Published: May 14th 2011April 18th 2011
After leaving Phi Phi we made our way to Khao Lak, which would be our jumping off point to Surin Islands National Park. Surin Island NP is made up of 5 separate islands but visitors are only allowed to stay overnight on one island. Accommodations are limited to either renting a bungalow or a tent from the parks service, both of which are very basic. We rented a fan bungalow but don’t let the term bungalow lure you into thinking it was the lap of luxury or anything. The room was pretty basic and we only had electricity in shifts during certain hours which helped to make nighttime interesting … but more on that later. The Surin Islands
Initial impression… the Surin Islands are beautiful (I don’t use that word much). As our boat approached the park’s largest bay the water color changed from a deep blue to varying shades of turquoise as everyone on board broke out the cameras and started snapping away… we had four stops to make with our tour company before we would dock and Venny and I would separate from the group to overnight on the island. The Surin Islands are famous for their excellent
snorkeling and the reputation is well deserved, on each of our 3 snorkeling sites the boat stopped and we jumped out into the midst of huge coral reefs with abundant fish and great visibility. I have been snorkeling before and there were by far the most impressive coral beds I have ever seen … we should have brought an underwater camera but oh well. Each successive snorkel site seemed to get better and better and culminated on a large coral bed southeast of the main island where we snorkeled around and eventually ended up at the end of the reef… where the water plunged from about 15 feet deep and faded into dark blue and eventually into black… I remember floating there at the edge of the reef looking at a school of medium sized blue fish and how their color mimicked the deep blue beyond (almost like camouflage)… it was amazing but nerve wracking because you could feel the change in temperature of the water (in the deep) and you got the sense that out in the darkness is where the big boys play and you didn’t want to go too far from the reefs edge.
the reefs we visited a village of “sea gypsies” as our tour guide called them, he stated that prior to the 2004 tsunami they did not live on land, but exclusively on boats in floating communities around the park. He said that the park received an early warning about the tsunami and the people were able to escape to high ground but lost their boats in the tsunami and have lived on land ever since. The tour of the village was brief but kind of interesting… I wanted to take more pictures but I feel odd just photographing people like they are in a zoo or something… I guess visiting groups bring revenue to the village and all that jazz but I guess I have to work at being comfortable shoving a camera in people’s faces.
After visiting the village Venny and I separated from the group (most were daytrippers) and checked into our fan bungalow room, which was up two sets of stairs and built on the side of a hill in the middle of the jungle. We walked into the room, gave it a quick once over and aside from the rather large roach on the bed,
the ever present geckos walking on the wall and some ants on the floor (it is the tropics right) it was nothing to write home about… a bit rustic, two twin beds in a room, a fan above and an attached bathroom with a small balcony. In an effort to save energy the park only supplies electricity to the bungalow units in three shifts… from 6pm to 10pm you have electricity in the whole bungalow (bedroom lights, rotating fan, bathroom light) but from 10pm to 6:30 am you only have a limited supply of electricity (bathroom light and overhead fan work), and from 6:30am to 6pm you have no electricity at all… which didn’t seem that bad but with the heat outside and lack of airflow in the bungalow it was stifling in the daytime and you basically had to go outside… which was also very hot but at least had a breeze. For the rest of the first day we just explored the island before catching sunset from the beach and calling it a night. Long nights in Surin
Our first night in Surin we crashed hard as it had been a long day of sun and swimming
but prior to getting to sleep we discovered some things about our rustic bungalow that helped to make our nights there ummm interesting to say the least. Just after dinner we made our way back to the room and I reached to close the window curtain when I looked and noticed … the exoskeleton (molting) of a scorpion stuck to our curtain which meant that not only are there scorpions on the island, there may be one in our room which promised to make any late night bathroom breaks in the dark interesting. As 10pm and lights out approached we lay there on the bed in the jungle’s uncomfortable humidity halfway sweating under a rotating fan that supplied a breeze once every 10 seconds (you have time to count these things in the dark). Shortly after lights out… as if on cue there came a scratching sound from within the wall of the bungalow… almost like a clawing and/or gnawing sound… it happened a few times before you caught onto it and then it was unmistakable… it sounded like a rodent in the bungalow’s walls and after I pointed out the noise to Venny she (a little optimistically) hypothesized that
it might be an insect that got trapped inside the wall trying to get out… wishful thinking. That night after lights out it was determined that “we” needed a bathroom break, which meant making it from the bed to the bathroom in the dark without meeting any scorpions, geckos and/or roaches on the ground along the way... I’ll let you guess who the heavy lifting fell to. Let me be the first to advocate that men should receive hazard pay… we’re like firefighters… you can’t just pay us more when there’s a fire… it’s a full time gig… things that go bump in the night… rodent and/or general pest removal… minesweeping the floor for scorpions while the lady of the house watches from the comfort of the bed… hazard pay I tell you… hazard pay.
