Surat Thani Profile
The city of Surat Thani (which literally means “city of the good people”) is located in the province of Surat Thani in Southern Thailand. This province also includes popular locations such as Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. If you do a Google search for images of Surat Thani, it will mostly come up with photos of these resort and beach areas. When I last checked, the first image that comes up is of a very small island off the coast of Koh Tao, which is about a 5-7 hour trip by boat and bus. This profile will show you what the city of Surat Thani looks like and has to offer to give you a realistic idea of what you’re getting yourself into! I recommend you view the videos I have taken to give you some perspective about the feel of this city.
Surat Thani was only recently upgraded to city status in 2007. While many of the main roads are quite busy and city-like, it is easy to escape to quieter areas by just driving a few minutes to the outskirts of town. Surat Thani is mainly Buddhist. However, since 1969 it has been the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of the province of Surat Thani. There are about 6000 Catholics in southern Thailand. You may be working at one of the Catholic schools located here in Surat (see more about schools below).
Population of City: 128,179
Population of Province: 907,612
Area of City: 68.97 square kilometers
Median Age: 27.9
Most travelers in Surat Thani are just stopping through on their way to the islands, so there is almost nothing online or in travel books about what to do in the city of Surat Thani. Surat is about an hour to the nearest beach. It can also be a challenge with eating and shopping. Because it isn’t a tourist destination, there aren’t as many English speaking people as you might find in larger cities like Bangkok, so until you learn how to order your favorite foods in Thai, you will likely be going to places with English menus. Below I have compiled a list of some teacher favorites, but once you get here and explore you will find your own favorites.
The Tapi/Tapee River (spelling dependent on which sign you see) runs through Surat Thani and out to sea. Here you can catch a night boat from town to go out to the islands, watch the sunset and amazing clouds over the water, or take a firefly tour in the evening. The Saturday and Sunday night markets both set up alongside the river and offer waterside dining. If you are up early enough in the morning, you will see people selling their fresh seafood along Talad Lang, the street that runs along the river.
Surat Thani also has 2 hospitals (photo of Thaksin hospital which I have been told is the nicer and less busy one) as well as many banks. Siam Commercial Bank is who you will set an account up with once you get your work permit.
Surat Thani has a lot going on and it will be hard to see it all. Among the many things you will see, about 75% of it will be street dog (that is an estimated percentage and not based on any sort of fact). Some of them are domestic and have some kind of owner that takes care of them, but most of them are just wanderers. I have heard stories about vicious dogs, but so far I have yet to see one. Every street dog I have gone up to has either allowed me to pet it or has barked and run away. However, I am not encouraging this kind of behavior as I am a bit of a dog whisperer. Don’t go and get rabies just because I said that most street dogs are nice. Here are a few of my favorite dogs:
Fido, Janet and John’s dog
An obese Golden Retriever I saw on Don Nok.
My adopted street dog, Dang.
Señor Whiny Buns (aka Retardo-buns) is our neighbor’s dog. I don’t know his real name, but the 2 I gave him sum it up. He makes the most ridiculous noises I’ve ever heard come out of a dog. Then he pushes his face into your leg and just stands there garbling. I think he was dropped on his head as a puppy. He also likes to eat coconut husks and roll around on them in the middle of the road.
Not only are there plenty of dogs (and cats) in Surat, but there are also tons of roosters. They are my least favorite thing about Surat, and the world in general. These cocky sons-of-guns strut around like they own the place and then wake you up at all hours of the night. Many people keep them as pets and cock fighting is not uncommon.
5 of my precious friends next to our house
There are several main roads that go through Surat Thani. Below are photos of the major roads that bisect town. You can also view my video of a motorcycle ride down Talad Lang (link coming soon), which runs along the river and will take you to Super English.
Surat has an insane about of places to get food, many that are open at all hours (perfect for late night snacking or drunken munchies). There are fancy restaurants on the river, hole in the wall shops run by families, markets, cafes, stands, carts, and convenience stores. You will never be hard-pressed to find food.
If you are vegetarian, don’t fret! There are plenty of options. The first few weeks might be tough until you learn a few key phrases and what to avoid at the night markets. Often times there are large pots with mystery stews and unrecognizable chunks. It could be a baby eggplant, or it could be a liver. Once you learn to say what you want and don’t want, you’ll be fine.
