I stood under the clinical white glare of a late night convenience store in Bangkok, trying to decipher the contents of a small packet of what might be washing powder.
“Hello sexy,” a person said to me from behind. I call them a person because it was not immediately apparent whether they were male or female. Certainly they were wearing female apparel, but I was, after all, in Bangkok and this convenience store was located on a street that throbbed to the sounds of revelry designed for all tastes.
But I was only here because of mixed up flights and a missed connection to Bali.
“Hello,” I said.
“That’s for your face,” she said.
I stood still for a moment, looking at her, then the sachet in my hand.
“Hahahaha,” she burst out, “it’s washing powder! You use it to wash your clothes!”
“Oh, okay,” I said, looking to the shop assistant for some assistance–or at least reassurance. But she absently poked chupa chup sticks into the holes on a display beside the cash register.
”Kiss me,” my new friend said, blocking my path to the cashier.
“Kiss me now.”
She looked like she could use a nutritious meal. Or at least a scraper to remove some of her makeup.
“I’m ok, I have a girlfriend,” I said, shuffling towards the cashier, gripping my washing powder and two cheap beers.
“…and?” she replied, pressing her rather large breasts into my arm.
I paid the cashier and departed. My admirer shrieked things in Thai and followed me out into the brightness of the street, before sitting down with her ‘girlfriends’ at the entrance to, well, I can only imagine. I’d only been in Thailand for an hour.
The next morning we packed up and caught a flight to Phuket (flights from Phuket to Bali are good value), plus we needed some dental work so may as well be opportunistic. After landing we disappeared into the mass of humanity disembarking and funneling out into the arrivals hall. Mostly the people were pasty Europeans, ready for their one point five weeks in the sun. Oi, oi let’s get wrecked lads! But there were also more than a few Russian mums with impossibly lithe physiques and feline features. Anywhere outside of Russia these women would have been high school beauty queens, the town darlings and princesses to C-list celebrities. But here they were just milling around, herding their brats and accompanying husbands of the solemn, lifeless variety.
I carried my surfboard, as I always do, and a baby, which is something I’d never traveled with before. I was lucky enough to be traveling with one of the aforementioned Russian mums (a long story), with whom I was fortunate enough to have made the baby I was carrying in my left arm. She had been angry with me since I relayed the story from the shop the night before and I guessed, based on experience, that she’d be angry for exactly 18 more hours. I stopped near the taxi stand and my mind, suddenly free of the burden of tickets and luggage, focused on the other most important thing. The piece of hope that lay embedded a few clicks deep within an app on my iPhone. Tap, tap, tap, and the MSW app loaded something that I wanted to tell my Russian mum–and would have if she was in a better mood. But instead I kept it all to myself. Tomorrow there would be waves. In Thailand. Waves. Two to three foot and offshore.
Thailand live surf report
Medical Tourism in Thailand
Thailand is a good place for medical tourism, that’s no secret. For people contemplating a trip somewhere where a beach holiday might be incorporated into a medical excursion, then you could do much worse than Phuket. Many people who venture to Thailand for medical tourism choose the big hospitals in Bangkok. Sure, these hospitals are well-known and have many reputable doctors, dentists, and surgeons, but there are equally modern medical facilities located in unassuming Phuket Town, which is located in the centre of Phuket Island.
Phuket town doesn’t offer much in the way of tourist attractions, or any attractions really, except for the large Tesco shopping center from which you can buy anything and everything you would expect overseas. There’s also a Starbucks in case you’re missing that kind of thing but, beyond those few Western conveniences, Phuket town is more of a local centre. It offers some delights to travelers willing the skip the trail and explore real elements of Thai culture, but for you, my readers, I’m guessing you’re here to find out about the surf in Thailand.
But wait a sec, for our first priority was to book in for some emergency dental treatment. You drive about 30 minutes from the airport to Phuket town. The most famous facility is Bangkok Hospital, which is more like a hotel than a hospital. On arrival, you’ll be welcomed and ushered through the registration process, which is quick and painless. They’ll book you in as soon as possible (a lot faster than in most Western countries) and before you know it, you’ll be up on one of the floors seeing a highly trained healthcare professional and their bevvy of Thai nurses. You’ll probably be on the third floor, where the cosmetic and dentistry wings are located.
Just half an hour from Phuket town, you’ll find the famed beaches of Phuket Island. These beaches range from the crazy and depraved, and I speak here of course of Patong, through to the vast and sometimes empty, including Kamala and Bangtao.
Surfing Surin Beach
For the purpose of this story, I’m going to tell you about the location I chose and the reasons why. We decided on Surin Beach because it is famed for having the cleanest waters in Phuket, complete with coral and tropical fish. Furthermore, it is known for being a bit of a swell-magnet, receiving larger swells than most of the other locations along the coastline. But you never know what to expect after reading just a surf report and some sketchy forums. So, the morning after arriving, I walked with some trepidation across a large gravel car park towards Surin beach. It’s strange to think that this area was slammed by a tsunami not that long ago. When you’re in Bangkok Hospital in Phuket, you’ll notice the huge memorial for all the people who were swept away and all the heroes that helped others on that fateful day. Surin Beach was one of the lucky ones because the town itself is raised up from the beachfront. Only the vendors and cafes along the sand were swept away when the wave crashed in. Step-by-step, as I inched closer to the beach, I heard waves of a different kind breaking.