The following day was a lackadaisical affair as we opted not to take part in the park’s twice daily snorkel trips and ended up exploring more of the island and snapping some more shots before our nighttime ritual of watching sunset from the beach. That night we felt a little more comfortable with the lack of electricity and lay on top of the bed
in the heat awaiting lights out. As we lay there the familiar scratching/gnawing sound began coming from the bungalows walls again so I banged on the wall and it stopped for a minute or two before beginning again… I slept through the noise the night before and figured I could again tonight… can’t be that bad can it? Right about then, as I lay on my back looking up at the ceiling I saw the silhouette of a rodents head outstretched over the beds headboard and dangling over the bed… the night was about to get fun. I stood up at the foot of the bed and watched the top of the headboard where I had seen our rodent friend and within a minute or two it reappeared and we checked each other out (nocturnal, big eyes, larger than a mouse… smaller than a rat, kinda pointy nose) before he ducked back into the headboard and out of sight. After reassessing things it became apparent that the walls of the bungalow were wood planks and too thin to accommodate a rodent, all of the scratching noises had been coming from within the bed’s headboard all along. The headboard itself was
attached to both the bed and the wall and stretched from the floor to about 8 feet in the air where it stopped, coincidentally just about level with the bungalow’s rafters … giving our rodent friend a little super highway and 360 degree access to the room. Just as we were figuring this all out and I was trying to find a way to get it out of the room or trap it inside the headboard it was lights out time and the room went black, with only some moon and whatever light escaped from the bathroom to illuminate the sleeping area. Man was that a loooooooooooong night! Our little friends (turned out to be a few of them) spent all night running spastically around the room and not being too quiet about it either. I guess as the night progressed they became more comfortable with our presence and began running up and down the curtains (which extended from just below the rafters to the floor) and each time they ran the length of the curtains their claws dug into the fabric and made a distinct sound that helped keep you awake and only allowed for intermittent sleep throughout the
night. Between them, the geckos on the wall chirping (which sounds like a bird) and the heat you could hardly sleep.
The following day we awoke to the oppressive heat of the islands and the stifling air of our bungalow and decided to take advantage of one of the parks daily snorkel trips. Turns out it was 3 European girls, an older guy from Bangkok, and Venny and I on the tour. The location where we snorkeled was pretty deep 20-30 feet but the clarity of the water was superb and you could easily see the ocean bottom and dive down to some of the coral closer to the surface. On our way back to park headquarters our guide (who had been scanning the horizon) said something excitedly in Thai and pointed off into the distance… the guy from Bangkok (didn’t get the name) gave me the rough translation of “whale” and we all craned to see what our guide had found. Sure enough he had spotted a pod of whales approaching the channel we were about to cross and you could see the whale’s fins rising and falling in the water. Our driver stopped for a while and
we watched before it was decided that we would try to catch up to them for a closer look… the guy from Bangkok got super excited and slapped on his snorkel gear and was ready to go… as we approached his excitement overtook him as he half jumped, half flopped out of the boat splashed into the water and tried to swim with the whales prematurely. Our guide left him there in the middle of the deep channel and continued onward toward the whales but they were moving pretty quickly so we just watched for a minute and doubled back for Mr. Bangkok who was bobbing in the water still holding his digital camera… he was a character and provided some entertainment on the remaining snorkel trips we took on the island.
That night we settled in for our final showdown with our unwanted roommates, I think the fact that we had been snorkeling for a large part of the day helped us sleep because we were tired and partially used to their presence I guess… that and they didn’t seem intent on mauling us in our sleep or charging us any additional rent. While we did sleep better
that night, they still woke me up intermittently and I actually had to get up and reinforce some mutual boundaries when I awoke to find one standing on the other bed opposite from ours… barring that, we slept as well as can be expected in a rustic bungalow under a circulating fan in tropical heat with rodents in the room, geckos chirping in the corner and rain falling on the roof… if you are in the area Surin NP is beautiful and worth checking out even though it is usually skipped over in favor of our next destination… Similan Island National Park.
Notes for those considering the trip:
*Tents are a much cheaper option than bungalows but bear in mind that it rained every night we were there.
* You can rent tents/bungalows from Thai government online but it’s confusing and convoluted. If you are leaving from Khao Lak, your hotel there can usually book your Surin accommodation for you, but do it well in advance if you’re doing bungalows.
* The park closes down at the beginning of May (I think till October) for monsoon season.
* There is just a park cafeteria on the island and meals
can become repetitive… you might want to bring snacks.
There are more photos below