koh Surin provides the perfect backdrop to simply relax on a picturesque deserted beach and experience a rare moment of perfect isolation and tranquility..
Due to its minimal development, the islands are perfect for anyone wanting to escape the large crowds of tourists you’ll encounter in busy tourist towns like Phuket, Ao Nang and Khao Lak. Due to the lack of “development” on the islands, the Mo Koh Surin National Park is really not suited to tourists in search of a luxury island escape. It’s better suited for nature lovers and visitors wanting to avoid the many tourist traps.
The Surin islands are also far less busy or crowded than other islands closer to the mainland, such as Hong Island or Phi Phi. For those who simply can’t travel without 5 star comfort and luxury, expensive liveaboard cruise boats do also visit the pristine waters of Koh Surin.
The largest island of the archipelago is Koh Surin Nuea. The island has several bays, with one of the prettiest being Ao Mai Ngam. This sheltered bay has a nice long, soft sandy beach and some nice snorkeling spots. It’s also where a small National Park’s office, camp grounds, shop, restaurant and visitor centre are located. It’s also the only place where you’ll find a 2km walking track where you can legally hike into the rugged rainforest interior.
Further to the west, you’ll encounter the calm waters of Ao Mae Yai, a safe anchorage for boats visiting the islands. To the southeast is the bay of Ao Luek, home to colourful coral reefs teeming with marine life and excellent for snorkeling. Near the northern tip you’ll find Ao Chak, yet another heavenly bay with extensive coral reefs and fantastic snorkeling.
About 150 Moken or “sea gypsies” call the bay of Ao Bon Yai on the south island of Koh Surin Tai home. The Moken are a semi-nomadic sea people that have roamed the seas of the Andaman for thousands of years. They learn to swim even before they walk, and can hold their breath and free dive deeper than almost any other people on the planet. Interestingly, the Moken people have no linguistic notion of time or how to measure it! The Moken spend a great deal of their lives on boats known as “kabangs”.
For the last few decades, they have lived a precarious existence in a small village on the island, which accidentally burnt down in February 2019. It has since been rebuilt, and many visitors shop for Moken hand-made gifts crafted from drift wood and sea shells. This tourist trade has become an important source of income for the Moken today, surpassing fishing as their main means of survival.
Unfortunately, UNESCO has listed the Moken culture as under threat, slowly being lost to the trappings of modernity. Responsible tourism can however play a part in helping preserve aspects of Moken culture. Several tour operators, including Surin Tours, are working alongside the Moken community. They run Moken tours and visits that give value to cultural traditions facing extinction.