Monday, 9 May 2011

Surat Thani—'City of Good People' ! — mid 2011.

The streets
of the city.
Surat Thani is a city ~600kms to the south of Bangkok, capital of the surrounding province of the same name, and on the eastern side of the long and sinuous southern Thai peninsula. The town is the largest between itself and Bangkok, but in appearance, to be frank, it is not that exciting. It suffers from an innate plainness, plus it is surrounded by a host and a range of popular tourist destinations, the resort/beach island of Koh Samui and Khao Sok National Park, to name but two. Many tourists see no more of Surat town than a view through a bus window as they transit through to a more appealing destination. 

Bus station,
to the west of the town, a few kms.

Train Station,
more than a few kms out of town.

The stats: Surat Thani town stretches along the Tapi river, near in fact, to the river mouth. The city population is ~130,000, and a million or so in the province. The town itself is designated by the Thai government as a 'Thesaban Nakhon"—the highest municipal status, translated as "city". The name translates as 'The City of Good People', a name which was given to the town by the Thai King Rama 6 in 1915, due to the Buddhist piety shown by the then locals. Perhaps not surprisingly the name is abbreviated to 'Surat'.

The son and heir of the
Thai King.
The city streets show a certain age, and looks a little worn, to a western eye, however, the city has two major 'western' shopping centres, Tesco and Big C at opposite ends of the town. There are some good restaurants, and a couple of western hangouts, GM Club is one. Hotels are not in short supply, with a hotel for every price category, "100 Island Resort", just out of the town is good, while the "Wang Tai" on the western edge of the town is one of the more plush.

Night market.

Bridge at night.

Beauty pageant?

Coffee aroi !

The city suffers from a lack of a clear centre. The closest to this would be the area along the river front near the City Pillar Shrine, which in itself is one of the attractions of the city, and the spot where many local festivals are held. The city stretches westwards towards the main Thai north-south highway, highway 41, which is ~20kms to the west. '

The pillar inside the shrine.
The city pillar shrine.

Provincial Seal.

The history of the region, stretches back some ways. As one would expect, there are signs of pre-historic hunter-gatherers. There are also signs of a later Indian cultural influence. Then around about a thousand years ago, the region was an important part of the long lost Srivijaya Empire (which dominated Malaya, Sumatra and Java for several centuries). Across the Thai peninsular at this point ran what is termed 'The Thai Silk Route'. This was part of the southern Silk Highway, which carried goods between Europe, the middle east, India and China. Trade goods transported across the peninsula at this point obviated the need to round the southern tip of the peninsular—what is now Singapore. This trade brought great wealth. Some scholars believe that Chaiya, which was the main city on this route, was the capital of the Empire, or at least a co-capital.

With the collapse of Srivijaya in the 13th century the region dropped into relative obscurity. It quickly became part of the Thai kingdoms, who modified the administrative structure several times, until now Surat Thani is largest of the southern provinces of Thailand. It can be reached by bus, train or plane.

There are not many westerners here, a few teach English, but few live here permanently, no sign of a ‘farang’ community, as you see in other Thai towns.

Worth a day or two, if you have the time.