Surat Thani is a beautiful province in Southern Thailand filled with wonder, but there's one thing which has tarnished its name in recent years - and that's some the travel agencies.
If Surat Thani was a verb (i.e. that man really 'Surat Thanied' me) it would simply be defined as 'to get one over on a tourist, and ruin a good portion of their trip for financial gain.'
If Surat Thani was an adjective (i.e. that man's a real 'Surat Thani'), it would basically be described as 'greedy and immoral with no redeeming features'. You know; the type of person who'd sell their own mother for an ice cream sundae.
Now, before I get down to it, I'd just like to say that I'm in no way referring to the people of Surat Thani as a whole, just the crooks involved in some of their travel offices (again, there are some good ones whose names are being dragged through the mud by the bad ones). In no way, shape or form am I trying to tar everyone who lives there with the same brush, because not only is that pig ignorant, it goes against the grain of everything travel stands for. Now that's out of the way, I'll continue...
There were two of us on the road from Bangkok, and armed with a pair of tickets which looked like a couple of pieces of toilet paper, we set off on our journey down to Singapore to catch an important flight. We should have flown domestic, but stupidly decided to travel overland on a tight time schedule, and although I take full responsibility for this error of judgement, we didn't quite deserve what was about to come our way.
We emerged from our twelve hour coach ride smelling like a pair of athletes' feet and upon supping the thick, humid air, the two us were greeted with a gaggle of stony faces. We weren't going over to the islands, we were going south. We were directed to a stuffy little hut where we were told to present our toilet paper tickets. The man scratched his head and smiled menacingly. We were told that the two small air conditioned mini buses which had 'Singapore via Butterworth' (Malaysia) written on them were not for us, even though most people from our coach were being ushered on. I contested this, the travel agents shook their heads, and as soon as the debate got the slightest bit heated, a small gang emerged to threaten myself and my friend out of the office.
After this we were told that we'd missed our connection, as if the previous hour had been zapped from our memories, and after some street side arguing, we found ourselves boarding one of the travel agent's brothers' cars to be driven down to the Malaysian border for a fee ten times the amount of our original ticket - we needed to catch that flight and time was against us. There was no other choice.
Upon passing through the Malaysian border looking like a pair of soiled underpants, to absolutely no surprise, our mini bus, complete with our initial travel group stood glistening in the sun waiting for us to board. We'd been well and truly Surat Thanied.
This is a prime example of the type of thing that can happen to travellers in Surat Thani. It's probably fair to say that many people have used this connection with no bother, but I know plenty of people who have been thoroughly Surat Thanied and as they told me their tales, they were spitting blood and fire.
There are so many travel connections in Surat Thani that it's hard to pinpoint all of the terrible ones, so in this situation, a 'Fool Proof Guide to Surat Thani Travel' would be fairly redundant. But there is a point...
Being Surat Thanied can apply to any travel situation, anywhere in the world if you're not careful. When you're in new and unknown places, certain people will instantly want to take advantage of you, so the moral of the story is, always prepare yourself for an area before visiting. There's no need to study all night (that will pretty much kill the buzz), but it's worth finding out the basic things to avoid and the tricks to look out for: you've probably worked your nuts off to go on your adventure, and one or two major Surat Thanis that could have been dodged may spoil everything (or at least put a massive spanner in the works).
In summary, Surat Thani is a place (most of it is very pleasant), but it's also a state of mind. You don't want it; you don't need it, so make sure you do a little homework, keep your wits about you and you'll minimise your chances of being the victim of a big, fat, sloppy Surat Thani!
Images: Dan Hughes via Facebook and Arun Skariah and Ian Fuller via FlickrSuggest a correction