Songkhla

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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.

The real South begins here! – Songkhla

Friday, December 4th, 2009

© Frank P. Schneidewind

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The Province of Songkhla is probably the most undervalued and underreported area in Thailand, when it comes to tourism to this very beautiful part of Thailand. Hat Yai for being it’s economically largest city and traffic hub, is easily accessible by car, plane or overnight train from Bangkok and the other parts of the Kingdom. Satun and it’s islands in the West are the southernmost points of Thailand, which are mentioned in the promotional frameworks of the Tourist Authority of Thailand. A goverment owned and operated office to channel and enhance all public relations about the Kingdom’s sights and tourist’s destinations.

Hat Yai and the coastal City of Songkhla on the eastern Gulfshore seem to play an insignificant role in TAT’s efforts and productions of brochures and publications. Their multilingual promotional flyers and informations do concentrate just on places west and north of here.

Songkhla’s inhabitants aren’t scared or irritated by foreigners, this is where you’ll find probably the most friendly crowd of locals, in other words – the folks don’t just grin or smile at you speechless, eyeballing the cash you may drop here – they seem to have answers to your questions and are very helpful to foreigners. One reason for this may be the sheer density of institutes for higher learning and universities in town. People here seem to be smart and not just grin or smile at you. That doesn’t mean that smiles are rarer here, but they appear honest and true versus the famous “I don’t know – smile”, which you may earn elsewhere upon asking any question to local folks.

Nature meant well with the inhabitants of Songkhla and famous Samila Beach flanks the city to the eastern shore, where the famous sculpture of a mermaid on display alone attracts thousands of locals alone each year:

The mermaid here is a statue, which has been erected not too long ago. It has quickly developed into a motive for prized pictures for all that come here – to one of the longest urban bathing beaches in Thailand. Most of it’s many Kilometers flank the cities eastern side and it stretches from a rock formation south of the city to a small cape (mermaid’s location!), then for a few hundred meters in a east to west direction, before continuing it’s long way to the Songkhla Lake’s connection to the gulf. The Songkhla Lake is Thailand’s largest natural lake, it has a salinity measuring about half the oceans own.

Irrawaddy dolphins are said to be here, but despite intensive search, the author never caught a glimpse of them in countless trips here. The brackish waters in this lagoon change gradually to sweet water as the observer progresses north, where mangrove swamps dominate the lakeshore inland. Songkhla Lake poses an overfishing and pollution problem, currently being studied and checked by several academical research teams.

On any nice weekend day, the waiting time at the statue may even exceed the travellng time here. Thousands of Thai people want to have their pictures taken. In the backdrop you can spot Cat-Island and Mouse-Island, a scenic landmark of Songkhla, also honored by their respective statues on shore (Hat Samila).

The kids will find a wooden pirate ship on their playground here to climb aboard (oversized toys) and in the late afternoon, vendors sell kites when the breezes freshen up a bit. 10 Baht and up is the charge for these handmade kites, that always does includes some line!

Tan Kuan Hill with it’s fabulous sights in all diections is another attraction in Songkhla. The Thailand traveller is surprised, that there is a fair pricing on all attractions in Songkhla and south of here, a cablecar ride to the hilltop costs a few coins to all that want to use the service. Thai and foreigner are the same people here with identical prices.The automated shuttle to the hilltop is much rather a 137 m long elevator, than a vehicle. It is a cabin, guided by tracks and supported by cables.

A monkey playground and feeding facility is right next to the base station, a free and great fun to interact with them. Food for them is sold by locals on-site!

The viewpoint at the ice cream parlor and snackeria, a few steps down in a northerly direction, offers a great view of Hat Samilas northern tip and the commercial ships that frequent Songkhlas industrial harbor. The islands can be seen in the east and the structure to prevent larger waves from entering the inland lake area, can also be seen.

The hilltop has a large temple and Thai people come here to pray and burn some firecrackers. To prevent any possible forest fires, the temple’s management provides firecracker cages for that purpose.

The views southwards offer also a nice view. Songkhla’s universities with their diversified faculties can be seen well from here.

Also of interest is the sight towards northwest, where the southern tip of Songkhla Lake comes into view. That is where the ferry connects to route # 408 to Nakhorn Si Thammarat for road traffic, although most cars and trucks take the new Tinsulanonda-Bridge further west. The hill would be perfect for a zipline business, one of the modern attractions, where a tourist gets geared up and hung onto a zip-line (steel-cable) between fixed platforms and sheer gravity gets them moving! It could go downhill to the ape’s playground on the eastern slope. Instead of a “Flight of the gibbon”, it would be a flight to the monkeys of Songkhla.

Naga is the name for the water spouting monument, which is near the ferry on the beach. A serpent headed mythical creature from ancient times, which is believed to have magical powers.

The ferry itself is aged and rusty, but it carries many times daily it’s load of vehicles and passengers across. The fare is marginal and on a typical, “local” level. Many bikes and some cars or light trucks use it. Helmets for bikers can’t be seen outside city limits, no one even carries one, despite the law.

The mopeds carry anything here, from whole families with their kids to entire girlie-gangs on their beach– or bathing-trip. 5 people on a bike is no rarity here!

The other coastal areas in the Province north and south along the Gulf of Siam stretch as far as the Province’s soil. We love the beach-biking here and also beach combing. A few fishermen may attend their boats or nets, but undisturbed wild beaches for many miles. Any other person is seldom to be seen.

The driftwood makes great campfires and no one worries, as long as you stay clear of the fragile vegetation along the shore.

A suitable motorcycle, a wild beach on a sunny day – the warm waters of the Gulf, we love this!

With motorcycle rentals as low as 150 Baht per day and guesthouses beginning in the 200 Baht bracket, hotels with Aircon run around 500 Baht per room. Just fancy star-rated palazzos charge above this in Songkhla.

On all our trips we treasured the local vegetation along the shores, which is so diverse. From cacti to seapines, you’ll find it here. The food in Songkhla belongs to the best in the Kingdom, and many restaurants can serve all your needs.

The distance to Bangkok is almost 1.000 KM, a nighttrip in a train later and you’ll be here for a fraction of the transport charges going to Phuket, which is much closer to Bangkok. Public transport in town is cheap and flat-rate style. Buses connect frequently to Hat Yai for 30 Baht.

In Songkhla, you will encounter a fairly high percentage of locals with advanced English speaking capabilities and great people plus a multitude of opportunities to see and catch some nice experiences – why not put it on your own agenda for your next Thailand trip?