A Fleeting Visit to Surat Thani

For us Surat Thani was a little stopover for a few days to help breakup what would have been an even longer day of travel than it already was. So here’s our travel day from Penang in Malaysia to Surat Thani, Thailand and a little of what we saw there.

When planning our travel day upon leaving Malaysia and heading into Thailand there were many options, including buses and trains or a combination of both. We looked at stopping at either Hat Yai or Surat Thani for a few days before heading over to Koh Samui. And while travelling to Hat Yai would have obviously been a shorter day from Penang, it would have meant another reasonably long day of travel to get to Koh Samui, rather than just a few hours from Surat Thani. We bit the bullet and decided to take the 10 hour trip from Penang to Surant Thani as we knew we could all handle this length of travel after our unexpectedly long trip from KL to Penang. The worst thing about that trip was not expecting that length and therefore, not being prepared enough for that amount of time on the road. This time we would know we were in for a long day and would prepare accordingly. So the tickets were booked (5.30am departure from Penang) and we decided to bus the whole way.

The day we left Penang we woke to the sound of pouring rain, dragged ourselves out of bed and managed to get an Uber pretty easily. The bus terminal was the same one that we have arrived at so we were pretty confident we were in the right place, even though there was a bit of conflicting information on the online ticket confirmation. The tickets always state to arrive at least 30 minutes before departure and our tickets said “counter 12 or 15”. We couldn’t find a counter 12 and and signage on counter 15 didn’t match our ticket, not that any of the counters were open at that time of the morning anyway. There was plenty of activity at the bus station, but mainly buses arriving. By 5.25am I was starting to get concerned that we were in the wrong place but Logan said we needed to trust ourselves and stay put. Only one of the phone numbers on our ticket would ring but a quick Google search found that the ticket office didn’t open until 6.30am anyway. At 5.50am we finally got a phone call and were advised the bus was running late and would be there in about 10 minutes. At 6.05am we got another call asking where we were as the bus was at the station; this seemed odd as we hadn’t seen any buses come into the station recently. The driver on the phone then said he could see us and he was parked outside the station on the side of the road – seemed very odd but we headed out and at this stage the rain had eased. Our “bus” was actually a 16 seater minibus which was full except for our 4 seats – Logan and Lincoln got in the front with the driver and Braxton and I clambered over bags in the aisle to get to the very back. Off we set and I hoped that this minibus was taking us to a bigger bus, as when purchasing the tickets online we had been required to choose seats and the layout of the bus (which was a lot bigger) looked the same as our bus from KL to Penang.

It was still very dark outside and the rain was intermitted. Braxton got Peter Rabbi out of his bag and promptly fell asleep on me and I could see Logan and Lincoln’s heads at the front slumped over as well. I closed my eyes but with no head rests in the back and both of our travel pillows in the front I did not get any sleep. After awhile I checked my phone  to see where we were and being a decent distance out of Butterworth on the mainland I was resolved to the fact that this was how we where travelling for the next 9 hours…

Here is our day’s timeline –

  • 4.00am – Alarm goes off.
  • 6.10am – Bus from Penang Island departs.
  • 7.00am – Stop to get petrol and a quick pit stop.
  • 8.15am – Arrive at the Malaysian departure terminal, very quick processing here and back in the bus for a quick trip to the Thai border.
  • 8.30am – Arrive at the Thai border, long lines (which luckily were moving), took an hour for all of our bus passengers to get through immigration.
  • 11.00am – Arrive at Hat Yai, us and a few other passengers get off this minibus to change to another one depending on where we were going.
  • 11.20am – Leave Hat Yai, this minibus isn’t quite as full as the previous one.
  • 1.30pm – Stop for lunch.
  • 4.30pm – Arrive at Surat Thani.
  • 4.50pm – Arrive at our accommodation, we have gained an hour when crossing into Thailand so it was 3.50 pm local time.

Distance travelled = Over 520 kms

thai-border.jpg
Thai border crossing – the line snaked around outside before you even got inside the building.

Thankfully during the day’s journey the boys were incredibly amazing, both had a bit of extra sleep during the trip and we also arrived to a very clean and welcoming house that we were to stay for the next three nights. We have done a full review of our ‘home’ in Surat Thani and it can be viewed here.

