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.

:: Attractions

A major tourist attraction is Koh (Island) Samui, a palm-fringed paradise with a coastal road that encircles the complete island. Aside from the lovely beaches and coral beds, it is abound with coconut plantations and forested hills. The more popular beaches are on the northern and eastern coasts, namely Chaweng Beach, for its party scene and combination of luxury accommodations, and Lamai Beach. It is Thailand 's 3 rd largest island.

Many international diving schools have been established on Koh Tao (Turtle Island) because of its pristine beaches and abundant coral reefs around the island, making it the best scuba diving spot in the Gulf of Thailand.

The Angthong Marine National Park consists of roughly 40 islands, mostly comprised of limestone masses rising to heights of 400 meters, pristine beaches and lush forests. The emerald saltwater lake on Ko Mae Ko (Mother Island) entails a strenuous climb and is a major scenic attraction. Another popular venue is the Ko Sam Sao (Tripod Island) with an extensive coral reef.

The ever popular Full Moon party is held annual at Ko Phangan where revelers from all over the world come to dance the night away and be merry. It also has many beautiful natural attractions, such as waterfalls, hillside temples, and pristine beaches.

Khao Sok National Park is becoming more popular every day as more people discover that the lush jungles and mountainous complexes are still inhabited by numerous wildlife, including elephants, tapirs, bisons, bears and black panthers. Highlights include the Sip Et Chan (11-tiered) Waterfall, and many other spectacular waterfalls all within close proximity to the park office. Ideal for camping, trekking and viewing wildlife.

Watch students as they are trained to pick coconuts at the Monkey School on the mainland and at Koh Samui. Majority of students are pig-tailed monkeys captured in the local forest, and undergo an intensive 3-month program.

The Phumriang Village is an arts and crafts center well known for its silver brocaded silk cloth and jute headwear.

The late Bhikkhu Buddhadhasa, who was highly respected both locally and internationally for his basic forms of Buddhism teachings, founded the 150-acre forest temple of Suan Mokkha Phalaram, or Suan Mok. Mirroring the teaching of Lord Buddha's earlier disciples 2,500 years ago, the place attracts many Buddhist monks and meditators from Australia, Europe, Japan and North and South America. The enclave is devoid of extravagant ceremonial chapels, instead providing a forest tranquility ideal for contemplation.

The oyster farms concentrated in the estuarine areas of the Kadaeh and Ta Thong rivers produced the largest oysters found anywhere else. Visitors can see the harvesting by hiring long-tail boats to get to the farms.

The elaborately restored and highly revered pagoda at Wat Phra Borom That Chaiya is believed to be more than 1,200 years old. The pagoda contains Buddha relics. A small museum adjacent to the temple houses artifacts from that vicinity.

Members of Intecfin© Group