The sound of waves breaking as they peel towards the shoreline varies. Any surfer will be able to tell you what the different tones and reverberations mean. Waves that slam against the sand have a hollow thud, then a fizzle. Waves that break further out have more of a crashing, softness to them. Big waves sound like heavy artillery.
As I rounded the hill and walked down the steps, I saw the kinds of waves that surfers perhaps don’t dream about, but that certainly bring smiles to faces. It was three feet and offshore, with crystal clear lines of swell wrapping into Surin Beach and breaking with gentle precision across the sandy banks. I ran back to the hotel, picked up my trusty Firewire Unibrow, and ran back. It was probably the best day of surfing I had during my whole stay in Thailand. Why not start off with a bang, right?
After a few hours of surfing I realised that I was not the only surfer out there. A couple of Thai boys and one or two foreigners paddled out. The local guys were ripping and had a smooth style that can only be developed by riding waves that don’t close out too quickly. One of the guys, while not doing huge manoeuvres, had enough flow to weave paths from way out all the way to the sand. His style was like Adrien Toyon, but without airs. There was a girl surfer having a lot of fun and, later, a couple of long boarders and a SUP cruising the lineup. I found a spot just left of the centre of the beach and caught way more than my share of airbrushed lefts and rights.
The sand at Surin beach is powder soft and white. It’s a picturesque location flanked by palm trees that wrap around to a headland on each side of the bay. Raised up from the beach is the promenade, along which you will find every conceivable type of cafe you could wish for.
Interspersed between the cafes, you’ll also find some of Phuket’s most famous and sophisticated beach clubs. They are a far cry from the night life you’ll find in the rest of Phuket, most of which has given the island a trashy reputation. Surin’s establishments are suave, modern, and certainly expensive by Thai standards. Here, you’ll find the wannabe A-listers mingling over mojitos as the DJ pumps the same sounds every night. Nevertheless, I did find time to frequent each one of the main beach clubs during the flat spells, of which they would be many.
If you’re coming to Thailand for medical tourism, you probably won’t be too interested in the night life because you’ll be in various states of healing and recovery. If you’re here just for the surfing, then I wholeheartedly encourage you to make the most of the fun that is to be had. Compared to what goes on down in Patong, this is very good, clean fun.
Beyond the beach
Before dusk the bars become hubs for the social and here you will sip cocktails and beers while taking photos with your new selfie stick as the sun sinks into the warm Andaman. Catch Beach Club is the most famous spot along the beach and you’ll marvel at the exceptionally complex system involved in taking an order, fetching the drinks from the fridge, serving the drinks to the customer, and then eventually bringing the bill. Sometimes one order is handled by five or six different servers. But it’s chic and white, with lanterns and lounge music and the conversation snippets you’ll overhear are more than worth the tourist prices you’ll pay for a Tiger beer or three. The other hotspots are BiMi and Zazada, both of which are geared up to be epic but just didn’t seem to draw a crowd when I was there.
Surin Beach attracts waves of visitors from all over the world. In my month we experienced a wave of Italians, then a wave of French, then a wave of English. All of these small waves were just icing on top of the tsunami of Russians, who make up the majority of visitors to the town. Apparently, this is a new phenomenon and I suppose it accompanies the burgeoning Russian global tourism trend, at least pre-Ukraine debacle. Certainly on almost every menu you’ll find a Russian translation and some Ruski-friendly meal options. I like the Russians, even though some nationalities find them less than sociable fellow travelers. I think they get a bad rep for being unapproachable, when the main issue is that many are simply not confident with their level of English (or another foreign language) so would rather not try and potentially fail. I know this because I have a Russian and she tells me their secrets.
Where to go
When I find myself a new surf destination, it doesn’t take long before I start to seek out the best cafes, restaurants, and bars. Seeing as my travels now include a small baby, bars have become less of a feature on my itinerary, but restaurants have not. We were very excited to find a place one street back from the beach called Lemongrass. This restaurant has some of the freshest seafood and most delicious authentic Thai food you’ll find in Surin Beach. The cafe owner is not only a foodie, but also makes beautiful art. All of the artwork on the walls is created by him. Downstairs, should you feel the urge, is an excellent, busy massage service run by his wife. This is not a massage of the special variety, it is a real Thai body massage that will undo your knots, aches and strains. Don’t leave Thailand without making the most of (good) Thai massage.
After sampling the cuisine at Lemongrass for several nights in a row, we decided to explore again. This led us around the corner to a small Italian restaurant called Bianco & Rosso. A small lady emerged from inside and ushered us to a table. Her English was surprisingly good and she sat down and spoke to us for a while, recommending that we try the pizzas, because everywhere does Thai food so why not get their speciality. We obliged and I was honestly shocked to discover that the pizza was one of the best I have ever tried, anywhere in the world. Her husband in the kitchen was wearing an Italian chef’s hat and looked the part; kneading pastry and chopping up ingredients in a blur of furious precision. Not only did we end up eating at Bianco & Rosso virtually every night (their Thai cuisine was also the best we found) but we ended up living upstairs in one of their rooms, which they let for excellent rates.
