Suratthani, or “City of Good People,” is one of Thailand’s oldest towns. It dates back to the fifth century and is the gateway to Thailand’s blockbuster islands Koh Phangan, Koh Tao, and Koh Samui, the latter of which I’d just visited.
Heading home to Phuket, I had to travel to Surat, as locals call Surat Thani, because this is the first stop on the mainland. The moment I’d made the reservation online in a few clicks, I looked forward to a scenic journey from Koh Samui to Suratthani. It was peak season in April 2021, but the virus was still wreaking havoc. Unsurprisingly, there were hardly any people on the road.
One of the blessings in these strange times was experiencing nature at its best. Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined seeing the waters at Surat Thani’s Don Sak Pier so clear one day, but this was just one of the highlights of traveling from Koh Samui to Suratthani. Here’s the full story.
Checking in at Lipa Noi Pier
“This one, boat. This one, van,” the lady behind Raja Ferry’s desk said eventually, showing me the two tickets and giving me a sticker to stick on my tee. She and her colleague had appeared a little confused at first when I produced my voucher.
Despite the scorching heat outside, I was glad to have arrived ahead of schedule as I learned only now that the departure time was 2 pm rather than the scheduled 3 pm. Fortunately, the air conditioning in Raja Ferry’s building at Lipa Noi Pier, where only a handful of foreigners hung around, worked well. A stoical silence prevailed, but the restaurant, a café, and even the minimart were open.
A weird thought popped into my mind as I was shooting a few photographs of dream beach Lipa Noi, which was totally deserted: Now is actually the best time to travel.
The woman at the pier interrupted my train of thought. “Pier no. 2. Quickly, quickly!” she said, rushing out of her small ticket cabin. Now was a fine time to take pictures; showing up at the pier at 1:54 pm was a bit late.
“Ohhh-uuuu! Don Sak?” a guy waiting at the ramp shouted at me the moment he saw me running to the ship. The boat for Don Sak had moored at pier 1. So much for pier 2, I thought to myself.
There was barely space to walk past the many cars on what looked like an overloaded ferry. Where are all these people coming from? I wondered. This must’ve been commuter traffic. It was extremely hot when I boarded the ferry, and the smell of exhaust hung in the air.
Enjoying the scenic ferry ride
I’d hardly got on Raja ferry when the boat’s engines revved up at 2:01 pm, making rattling sounds, billowing black clouds of diesel exhaust. Only seconds later, the ferry left.
I climbed the stairs and bought some snacks and a coke at the onboard shop. There was no queue and plenty of seats were available; I was spoiled for choice. At Raja Ferry, you’ll find plenty of pleather seats inside the cabin, which are so-so comfy, and enough chairs outside to soak up some sun, some of which are in the corridor near the toilets.
I took a seat on one of the couches on the top floor as they provided me with panoramic views of the ocean and the islets soon to roll past. Taking in the scenery of a green island with a palm-fringed coast and a mountainous backdrop, I took another look at the empty Lipa Noi Beach and gathered my thoughts. Fair-weather clouds rounded off the picture of a fairy-tale setting.
As the doors were open, I heard the sounds of waves smashing against the windows below as though crashing into rocks. While the boat was gently rocking from side to side, I focused on jungle-swathed limestone islets jutting out of emerald-tinted waters.
Approaching Suratthani, I went down one story to look for a seat near the air conditioning as it was pretty stuffy on the top floor. Here, people were sleeping, which was a good sign of an adequately temperate room. I took a seat to wait until we arrived at Suratthani’s Don Sak Pier.
Completing the last leg of the journey
Loud noises ensued as trucks drove over the ramp at 3:40 pm, leaving an appalling stench behind.
The moment I walked over the ramp, a Raja employee waved me over. “Ah, train,” she said, recognizing my sticker. By “train,” she meant train station. Making the booking, I’d chosen Suratthani’s train station to be the drop-off point. At the time, both Suratthani’s airport and train station were possible drop-off points.
“Can I first get a bottle of water?” I asked when she told me to get on the minivan.
“Quickly na (right/okay?),” she replied. The small minimart in the building at Don Sak pier was open, so was the café. Apart from departure announcements, there wasn’t much life, though. I hurried and didn’t have time to admire wonderful views of karst peaks towering behind Don Sak’s palm-fringed beaches.
The driver sprayed my hands with sanitizer, and seeing me taking pictures of the seats, he said, “Only you.” Then, he slid the door shut and turned the ignition at 3:45 pm.
I enjoyed the comfy seats and having plenty of space to myself. Also, the air conditioning was working unusually well for a minivan. A quarter-hour into the ride, I caught sight of massive limestone rocks towering behind palm and rubber tree forests. This view is typical on the road to Surat Thani that runs along vast stretches of green landscape.
Passing golden temples and eventually Suratthani’s snow-white City Pillar Shrine with its four-faced Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, I reached the train station at 4:55 pm. The driver slid the side door open and said, “Bye.” He didn’t appear to expect a tip and just took his leave.
Cool, I thought to myself, remembered Suratthani’s meaning, “City of Good People,” and looked forward to my next Thailand adventures.