Below I have included photos and a brief description of some farang frequented eateries. This is only a sampling, as it would be impossible to include a fraction of the options available. Luckily, one of the amazing Super English people will take you to many of these places in your first few weeks before you start discovering your own favorites. As mentioned above, many places don’t have English menus. Once you learn the names of your favorite dishes, your dining options will multiple; unless you’re one of those people that will just eat anything, then your dining options are endless! Of course you could just eat out of 7-11 everyday if your palate is sensitive, but where’s the fun in that?
The woman that owns this place speaks pretty good English and 2 of her kids go to Thidamaepra, so she loves to chat with us teachers. They have an extensive menu, all in English, and free Wi-Fi. They’re a little on the pricey side for every day dining and food usually comes out one plate at a time, but it’s nice place to go if you’re not in a rush and need to check email while you eat. Don’t plug your Mac into any outlets in the back though. I’ve shorted out the whole building twice now.
My favorite dish: Fried mushrooms in red garlic sauce with a fried egg
Price: 80 baht; 120 with the egg
As the name suggests, they offer “healthier” Thai food. They still have fried items and many other things that aren’t necessarily “healthy”, but they don’t use MSG and they have a ton of tofu dishes and lots of fruit smoothies. They have awesome vegetable tempura and Som Tam (spicy papaya salad) as well as a wide array of other delicious dishes. Moderately priced with really cold air con in the evenings.
My favorite dish: Som Tom
Price: 40 Baht
This hole in the wall is right next to Coffee Zone and just a street over from Super English and the night market. I’ve only eaten one thing here, but it’s delicious so I keep going back. Egg noodles, all kinds of random sauces and liquids, sautéed onions (hard to find), carrots, and shrimp all cooked together in a wok. Then I douse it with the vinegary hot sauce they keep on the tables. The guy that makes it looks a bit like a Thai Bob Dylan and he’s super friendly. However, if his mom is working, I’d avoid it. She’s a bit of a grouch and her noodles aren’t as good.
My favorite dish: The only thing I get there (see above)
Price: 40 baht
Oh, Ciao Italia, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways: calzones, homemade gnocchi, fresh baked bread, wine, salad, olive oil and that delicious fried chunk of bread stuffed with mozzarella. Even if you’ve only been in Thailand for a few days and aren’t missing food from home, this place is amazing. It’s good and often times better than Italian food from back home. The owner and his wife are awesome and your meal is free on your birthday if you bring lots of people with you, as we recently learned. It’s pricey, so don’t plan on going here on a regular basis, but if you budget well maybe you can go a few times a month.
My favorite dish (so far): Cheese Calzone
Price: 180 baht, 220 if I get green and black olives in it.
Under the Bridge
Nobody knows what this place is actually called, but it’s right next to the bridge you take to cross the river, hence what the teachers call it. They do Isan food (from Northern Thailand) and the seafood is amazing. You can sit at a table, but I prefer sitting on the floor with a short table right next to the water. This is a great place to go with a big group because you can order a ton of dishes and still only pay a little more than you would at any other restaurant.
My favorite dish: Pla Seba (Japanese fish – cooked whole and served with delicious sauce).
Price: I don’t know the actual price. We always order about 10-15 plates for 10 people and pay about 200 baht each.
There are several night markets in town, including a Saturday and Sunday market. However, the most popular for teachers is the one by Super English. They have food, clothing, make-up, knick-knacks, magazines, jewelry, watches, toys and shoes. This is probably the cheapest way to eat. You can spend 50 baht here on 3 different items and be stuffed. They have Pad Thai, curries, donuts, corn on the cob, fruit, whole fish, Pho, fried quail eggs, salads, breads, a plethora of strange jellied things and meat sticks galore. Vendors either work out of their shops or bring in carts. It’s not only good for food, but also for people watching.
My favorite dish: Roti
Price: 10-20 baht depending on what you get on it (plain, egg, or banana)
Carts and stands
Food carts and fruit stands are everywhere in Surat Thani, and Thailand for that matter. Food carts set up at markets and in front of 7-11s, drive around with carts and kitchens attached to motorbikes, or push them around side streets. Some are set-up at the same place everyday while others drive around town ringing bells. I find that these are good places to grab snacks, but many people also get their breakfast, lunch or dinner here as well. You can get all sorts of fried things (usually with a hotdog inside), roti, meat sticks, fruit smoothies, papaya salad, ice cream and so much more. With all the restaurants in town and on top of that the overabundance of carts, there is no way you will ever have to go far to find some grub. However, be warned that this is the most likely way you will get sick from food. The standards of cleanliness with these carts aren’t the same that you would find at restaurants and the night market. You will see the vendors cleaning the carts with soapy water, but it’s still a risk, particularly if you’re eating meat that may not be fully cooked.