In a town where prices are benchmarked by hotels such as Hilton DoubleTree, you will be paying top dollar for accommodation. When we first arrived, we stayed at Hotel Malee, which is a small concrete establishment sitting between luxury resorts. Hotel Malee was perfect for what we needed at the time; it had huge bedrooms and friendly staff who get you acquainted with Surin and surroundings. Prices went up over New Year’s and even this most moderate of accommodation became pricey, at least for Thailand. We were very happy to discover Bianco & Rosso and their rooms upstairs.
A walk down Surin’s main street doesn’t take you anywhere of note. One thing to remember is that the further you walk from the beach, the cheaper the prices become. If you’re looking for a local meal, don’t have one at the beachfront unless you dine in the local shacks beside the car park. At the little shacks, you will find fresh fish, coconuts, and every conceivable type of Thai food. The food here is good and the prices are excellent. If you want to sample even more authentic Thai cuisine, venture down the main road, away from the beach.
Likewise, the further you walk from the beach, the cheaper the car hire becomes. Having a car in Thailand is a great idea and the roads—in Phuket at least—are of an excellent standard. Other drivers are courteous and easygoing. I say this in relative terms, having spent a lot of time driving on roads in India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Vietnam, where the traffic can be more than a little more intense. Nevertheless, have your wits about you, for stories abound of travelers making wrong turns and ending up down cliffs or getting obliterated by a truck while overtaking on corners. Also, the roundabouts are chaos, so be alert.
In terms of medical tourism, if you need any dental work done–or perhaps are after that long-awaited boob job–Phuket Town is the place to go. You’ll pay up to 1/10 of the price that you would in your home country, depending on where home is. The facilities and doctors are second to none. I’ve never had so many Thai nurses surround me and fawn over… my baby. In fact, I’ve never seen so many Thai nurses in my life. I’m certain that someone, somewhere has this as a fantasy.
After a day of wisdom tooth extractions and other such torture beneath the hands of a sweetly smiling Thai dentist and her 13 assistants, there’s nothing better to do than drive down to Surin, park the car, and watch the sun begin a descent into the ocean. It’s all blue, then becomes a shattering of sparkles, then white. I pulled my phone out of my pocket around this time and checked—tap tap tap—to unveil MSW’s latest prophecies. And would you believe it, conditions had updated. For the next three days, there would be a two to three foot swell arriving. Thirteen second period and, of course, offshore trade winds.
I smiled and watched the Russian mums with their impossibly long legs shout at their children, pout, and get browner with every passing hour. Their Russian husbands seemed in need of rest for most of them were fast asleep or simply not around. A Russian bodybuilder stood up and flexed every muscle, even the ones in his ears and teeth.
The Best Time to surf thailand
The best time for surfing in Thailand is between March and October, which also happens to be the rainy season. During this time of year, the winds can often be onshore and they will blast the coast with messy fury, sometimes for weeks on end. There are less tourists at this time, so if you are a hardcore surfer, you’ll be sure to get waves all to yourself. Remember that this coastline is home to a treasure trove of outcrops and inlets, so exploration will reward the intrepid.
The time of year when most people visit Phuket is between October and March. It’s dry, sunny and the winds are usually light and offshore. There are less waves but if you stick around, you’ll be almost certain to score something once or twice a week. If you come to Thailand for another purpose, such as medical tourism, then this could be the perfect place to indulge your surfing passions opportunistically. Don’t come to Thailand expecting a surf holiday. Rather, come here hoping for sunshine and clear weather, with an inkling that there might be some swell on the horizon.
The Similan Islands
This mythical archipelago lies 85 kilometres north-west of Phuket. These islands are so picturesque that they will break your heart. They’re not only beautiful, but also potentially host some of the best waves in the region. Reefs are scattered around nearly every island, many at angles conducive to surfing.
The only problem with the Similan Islands is that, the main ones at least, have been overrun by tourists. Even getting there requires taking a tour on a horrific tourist boat. You’ll get carted out on the same route as every other boat; stopping on the same beaches, which will be overrun by Russians, and getting dropped at the same tired island for lunch. You really do feel like tourist cattle when you embark on one of these ‘escapes’. My recommendation if you dream of surfing the Similan Islands is to make friends with some locals who have a boat, or charter one, and get there of your own accord. I feel you’ll get lucky.
All in all, I’d rate Thailand as a 3/10 surf destination. In terms of actual wave quality, it deserves a better rating, because when there are swells, the sandbanks at places like Surin Beach truly can offer excellent little walls and ramps. It’s just the consistency that lets the island down as a surf destination. If you’re coming here for some other purpose, however, then let nature roll her dice and she will, perhaps, dish up some tasty Thai cuisine of the wave-riding variety.