Thailand Trip Report – Part 3 (The Surin Islands)

I knew from a very early stage of planning that there wasn’t any snorkeling from the beach in the Khao Lak area.  The one thing I did know was that I wanted to find Nemo and the Andaman sea would be my best chance of finding him!  I’d heard of the Similan islands already, also read up about Koh Tachai (the supposed Maldives of Thailand) but it was Mu Koh Surin National Park that got me interested.  The pictures on the reviews and information I could find looked stunning and being the furthest set of islands from the Khao Lak and Phuket area, it was reportedly less visited so more natural and unspoilt.

A few recent Trip Advisor reviews had suggested that the coral here was very good and the pictures seemed to back that up so I was determined to make this our priority snorkeling adventure whilst in Thailand.  Due to the distance from the main land we would have to travel from Khao Lak to a pier further north, and then travel out on a speedboat.  There appears to be one main agent offering the trip called Kuraburi Greenview (they also have a hotel near the pier) but many local agents will sell you tickets for the trip and arrange the transport.

I thought the trip from our hotel to the pier would take about an hour, WRONG, we were picked up at 7.10am and after making stops for other passengers, we got to the pier at around 8.50am.  Not my idea start to a long day out at sea I have to admit!  I do get a little car sick so I was relieved to finally be out of the van when we arrived, and hey, we met some interesting people from all over the world on our journey!  On arrival we had to pay for our trip and then select our snorkeling kit, all of which looked pretty new and in good condition.  As always, we took our own masks and snorkels anyway, it was just fins we needed so we grabbed those and helped ourselves to a free cup of juice while we waited to hear what boat we would be on.  It was quite hectic, there were well over a hundred people here waiting to leave for the islands, it wasn’t clear to us when they had called our allocated speedboat and we ended up being some of the last on which meant sitting out in the bow area, which was not covered and we hadn’t had time to put sunscreen on!

The boat was very cramped, I mean, it was a big boat anyway, but there was barely room to move once everyone was on board and the crew/guides were sitting on the floor.  I’ve never been on a boat quite that busy and it’s not something I recommend.  I also feel it is important to mention that we were never given any safety briefing; whether there where life jackets, who would organise us in event of an emergency etc, simply advised the boat would be a bit bumpy as it went out to sea, across the wake of other boats, and that the trip would take around an hour.

After an hour we did arrive at the Surin Islands, we couldn’t see anything on our way there as the sides of the boat were far too high and anyone daring to stand up was immediately signalled to sit down.  The islands are visually stunning, the water is every imaginable shade of blue, fringed with lush green trees right down to the waters edge with little white sandy coves dotted around the edges.  It was everything I expect it to be above water and I really don’t think my photos do it justice.  We stopped at one spot where we were advised we had around 45 minutes in the water, someone pointed at the shore and said swim that way, I actually thought he wanted us to swim to shore, it wasn’t until during the session he meant for us to swim that way against the current, and then return!  This was pretty indicative of the ‘guide’ experience on our day.  As the boat was so full, it took a long time just to get kitted up and get off.  I never once during our entire day, saw any of the guides in the water with the guests, there was just a few men helping people get on and off the boat.

This is a good place for me to start on what really disappointed me during this trip.  PEOPLE STANDING ON THE CORAL!!!! Just why?!  I don’t mean one or two either, but numerous people standing on bommies, kicking corals and generally not really being able to swim in water that was easily 8ft deep.  My husband was so incensed by this that he started taking pictures of the offenders so we could show the guide.  Standing on corals can kill them for the most part, many hard corals grow just 1cm a year and these moros were trampling all over them like they were a patch of grass.  If you cannot swim, do NOT snorkel, if you do not understand reef ecology, do NOT snorkel, it’s simple!  Needless to say, on my return to the boat I had quite a strongly worded conversation with the guide about this.  He said he would tell the guests, which he did, but the minority of them were English speakers and I can guarantee most didn’t understand, they really need to get some pictures.

Because none of the guides were in the water it felt like we were literally in the water for 20 minutes before people were getting out, I think no one knew the time!  I think I have probably been spoilt on my previous travels because I didn’t find the coral very impressive, there are some lovely parts but lots of damage and bleaching. We did find some nice fish and a huge blue thorny starfish but there were not as many fish as I had hoped either.  If you haven’t snorkeled much before then you might love the Surin Islands, but if you have been snorkeling in the Red Sea or Maldives, you might be disappointed.  We found Nemo on our second stop, which was further along from the reef, it was called Nemo paradise but I know lots of people didn’t see the fish because the guide didn’t show them where to look!

After the second short stop we made our way to the beach where the National Park HQ was serving lunch buffet style.  It was a basic lunch with some seafood, rice, vegetables and pineapple.  If you are a fussy eater I would suggest taking some of your own food with you.  You can exchange cash for tokens and buy crisps and snacks at the kiosk too.  During lunch, the trip leader told us all that we had time for lunch and a break, if we wanted to go on the third snorkel stop then we had to be back at the boat for 1.30pm, otherwise we could relax on the beach until we had to leave the island at 3pm.  We didn’t anticipate the final stop being much better than the first two and once we saw the beach with the stunning lagoon, we decided to chill out for a few hours on the sand and catch some sun!

We are really glad we took some time to relax and enjoy the scenery.  It was such a long journey from Khao Lak that next time, I would like to stay on the islands for a few nights.  I expect that waking up with the birds and having no one around is amazing.  You can stay in tents on the beach or in one of the few rooms, it isn’t expensive and the much smaller boats can take you to snorkeling stops, I wonder if those stops are better than what we saw?

We were soon leaving the islands for the trip back to the pier.  The journey from the pier to Khao Lak was even longer because the driver kept stopping to let guests go shopping and then he had no idea where our hotel was, taking us to two separate towns before we guided him to the right place!  Overall, the Surin islands are very beautiful, and just about worth the trip (which cost 2,900baht each, around £60).  I was disappointed with the quality of the coral but more with the tour operator.  They need to act more responsibly and make sure that their guests respect the environment!

I hope you enjoyed my final Thailand trip report, soon it will be time for the Maldives!

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