Just northwest of Phuket and Phang Nga Bay is one of Thailand’s best-kept secrets: the Surin Islands. With regular underwater visibility of 30 meters, little to no development, and a traditional village of sea gypsies, Surin is your ticket to the most authentic tropical escapade!
The Surin Islands
Surin Islands is an archipelago consisting of five main islands located in the Andaman Sea, near the Thai-Burmese sea border. These islands are part of the Mu Koh Surin National Park and are known for their unspoiled natural beauty, crystal-clear waters, and diverse marine life. In our opinion, Surin is the best snorkeling location in Thailand!
Ko Surin Nuea (North Surin Island): the largest and most visited island in the Surin Islands, this is where the park’s headquarters and accommodations are. Lots of hiking trails that lead to panoramic viewpoints also start here.
Ko Surin Tai (South Surin Island): home to the Moken Village, an ethnic group of “Sea Gypsies“ that live in traditional wooden houses on stilts along the shore. Visits to the village are allowed during the day.
Ko Surin Nuea and Ko Surin Tai, the main islands in the Surin archipelago, are a mere 200 meters apart. The other smaller islands of Koh Khai, Koh Kland, and Koh Ri are uninhabited.
Things to Do on Surin Islands
1. Visit the Moken People
The Moken people are a seafaring ethnic minority who have lived in the Andaman Sea for centuries. Also known as the “Sea Gypsies”, they are one of the last nomadic people in the world.
Skilled sailors and divers, they live in simple bamboo huts on stilts and make their living from fishing, gathering shellfish, and hunting turtles. Moken children can see underwater with their eyes wide open!
Fun fact: the Moken people are animists and believe that everything, from plants to inanimate objects, has a soul.
In recent years, the Moken have been facing a number of challenges, including the loss of their traditional way of life, the degradation of their environment, and discrimination from the Thai government.
Nowadays, there are only around a hundred Moken families living in a small settlement on the island of Ko Surin Tai. Tourism has helped them generate income and has been a great way to raise awareness about their traditions and way of life. Visiting the Moken village was the highlight of this tour for us!
Fun fact: The Moken people established their settlement on Surin Island shortly after the devastating tsunami of 2004. This group is just a part of a larger community that stretches from Myanmar all the way down to Koh Lipe.
2. Snorkel with Nemo
The Surin Islands are home to more than a hundred different kinds of fish and some of the most colorful corals we’ve ever seen. The water is super clear which makes the colors pop up even more. If you’re lucky, you can even spot turtles, reef sharks, manta rays, and whales. It’s an amazing experience!
If you’re staying overnight, you can hop on one of the two daily snorkel trips (morning or afternoon). They cost only 200 baht per person and the tour takes about 2 hours. Private tours are also available and start at around 2,000 baht per longtail boat (up to 16 people) for a half-day tour and 4,000 baht for a full-day tour.
3. Go Scuba Diving
Underwater visibility of 30 meters is every diver’s dream come true! Diving trips to Surin Islands are usually multi-day liveaboard tours, where you live on a boat and sail through the best dive sites around the archipelago. These are quite expensive, but if you’re a diver, this is the one spot you can’t miss in Thailand!
The most popular diving spot on the Surin Islands is the Richelieu Rock, a pinnacle that rises from the seabed to a height of 25 meters, covered in hard and soft corals and known for its abundance of marine life, including sharks, rays, and turtles.
Fun fact: unfortunately, due to the temperature changes back in 1998 to 2010, 90% of the coral life in both Surin and Similan Islands died out. However, in August 2019, the park authorities announced a remarkable recovery, with the corals showing substantial signs of regeneration, nearing a complete restoration of their former splendor!
4. Trekking & Hiking on the Surin Islands
While snorkeling and diving are the most popular activities in the Surin Islands, trekking and hiking provide opportunities to explore the islands‘ dense forests and discover their natural beauty. There are quite a few designated hiking trails on both Ko Surin Nuea and Ko Surin Tai, the two main islands in the Surin Islands group.
The most popular trail is the one known as Mai Ngam Natural Studies. The route takes you from the picturesque Chong Khat Bay to the serene Mai Ngam Bay campsite on the western side of the Surin Nuea island and it’s about 2km long. You can find more information about the trails and a map at the island’s headquarters.
5. Enjoy the Beaches & the Chicken Rock
Chong Khat and Mai Ngam are the most popular beaches on the main island of Surin Nuea. The water here is a beautiful hue of emerald green and the beaches are virtually empty. Make sure to check out the Chicken Rock formation at Chong Khat Bay!
How to Visit the Surin Islands
The easiest way to visit the archipelago is on a day or multi-day tour from Phuket or Khao Lak, although organizing a trip to the islands by yourself is also possible. We did a one-day tour with Get Your Guide.
Note: the boats depart from the Namkhem Pier in Khao Lak, which is a 2h ride from Patong Beach in Phuket, and take around 1,5 to 2 hours to reach the islands. We did a day tour from Phuket which took 12 hours: 4 hours to go, 4 hours on the islands, and 4 hours to get back.
Know Before You Go
National Park Regulations
As part of the Mu Koh Surin National Park, lots of efforts are in place to preserve the archipelago’s delicate ecosystem, including the protection of coral reefs, the promotion of sustainable tourism practices, and the preservation of the Moken culture.
Therefore, there are a few rules in place that you should be aware of before visiting the island:
- Payment of the National Park fee: as of 2023, the fees are 500 baht for foreign adults and 300 baht for children per day.
- Don‘t collect anything: no shells as souvenirs! If you do spot rubbish though, please collect it and take it back with you to the mainland to help preserve the islands.
- No Drones Allowed: if you wish to fly a drone here, you’ll need to get a permit from the National Park beforehand.
- Don‘t bring styrofoam or plastic to the park: just like in any other National park in Thailand, single-use plastic and styrofoam are not allowed.
- Don‘t disturb the wildlife: don’t feed the fish or any other animal on the island. Feeding wildlife disrupts their natural process.
- Do not touch marine life or coral while snorkeling or diving: a lot of marine species have a protective layer over their bodies that can get damaged by human touch, leaving them exposed to parasites and infections.
Unlike the Hong Islands in Krabi, overnight stays are possible on the Surin Islands. The island of Ko Surin Nuea offers basic accommodation facilities, such as bungalows or tents. Nothing luxurious, with cold showers and little to no electricity.
You can rent a tent on the island at the reception, and tents cost 300 baht per night, per tent. Bungalows offer a bit more comfort, with AC from 6 PM to 8 AM and private toilets. They start at around 2,000 baht per night and are better booked in advance by calling the National Park line with the help of a Thai speaker.
The best, and easiest, way to plan an overnight stay here is by hopping on a multi-day Surin Islands tour.
Thai food is served at fixed times at the only restaurant on the island and costs around 150-300 baht. There’s only a small store where you can buy snacks and drinks, and hot water for tea or instant noodles is free.
What to bring
- Cash: there are no ATMs on the island.
- Insect Repellant: especially if you’re staying overnight.
- Reef-safe sunscreen: help preserve the corals!
- Power banks: in case you’re camping, you won’t have access to electricity.
Best time to visit
The best time to visit the Surin Islands is between December to April, although the months of February to April are considered the best months for snorkeling and are the most favorable for spotting manta rays and whale sharks.
Note: access to Surin Islands is closed during the monsoon season, from 15th May to 15th October.