Land and Nature
The Phanom Dong Rak Range demarcates Surin and other provinces on
Korat Plateau from Cambodia. The plateau slopes up and then down
into the valley. On which Buri Ram,Surin and Si Sa Ket provinces are
located. These provinces were once collectively called “High
Cambodia.” While the adjacent low plain in present-day Cambodia.”
While the adjacent low plain in present-day Cambodia was called “Low
Cambodia.” The peoples in these two neighboring countries visit the
others via 35 passes in the Range. Notably Chong Prasat Ta Muean.
Chong Prasat Ta Khwai. Chong Phrik and Chong Chom. The Kui people
once crossed the border to round up wild elephants in adjacent
Cambodia’s Udon Michai province. During the Khmer Empire. Surin lied
right on the important pilgrimage route linking Khmer. Thailand and
The elevated southern part of the province gradually slopes down to
the lowland and sparse forests in the north. The Mun River and a few
streams enrich the province with fishes and jasmine rice-reputedly
the best Thai rice. The swamp and sparse forests by the rivers are
sources of mushrooms. Vegetables and rattan. In the past the Mun
River was transportation route to Nakhon Ratchasima, and further to
Laos. The Mun and Chi Rivers converge at Ban Ta Klang. Amphoe Tha
Tum, the area where the Kui raised the elephants to be sent as a
tribute gift to the capital.
Surin’s geographical and natural features enhance cultural
amalgamation here for thousands of years. It once lied on the route
linking the various kingdoms in this region, notably Lao’s Champasak
and the Khmer Empire. The Kui people, attracted by the abundance of
wild elephants here, added particularly colorful culture to the
province. Surin today is charmed with splendorous Khmer ruins,
peculiar with its Cambodian-influenced culture, and renowned for its
highest number of domesticated elephants.
Turning Points in History
White terra cotta found in Chumphon Buri and forges verify the
pre-historic settlement along the Mun River 3,000 years before the
Buddhist Century. The descendants from the Munda tribe, who migrated
along the Mekong River from the Himalayas, settied down around the
Phanom Dong Rak Range. Given their skill in catching and training
elephants, they are presumed to be the Kui who live in present-day
Laos and Thailand.
The small town of Surin, as well as the whole northeastern region in
present-day Thailand, was part of the Funan Empire.
– 8th centuries
Chenla Empire defeated Funan and expanded its power over the
northeastern region. Surin became and important border town adjacent
to Vietnam from Hue to Saigon, Luang Phra Bang, Phetchaburi and
Sukhothai. Remains include multilayered moats and city walls.
The flourishing Khmer Empire expanded its power to the middle of
present-day northeastern region of Thailand. King Chaiyaworaman II
adopted the concept of God-king and constructed the Ankor Wat, one
of the miracles of the world. Many Khmer temples were erected to
represent God’s abodes.
King Chaiyaworaman VII adopted the concept of Buddhist King. This
Great King made merits by constructing numerous religious
sites,hospitals, called arokaya san or the place without diseases,
and hundreds of rest areas for travelers. Some remain today, notably
Surin’s Prasat Ta Muean and Prasat Ta Muean Tot.
Late 13th century
During the Sukhothai period, the Khmer Empire declined while
present-day Laos was divided into three independent states namely
Luang Phra Bang, Vientiane and Champasak with their skills in
catching and training elephants.
The Kui people, who had conflict with Champasak, migrated to Surin.
One of their leaders, Chiang Pum, settled down at Muang Thi in
present-day Amphoe Muang Surin. These people mastered in raising and
training elephants as well as in assembling food from the forest.
In the late Ayutthaya period, the Kui re-caught the white elephant
which ran away from the capital city. Upon returning the white
elephant to King Ekathat of Ayutthaya, the village headman was
promoted to be governor and the villages were promoted to town
status accordingly, such as Chiang Pum village to Muang Surin; and
Chiang Kha village became Muang Sangkha.
