Surat Thani or Surat as the locals call it is the largest of Thailand's southern provinces. Surat Thani, directly translated, means City of Good People and these good people have the good fortune of living in 'the province of a thousand Islands'. The three most popular islands and indeed the most lucrative for the good people are Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao.
The market area of Surat Thani is competing with the city for its name, and has many locals referring to the whole city as Ban Don – even though Ban Don actually only refers to the market. This might have something to do with the importance of Surat Thani as a commercial centre for Southern Thailand. Surat Thani is 650 km below Bangkok, the weather is warmer, the people are really friendly and the food is spicy!
Most people only spend a few hours or so in Surat Thani, using it mainly as a place to change modes of transport - off a boat onto a bus or off a bus into a boat. This is a pity as the less commercial feel of Surat Thani compared to, for example, Krabi, is reason enough to spend a day speaking to the locals, relaxing on the beaches and getting to experience the Thai way of life.
Like the rest of Thailand, Surat Thani is also very involved in festivals. One of the biggest festivals celebrated in the area is the Chak Phra Festival. Held in October this festival celebrates the return of Buddha. This festival is held all over southern Thailand, but the biggest display is in Surat Thani. During the festival floats are built and decorated in vivid Thai designs. They are then dragged around town on land and on the water. The floats on the water are designed to carry Buddha on his return. Other big festivals in Surat Thani include the Fruits Festival which celebrates the first planting of the Rambutan trees, the Songkran Water Festival (Thai New Year) on the 13th of April every year, and the Loy Krathong festival which honours the goddess of water.
Definitely a place worth spending the night at least...