Not long after we arrived it began to rain quite steadily and then the power went out. We thought we would be in for a long night of no power and of course, no air con!! I ventured out to get some dinner, and found a little restaurant at the beginning of the housing estate, about 700m away. I chose four dishes and got a couple of large beers – all for 340 THB/$13.60 NZD. After dinner Braxton managed a quick, cold shower before the water became a dribble, but thankfully the power came back on and we were all back up and running.

The next morning we walked out to the main road, about 800m away, and hailed a tuk tuk (the boys loved this new, breezy style of transportation).

Surat Thani_Tuk Tuk

We were lucky to get a driver that spoke some quite good English and he ended up giving us his number for future trips. He dropped us off at a little spot for breakfast and we all had huge, delicious meals for 50 THB/$2 NZD each. We were full and happy and now on the hunt for a money exchange, somewhere to purchase a Thai SIM card and a couple of snorkel sets to take to Koh Samui. Along our travels we came across a large statue of the protective female goddess Guanyin – the “Goddess of Mercy”, built out of granite, so we had a look around before heading home for a quiet afternoon and a bit of a rest.

Surat Thani_Guanyin Statue

In the early evening we got in touch with Luek, our tuk tuk driver, and he came and picked us up from our door and took us to the floating markets, only on Saturday and Sunday evenings. We love walking around markets, checking out local produce and products and trying as many tasty morsels as our tummies will allow. The floating markets at Surat Thani didn’t disappoint – there was music, performances (both on and off the water), arts & crafts, fresh fish and seafood, fresh fruits and vegetables, a wonderful selection of foods ready to taste and plenty of rubbish bins & bags (unlike Malaysia). We picked up some fresh fruits and along with dinner our total spend was about 400 THB/$16 NZD.

Surat Thani_Floating Markets

Having not found snorkel sets yet I ventured out the next day for a walk to the Big C supermarket to get a few supplies to take over to Koh Samui and Luek had also suggested that they might have snorkel sets as well. Big C was just over a 3km walk from our place and was a huge hypermarket with a large selection of electronics, household items, outdoors and camping gear and just that we wanted – snorkel sets. I grabbed a couple of cheap sets as we only wanted them for a week while we were on Samui and were planning to leave them there anyway.

This evening we were off to some local night markets near our place – Wonderland. From their Facebook page it looked like a pretty new set up and the stalls are all very uniformed and possibly aimed at the younger generations. Luek arrived to pick us up as arranged and turned off his tuk tuk when he pulled up – not a good idea. It wouldn’t start again; he got out his tool box and supply of wires and things for running repairs but couldn’t get it to fire and he said that it didn’t push/jump start. After 10 minutes or so he called a friend of his to come and pick us up and give him a tow – pretty unique situation and one of the reasons I love travelling through this part of the world.

surat-thani_luek-our-tuk-tuk-driver.jpg

We had a great evening at the Wonderland Night Markets and tried some more delicious foods. Total spend was about 429 THB/$17.16 NZD.

Surat Thani_The Wonderland Night Market

Tuesday was travel day again and as we had a reasonably short amount of travel to do over to Koh Samui, we had opted for a later departure time and it was nice not to wake up really early and get going straight away. We called Luek but his tuk tuk hadn’t been fixed yet so he called another friend of his to pick us up and take us to our departure point. We were expecting about a 2 hour minivan trip from Surat Thani out to Don Sak Pier and then 1.5 hours on the ferry. Besides a monk we picked up about 10 minutes into our trip, we were the only ones in the minivan so lapped up the space and spread out. The road trip was only about 70 mins and we arrived at the pier just after midday. We were advised our ferry was due to leave at 1pm so we grabbed some lunch and took in the beautiful blue, calm waters around us.

Surant Thani_Don Sak Pier

Just before 1pm we could see the ferry heading in so once that was unloaded with vehicles and passengers and loaded up again and it was after 1.30pm when we departed. The ferry ride took just over 2 hours and when walking down the pier at Lipa Noi we just loved seeing some clear, rubbish free, ocean water that we could finally safety swim in.

More on our week on the island of Samui coming soon….

Average Daily Spend – Surat Thani: $131.75 NZD ($40.75 under budget per day)

– Logan & Paula

2 thoughts on “A Fleeting Visit to Surat Thani

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