Given the name ‘Surat Thani’ by no less than King Rama VI himself, the natural beauty of this town and province is matched only by the genuine warmth and hospitality of the locals.
Words & Photography: Adam Lee
The moon turned full the night I took a cruise along the Tapi River. Surat Thani, with its colourful fluorescent-lit waterfront, glimmered under the lunar light like a classic Thai city. Temples, canals, coconuts trees, houses on stilts and long-tailed boats created a peculiar silhouette as my boat meandered along southern Thailand’s longest river.
The Tapi River is the main artery that connects the people of the province. By day, the locals travel along and across the river on long-tailed boats. Once the sun sets, the river becomes an eco-nightlife hotspot of sorts, where visitors come to watch fi refl ies put on a dazzling show in the mangrove forest.
The tiny insects flitted, buzzed and flickered around groves of lampoo trees in the wetlands, lighting up the evening with fairy-like sparkle that instantly reminded me of Christmas. But this was in the middle of March, and the insects were a stunning sight. It was a rare opportunity to view them before they totally disappeared from the area.
‘Surat Thani’ means ‘City of Good People’ and wherever there are good people, there are bound to be good food. Picture mouth-watering local staples such as tom yum (spicy soup), fried fishcake, som tam (green papaya salad), mango sticky rice and incredibly fresh seafood such as grilled tiger prawns, deep-fried white snapper, squid salad and green curry crab. The beauty of this great food is the big smile that accompanies them when being served. From the humblest hawker fare to highend dining, the locals are genuinely happy to see you stuff your face to glory with their lip smacking food.
Seafood is available in abundance and relatively inexpensive thanks to the province’s natural landscape and long coastlines. Surat Thani boasts 14 river basins, all of which flow east to the Gulf of Thailand. Here, you’ll also find the famed island gems of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao – holiday destinations that rival Phuket and Bali for their powder white beaches and azure waters.
Water is aplenty in Khao Sok National Park too. The Rajjaprabha Dam here was built to manage the area’s water catchment effi ciently. This created a huge manmade reservoir named Chiao Lan Lake. What’s unusual about this body of water is that visitors are immediately reminded of Guilin in Southern China where towering limestone islets rise dramatically from the lake’s emerald waters.
“Rajjaprabha means the light of our King,” my guide explained. The hydroelectric facility at the dam produces up to 30,000 kW per day and is distributed to Surat Thani and Phang Nga provinces, providing the basis for much of the province’s economic growth.
The name of the lake – Chiao Lan, however, comes from the village that is now submerged some 300 feet below when the valley was flooded to build the dam. Some of the villagers who were relocated prior to the flooding have now returned to operate tours around the lake, thus continuing their link to the area.
The lake itself is an amazing place to lose oneself in its natural splendour, tranquil waters and majestic mountains. Accommodations at the National Park are in the form of wooden, raft houses on the lake, bringing guests extremely close to the water that is the source of energy, food and livelihood for the locals. Most lodgings here, though basic, are clean and come with three meals a day costing around THB600.