If I were to write a list of the most unjustly judged destinations, Surat Thani would make it to top ten. Lonely Planet considers the city solely as a transit point for the better promoted Koh Samui or Koh Phangan. In other words, a large bus station. Nothing to see. Wikipedia, in turn, reports it is “a town with no tourist attractions.” Waste of time if one stopped for a mere second.
My initial plan did not include a layover in the city, but I was somehow forced since I needed to pick up my bike’s registration documents. I took advantage, like I always do, intrigued to see this lack of attractiveness. At first sight, Lonely Planet, Wikipedia and other references were right. Going down the main road, which crosses the settlement from east to west, Surat Thani displays all the parameters of the Asian urban areas: congestion, dust, too many people and too many motorcycles that seem to flow to nowhere.
May you be led by luck and make a right, you come across a totally different Surat Thani. You find the Tapi river – the backbone and heart which makes sense of this city. The quiet banks are punctuated by small terraces selling grilled duck or pork or vegetable soup. The children dance and play carefully watched by the syrup and candy vendors. The lights on the other shore, off the island and the village of Nai Bang Bangla, stand as a promise to another world.
The boatman took me up and down the river, coming close to one shore at the time. We drove through the hundreds of canals which make the Tapi river assemble to an old branchy tree. Colorful fishermen houses guard both sides of the river, laying quietly in the shadow of the palm trees and showing off their lovely flower pots and spirits altars.
Less than a kilometer away the mess and lack of sense of the city vanish, washed away by the honey-like waters. Here, the life is clean and honest. If only I knew there was a homestay program on Bangla, I would have spent one night. Or more. Or maybe I would have stayed forever.
I did not know, so I had to go back to Surat Thani, the city where there’s nothing to see.