The advantages of cycling are numerous, the main one being, that with its help I discovered so many places purely by chance. One of such places became Koh Surin national park. It was a highlight of my trip, the most favourite bit of the whole trip for more reasons, than one.
As it happens, the tiny, unremarkable fishing town of Khuraburi chanced to be a place, where I stopped for a night.
On the way I met a middle aged Thai couple, who were cycling in the opposite direction. They signalled me to stop, fellow cyclist as I was. Within a few minutes I discovered, that they had cycled from Bangkok to Singapore (that is almost 2000km!!!) and were on their way back. They were yet another example, that travelling doesn’t have to be expensive – they paid only for food. I was surprised to find out that they camped at police stations and schools, where they could take showers. Occasionally they would spend a night at a temple. Of course, they commented on my bicycle and expressed their concerns, that I would struggle with it a lot, since it had no gears. They took initiative in their hands and pumped my wheels for me. After taking photos with each other and wishing each other a pleasant trip, we bid good bye.
A short distance later my wheel got punctured for the first and only time during my trip. I’m not sure, if it was an accident or because my wheels were pumped too much by my well wishing co-cyclists. I was in the middle of a motorway with only a coffee place within my reach. Very kindly they called a gentleman, who loaded my bike on a truck and delivered me to a bike shop a few km away. When I wanted to pay him he refused me flatly, wished me a pleasant trip with smiles and gestures (at least I thought he might, as he spoke zero English) and left. It cost 120 baht to fix my friend of steel and off I went. I didn’t really have a planned destination, I felt very tired, so decided to take it easy and go as far as I could manage. I made frequent stops and at one point spent the whole hour eating fruit and reading GOT in a little shed by the road. By the way, my Thai cyclists called their friend at the police station in one of the towns on my way, and asked, if I could camp in their garden for the night. But, honestly, I wasn’t ready for that – I wanted something cool, sheltered and comfortable that day. As soon as I reached a small town of Khuraburi at around 2pm I decided to call it a day. There was a small hotel for 250 baht just off the road and I turned in its direction. It wasn’t anything special and evidently had some drainage issues as the bathroom, although clean, didn’t smell all that. As it was pretty early I jumped on my bike and cycled around the town. The town was surrounded by rubber tree plantations, I didn’t know what they were at first, but got curious by perfectly lined trees with little cups attached to them. It was not a good season for rubber, therefore the cups were turned upside down. Still I managed to extract a small piece of rubber from the old cut on the tree – it was really stretchy and white, and smelt similar to a coconut. I ve never seen natural rubber before!
When I returned to the main road I saw, that there was a night market going on. As usual there were all sorts of food available. And, of course, I couldn’t leave without my favourite sweet sticky rice with fresh mango and coconut milk. Mangos in Thailand are out of this world, they are yellow and so sweet and juicy! When I got back to my guesthouse a girl gave me a leaflet with the details of Koh Surin national park organised trip. Sure, it looked fabulous, but Jesus, it cost £120 for a 2 days/1night trip. Surprisingly, there was not so much information online and and the reviews on tripadviser were often from locals, rather than foreigners. All links led to online tour agents, who charged the same obscene fee. When I went to the park’s official site there was a mentioning about their own boat, leaving daily at 9am. So I cycled directly to the office. The office was situated right by the pier, in a small fishing village, which was 8 km outside of Khuraburi. There were also three guest houses, for those, who wanted to stay close by.
The lady at the office explained to me, that the speed boat ticket cost 1900 baht for a return trip. Still not cheap, but it was as cheap as it could possibly get. The islands were located 60 km away from the mainland. The next morning I was at the pier before 9am. The boat didn’t leave until 9.40, as we were waiting for one more group to arrive. The speed boat was indeed very speedy – I was sitting outside, so really needed to grab on in order not to be thrown into the see. The wind removed my hair band and I looked like Cameron Diaz in “There is something about Mary” when we reached the islands. The islands looked absolutely beautiful, with water so transparent and turquoise.
On arrival one is required to to pay the park fee, which is 200 baht, and choose a form of accommodation desired. There was not much to choose from, really. Since it was a national park, all development was prohibited, so there were no hotels and all accommodation belonged to the park itself. But that was the beauty of it. All you could get was a tent for 300 baht a night or a bungalow for outrageous 3500(£70). I really don’t recommend the bungalows, they were so basic and such a terrible value. I could easily imagine them being let out for 250-350, if it were on the mainland. I chose a tent, it was spacious enough to accommodate two persons comfortably. The ground is very hard, with loads of tree roots running under the tents. They rent little mattresses for 60 baht, which make sleeping much more comfortable. Make sure to zip your tent properly, when you leave, as there are a few monkey running around, looking for food.
One could stay up to a maximum of one week at the park. I recommend to take some snacks to the island, but then, there was a restaurant, that provided delicious meals at prices twice or thrice more expensive, than on the mainland, but still not too expensive at 100-150 baht a dish. They also provided free water, which could be refilled from a huge tank. The only way to pay at the park was with the coupons, which could be bought at the reception. The leftover could be exchanged back at the end of the trip.
If you want some peace and quiet, than Koh Surin marine national park is just the right thing. There are absolutely no activities, rather than those of natural character – all you can do is snorkelling, swimming and tracking. And the things we forgot, how to do – talking to each other under the moon, reading books, playing guitar. There was no network signal there, but, surprisingly, there was not a very good wifi by the reception, for those, who couldn’t survive without posting a selfie on Facebook.
