Surat Thani is southern Thailand's largest province, covers some 12,800 square kilometres, and has an extensive coastline lapped by Thai Gulf waters. The provincial capital is 685 kilometres south of Bangkok.
Surat Thani boasts some of Thailand's loveliest islands namely the Penang-sized Ko Samui, Thailand's third largest island, palm-fringed jewel of a sparkling archipelago that includes the stunning 250-square-kilometre Ang Thong Marine National Park.
Surat Thani once formed part, and may have been the centre, of the Mahayana Buddhist Srivijaya Empire which steeped in legend and mystery, dominated the Malay peninsula and much of Java some 1,500 years ago. Srivijaya was best described by the itinerant Chinese monk I Ching after a pilgrimage he made to India during the late 600s. Archaeological discoveries at Chaiya district indicate the former empire's splendour.
The annual August fair celebrates the delicious fruit, first planted in Surat Thani during 1926. Highlights include floats adorned with rambutans and other fruits, exhibitions of local products and ornamental plants, and demonstrations by specially trained monkeys who harvest coconuts.
Chak Phra Festival
Surat Thani celebrates the official end of the annual 3-month Buddhist Rains Retreat (Ok Phansa) in mid-October with the Chak Phra Festival (literally 'the procession of hauling the Buddha image’). The tradition stems from the belief that the Buddha ascended to Heaven during Phansa to preach to his mother. The festival marks the Buddha's return to Earth, and is an occasion for religious merit-making and general celebrations. Local people organise dazzling land and waterborne processions of revered Buddha images (to symbolise the Buddha's return to Earth) and boat races on the Tapi River where long boats, manned by up to 50 oarsmen, are ebulliently raced. Religious devotion, spectacle and merriment combine to make Surat Thani's Chak Phra Festival a memorable annual event.