Surin / Thailand



Surin Town and Province

Situated on the Khorat Plateau in Isan, Surin is a province and province capital at once. There is a number of Angkorean temple ruins in the province who prove that the area was inhabited by the Khmer in middle-ages. The place Surin came in existence as a village in 1763 and got it's name in 1786. Little more than 40,000 people inhabit the town of Surin nowadays.

City Pillar Shrine

'City Pillar Shrine of Surin' by Asienreisender

The city pillar shrine is a landmark of Surin. It's designed after the style of an Angkorean prasat with many hindu deities carved into the four gables. On top is a Bodhisattva face placed, Bayon style. The building was constructed in 1968, as well as the city pillar inside. It's seen as the site where the city spirit, a deity, lives. Image by Asienreisender, 10/2015

The south of the province borders along the Dangrek Mountain Range to Cambodia, while the landscapes altitudes lower towards the north, where the Mun River dug it's bed into the plains, streaming towards the Mekong River.

Estimated 70% of the province's population has Khmer roots. The importance of the regional Khmer language is, however, declining for the favour of Thai.

Surin gained fame as a place with the best mahuts (elephant trainers) in Thailand, who belong to the ethnicity of the Kui People. There are still elephant villages around Surin where elephants get training. There is above all a traditional annual elephant roundup in Surin, a festival which attracts many visitors. Hotel prices in town rise up then by 100%. However, the time of elephants as working animals is over, and they are nowadays merely a tourist attraction.

Surin Night Market

'Surin's Night Market' by Asienreisender

Every evening at dusk the night market opens in the city center. Many simple stalls and street restaurants offer Thai food in a great variety. Image by Asienreisender, 2015

The most famous elephant village in the province is Ban Ta Klang, some 58km north of town near the Mun River. The local people there belong to the Suay minority, who are linguistically different from the Thai and Khmer language speakers. They have a century old tradition of keeping and training elephants. In the past they did elephant hunting in the large rainforests of Isan, Cambodia and Laos and trained the large animals then for forest works, transport of goods and people or as war elephants for the Siamese kings and nobility. But since the rainforests are practically all destroyed and elephants are replaced by machinery, the Suay adapted to the service sector and trained the elephants for touristic performances. Many of the elephants are therefore sent to the touristic regions of Thailand as Pattaya, Phuket and others to be hired for elephant rides or get fed by tourists. This alienated lifestyle is certainly not the healthiest for the animals, but in our stereotype, one-dimensional capitalistic system even animals have to prove their value by making an income or they don't deserve to live anymore. Who does not work, mustn't eat, isn't that the credo?



'Surin Jute Factory' by Asienreisender

A jute factory. Image by Asienreisender, 10/2015

The province's economy is widely based on agriculture. Mostly cultivated is rice, much of it sticky rice. But there are also cash crops produced as sugar cane, cassava, maize and jute. Silk production and silk weaving are part of the local tradition as it is in many parts of Isan.

The service sector plays an important role as well, but it's supposedly rather the informal sector and small shops and stalls where many local people make an income with. Industries paid a share below 9% of the province's gross provincial product in the last years.

Agriculture & Crafts

Photocomposition 'Surin's Economy' by Asienreisender

Besides the production of solid food like different kinds of rice, the agriculture also produces cash crops for the world market. Sugar cane is to feed cars, trucks, motorbikes, while cassava is a viand of inferior food value. Besides, silk ware, basketry and silver jewelry are made in some places in the province.

Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 10/2015



Surin Railway Station

'Surin Railway Station' by Asienreisender

Surin's Railway Station, built in the 1920s, is a modernist and functional building, very different compared to the nice traditional wooden railway stations along the southern railway, as for example that in Hua Hin... Image by Asienreisender, 10/2015

Surin is placed along Thailand's northeastern railway line which connects Bangkok and Ubon Ratchathani. The bus station is not far from the railway station, just a few blocks east. Still too far, it belongs directly next door, but it's at least much better than in most places in nowadays Southeast Asia where one has to overcome often kilometers between different public transport stations.

The place is relatively calm and seems much nicer than neighbouring Si Saket, for it has a number of green spots around in town. Those who are not struck by the modern foot-sore sickness have no problem to come around in town on foot. North of the railway station is a green stripe with trees and lawn, at the western end there are some sports instruments to have exercises in the evening, when it cools down.

Surin's City Walls and Moats

Photocomposition 'Surin's  City Walls and Moats' by Asienreisender

The upper image shows a section of the inner moat. The three images below show different sections of the outer wall which is, peculiarly, at both sides paralleled with a moat. It stretches over several hundred metes and makes a pleasant walk in the green. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 10/2015

There is also a chain of water pools, partially paralleled by an old dam which represets the remains of the former inner city wall. The pools were parts of the former moat outside of the wall. There is another ring with a section of a wall paralleled by moats inside and outside. It's some hundred meters away from the inner wall. Seems, Surin was very expandably fortified, what raises the question for what purpose that has been made. In the 18th and 19th century the Khmer were certainly no threat anymore, but there was a long lasting conflict with the Vietnamese in that time. Against a French army the fortification would probably have given relatively little protection.

