Other than Bangkok and islands full of tourist, Thailand southern territory are worth exploring for its history, culture and religion. The lesser-known towns in the south are charming, and Songkhla and Phatthalung are great examples.
Songkhla has been home to Chinese Hokkien Thais and Muslim Thais for centuries. Once I found that out I felt at home, because I’m from Penang and I speak Hokkien! 🙂
Admittedly it is not Bangkok, but the massages here are just as good, prices are even cheaper and food is in abundance all the same. One might ask, “What exactly can one do in Hat Yai?“, and trust me, I ask myself the same question when I received the email from Firefly Airlines announcing their inaugural flight trip for media.
Well, besides the obvious of what Hat Yai is known for, there are some other activities to keep the wandering tourist occupied. I was in Hat Yai town for 2 days, and spent a whole day in Songkhla on the Singora Tram Tour. Songkhla is merely 30 minutes from Hat Yai and has many attractions to offer the wandering traveler.
Note: Hat Yai is a town/district in the Province of Songkhla. Songkhla occupies an area of 7,393 square kilometres, and is administratively divided into 16 districts: Mueang Songkhla, Ranot, Krasae Sin, Sathing Phra, Singhanakhon, Khuan Niang, Rattaphum, Bang Klam, Hat Yai, Na Mom, Chana, Thepha, Na Thawi, Saba Yoi, Sadao, and Khlong Hoi Khong.
For a start, I would suggest the Singora Tram Tour. It’s FREE and it takes you to the mains areas of Songkhla and shows you the essential parts of Songkhla province. This rather educational tour is safe and convenient too!
The usual Singora Tram Tour is about an hour or 2. However our tour that day extended much longer due to special arrangements. Anyhow, this post serves to give you some insights of where/what/when of Songkhla. 🙂
The tour starts from Phathammarong Museum. 6 rounds daily are provided for tourists, including weekends and public holidays. In a trial period, it’s free of charge service in order to develop and improve tourism. .
Round 1 : At 09:00 am
Round 2 : At 10:00 am
Round 3 : At 11:00 am
Round 4 : At 01:00 pm
Round 5 : At 02:00 pm
Round 6 : At 03:00 pm
The museum was constructed in Thai style to resemble the birthplace of General Prem Tinsulanonda, President of the Privy Council and Statesman who is a Songkhla native.
The use of wood and the high stilts reminded me of old Malay houses back in Malaysia. Below is the welcome area for guests and or the verandah.
Stepping in, all of us started to get busy taking pictures of the traditional items and furnishing of the house.
Seriously, I didn’t feel as if I was in a traditional house in Thailand. Everything seems familiarly “Malay“, a testament of the influences from the Muslim/Thai community?
This was the kitchen. The traditional cooking items are certainly not new to me as my grandmother’s kitchen has the same items and I had to use them when I was young! But it was all nostalgic indeed.
Next was the National Museum of Songkhla. It is a beautiful sprawling bungalow, clean and serene.
The building is rather unique because of its Chinese architecture. From what I gathered online, the museum has an excellent collection of exhibits from all over Thailand, dating back as far as pre-historic period of the Stone Age and the Neolithic period of Kanchanaburi. Unfortunately for us, it was closed for renovation during our visit so we were not able to explore within the building, and instead we just walked around the outer courtyard.
The tram rambled its way merrily through the wide, windy streets of Songkhla. Below is part of the prison wall that is still erect. In comparison to Hat Yai town, Songkhla seems shrouded in serenity and peace. Buildings are beautifully painted and well maintained. Roads are wide and the air is clean.
Soon we found ourselves at Samila beach, the most popular beach in Songkhla. This coastline is about 6km long and the beach was pristine and wide.
Our tram took us through the whole stretch of the beach and u-turned at the end. It was rather queer to see a sitting statue of a man with a book at the roundabout.
But Samila Beach… Oh, I liked it very much.
It is very people-friendly, welcoming and clean. There are small stalls and little shelters opposite of the beach side, providing a separation of food and grime from the beach. Though you may buy food and beverages and set up a cosy picnic on the beach, the separation minimised dirty wash water and grease polluting the beach directly. Occasionally you’ll see a few carts hawkering food along the coastline but at least they are not a permanent outlet on the beach.
Another thing I observed about Samila Beach? It’s not overly crowded (that could be because it’s a rather long, wide beach) and there were plenty of shady trees. The soft pristine sand, lazy breeze and unpolluted surroundings emanated a magnetic pull, almost impossible to resist. 🙂
This is the famous “Naga” stature of Songkhla. The Songkhla province has many sculptures of interest, one of which is this one. Separated into 3 parts, the head is at Laem Son On Dam, the body is in the Lan Chom Dao – near the Lotus pool, and the tail is near the Songkhla Golf Course. It was interesting to note the way the sculptures are meant to evoke the image of a large dragon moving its way through the city. A picture of a majestic fierce dragon releasing a red-orange stream of fire from its mouth as it snakes itself across the island, leaving its surroundings quivering in its aftermath played through my mind when we passed by each sculpture!
