February, 2010

...now browsing by month

 

Hat Yai, Songkhla – A traveler friendly city in Thailand!

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

© 2010 Frank P. Schneidewind

 

Hat Yai or Haad Yai is the biggest City in Southern Thailand. Undisputed rail-hub of the southern region. Enroute to and from Malaysia, if you travel by train, bus or car. It is a rather sleepy city, if you compare it to Bangkok. Train rides cost you anywhere from under 300 Baht for a 3rd class seat or 1.500 Baht for a 1st class bed.

See our low-down on SRT’s services to make your choice. Siampedia contains features, covering each individual option of rail travel! Grab your direct link here: (3rd class, 2nd class seat, 2nd class sleeper A/C, 1st class cabin)

Backpackers are no outcasts here, the local travel industry is amongst the friendliest in the nation. Many shops sell tickets to Pak Bara, Pak Meng, the Perhentians, Krabi, Langkawi, Koh Samui, Tioman, Tarutao and any other destination that pops into your mind. They are a bit pricy close to the rail station and charge gradually less, if you shop around an venture a bit into downtown Hat Yai. Comparing services avoids getting ripped off! Avoid so called “Joint Tickets” and decide at piers or transportation hubs which next step of the planned journey to book.  100 Thai Baht equal, as a role of thumb 2 Euros or 3 US-$

Here, all clocks seem to have a somewhat slower pace, and visitors to the real South of Thailand will be surprised by the low fares and prices in the City, and the entire province of Songkhla.

Just to give you some examples: Basic Thai food at the plenty of stalls will run you 20 to 35 Baht per dish; selections are here in abundance to find. Tuktuks charge a flat rate of 20 Baht per person citywide. This is negotiable downwards, if you are traveling with a family or group. A street stall style hot coffee for 10 Baht in Hat Yai doesn’t really taste less good, than the 50 Baht coffees on Koh Samui or in Phuket! But then again, we are here in the true South, with heightened security levels and armed military or guards being present everywhere. You will see uniformed military with assault rifles everywhere! At the airport, the station or the bus terminal. No need to be afraid, the Muslim insurgency targets primarily South of here (Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani). Well armed troops board all trains heading to Sungai Kolok here, there were several bloody incidents, calling for this measure in the past. Avoid to don fatigues, army surplus luggage and olive drab or black colored garments, when you go to Hat Yai or pass on to places in Thailand South of here!;)

Hotels and guesthouses are here in great variety. We opt since long for a nice place with A/C rooms, Breakfast and WiFi in the 500 Baht bracket, there is no need to fork over large sums here for a good room to stay in! The Hat Yai Garden Home is located not too far from the railway station, and downtown plus the markets are within walking distance. The rooms are decent, but there are so many alternatives on almost every road here – just walk in and check their rates. Even the nicest places in town hardly charge more than a 1.000 Baht per night!

The city is well developed and the bus-tourists on their weekend trips from Kuala Lumpur or other places in Malaysia fill up a good percentage of hotel rooms on weekends. Bustrips to K.L. cost about 500 Baht with a luxury coach, Penang by minivan is 300 Baht – all prices are one-way. Malaysians mainly come here to shop or be entertained.

Hat Yai offers hundreds of stores, several malls and shopping centers plus a few hundred coyote-style dance bars and massage parlors. KTV or Karaoke entertainment venues sprinkle not only downtown, but the whole city at night. Most hotels also have such clubs included, make sure to book a higher floor, if late night noise bothers you.

Garments and kitchen ware, food, gold jewelry and toys are the big sellers here – and all stores are full. Chocolates and candy on the sidewalk is nicely packaged, but contains cheap Chinese or locally made product. Just the packaging resembles the better known imported brands. ;(

Save your money and buy it as an original product at the large ZON duty-free outlet between the Thai and Malaysian checkpoints in Sadao, if you head into Malaysia that way!

