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Mu Ko Surin National Park

Surin IslandUnder the administration of Tambon Ko Phra Thong, Amphoe Khura Buri, Phangnga, Mu Ko Surin National Park is located in the Andaman Sea and covers an area of approximately 135 square kilometers. The five islets archipelago has been declared to be a national park since July 9,1981. The five islands include Ko Surin Neua, Ko Surin Tai, Ko Ri, Ko Kai and Ko Klang.

The Surin Archipelago is top-rated for excellent diving and snorkeling in Thailand. Mu Ko Surin is close to the marine boundary between Burma and Thailand. It has so far been little visited because of its distance from the coast and the absence of any commercial activity. There is also a permanent habitation of Sea Gypsies on the islands. There are two main attractions within the national park: Surin Islands and Sea Gypsies.

Surin Islands: The two large islands, Surin Neua and Surin Tai which mean, respectively, north and south have ten bays in which coral gardens are found. They are located about 70 kilometers northwest of Khuraburi and less than 5 km from Thailand's marine border with Myanmar. The channel between the two principal islands is about two meters at high tide. The shallow channel has one of the most remarkable examples of coral reef life to be found anywhere. To observe some of the best reefs doesn't require scuba gear, just a snorkel and mask is enough to make Surin Islands a perfect destination for non-divers.

The Islands encompass more than ten bays such as Mae Khai or Mae Yai Bay which are famous for tranquil surroundings and still waters. Among its bays are Ao Luk or Deep Bay which is getting to be more popular due to its deep dark green waters with the most attractive coral reef in the shallows. Surin is also suited to visitors who are interested in hiking and exploring rather than diving. It has several hiking trails, especially on the northern island.

Sea Gypsies: On the southern Surin Island or Ko Surin Tai is a settlement of the Singh tribe of Sea Gypsies, the last seamen. These nomadic sea people are called "chao naam" or "chao le" which means water people. They live in a very Mu Ko Surinprimitive way of life on houseboats. Time appears to be a vague concept, as none of them knows their own age. They also can count only the numbers on their fingers. Yet, they are quite skilled in their own ways. They can build an ocean-going boat using only the most basic tools, catch fish by hand, and are famous for their talents as deep divers without scuba tanks.

Opposite to the national park office there is a carved wood sculpture similar to an American Indian totem. It is most revered by the seamen tribe. It is here where they converge yearly for a three-day celebration on the full moon night of the third lunar month to pay respect to their totem spirits. It is a major ancestral worship ceremony happening in April every year. The ceremony is called Loi Reua similar to the Thai festival of Loy Krathong. The Chao Le craft are set adrift on the waves to ask for forgiveness from the spirits and ancestors. There are long-tail boats at Ao Me Yai to take you to the south island for 150-200 baht per person for the day.

The surrounding area of the Surin Islands offer seven major dive sites. The best spots are to be found at the southeastern point of Surin at HQ Bay, at Ko Chi, a petite island just offshore from Surin Neua and at Richelieu Rock, a seamount 14 km southeast of Surin Tai. It is common to spot whale sharks near Richelieu during March and April. Snorkeling is excellent in many areas due to relatively shallow reef depths of 5-6 m.

There are a park office and visitors' center at Ao Mae Yai on the north island where boats anchor. Admission to the park is 40 baht. Accommodation in the park is quite basic and primitive, but it is a rewarding experience. The best season to visit the national park is from December to April and it closes in early to mid May till mid November every year due to weather conditions.

To reach the park, tourists may start from three different points, but the most convenient and quickest is from Ban Hin Lat in Amphoe Khuraburi which involves about a 4-5 hour journey. It will take about 13 hours to travel from Phangnga by boat, while boating from Kapur of Ranong takes approximately 7 hours.

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