I know a few people are interested in how things are there so I thought I would post my thoughts in the hope it helps someone. I am going to break it down into the surin islands themselves and the actual trip.
The islands - I was really quite disappointed at the snorkeling spots we stopped at. Very dead, aside from a few blocks of acropora, no soft corals and quite a distinct lack of fish. Usually i take hundreds of photos in a snorkeling session, I think I took less than a hundred. Apart from schools of sargeant majors we spotted a few clown fish, some parrot fish, fox faces, few species of butterfly fish and the highlight was some huge Christmas tree worms and a pair of blueface angels but they were very deep. Otherwise, distinct lack of colour. If you have snorkeled the red sea or Maldives then you may feel deflated.
Lunch was fine, very basic and if you are fussy in any way,you might want to consider taking some snacks! After lunch we walked through the dining area to the camping beach and wow, the scenery and view there is stunning. A huge aquamarine lsandy lagoon fringed withwhite sandy beaches and forest. We declined the third snorkeling stop, thinking it was unlikely to be any thing special, and instead spent a few hours taking in the scenery and swimming.
The trip - arranged through khao lak vista, very good at answering queries, but was with kuraburi, who I gather are the main operator. I wasn't impressed with the trip unfortunately for a number of reasons. I'd underestimated the travel time (my own fault), we were first pick up at 7.10, not reaching the pier until just before nine. The boat was absolutely crammed, there was no room to move at all, a few people commented that they thought it was too full and I had to agree. The guide introduced himself but there was no safety briefing, no info on how to look for or follow in an emergency. I've been on many snorkeling trips before, but never one where staff don't get in the water with the guests! There were people every where, another group from a barracuda boat were at the first spot and it got difficult to tell who was who.
My main gripe, and i had to have a 'word' with the guide after the first snorkel, was the insane amount of people walking all over the coral and rocks. My husband has pictures of people just standing on bommies putting on fins and adjusting masks etc. As someone passionate about preserving the reef, I found this heartbreaking. Clearly a lot of these people could barely swim, let alone snorkel. Only after my intervention did the guide tell people NOT to walk on the coral,but most spoke no English!
The return trip was even worse, firstly the driver stopped twice at different 7/11s so kuraburi hotel guests could get their groceries, he then picked up another man,no idea who he was, and then the fun began! He took us to white sand beach, where we drove very slowly around the main road looking for........ la flora! We didn't know at the time,ending up at apsara where the guard told him 'bang niang'. So after a 25 minute detour we worked out he was looking for our hotel, the other guests on our bus were staying at mukdara so needed to be in the same place.
So we carry on down the highway......straight past the turning for bang niang! In signalling to the other Thai gent that we needed to turn right, but they ignore me.... Carrying on into bang la on!! Then we stop again, he asked for directions. We literally had to hand sign him to the main road of bang niang. the trip back from the pier took over 2.5 hours,it was dark by the time we back at the hotel. We had almost booked the Thai theme night here,good job we didn't as we would have missed a lot of it!
So, overall ,the islands are very beautiful and if you haven't got any decent reef experience, then its a great trip but a very,very long day. Personally, I would have liked to have stayed a night or two. To enjoy the beach and recover from the journey. I am sure there are better snorkelling spots that the bigger speedboats can't reach!
I will post photos when we get home.
Hope it helps!Edited: 08 February 2014, 02:09