“City of 100 islands, delicious rambutan, big shells and red eggs, centre of Buddhism” – Surat Thani.
The “100 islands” refer especially to the islands of Koh Samui, Phangan, and Tao, the three jewels of the province’s tourism economy. If you’re headed to the Island, this is a good place to do it from. Getting to Lombrayah Tapee Pier to take the ferry should be a 30 minute drive, but (as is also the case in Chumphon), the local van racket may cause annoyances and delays. Private transport would be preferable if you have the means.
Also, if you’re headed to Phuket, this is a good a place as any to arrange that. I took that bus once, and it was surprisingly picturesque as it went through the Phuket Range (the mountains that also have Khao Sok National Park) and then along the coast north of Phuket. I can’t guarantee you’ll take the same route, but doing it during daylight hours might have its rewards.
If you haven’t come across them, the “delicious Rambutan” they refer to is an like a punk version of a lychee. They’re red and spikey looking. “Rambut” means ‘hair’ in Malay. In Vietnamese they’re called “Chom Chom”, meaning “messy hair”. They were brought here by Chinese traders centuries ago. I never liked them, but most people think I’m mad. If you’re here in August, you might catch the Rambutan Fair in which decorated floats cruise the Tapi River.
The “Centre of Buddhism” refers to some of the historically important pagodas built in the province (rather than the city itself). The Chak Phra Festival of Surat Thani is a big one: held in October. It symbolises the return of the Lord Buddha to earth at the end of Buddhist Lent. Decorated floral floats shaped into creaturs of Buddhist folklore parade around streets and down the Tapi river. A “Grand Final” parade is also accompanied by boat races. It seems to be held on 6 October, but you might want to check in case there are changes due to the Buddhist lunar calendar.
The “Big Shells” refer to the historically abundant shellfish.