After his ascending to the throne in Bangkok, King Rama I pursued
the policy to strengthen the area along the Mekong River as the
buffer between Thailand and Vientiane and Champasak. Muang Prathai
Saman was renamed Surin on this occasion.
Under the reign of King Rama III, Prince Anuwong of Vientiane
attacked and defeated Muang Khukhan, Surin and Sangkha, Krom Phra
Ratchawang Bovorn Maha Sak Phon Sep, the heir to the throne, led the
army from Battambang to Surin, and defeated Prince Anuwong in
Vientianed in 1827.
The administrative reorganization during the reign of King Rama V
resulted in Surin being under the command of Hua Muang Lao Kao. The
Surin people, and those from Si Sa Ket, Khukhan and other towns
nearby, were conscripted to the armed confrontation during the
Franco-Siamese conflict in 1894.
Surin gained provincial status from the administrative reform.
Unlike other Northeasterners, Surin people prefer plain to sticky
rice, and grow the best Thai rice-the famed jasmine rice. Most of
Surin’s dishes are made from local vegetables and fish. Given
Cambodian culinary influence, some Surin dishes are cooked with less
concentrated coconut milk than that in the central region. The use
of turmeric and other spices suggests Indian influence, which has
remained in Cambodia since the Khmer Empire.
Traditional meal of the Cambodian descendants in Surin is laid on
flat basket called kradong. Plain rice is put in the middle of the
basket, surrounded with small bowls or receptacles made with banana
leaves, filled with soup, curry paste or nam phrik, and vegetables.
Most of these dishes, including the curry paste, are dry, since
Surin people traditionally eat with hands rather than spoons. This
style of food arrangement is rarely seen today, except in special
parties in local hotels or at Surin Ratchabhat Institute. The
dishes, including koi kung, san lo chek, Khu kachao, sa gnon trai
tala mit, lap tia, and others, can be tasted both in the morning and
A number of popular dishes are made from snakehead mullet, which can
be steamed, roasted, dried and deep fried, barbecued, and cooked in
Surin has always been influenced by the Cambodian and Thai cultures.
Its strategic location in the Thai wars against Cambodia and
Vientiane made it the assembly place for elephant army during the
early Rattanakosin period.
Indigenous Surin people
The Kui, the Cambodian and the Laotians in Surin have formed a
harmonious melting pot in Surin for hundreds of years. Cross-racial
marriages are normal, and crosslanguage communications are smooth.
The harmonious co-ex-istence in Surin entails the saying that the
Surin people are prone to take risk like the Cambodians, loyal and
devoted like the Laotians, and free-willed like the Kui.
Not many Chinese descendants live in Surin today.
The Kui are sometimes called Suai, which means tributary payment.
This name probably comes from the historical fact that once some
rural people paid in kind
the central government instead of being conscripted. The Kui
paid with wild elephants. These people, however, prefer the name
Kui, which means “human.”
The Kui played consequential role in the erection of Khmer temples,
as their elephants transported laterite or huge sandstones to the
Only 10 percent of Kui men raise elephants, while the rest are
farmers. Kui women have never been part of this elephant culture,
resorting instead to silk weaving.
At present the Kui live in hundreds of villages in almost all
districts in Surin, particularly in Chom Phra, Tha Tum, Chumphon
Buri, as well as in Buri Ram and Si Sa Ket provinces.
The Laotians in Surin were presumably descendants of those migrated
from Champasak in the late Ayutthaya period. They mix with other
local peoples in Rattanaburi, Sanom and Chumphon Buri. They can
preserve Hit Sip Song Khrong Sip Si, a merit-making practices,
including the rocket festivals.
The Cambodians were taken to Thailand in the aftermath of the
Thai-Cambodian war in the early Rataanakosin period. At present,
Cambodian descendants scatter around the province, and manage to
preserve their folk culture, such as kantruem music, chariang
singing, and other plays such as rueam an re or pestle dance.