Cross the Tapi River from Surat Thani’s urban congestion and you’ll be swept into a lush, rural landscape defined by tropical flowers, dragonflies, coconut orchards, palms and reeds that often stand taller than the humble stilted houses. From the Bandon pier in Surat city, it’s possible to arrange a boat trip into the picturesque Tapi delta, known locally as Nai Bang.
Setting out on a narrow longtail boat steered by boisterous Surat native, Mr Lek, we cut north into one of the many canals that crisscross the delta. Still within sight of Surat’s multi-storey concrete buildings, the simple houses set over the water and shrouded in greenery present an immediate contrast of rural and urban, side by side.
Continuing into the tropical trees on a sunny morning, we spotted cranes and other birds gliding or twirling over the treetops. For a moment, a pair of dragonflies hovered next to our boat. Bright orange and yellow wildflowers joined the red leaves of umbrella trees amid a dense backdrop of flora.
Many of the families in the delta take advantage of the fresh water to grow fruit — coconuts chief among them. In some places, the impossibly narrow trunks of the coconut trees bend over the canal as though their bushy tops are trying to drop off fruit on the other side. We also passed thick groves of feathered palm leaves that transformed narrow canals into spindly tunnels of green.
On two occasions Mr Lek pointed out canal-side homestays that he said cost around 500 baht a night, per person, and could provide a real backwoods cultural experience. If interested, he can drop travellers off and pick them up at an agreed upon time.
The roughly 1.5-hour-long cruise cost us 400 baht and was a great way to spend a morning. For 300 baht, you could opt for a shorter early evening cruise to see fireflies light up the treetops. Or, for 600 baht, take a ride through a mangrove forest to the Gulf of Thailand, with a stop for a seafood lunch and perhaps a chance to glimpse Irrawaddy dolphins. The boats do not have roofs, so do bring a hat and suncscreen.
Mr Lek ran snorkelling trips around Ko Tao for 10 years and speaks very good English. He’s also a lot of fun. In addition to the shorter trips, he can arrange multi-day trips to the Ang Thong islands on a larger boat with cooking and sleeping facilities on board. He quoted us 12,000 baht for this; stop by the pier or call him at (081) 083 7949 for more info.
How to get there
The longtail boat pier is located off Bandon Rd, just north of where several large ferry boats are anchored and across from the northern end of Chonkasem Rd. Look for a small pavilion with Mr Lek's info painted in English in red.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 31st January, 2016.