There is another larger pond east of Thongtarin Hotel with a green stripe with trees around.

The large, representative lak mueang (city shrine, see the image above) is remarkable. It's a red prasat in Angkorean style with many hindu gods at it's gables. Inside is the city pillar, which stands here since 1968, made from a golden cassia log.

In the southern part of town is a great roundabout with a memorial of Phakdi Si Narong Changwan (see the history chapter below). The statue is higher than it looks from the road, it's 2.2m tall and placed here in 1968. The roundabout is placed on a line where formerly the inner city wall ran through. The statue holds a certain pike in his right hand, what was used to control elephants. Changwan was ethnically a Suay, the people who where and are so qualified to domesticate and drill the elephants for the use of humans.

The oldest temple in town is probably Wat Burapharam, which was built in the late 18th century under the rule of Narong Changwang. The Buddha image inside is as old as the temple itself.

The Si Narong Stadium (the elephant stadium), where the annual elephant roundup is presented in the third week of November, is some two kilometers east of town.

The tourist information gave me valuable information about the city and the sights around in the province. The very friendly employee there, who spoke English well, gave me also usefull information about the border crossing to Cambodia at Chong Jom.

One of my first impressions here was a very bad smell which appears at many spots in town. It seems to indicate that the sewage system might be not flawless. The frequent appearance of rats on the streets support the idea.

A Concrete Factory

'Concrete Factory in Surin' by Asienreisender

Half the way between road 214 and Phanom Sawai Forest Park is a huge concrete factory. Truck after truck after truck after truck after truck is nonstop coming and going here. They cause a great deal of dust pollution and damage the roads. As always, the industries, who could at least cover the load to avoid the thick dust, do nothing at all. Only on the factory ground water is sprinkled. I suppose that a great deal of the material for the huge building boom along the new, big roads in Surin Province comes from here. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 10/2015

There is also a National Museum a bit out of town. It replaced an older museum which was placed in Surin City Hall. The new museum opened in 2010. It's pretty bombastic, but defenitely worth to go for any culture and history freak. Opening times were between 9am and 4pm. The entrance fee for foreigner is 100 Baht (Thai People pay 20 Baht). However, in October 2015 anybody could visit the museum for free.

Surin National Museum

'Surin National Museum' by Asienreisender

The National Museum of Surin is departed into five chapters. At the entrance there is a basic introduction into the natural foundations of Surin Province, it's geology, topography, natural resources and the basics of agriculture as rice cultivation.

The second chapter gives an archeaological introduction into the pre-history of the province from the time roughly 2000 years ago, followed by the first civilization in the region, what was the Dvaravati culture (7th to 8th century) and the construction activities of the empire of Angkor in Surin Province. After the decline of the Khmer empire there followed a historical period about which little certain is known and few traces are left of it. Only in the 19th century the Laotian kingdom Lan Xang and the emerging Siamese influence brought the region back into the sight of historians.

Khmer Inscription

'Khmer Border Stone' by Asienreisender

A Khmer borderstone, found at Prasat Ta Muen Thom. It demarks the borders of the city of Sithipura and describes the offering to gods, including that of slaves (human sacrifice). It also casts a spell on those who would damage or destroy the site. The table is 58cm tall and dated to the year 1020 CE. Image by Asienreisender, Surin National Museum, 10/2015

The section on the local history covers the time from 1759 on and starts with the legend of a white elephant which allegedly escaped from the court in Ayutthaya and was brought back to the Siamese palace by local Kuay leaders who got therefore incorporated into the Siamese empire. It continues with the introduction of the northeastern railway and a display of the Sikhoraphum railway station east of Surin, and with the local adaptation to the new Bangkok Siamese empire (Rattanakosin era).

The fourth chapter shows the living conditions and customs of three local ethnics as the Laotions, the Khmer and the Kuay with marriage ceremonies, a healing procedure, local dwellings, music instruments and an ox cart.

The last chapter focuses on the local culture of producing silver jewelry, the silk weaving and the Kuay People and their elephant drilling tradition.

The photocomposition shows merely a small fraction of the museum's items. The fragment of a mask of a man is described as Lopburi or Baphuon style, 11th century and was found in Prasat Ta Muen Thom (1).

In Sikhoraphum district was a Dvaravati boundary stone found (2). The item in the museum is, however, only a replica.

The golden pieces are the for Southeast Asia typical leaf gold, what people in the past put on stupas as a gift or donation and in hope for a better kharma. They were also found at Prasat Ta Muen Thom as the mask above and represent the same Baphuon style.

There are very few metal pieces of the Khmer time left; here we have a bronze handle (4), a beautiful artefact alas whithout any further explanation.

The jar (5) dates back to 2,000 to 1,500 BCE and was used as a burial vessel for a child. Since it is so small it's to suppose it was filled with the ashes of a cremated infant.

The human skeleton (6) was found in Surin Province and is 4,500 to 3,500 years old.

In Chumponburi district were these large burial ceramic vessels (7) found who contained incomplete human skeletons.

