The Mu Ko Surin National Park in southern Thailand, consists of a group of five pristine yet remote islands which are located approximately 60 kilometres off the coast of Phang Nga province. These islands which include Ko Surin Nuea, Ko Surin Tai, Ko Ri, Ko Kai and Ko Klang are situated within an archipelago in the Andaman Sea and allow visitors to experience an almost unblemished landscape and habitat.
Ko Surin Tai and Ko Surin Nuea (i.e. southern and northern islands) are the two main islands (and are separated by 200 metres of shallow sea) within this marine habitat which covers an area of approximately 141 square kilometres and became Thailand's 29th national park in 1981. These islands are both heavily forested and they have never been logged and there is very little infrastructure here (i.e. no banks or ATMs). The ranger headquarters is set up on Ko Surin Nuea while the Moken sea gypsy people reside on Ko Surin Tai (read more below).
While the national park is home to an abundance of flora and fauna including rare birds, monkeys, squirrels, Mouse Deer, Pig tailed Macaque, sea turtles (which come ashore to lay their eggs), flying foxes, and reptiles (includes snakes and lizards), the surrounding waters are famous not only for their beautiful coral reefs (including Needle coral) and colourful tropical fish but for providing some of the best dive sites in the world including Richelieu Rock (see image below).
This dive site may not look like much on the surface but it has been ranked among the best ten dive sites in the world. The rock formation which is located about 18 kilometres east from the island group is named after the Danish naval officer Andreas du Plessis de Richelieu who between 1900 and 1901 became a the commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Navy and a good friend of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). The site is said to be home to some of Thailand's largest marine species including manta ray, whale shark and other shark species.
The marine national park is only open between the months of November to April each year because during the other months, the weather is to unpredictable due to the monsoon season.
These islands and waters have been home to nomadic sea gypsies for thousands of years. Known as the Moken people (see image below), these semi-nomadic hunter gatherers who escaped political turmoil in Indonesia have lived a marine culture along the coasts of Myanmar and Thailand utilising the natural resources of the ocean.
They traditionally lived in boats or in stilted dwellings along the coast but of late they have been encouraged to relocate in a village at Bon Bay which is located on Ko Surin Tai. While they are a minority group without their own written language they pass on their traditions and customs via oral transmission from one generation to the next in a similar manner to the Australian Aborigines. However, since the 150 Moken strong population have moved onto Ko Surin Tai they have also been encouraged to adopt Thai citizenship
These people are well known for their natural diving abilities which allow them to dive (without masks or bottled oxygen) to depths of around 23 metres. Scientific research conducted in 2003 (i.e. Current Biology May 13 2003) on Moken children and European children (vacationing in the Mu Ko Surin National Park) found that Moken children had much better underwater eye sight than European children. Apparently the Moken children's eye sight has adapted better to the underwater environment.
It is the underwater environment surrounding the Surin islands which provides the most popular activities within the national park. Thousands of visitors arrive here each year to snorkel and dive within the shallow coral reefs where they can expect to see both colourful coral and fish and other marine life including octopus, eels, sharks and turtles. In 2010 the several of the coral reefs were damaged by natural bleaching caused by an unusually high water temperature.
Besides the reefs, sunbathing, swimming, boating and even yoga classes on the beach are also popular pastimes for visitors at Mu Ko Surin National Park. In recent years many tourists also visit the Moken village to experience a little of their traditional culture which includes viewing their wooden statues and thatched roof boats.
Both of the main islands have both large and a small bays around them and these of course are associated with some beautiful pristine beaches and coral reefs. On Ko Surin Nuea the bays include Ao Chong Khat, Ao Luek, Ao Chak (which has powder white sand along the beach and is great for snorkeling), and Ao Mae Yai which is the largest.
On Ko Surin Tai which is home to the Moken people Ao Bon, Ao Phak Kat, and Ao Tao (located east of the island which is a natural habitat for the sea turtles) are popular bays for diving and snorkeling.
Apart from these activities, Mu Ko Surin National Park is also a popular destination for bird watchers as the area provides a safe habitat to a variety of rare species such as the Beach Thick Knee along with a number of pigeons including the Pied and the Green Imperial Pigeons, the Pink necked Pigeon, the Orange breasted Pigeon, and the Nicobar Pigeon to name several.
Other bird species that have been seen on these islands include the Brahminy Kite, the Orange bellied Flowerpecker, the Collard kingfisher, the Chinese Egret, the Black Baza and the Purple Swamphen to name several.
There is a 2 kilometre Ao Mai Ngam nature trail on Ko Surin Nuea which runs along the beach and back through the forest. It provides an opportunity for visitors to see some of the bird and animal species.
ACCOMMODATION AND FACILITIES
There are both camping sites and modest 2 bedroom bungalows (see image below) available within the Mu Ko Surin National Park and they are located on Surin Nuea. Both the bungalows and camping sites are controlled by the national park and bookings are essential. The bungalows are located at Chong Chark Bay. Prices for the bungalows range from 2,000 to 3,000 Thai baht per night.
The main camping sites are located at Chong Chark Bay and Mai Ngam Bay on Ko Surin Nuea are the restaurants, and toilets and showers. As noted above there are no banks or ATMs here and power on the island only runs between 6 PM and 10 PM each evening. First aid is also limited here although the Thai Navy are said to be available for any emergencies.
However, if you don't wish to stay overnight you can visit the islands as part of a day trip. Accommodation is available at Phang Nga province on the mainland (click on the Booking.com link at the top of this page).
The contact details from their website: Mu Ko Surin National Park via Khura Sub-district, Amphur Khuraburi Phanganga Thailand 82150 Tel. 0 7647 2145-6, 0 7647 2146 Fax 0 7647 2147
The best way to travel to Mu Ko Surin National Park is by boat from Phang Nga province. Boats leave from the Khura Buri Pier (located in the north of Phang Nga province) and travel to the Surin islands. The journey takes around 1 hour by speedboat.
Safe travel to these islands is only possible during the months of November to April due to the monsoon season. The national park is closed during the other months of the year.
best way to travel to Phang Nga province is by bus
as there is no airport located here. The nearest airport is Phuket
Daily bus services depart from Bangkok's Southern Bus Terminal to Phang Nga on a regular basis and the journey takes approximately 12 hours.
You can also catch buses from Phuket and Surat Thani provinces.