They say, that there Is hardly a better place for snorkelling and diving, than the Red Sea. Be it as it may, Egypt didn’t do much for me in terms of underwater activities, probably, because I couldn’t relax in view of recent man-eating sharks incidents. On the other hand, it was Koh Surin that converted me into a snorkelling junkie. From that time on, I considered it a benchmark of sorts for every snorkelling opportunity I came across later on my travel.
The park organised snorkelling trips twice a day, one at 9am and the other at 2pm. I recommend to take all of them!!! They cost only 100 baht each for a two hour experience with a guide and a small group of others. The boat would stop in the middle of the sea, and the guide would say:” Guys, the boat will be just over there. See you in 30-45 min.” The guides were knowledge and it was very safe. You would never get bored, as they take you to a different spot each time. Even if you stay there for a while, and you do get taken to the same spot again, you would never know, what marine creatures you would encounter that time. I was absolutely shocked and delighted to see a minke whale, more so, because I never even knew there were whales in Thailand. Ok, they were not huge blue whales, but still one of them swan right next to our boat, I could have even touched it, and it was bigger than the boat.
As I stayed for one night only, I went for two snorkelling trips, each of them consisted of two dips. In total, I’ve been to four spots around the island, and I can say they are very very different. They all were mind blowingly good, some had loads of coral, the others not so much, but had an insane amount of fish – gigantic schools of fish swimming right through you, like in a National Geographic documentary. I’ve never seen anything like it. The variety was unreal as well. There were more kinds of life, that I cared to count. As a draw back of a perfect ecological situation, there were quite a few varieties of jelly fish floating in the water. The majority of them were relatively harmless and didn’t sting too much, and yet it didn’t feel exactly pleasant, when the current threw the whole bunch of them in my face. Then there were those, that didn’t look too big, like one could try to swim around them, but then got tangled in 3 meters long tentacles, that were not visible straight away. Fortunately, it didn’t happen to me, but one German girl got a bad long sting on her back.
From what I have seen scuba diving was absolutely unnecessary down there, as the water was so clear and the visibility so great, probably 20 meters. What broke my heart, was the fact that the corals got bleached a few years back, as a result of tsunami. The atypically warm underwater currents killed off all the colourful plankton, and the corals recover at an extremely slow pace. I could only imagine what a beauty it was back then. But even in present condition, it was by far the best snorkelling place I’ve ever been to. I feel kind of pissed off, because now snorkelling is completely ruined for me – nowhere was it so varied or clean as it was over there, nowhere good enough.
Another thing, that made my stay unforgettable was a lovely Canadian family I met. People like that are truly a rarity – kind, considerate, with an exceptional sense of humour. Did I mention, that they were also the smartest and the most well travelled people I’ve ever met? What kind of family discus Socrates and Aristotle in everyday life?! My stereotype, that North Americans were not very intelligent or educated people, got shattered. They noticed, that I was by myself and offered to join them for dinner. Later on I was invited to join them for a night dive as well. It was a real test of character for me, as I wasn’t a very good swimmer in the first place and in addition was terrified of dark water. But I figured, that if didn’t go with them, I would probably never do It at all. It turned out to be not scary at all – it’s all in our heads, fear, indeed, cuts deeper than swords:-). We had a strong underwater torch, that provided more than enough light.Also, they explained to me, that the most dangerous species, were actually asleep during the night, so it was even safer to observe the nocturnal animals. We didn’t see too many things, as we were swimming right next to the shore, but it was interesting to see sleeping fish floating in the water. When we were done, I realised that one of my flip flops got washed away from the shore. Why did I even take them in the first place? Genius! The next day I was walking barefoot, until I got back to the mainland and bought another pair.
Koh Surin national park was such an unforgettable experience, I really wished I could stay longer. Also, I was genuinely sad to leave my new friends. The lady was kind enough to invite me to stay with them, when I’m in Canada.
There are some facts about Koh Surin:
1. The park is only open six months a year, from November to April.
2. The park consists of two main Islands – Koh Surin Nua (where tourist accommodation is) and Koh Surin Thai, inhabited by a small Moken tribe, also called Sea Gypsies. They still live harmoniously with their marine surroundings and navigate by the stars. Also It was scientifically proven, that they could see in the water two times better, that other humans. If you like you can organise a boat trip to the village with the park. I didn’t make it, as no one else wanted to go, and the park requires a minimum of 5 people.
3. Book boat tickets in advance. I was lucky, it was only the beginning of the season, so there were not too many people. The speed boat is quite small, and in general they don’t admit too many people on the island, as the number of tents is limited.
4. Try to organise the trip yourself, if you are on a budget. I’ve seen so many agencies from Phuket and Krabi, that charged £140 for a 1night/2days package. Of course they provide transfers and meals, but I ended up paying only £60 for the same experience, food and all. Also the snorkelling trips around the island, were exactly the same for everyone, package tourists or not. From what I have seen, however, around 90% of visitors were package tourists, who walked in groups, and had organised meals together.
5. I brought my own snorkelling equipment. If you don’t have it, there are masks, fins and life jacket to be rented for 100 baht a day at the reception.
6.Do not litter. They put signs, explaining how long it takes for plastic bags, cans and cigarette butts to decompose. During my travel I’ve witnessed a lot of polluted Asian countries. Koh Surin was an example, how beautiful and clean our planet could look, if only everyone cared.