About Surin Islands
Since there is more than enough information about the Similan Islands, we would like to take this opportunity to write a little more about Surin Islands, which we visit twice a week.
Surin Island is in Mu Koh Surin National Park
, found some 60 km off the west coast of Phang Nga province, and 80 km north of the Similan Island #9, is an archipelago of 5 islands:
Koh Surin Nuea, Koh Surin Tai, Koh Ri, Koh Khai, and Koh Klang
The excellent diving & snorkelling are what most visitors come for. The main island of Surin Nuea has several bays, the largest being Ao Mae Yai on the southwest, which features calm waters and safe anchorage. On the southeast side is Ao Luek, which has shallow corals and an abundance of marine life. Ao Mai Ngam is where the National Park's office is found, as well as a 2-kilometre walking path. There's good snorkelling and swimming here off its long beach. Ao Chak at the north of Surin Nuea is a beautiful bay of pristine coral reefs.
The group of people referred to as “Moken”
are actually three distinct tribes living along the Andaman Coast of Burma and Thailand – the Moken of the Mergui archipelago, the Moklen of Phang Nga province, and the Urak Lawoi living from Phuket southward to Satun. With Austronesian roots, their language, culture and lifestyle are unique, and they have a history of peaceful coexistence with mainland neighbors.
The Moken, proper, have a long history of living in the Mergui archipelago between Burma and the islands of Thailand’s North Andaman coast. As sea nomads, the Moken used to spend most of their lives on traditional houseboats known as Kabang, moving from bay to bay depending on the wind and weather. During the monsoon rains, families would come together and build temporary villages on protected beaches.
The Moken do not have a written language and their history is passed down verbally through folklore from generation to generation. Family connections are strong and dependable. Furthermore, the Moken language knows no words for individual possession which is reflected in a culture of sharing and giving.
The Moken are animists and have great understanding and respect for their environment and natural resources. In past times, the Moken people were subsistence hunter-gathers, trading shells, sea cucumbers, and fish for rice and other necessities. They use over 80 plant species for food, 28 for medicinal purposes, and 105 for shelter, handicrafts and other purposes.
The Moken in Modern Times
The Moken community of Bon Yai Bay on South Surin Island is perhaps the last settlement living in semi-traditional ways. In 1981, the islands were established as Mu Koh Surin National Park, bringing profound changes to the Moken way of life. Restrictions were placed on their ability to hunt and gather from the reefs, beaches and the forest of their newly “protected” area, and movement between Thai and Burmese waters became increasingly dangerous.
The tribe survived the tsunami of 2004 unscathed, garnering much attention from the outside world, and a sharp rise in the number of uninformed tourists visiting the Moken village. At the same time, authorities resettled the islands’ two villages into one combined settlement of 60 houses.
This imposition disrupted traditional relationships and concentrated the effects of tourism. Recognizing the challenges and benefits of interacting with visitors, the village has formed a Moken Tourism Team. With this they aim to change the dynamic of visiting the Moken village from the uninvited onlooker to the respectful guest.
Under current regulations, the Moken no longer have the right to live their traditional hunter-gather lifestyle, as concerns were raised that these would disturb the ecological balance of the island
These restrictions pose a threat to their social fabric and the continuation of their culture which may be perceived as at odds with conservation and tourism development. Previously, tourism on the island has had little or no ongoing benefit to the Moken.
Despite the perceived threat of their traditional subsistence methods of hunting, the Moken are an integral part of Surin and any development or conservation efforts must take into account their autonomy and indigenous rights.
Community based tourism on Koh Surin
Visiting the Moken village is an excellent way to learn about the complex issues surrounding the National Park, conservation, and the Moken community. The Moken Tourism Team was created to facilitate better interaction with visitors and establish guidelines for responsible visitors and tour operators. They have also contributed to a visitor information on the Moken Way of Life.