 

It is a sheer paradise for Thaifood lovers here! Prices are low and quality/cleanliness above Thai provincial standards. Bartering is unnecessary for these products, the prices are affordable for any budget.

Western food can be found in a variety of restaurants too. There is a Sizzlers, Pizza joints and McDonalds concentrated in and around the Lee Garden Plaza (biggest hotel in town, landmark character high-rise!)

We made it a habit, to escape the hordes of shoppers on good weather days. A 20 Baht bus or 30 Baht minivan connects Hat Yai’s main district with Songkhla town, the seaside resort. Ride the minivan from the clocktower, if you want to be taken to Tan Kuan Hill (monkey playground, hill tram, viewpoint) or have fun by the sea. Hat Samila is our most favored urban beach in Thailand, playing facilities for youngsters are amongst the best in the nation!

Above picture shows, how near the hill is to the beach, the building on top hosts an ice cream parlor and a snackeria. The playground (Made in Finland) in the foreground, right side is pictured below in detail. The solid constructed “Santa Maria” is free to use, and a perfect destination for our niece (3 1/2 yrs.) to spend an entire day.

She takes occasional breaks from all the climbing, swinging and sliding in the warm waters of the Gulf of Thailand here. The beach is maintained by the City of Songkhla, so trash is fairly limited. Please also read our older report with many more photos of Songkhla. Hotels are also available here nearby, but we rather commute the 30 Minutes from Hat Yai by minivan and are more flexible that way.

Helicopters at low altitude fly overhead every hour, they service the off-shore gas-rigs of PTT out in the gulf during daylight hours. To us, they are no real disturbance – they offer our beloved niece something to watch, just like the freighters and warships cruising in the distance.

The breeze really freshens up dependably after 16:00 hours. This is the time when the kite flyers show up and the sky displays a variety of kites of all shapes and sizes within half an hour. Soon it will be time for us to get back to Hat Yai, the last minivan leaves from downtown Songkhla (1.500 m) at 18:00 or 18:30 hours.

Soi Cowboy in Bangkok – Sin City, Thailand

Friday, February 26th, 2010

© 2010 Frank P. Schneidewind

We at SIAMPEDIA do not venture into the fields of promoting objectionable entertainment for adults. But we do also not close our eyes in the face of reality and visitor’s desires, when exploring the “City of Angels”. So please click elsewhere for a destination description, if prostitution bothers you and your type and focus of nightly entertainment is potentially found to be in other locations. Here we will try to give a short breakdown on one of the most famous redlight-districts in Asia:

It wasn’t until the mid 70’s, that this formerly insignificant short stretch of road in Bangkok was named “Soi Cowboy”.

It is located one block north of Sukhumvit Road between the Soi’s 21 and 23. Soi 21 is better known as Asoke Road. The great optional connections with the Skytrain (BTS) and the subway system (MRT), which care for easy access for all visitors are used by many. This in case, the visitors don’t stay right around the corner, where the “Grand Millennium” and other fine hotels offer luxury hotel rooms. A former USAF soldier by the name of T.G. Edwards, who listened to the nickname “Cowboy”, started the first bar in this road.

His tall frame and trademark Cowboy hat started a nightlife legacy in Bangkok. Soon, the Soi Cowboy competed with older red light quarters, namely the Patpong called area, which expatriates and informed tourists alike began to shun for it’s prices and sleaze factor. Patpong was a bit more difficult to access and the touts in Patpong were overly aggressive.

Soi Cowboy appeared to the tourists a bit more clean and classy, the early establishments here hired the best looking dancers and waitresses, mostly originating from the poorer Isaan provinces. Lao was more widespread, than Thai here, at least amongst the growing crowd of charming hostesses.

Other fellow foreigners followed Cowboy’s footprint and opened bars, where girls in sexy swimwear-style of costumes danced on chrome poles on a podium within. With prostitution being officially illegal and banned in Thailand;)

….the girls usually were available for a given period of time in the customer’s own accommodation, after the customer paid a “bar-fine” to the establishment.

