by John Phelps
This is an article about a young idealist man who travels around southern Thailand fomenting rebellion and wearing silly facial hair. Oh wait, nope… that’s the other article. This one is about all the amazing places you can see from Surat for super cheap via the most celebrated method of Thai transportation: the motorbike. The sights include two of the tourist circuit must-sees (the Khao Sok National Rainforest and Ko Samui) and two lesser known gems (Khanom and the Monkey Training School).
If you worried about motorcycle travel, you should be, at least enough to keep you from being an idiot. It is the easiest and freest way to travel in Thailand, as you don’t have to worry about where and when to catch a bus or being harrassed by tuk-tuk drivers once you get there. For short trips, you can cram the most amount of leisure into the least amount of holiday time. Why being a little worried is beneficial to your health: it will make you wear a helmet at all times and drive slowly on the shoulder of the highway.
Destination #1: Ko Samui
This is the “Island Paradise” everyone says that you should visit. I certainly don’t think it is the best island in Thailand. However, it is a very large island with anything you could possibly want to do on it. The water is beautiful, and the sand is especially great at Chaweng Beach. Chaweng is a great place to people watch, as it is an especially huge strip of clean (really, it is actually perfectly clean) mean beach-walking machine. You can rent sailboats, catamarans, jet- skis, and beach chairs there, depending on your style. You can even kite surf (unless your name is Piglet).
You can stay for cheap and nice (500 baht/night) on Bo Phut (Big Buddha) Beach, and ride to the other beaches for fun. There is a great fruit market near the golden Big Buddha where you can buy super cheap food and stock up if you are on a tight budget. Also, a great rotee (pancake) stall that will stuff you silly for less than 50 baht, depending on what you choose to throw in it.
If you want a quiet, rock bound beach with lots of opportunity to reflect, there is Ton Sai Beach. From the Big Buddha (the west side of the NE finger of the island), you just take your first left and then follow the arrows downhill until you get to Ton Sai Resort. You can park your bike here and enjoy the crags and the pristine resort-less view. The resort has a nice staff and a good iced coffee, with cheap beer on offer as well.
How do you get to this “Island Paradise”? Easy. The main street that runs through Surat is called Talad Mai. You just head North East on that road, and it becomes Route 401. You take this for about an hour until you come to the “Don Sak Intersection” where you take a left to head for the ferry at Don Sak. You ride about thirty more minutes and arrive at the Sea Tran office. They charge you 140 baht to take you and your motorcycle two hours across the ocean to Ko Samui. When you arrive at Ko Samui, you will be at the uninteresting West Side (Ao Makham). This is where having a bike saves you a ton, as any tuk-tuk will charge you around 500 baht to get to any other beach. (Plus you would have had to pay the ferry on top of that) Motorbike gas, round trip, should be no more than 200 baht (automatics will use more gas).
Destination #2: Khanom
I LOVE KHANOM! Shh… don’t tell anybody. Then they might go there, and then it will be a place people go to! No! As a Surat teacher, you are a member of the select few foreigners that get to experience this amazing place. The beaches are empty, almost always. The water is clear and aquamarine, filled with luminescent creatures at night. This is the most consistent place I have seen the night luminescence, where you can actually make floating light angels by just moving your arms and legs in the water. The sand is great, waves are slight, and there are seashells everywhere. You can eat fancy at a new brick oven pizza place on the beach, or you can go for the best cheeseburger at Thai-Fi (a Thai Finnish place). Khanom town has a good night market and plenty of restaurants as well. You can stay on the beach for 500-800 baht for a fan room here (Old Rabiangsai and Khanom Hill are favourites). Or you can camp on the beach in front of Cece Bar, they will let you use their shower and restroom if you buy something now and then. If you ride your bike out to the point, past the Ratchakiri Resort, to the end of the road, there is a great camping place run by some friendly Thais. Gas, round trip, should be no more than 200 baht, 250 if you go back and forth a few times from town to beach. >> How do you get to this place-that-you-will-tell-no-one-about? Take the same route down Talad Mai, as if you were going to Don Sak. At the Don Sak Intersection, keep going straight on Route 401, for about another 45 minutes. You will see signs for Khanom, and after you go downhill for awhile, you will turn left onto 4014 (passing some jumping dolphins, don’t worry, just a statue). You are now on the main road that takes you into Khanom Town. Once there, you can stop and get food (turn right to get to the night market if it is afternoon) or just go straight to get to the beach. After about a kilometer, the main road dead ends onto 4232. Take a right, and you are on the beach access road, which takes you to Cece Bar (on your left), Old Rabiangsai (2nd sign, cheaper and more quaint), but keep going and take a left at the top of the hill to get to Khanom Hill or to go out to the point.
Destination #3: The Monkey Training School
Why would anyone train monkeys? They become excellent English teachers! We will all be out of jobs in about 5 years because of this school. Actually, they use exclusively positive reinforcement to train monkeys to harvest coconuts. They can climb, shake the trees, rotate the coconuts, and even dive two meters to save dropped equipment, coconuts, or Timmy (who is still waiting on that stupid Lassie to figure out how to dive and get him out). This place is amazing, I won’t tell you much because I don’t want to spoil it. If you go alone, a tour is 300 baht. That means they put on a whole educational monkey show and tour just for you. The monkeys don’t do the tour unless they get to educate you. It is cheaper if you go with a few friends. Motorbike gas, round trip, less than 90 baht.
How do you get there? Again, go North East on Talad Mai. Look for the giant sign, and take a left on 2001. 2001 dead ends at the Kradae Chae Monkey Training Center. No more than a twenty minute ride from Surat Thani. >> Destination #4: Khao Sok National Rainforest
The oldest rainforest in the world. You can not not see it. The glaciers never came here, and this forest has never burned down or been completely turned into furniture. You can swing on vines into crystalline waters. You can swim through caves to visit roaring waterfalls. You can see wild elephants and monkeys. All without a guide. (You might want one if you are going elephant- watching, though).
If you want to stay in a treehouse, you will have to pay around 1,000 baht (sleeps 3-4 people) at Our Jungle House. Or you can camp, always a cheap option, on the National Park. You can find a bungalow at Nung House for 400 baht, best deal for what you get (thanks to our friend Tristan). Looking around, budget places will give you a 400 baht rate for a nice fan room. All the guesthouses will arrange excursions for you, or you can walk down the main path, through Art’s Bungalows, to get to the Monkey Swimming Hole. You will probably walk through a huge troop of monkeys on the way. (Watch out! They are sneaky, and they will take your camera!) You can use the rope swing, and have a blast for free! Or, walk the other way, pass Nung House and take a right on the main road to go to the Park. A ticket is good for 24 hrs, so you can do an evening hike and the whole next day on the same ticket. Bring your passport with worker permit, and you get a discount price of 50 baht (the tourist price is 200 baht).
How do you get to this amazing wonderland? No, no, don’t tell me…. Talad Mai. Well, I’ll be danged. But, go South West, to the Tha Kup Intersection. Take a right here on 4213, then take a left on route 401. Stay on this road for 2 hours, until you lose your mind from karst mountains jumping out of the earth. After the mountains start, the first bus stop with an office you see on your right is your stop. This is the main street through the town that serves the Park. You’ve got Italian food and great Thai food, but pass over the river and take a right to get to the guesthouses.
There and back, gas is between 250 and 300 baht.
Che or not, you can see some great stuff from Surat on a motorcycle. You will have flats, all that, but it will be fun!