Surin is a province along the Cambodian border in the southern Isaan region. It definitely feels like Isaan with its Lao culture, but there is also significant Khmer cultural influence. A large percent of the population here are ethnically Khmer, and many can speak Cambodian in addition to Thai. The most important cultural sites here are also Khmer, with a few small temples from the same period and done in the same style as the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The province’s main highlight for tourists is the annual Surin Elephant Round-Up Festival held every year in November.
Driving from Bangkok to Surin takes around six hours so it is doable, but probably less than ideal. The best ways to go are to fly or take the train. From other cities around Isaan such as Korat, Buriram, Ubon Ratchathani and others, coaches and minibuses make regular journeys to and from the centrally-located Surin bus station.
There are no direct flights to Surin but both Nok Air and Air Asia fly to nearby Buriram and offer a combined ticket that includes a minibus transfer to or from Surin. The ride is around one hour and the flight 45 minutes. Nok Air uses the Surin Majestic Hotel as their pickup and drop-off point, and Air Asia uses the Chang Knowledge Park. Both are centrally located. To book, just choose Surin as your origin or destination on the booking website and book as normal.
The Ubon Ratchathani train line goes to Surin and it can be a fun way to travel and see a different side of Thailand. Most people will probably enjoy the first couple of hours but the next five or so after that will feel a little bit long. There around nine trains per day with the various Rapid, Express, and Special Express trains taking between six and a half to ten hours. There are first, second, and third-class seats available. Tickets can be bought at any train station or online at https://www.thairailwayticket.com/eTSRT/.
There are plenty of Bangkok-style tuk-tuks that wait around the hotels in Surin. Hotels should also be able to arrange a car and driver. Motorbikes can be rented from Surin Motorcycle Rental. You can call them at 089 050 7012.
There’s not all that much to do in Surin. There is an elephant training center which is probably not a very nice place and we would recommend avoiding. The Angkor-era ruins at Prasat Sikhoraphum are nice but pretty underwhelming if you’ve visited any of the major Khmer temples in Cambodia. They are a 30-minute drive outside of Surin city. The nicest things to do here in our opinion are to soak in the local culture, try local foods, meet the incredibly friendly people here, and take a drive in the countryside which is quite lovely if you aren’t used to seeing rice fields.
Surin, like most small Thai cities actually has pretty good nightlife if you know where to look. Surin is somewhat unique in that the foreigner-oriented bar area is in the same place as the Thai one. This place is conveniently located around most of the major hotels in Surin. The area is centered around the Speed 3 Music Hall, a Thai-style nightclub that gets going after 11pm and can be really fun. From there, there are lots of nearby farang bars, Thai bars with live acoustic music, and some naughty-nightlife type karaoke bars.
Surin has a number of good hotel options all at a great price. Use the map view on the Surin page of Booking.com to choose the best location for your stay.
From Surin, you can easily head west to Buriram with its international-level racetrack, or east to Ubon Ratchathani for a bigger city and some nice nature, mountains, forest and other outdoor adventure.