Money is invested, where more money is to be made. So bar owners invested in ritzier furniture, mirrored walls and flashy neons on the outside. Soi Cowboy developed quick into a true magnet for mainly male single travelers and foreign residents. Local males were not admitted by most bars, unless they were in the company of a foreigner. Occasional scandals are a normality in every redlight-zone on this planet. Soi Cowboy had quite a few of police raids, bar-brawls and machete wielding motorcycle taxi drivers over the years.

Everything went well until Thaksin Shinawatra’s “Social Order Campaign” just after the Millennium disturbed the mushrooming growth of Soi Cowboy. It’s foreign shareholders were thorns in the flesh of local Thai pimps and bar owners from other amusement sectors within Bangkok. Rumors surfaced, that hard lobbying of those domestic redlight-lords was geared to eradicate Soi Cowboy as the prime entertainment area of the capital.

With their concept of better equipped bars, comfy seating and a constantly changing, but always stunning array of dancers; Soi Cowboy topped the statistics with the knowledgeable and informed crowd in Bangkok. Customer satisfaction, good air-conditioning and a strict control over rowdies and other annoyances helped Soi Cowboy to establish itself as a prime place for adult entertainment amongst foreigners.

The campaign peaked in reduced opening times, earlier closures and a much disputed smoking ban towards 2008.

Soi Cowboy was also ignored completely by the rulers and lawmakers, when they zoned the cities amusement districts. At least 40 bars and several other businesses, like restaurants, were threatened by new, restrictive and Government imposed rules. Those were Police enforced and fines for bars violating these were hefty. 1.000 bar girls and countless other owners and staff feared the dark clouds over their heads.

Soi Cowboy as a district for nighttime fun survived with clipped wings, the unjustly treatment as a non-entertainment area lost some of it’s clout with the Government in turmoil and Mr. Shinawatra as a fugitive and convicted person.

Newly opened establishments featured often a catchier facade, it became a custom for the owners to position some girls directly in front to attract pedestrians.

Soi Cowboy is and was a predominant red-light zone, but with its mix of GoGo-bars, Snooker-halls and Live-music-venues plus Eateries, it became an option for couples and groups of female fun-seekers as well. Females in general are welcomed guests in all establishments, although their main focus remained at all times on the unaccompanied male traveler.

Closing times were a constant issue, presently 01 A.M. or 02 A.M. are enforced. In old times, the action went much longer here, but the unfair zoning reduced this significantly.
Cross-dressers, drag-queens, Kathoeys or ladyboys in general are rather frequenting other locations like Patpong. Soi Cowboy always had a reputation for a heterosexually structured clientele. Although the occasional non-female actor in a bikini could be spotted.

There used to be a heavily frequented German style beerhouse with restaurant on the end of Soi Cowboy at Soi 23, but that has relocated to Sukhumvit Soi 11 meanwhile, into much larger premises (Old German Beerhouse). It left some vacuum here, but there are enough options available for hungry revelers.

Spice Girls came to fame shortly after its opening, when actor Nicolas Cage had sequences of the blockbuster movie hit “Bangkok Dangerous” filmed here. While some bars have a reputation for tricky girls, the frontally pictured ones have been visited by the author and no such tricking was witnessed.
In general, one seems safer with the larger establishments on Soi Cowboy.

Elephants are present on most days since T.G.Edwards pioneered this Soi. Walked or ridden by their “Mahouts”, helpers sell food for the pachyderms to bystanders and let you take a picture for a small fee. This form of exploitation is widespread in Bangkok, although yearly calls by the city administration for action against this exploitation remain notoriously unheard.

With Patpong being a center of thugs, pickpockets and bag snatchers, Soi Cowboy is relatively harmless and safe to visit.

While the closest BTS (Sky Train) station is called Asoke, the MRT (subway) equivalent near here, was named “Sukhumvit”!