SURAT THANI, Thailand, 16 February 2021: Surat Thani is home to a myriad of magical islands or 108 to be exact, and that gives it a spot in the record book as the single Thai province with the most islands on the Gulf of Thailand.

Thailand’s Department of Marine and Coastal Resources counts the islands as part of its surveys and on-going measures to protect the marine environment. Surat Thani’s famed island trio Koh Samui, Koh Pha Ngan, and Koh Tao are top-draw attractions. They happen to be the three biggest islands, not only in size but also for their net tourism worth in dollars earned for the local economy.

In 2019, Surat Thani generated THB94.28 billion in tourism revenue. Providing the financial windfall in 2019 were 5,900,721 visitors, of which 2,309,165 were Thai and 3,591,556 foreigners. Visitors stay 4.47 days in Surat Thani and spend THB3770.88 on average. On Koh Samui alone, the island welcomed 3,500 to 5,000 visitors a day during the pre-Covid-19 era.

Due to their distinct rugged topography and abundant marine life, the islands of Surat Thani province have been listed among all-time favourite island and beach destinations in Thailand. They also ranked among the top 10 island destinations worldwide by popular global booking websites. The province offers countless activities for island hoppers to enjoy. They can make day-trips to explore an awesome and protected archipelago that appears to have endless clusters of craggy islands and Karst formation as far as the eye can see.

Be pampered

Koh Samui is undoubtedly a spot where the visitor is pampered by beautiful beaches and an abundance of resorts across all of the star-ratings. There are 650 hotels with 30,000 rooms, of which 20% are run by international chains. As the biggest island in the province, Samui offers the full range of tourist facilities, including competition standard golf courses, spas, restaurants, shops, and various attractions which can answer all beach holiday needs. Served by an international airport and ferry services, Samui is also a perfect hub for islands hoppers. Travellers can catch a ride on a ferry to Koh Pha Ngan and the divers’ paradise of Koh Tao, or take a day-tour to enjoy the natural marine beauty at Mu Koh Ang Thong National Marine Park. Most international travellers fly to Samui to save time but others, who are enjoying a gap year or early retirement, may travel by train and board ferries for a leisurely sail to the islands. In 2019, 1.18 million passengers travelled through Samui Airport that served 52 domestic and international flights per day. For the overland traveller, the island hopping begins with a ferry ride from one of the terminals such as Donsak Pier, Baan Don Pier, or Tha Thong Pier where car ferries or an express boat get you there in 90 minutes or six hours on the overnight slow-boat.

Party with nature

Located 20 km to the north of Koh Samui, Koh Pha Ngan dominates the horizon off the northern coast of Samui. It’s the preferred destination due to its famous full moon beach parties. The 2 km long beach, Haad Rin, is the party venue that started with the full-moon variety back in the 1980s and then expanded to include half-moon or black moon parties. The world’s famous full-moon party is currently on hold due to Covid-19 but could resume during the last quarter of 2021 if travel restrictions ease. However, there are many other reasons to make the island your perfect getaway. It also happens to be an amazingly attractive island acclaimed for its rugged natural landscapes. Famous sites are Haad Thong Nai Pan Noi, Haad Thong Nai Pan Yai, Haad Mae Haad, Hadd Malibu, Haad Khuat, Haad Salad, to name a few examples of the landscape beauty of the coves and beaches. There is plenty of heritage too to be discovered in small fishing villages,  handicraft communities and the island’s temples. Natural attractions include its hilly peaks, caves and waterfalls. There are also venues to practice beach yoga or meditation. From Koh Samui, travellers can catch ferries to Koh Pha Ngan from the Big Buddha Pier or Nathon Pier. A ferry ride from Samui takes around 30 minutes.

Explore the underwater world

Koh Tao is a premier haven for scuba divers from around the world. Diving sites in Koh Tao are credited with being among the best in the Asia Pacific. The island is home to an 8 km long coral reef with around 25 dive sites where scuba divers can enjoy exploring underwater beauty and diversity of marine life. Top diving sites around Koh Tao’s coastline are Chumphon Pinnacle, Southwest Pinnacle, Northwest Pinnacle, Sail Rock, Shark Island, Hin Wong Pinnacle, Sattakut Wreck, to name a few. Meanwhile, Ao Muong, Ao Hin Wong, Ao Tanote, and Au Leuk are famous for snorkelling. Koh Tao is part of Surat Thani Province, but travellers can opt to take a ferry or speedboat ride from nearby Chumphon Province to shorten the transfer time. There are three piers where ferries depart on daily sailings to Koh Tao. They are Ta Yang Pier, Lomphraya Pier, and Seatran Ferry Pier. Depending on the ferries used, the trip from Chumphon can take one-hour and 45 minutes up to six hours on the appropriately named “slow boat.”.

Take a hike

Koh Wua Talap offers the best spot to enjoy the magnificent scenery of Mu Koh Ang Thong National Marine Park that consists of 42 limestone karst islands rising sharply from the sea in the Gulf of Thailand. Located 32 km northwest of Koh Samui, Koh Wua Talap is a favourite day-trip destination for Koh Samui visitors for sight-seeing and snorkelling. On the island, visitors can also explore a trail walk to Bua Boke Cave. The trip’s highlight is the Pha Jun Jaras viewpoint, located 500 metres above the beach. The short trek to enjoy the panoramic view of the archipelago can be challenging for a not-so-fit visitor, but worth the effort. From Koh Samui, a join-in day trip departs right after an early breakfast and returns before sunset. Most tourist boats leave Nathon Pier at 0830. The boat ride takes around two hours to reach Koh Wua Talap. On the return trip, the boat departs Koh Wua Talap at 1500.

Let’s selfie

Koh Nang Yuan is said to be one of the most beautiful islands in the world. The white-sand beaches stretch from the emerald green waters of the bay and provide a slim sandbar that connects the three islands. The islands offer a picturesque photo backdrop. It is definitely a not-to-be-missed spot, especially for visitors who are staying on Koh Tao as it takes just 20 minutes by long-tail boat to reach Koh Nang Yuan. The island is also a famous site for day-trip diving and snorkelling. For those who want to get the best photo of this natural landmark, with a backdrop of clear sky, white sandbars, and emerald green seawater, visit Koh Nang Yuan from February to April. From the beach, it takes around 15 minutes to hike up to the famous viewpoint. From Koh Tao, visitors can catch a boat taxi from Mae Haad Pier or Haad Sairee.