All images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 10/2015


The History of Surin

Archaeologists identified about 60 sites in Surin Province who show traces of early settlements who date back to the iron age (500 BCE to 500 CE).

Prehistorical Man

'Prehistorical Man' by Asienreisender

Igniting and control over fire was a large step forward for mankind. Image by Asienreisender, Surin National Museum, 2015

The first civilization in the region was the Dvaravati culture. Evidences are dated back into the time between the 7th and the 11th century.

In about the same time the mighty empire of Angkor started to extended it's borders over the Dangrek Mountains. The Khmer influence is dated back to the 7th century as well and lasted at least to the 13th century. The many Angkorean ruins and the closeness to the Angkor region around Siem Reap indicate that the south of Isan was an important part of the Khmer empire. The Angkorean sites in Surin Province were supposedly part of a network which was centered at Phanom Rung in Buriram Province, west of Surin. There was also a medieval route which connected the temple of Preah Khan right north of Angkor Thom with Phimai in Isan.

After the collapse of the Angkorean empire in the 15th century the region fell for some time into oblivion. Isan came more and more under Siamese control and at the end of the 18th century a Kuay nobleman named Chiangpum became acknowledged as a first governor of the region.

The railroad line was built in 1922 and brought some wealth and trade to Surin and, moreover, brought it out of the quite isolated position and connected it to the more developed Bangkok of the time.


The Sights of Surin

There are some sights in Surin Province, although they are not first rate. There is a number of Angkorean temple ruins scattered over the province. For those, who visited Angkor Archeological Park they are of course of minor dimensions. The first of them is certainly Prasat Ta Muen. Another, smaller sight is Prasat Sikhoraphum, about 30km east of Surin near road 226.

The Khmer Temple of Sikhoraphum

'Prasat Sikhoraphum' by Asienreisender

The temple compound is centered in a small park with a fence around (barbed wire). At the main entrance is a small ticket booth. This Angkorean hindu temple follows the typical concept with an approach from the eastern side to the compound, which is surrounded by a moat (still there) and consists of five towers (prasats). The central tower is the main tower. The basement is built in laterite stone, the towers are built in brick and sandstone. Few reliefs are still left, but they are nicely restorated. The site or what is left of it after all the centuries is so far in a good shape.

The temple of Sikhoraphum was built in the first half of the 12th century under the reign of king Suryavarman II, who also let built the most famous site in Southeast Asia, Angkor Wat. Since Suryavarman II declared himself a godking, in detail as the reincarnation of Vishnu, Sikhoraphum is certainly also dedicated to this god. However, there are also indications for a dedication to Shiva in the temple's carvings.

All images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 10/2015

Prasat Chom Phra

'Prasat Chom Phra' by Asienreisender

Another Angkorean sight in Surin Province is Prasat Chom Phra, one of the famous 102 'hospitals' built in the reign of king Jayavarman VII (1181 - 1220 CE). It's a smaller mahayana buddhist sanctuary built in laterite with a small pool outside the inner wall. Nowadays the compound is on a larger, contemporary Thai temple ground. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 10/2015.

Prasat Hin Ban Pluang

'Prasat Hin Ban Pluang' by Asienreisender

Some 30km or so south of Surin city, on the way to the Cambodian border crossing at Chong Jom lies this little jewel in the green. It's another Angkorean temple, a very small one, built roughly in the time around 1100 CE. It's surrounded by a u-shaped moat which is open towards the entrance direction. There are some nice carvings left at the single building. Seems, it's one of the Khmer temples who remained unfinished. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 10/2015


Chong Chom Border

Surin Province borders in the south to Cambodia, and there is a border crossing 1.5km behind a small, dirty market place called Chong Chom. It's a small border with little traffic. On the Cambodian site are merely a few of the usual pompous casinos and hotels placed who attrack wealthy Thai People or such who believe to become wealthy here.

Military Check Point

'Military Check Point' by Asienreisender

There are many military and sometimes police check points along Thailand's roads, particularly in border areas. Most of them look as they were permanently. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 11/2015

On the Thai side the elevation is very little, on the Cambodian side of the border are the main ridges of the Dangrek Mountain Chain to see.

The border procedure was pretty slow, particularly the Cambodian officials took their time. Seems to be a highly considerable thing for them to put a stamp into a passport. Probably they were in hope to pull a bribe out of me, but they failed.

After the also pretty slow and intricately procedure at the Thai border control I have been stopped three times within the next one kilometer at military posts. Twice teenagers in uniforms, equipped with guns, ordered me to produce my passport for them. The third stop was the worst. Several military staff checked the passengers in the van and made some photos with a smartphone. Then they took the driver with them and it took ten or fifteen minutes until he came back. Didn't look amused. Maybe they blackmailed him for a bribe... For what is all this double, triple, quadruple checking actually good? Apart from the driver, the passengers weren't that happy either to wait in the crammed vehicle in the bare sun.

The Dangrek Mountains at Chong Chom

'The Dangrek Mountain Chain at Chong Chom' by Asienreisender

Just a very few kilometers behind the border in Cambodia is a pass through the Dangrek Mountain Chain. A small village, O'Smach, lies short behind the border. Image by Asienreisender, 11/2015