Entertainment is subjective. There are bars and nightclubs, karaoke rooms, a movie theater, places with Wi-Fi and trivia nights. You can also paint Doraemons by the river or hike up Khao Tapet for a view of the city and on a clear day, the ocean. I won’t include bar nightlife here. Please see Blake’s very informative article about the drinking scene in Surat for all of that craziness.
This is one of my favorite things to do for an hour in the evening, and unfortunately I’ve only gotten around to doing it twice. The Saturday night market (and quite often Koh Lampu) have people that set up a bunch of mats with little midget tables. They sell plaster figures of cartoon characters, flowers, and sea creatures for 10-100 baht depending on the size. You pick your piece, get a little tray to pour different paints in and then have a seat on the ground at one of the little tables. It’s even better if you bring a beer with you. I enjoy this at the Saturday market because it’s warm outside, you’re sitting by the river, there is often either a live band or a DJ playing music and it’s a lively atmosphere. You have to try it. It might sound ridiculous, but it’s a great way to relax.
This mountain is located just outside of the city. You can drive almost to the top, but then you have to park, sign in at the information booth and walk the rest of the way. If you go on a clear day, the view is amazing and you can see all of Surat Thani, the river, the jungle, and last time I went we could even see the ocean. They also have a small temple and several cages with monkeys in them. It’s a bit sad to see all the monkeys confined, but according to a friend, the conditions have improved. They used to be in much smaller cages. The monkeys are very friendly and will reach out and hold your hand. If you’re not into the monkey business, it’s definitely worth it for the view. WEAR BUG SPRAY. The mosquitoes up there are ruthless.
The Coliseum is a shopping mall/center in Surat Thani. There is a Tops market on the bottom and then there is a KFC, Pizza Hut, Mister Donut, and a few other eateries. Throughout the entire 3 floors are clothing racks (set up similarly to a department store), side shops and make-up and cell phone stands. On the third floor is Surat’s movie theater. When we first arrived in May 2011, all of the teachers were excited because a movie was playing in English (they are usually dubbed). It hadn’t been a common thing for the theater to play movies with the original soundtrack, but now they do it with almost every big movie that comes out. They even had Transformers and Harry Potter in 3D!
Koh Lampu, otherwise known as Exercise Island, is in the middle of the Tapi River. You have to cross the river and then take a bridge from that side to the island. There is a road and a trail that go around the circumference of the island where you will see people running or walking their dogs. There are also many exercise “stations” with things like stationary bikes, pull up bars, and other odd contraptions that I haven’t figured out the purpose of. There are also volleyball nets and a lot of grassy areas. It’s a great place to come and sit by the water or to get out of the main city and run around.
In Surat you can take Muay Thai lessons, or just be a spectator. There is a Muay Thai boxing “stadium” in town where for 100-300 baht (depending on how much Thai you know) you can enjoy a beer and a noodle cup while watching people box and old guys betting on them. The fight night that this photo is from had mostly younger kids fighting. I would guess age 7-18. It sounds horrible that kids that age would be boxing, but if you took Tae Kwon Do when you were younger, you know how the sparring tournaments are. No bloodshed. There are fights with adults; you just have to check the posters and flyers for dates.
This place is great for a few reasons. It’s just around the corner from Super English and the night market, so it’s centrally located. They also have excellent Wi-Fi. Their coffee isn’t amazing (but it rarely is in Thailand), but they make some delicious frappes and this really good pineapple slushy thing. It’s usually pretty quiet, so you can sit in here for a few hours and get all your work done without feeling like you’re taking up a table. I like the outside patio for Skyping if it’s not too hot outside.
The teachers of Thidamaepra frequent this coffee place because it is located between new Thida and old Thida (which themselves are only a block or 2 apart). There is free Wi-Fi and the owner, New, and his mother are very friendly. New speaks very good English and is always up for chatting. It’s almost always pretty quiet in there, but be warned if you are in there at 3:30 when school lets out. They make after school snacks so the place is flooded with kids buying plates of food, fruit shakes and ice cream. Last time I was there during that time a kid kept throwing pogs at me (yes, they have pogs). Otherwise it’s a great place to spend mid-day school breaks while checking email or reading. He does stamp cards, so once you buy 10 drinks, you get one free.
