These Less Crowded Islands Are As Gorgeous As Phuket For The Best Destination Dupe

When it comes to seeking an island paradise in Thailand, there are a handful of go-to destinations that most tourists tend to flock to. Despite there being around 1,430 islands in the Southeast Asian country, most of the traffic tends to funnel into Phuket. However, for travelers who yearn for somewhere equally beautiful but less crowded, the Surin Islands offer an idyllic alternative.

Located near the Thai-Burmese maritime border in the Andaman Sea, 34 miles from the mainland, the Surin Islands are part of the protected Mu Ko Surin National Park. The archipelago consists of five main islands, with Ko Surin Nuea and Ko Surin Tai being the largest. In low tide, you can walk from one island to the other across 650 feet of  sandy stretch called "Ao Chong Khad." About 80% of Mu Ko Surin National Park is sea. The Surin islands are undeveloped, except for some park infrastructure and a small village.

The Surin Islands boast some of the most spectacular scenery in Thailand. The islands are covered with thick tropical jungles, fringed by white sandy beaches, and surrounded by crystal-clear waters. Visitors can allow themselves to simply relax, removed from the more commercialized tourist hotspots like Phuket, Koh Phi Phi, and Ko Samui. The Surin Islands are a world away from these places — with vastly difference experiences. No shopping, clubbing, fancy dining, or even alcohol, and Wi-Fi is spotty at best. If you want to be in "airplane mode," this is the place. 

Marine life, Richelieu Rock, and Sea Gypsies

For incredible scuba diving and snorkeling adventures, the Surin Islands are a dream. Since the protected area was established in the 1980s, overfishing and mass tourism have been prohibited, allowing healthy ecosystems to flourish. The islands are home to some of the best-preserved coral reefs in Thailand and an array of marine life, including manta rays, sea turtles, and 260 types of reef fish. Water temperatures are a balmy 84 degrees from December to April (the park is only open from October to May), and visibility is pristine.

Two words: Richelieu Rock (if you know, you know). Always included in top lists for worldwide diving destinations, this isolated horseshoe-shaped pinnacle appears only as a rock outcrop above the water but descends over 100 feet. Simply put, it's epic. You will see abundant schools of fish, anemones, and all types of pelagic and reef biodiversity. A guided boat excursion here is a must. 

Apart from underwater adventures, visitors can enjoy relaxing on the beach, admiring the sunsets, exploring mangrove forests, and bird watching (91 species!). These activities provide an opportunity to explore the island's diverse ecosystems and observe wildlife in its natural habitat.

The Surin Islands are not only about natural beauty; they also offer a rich cultural experience. The islands are home to a 300-person Moken community, also known as the "Sea Gypsies." Visitors have the unique opportunity to learn about the Moken's traditional way of life, their deep connection with the sea, and their sustainable fishing practices.

Travel and acommodation tips for the Surin Islands

While the Surin Islands don't have the range of luxury resorts found in Phuket, they offer comfortable bungalow and beachside camping options. These are typically basic but clean and comfortable, perfect for travelers seeking the experience of living close to nature. You can book these accommodations as part of a trip through the Surin Islands website or by calling the national park at +66076472145 or +66076472146 for more information. 

Visitors typically access the Surin Islands from Khuraburi Pier, a one-hour-long speedboat journey (1,700 THB, or about $50, per person). By ferryboat, the same trip will take around four hours. Amphoe Kapoe Pier is another departure point, offering a seven-hour ferryboat trip. The Surin Islands can be an easy two to three-day addition to a broader Thailand itinerary. Booking a short day trip from Phuket isn't advised, as you'd spend more time driving to the pier (four hours one-way), instead of actually exploring the beautiful islands.

Tourism in the Surin Islands is managed in an eco-friendly manner. The "tourist season" runs exclusively from October 15 to May 15 every year. During the rainy season, the park is closed. Foreigners must pay a 500 THB entry fee (about $15) to visit the protected area. At most, during the peak season, there will be between 450 to 800 tourists on a given day. This sustainable approach ensures that the islands remain unspoiled and that visitors can enjoy its natural splendor.