The Surin Islands are located in the Andaman Sea between Myanmar and Thailand, 60 km from the Thai mainland. Surin is a group of five islands that features the most extensive coral reef in Thailand and naturally diving and snorkeling are popular here. Whales and whale sharks are said to frequent the area although we didn’t see any, and the islands are a nesting site for three species of turtle. Mu Koh Surin National Park includes the islands of Surin Nua (North), Surin Tai (South), and the islets of Stok, Torinla and Mankorn. For a long time, the islands have been home to the Moken Sea Gyspies. Their village is located on Koh Surin Tai, while the National Park headquarters and two camp sites are located on Koh Surin Nua. Common ports of departure are Kuraburi and Khao Lak in Phang Nga province. Accommodation can only be found at the national park, either by renting tents or staying in park-run bungalows.
The boat ride was just under two hours and in two days we went to five different coral reefs. Although there were signs of bleaching we also did see quite a lot of fish, the boys, who have been snorkelling before noticed that “the snorkling wasn’t as good as in Tanzania”. We did spot plenty of colourful fish, large and small, sea stars, giant clams, puffer fish and we did get to swim with a beautiful turtle. This was certainly the highlight for my 7 year old who must have broken some sort snorkelling record for 7 year olds the way he followed and copied the dives and accents of this beautiful turtle for what felt like hours. Unfortunately, in 2010, the shallow-water reefs experienced extensive coral bleaching due to a prolonged increase in sea temperature. The corals seem to be recovering quickly and fish species are still abundant but you can certainly notice the bleaching and also the effects of damage to the coral by tourists and propellers.
We went here the week before Christmas and I expected the accommodation to be fully booked up, but to our delight it wasn’t. It was definitely worth staying the night as you got to share the beach and the island with fewer people. During the day tour companies bring in boat loads of people, and once they leave at around 2 pm, a nice calm settles over the island. The tourists start arriving again around lunch time the next day and the beaches and lunch restaurants get flooded with Swedes, Danish, French and Germans. Our tent was pitched right on the beach front, when the tide was high it covered the beach completely and lapped only centimeters away from the entrance of our tent. The night was windy but the tend didn’t move. A pillow, a thin underlay and a sandy sleeping bag was provided. Since it wasn’t cold I slept on top of mine in a shirt and shorts. The boys would love to come here again, and if we do I will definitely opt for one of the national park bungalows.
Lunch and diner was provided and cooked in the park quaters by the park staff. The food was very nice and plentiful. We had Thai curries, fruit, rice, plenty of fresh prawns and a whole cooked fish.
At breakfast we got to see monitor lizards up close, walking around, crossing our path undeterred. Monkeys were playing in the trees above us and when our bellies were full we could just do some more siwimming on playing in the sand. The boys quickly found some friends and armoured with head torches went on hermit crab hunts, crawling into large treatrunks. Hermit crabs can live up to 30 years, and I think we found one that was that old. He was huge! When the boys got tired of digging in the sand they played on the tree swings. The begged and begged to stay another night and in hind sight I wish we had.
Surin is mainly composed of granite rock, covered with rich forests. The reefs surrounding the islands count over 128 species of corals, 205 species of fish and 118 species of other marine organisms. Beyond the reefs, the diverse ecosystems of Koh Surin include mangrove canals, tropical forest, evergreen forest, beach forest, and sea grass beds. Over 80 species of animals have been recorded here, including mouse deer, monitor lizards, pythons, the rare Nicobar pigeon, lemurs, and flying foxes. We only saw the monitor lizards and the monkeys surrounding the camp and especially the lizards were an impressive sight.
In hindsight I wish we had gone for a two or three day tour with Andaman Discoveries instead of a two day tour with a more mainstream and large tour operator. We didn’t realise what large scale these tour operators work in, Andaman would have offered a much more personalised and genuin tour with lots of less people around. But we still had a good time!
Read about the Moken people here.