For more information about the schools, please see Janet’s excellent school profile.
Big C is like Thailand’s version of a Super K-mart. They sell clothing, bedding, shoes, electronics, toiletries, cleaning supplies and food. This is most likely where you’ll go to get yourself set up in your new place. They have almost everything you might need for your room and house. They have a bakery section, a meat, dairy and produce section, and all the packaged food and drink you could possibly want. This is more or less your one stop place for whatever you need. Attached to it is a 2-level shopping center (fairly small) where you can find more clothing and electronics. It’s a good place to get your first cell phone as they have several options to choose from. There is also a KFC and an MK here.
There are (as far as I know) 3 Tops in Surat Thani. Tops is like a combination of a grocery store and a 7-11. They’re small, but they have better stuff than 7-11. You can get Skippy peanut butter and real cheese from Australia. You can also buy a few produce items like tomatoes, onions and mushrooms, and other specialty items, but otherwise it has the same stuff you’ll find at most other convenience stores.
7-11 and Family Mart
Oddly enough, 7-11 rhymes in English and in Thai (jet-sip et). Same idea as any 7-11 back home except they have things like seaweed and crabstick sandwiches and pork floss. They also have many other basics such as drinks, noodle cups, chips, candy bars, yogurt, bread, toilet paper, travel sized toiletries, ice cream and cell phone minutes. You could eat all of your meals out of a 7-11 or Family Mart if you really wanted to. This is also where you come when you need to pay your water and electric bills. Just bring in your bill and they ring you up. No letters or stamps involved. This is also where you’ll go when you need to break 1000 baht bills because it’s rare that any little store, restaurant or stand will accept anything that big
I haven’t been here that long, so this profile would be incomplete without some other people’s opinions. I asked Thai people and other English teachers (mainly teachers that don’t work for Super English since you can see most of their views on the blog or on the main website) either how they feel about Surat or what they like and don’t like about Surat to give you an insider’s view.
“I like getting to know people in all the quirky shops. They always remember you and the people are all really friendly. I love riding my bike around town because everyone waves to you. My first impression was that it was just another big city with too much traffic. My first week here, I walked to the night market by the river and saw all the people selling vegetables and sleeping in their stands. It was just so different. That’s when I realized I was in another country.” – Holly, English Teacher
“The people, food and that the way of life is not busy. It’s a beautiful place and is close to the sea and beautiful beaches.” – Sao, Head Teacher at Thidamaepra
“I like that it is close to many places to travel to or visit, such as the floating markets. There are many natural places to travel to. I don’t like the teenagers that ride motorcycles at night because they are very noisy.” –Vikavee, Teacher at Thidamaepra
“The things that I like about Surat Thani weren’t apparent to me until I left and came back. After traveling to places with heavy tourist traffic, it feels so good to be back in Surat and to be around Thai people and regular Thai life. Labor is cheap, food is cheap and delicious, there are many things to do that are free, and there are a lot of great people. I don’t like the trash or the traffic. In general, people in Surat are naive regarding issues about littering and recycling and it’s not uncommon to see people throw trash on the ground. It would be better if there were more trashcans.” – Joseph, English Teacher
“I like the islands; Koh Samui and Koh Phangan. I don’t like that it takes a long time to get to the nearest beach.” –New, Owner of Impression Coffee
“Suratthani is a province with most areas of the south, 685 kilometers from Bangkok. In Suratthani have a lot of famous islands white sand beaches and clear water, such as Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Koh Tao and Koh Nang Yuan. Each island has a variety of different nature. This is a good thing and good places in Suratthani. However, good things will follow with the bad things. Because of Suratthani it have a lot of rain and also it hard to find or see a white sand beaches and clear water.” – Gook, Thai friend
“I like that you can find very decent houses near town. The main thing I like is that it’s close to the islands and a quick drive to the country. The people are very friendly. Extra friendly. There are so many things about Surat Thani that I like that it’s hard to think of just a few things. I don’t like that it rains too much sometimes. It has rained too much in the last year. If it followed its climate perfectly, it would be OK. There also isn’t a beach close enough. It would be improved if you put a nice beach within a half an hour of it. A proper department store would also be nice.” – Tigger, English Teacher