Surat Thani is a major transport hub in Thailand. For tourists it’s a place to get on/off a night train to/from Bangkok and take a ferry to Koh Samui, Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao. It’s also a place to cross Thailand from east to west, from the Gulf islands to the Andaman coast, Phuket and Krabi.
The train station is way out of town, in the small town of Phun Phin. And that area actually makes a good place for a stay over – assuming you arrive and/or depart by train to begin with – smaller and hence more manageable than Surat Thani town. There’s a decent hotel, some fine restaurants, a night market and ample 7-Elevens, Family Marts and even a Mini Big C to stock up. At night you’ll find backpackers waiting for trains, but otherwise it has the charm of a small Thai town.
Hotel Nadpob is behind the railway station - that is the river side.
You can take the pedestrian bridge, exit through the small market, go right and after 200 meters you will see Nadpob.
It’s built as your typical Chinese hotel but now painted in bright colours. The lobby is large and light with big sofas and a constant 3-in-1-supply. The rooms are upgraded with new tiles, new linen and new mattresses. All good value for money. From the window at the end if the corridor you can see the railway station and trains.
2,5 km south of the railway station are a couple of riverside resorts. They are not super fancy but they may give you that river feel.
Opposite the main exit of the train station, somewhat to the left, on the strip where Wut Travel is, are several places to eat. These places don’t stay open very late.
A little up and to the left is Soi Sophunphin. Here’s the night market and more restaurants. Almost at the north end is Choa Koh Roti, which stays open later for sweet or savoury roti's.
Back on the river side, there’s a stretch of boulevard just south of where the railway footbridge takes you. 100 meters north of there is the Nimnad café that has a deck precariously overhanging the Ta Pi river.
If you happen to make a transfer to/from Surat Thani town via Route 401, consider a stop at the Amazon Cafe at the PTT petrol station in Wat Pradu, about one km west of the Lotus.
Most backpackers visit Khao Sok NP by taking a bus or minivan to the main park entrance, checking into one of the many guesthouses there and then booking a tour. The tour consists of transport to the Dam, a boat trip, a night in a floating shack, a walk and a swim.
All this is perfectly all right, but if you prefer to make your own arrangements rather than joining a tour group, that is also easy.
Your best base would be Phun Phin, or Surat Thani railway station.
You can book a shared van via your hotel or Wut Travels (located to the left if you exit the railway station, past the clock tower).
They pick you up from your hotel and drop you at the pier/jetty/dam.
Depending on whether you need to go via the airport to pick up some passengers, the ride takes just over an hour.
(If you are at the airport, go to the far right in the arrival hall to arrange a shared minivan.)
There is also a regular bus service between Surat Thani Bus terminal and Phuket, that roughly follows Route 401. It stops at the Surat Thani Railway Station, at junction 3062 (for the Dam), and in Phuket town. There's the slower and cheaper public bus, and the faster private bus run by Phantip Travel. We are not sure of it's exacts timings and stops though.
At the pier there are shops, restaurants and several desks where you can book a boat for 2 or 3 hours – or with an overnight stay in floating accommodations. They all have the same boats and prices (starting at 1700 Baht). The boat trip along submerged karst mountains and jungle hills is really spectacular.
To get back to Surat Thani, either have your return ride prebooked, or take a songthauw-taxi to the main road (401) and go to the minivan booking office – an unsigned office 200m east of the junction – for a shared van back to Surat Thani.
Please note that land accommodation is not near the pier, so inconvenient if you don’t have your own transport. Also there is no need as it can all be done as a one day trip from Surat Thani - taking 6 to 7 hours.
The first map shows the railway station, the airport, the town and the jetty vs Koa Sok Dam and Koa Sok accomodation area.
Note how far apart they all are.
You may save a lot of backtracking if you carefully choose the order of things you do.
Especially if you are on your way from Phuket/Krabi to Surat Thani/Koh Samui or vv.
On a small screen, tap the title to see key to map symbols.
If you are signed in to google, you can use the map to navigate.