Coconut ice cream!
A welcoming icy respite from the hot, humid weather. This was one of the many options from a whole stretch of stalls hawkering tempting morsels of fried tit-bits, piquant Thai salads and drinks along Samila Beach itself.
This ice cream is similar to the one I posted earlier, but without the raw egg yolk! 😀
Life’s a beach, so grab a hat! :DD
Take your pick from a myriad of styles and materials and they won’t even hurt your wallet, each costing between RM8 – RM15 (80 – 150 baht). Guess which one I bought?? 😉
We then stopped at the temple to ogle at the large statuary that’s the iconic mermaid statue of Songkhla – the Golden Mermaid Statue. The guides urged us to go closer for photographs. Like I said, Songkhla does boasts of many symbolic statues, the other 2 more being the Mouse and the Cat, which we missed.
We hurried on to the Songkhla Aquarium, where a feeding show awaits. On the way we saw the “body” section of the Naga statue.
But they said we can’t possibly miss the head. So here we are!
The Great Serpeant “Nag”.
The “Nag” is the deity of divine creation of water as well as fertility for all living things. The people of Southern Thailand believes that Nag sprays divine waters so as to make people feel fresh and happy, as well as to purify the blemishes which occurs within our minds and bodies.
As a result, the Nag is one of the most highly respected deities of Southern Thailand. Thus the local people frequently pay respect to Nag and ask him to forever bring happiness and good fortune to their lives.
I certainly didn’t expect Songkhla to have an aquarium. I must say this venue is totally under-marketed.
For the sea lovers, one can certainly spend an average of 2 hours here, and be sure not to miss the feeding show!
The aquariums are clean and the sealife looks well taken care of, a prerequisite for such attractions. There isn’t a shark-walking opportunity here like the one I went in Melbourne Aquarium but here we sat back and watch one of the divers waltzed with the turtles and sharks, while surrounded by shoals of big fishes, stingrays, and turtle.
The feeding show lasted about 15 minutes. I sat astonished as the diver spinned, hugged and played with the sharks, turtle and stingrays throughout the show.
The sharks didn’t seem so terrifying here huh? It’s actually enjoying a bellyrub! 🙂
In this tank, most of the sea life weights at least 100kg or so. Entrance fee is RM25/250 bath. Surf www.songkhlaaquarium.com or call +66 2011 2012 for further details.
The Major of Songkhla Municipality, Peera Tantiseranee joined us during the feeding show. A lively and energetic man, he chatted, walked and had lunch with us at the Songkhla Old Town.
The old town of Songkhla. The old quarter is demarked by Nang Ngam Road, Songkhla’s main street, as well as Nakhon Nai, Nakhon Nok, Yala, Yaring and Pattani streets. These were mainly the few that we strolled about that afternoon. Here, the disparity of the streets from the earlier tour we had can be seen.
Again it reminded me of Penang, these war-torn looking shoplots, with hanging cables, grills and faded paint.
This is also where the mixed-culture among Buddhist-Chinese-Muslim people is located. You can see “Songkhla Mosque”, ” City Pillar Shirne” , and “Thai Temple”, all in this Old Town area. Most of all, many old houses and buidings are located here, and walking between these roads, venturing into the old-school shops is like entering a time-warp into a by-gone age.
Restaurants with multi-coloured tiles, heavy marble tables and chairs, old pull-grills and wooden doors bought back memories of Penang. In many ways (personally for me as I’m a Penangite), I find these streets not entirely alien. Old ladies sell cakes in front of their houses; many have their home doubling up as shops, and many more doubled up as antique/coffee shops.
Waves of nostalgia washed over me. Even lunch was reminiscence of the olden days; plastic plates and steel cutleries!
We ate at this 80 year old coffee shop, said to be famous for its homely cooked food.
The eclectic mix of architecture such as below are no uncommon in old town Songkhla. The top curved (crescent shaped) windows and balcony bears striking similarities to Malay architecture while downstairs housed a Chinese restaurant.
As expected of a popular restaurant, it was packed with locals and families.
Mayor Peera favours the food here as well. Here’s he’s seen tucking heartily into lunch right at our table.
This is the southern somtam; spicier and more sour than the tomyam.
We didn’t get to eat any pork though this wasn’t a pork-free establishment as there were Muslims in our group. Sad, for we missed out on the pork knuckle which I saw was on almost every table in the restaurant!
Anyhow, the tomyam fish was a firm favourite with all, followed closely by the somtam fish with coconut. I liked the braised duck with gizzards! 🙂
Clockwise from left: Tom yam fish – this was unlike the usual soupy tomyam preparation as it lacked the sharp tang but instead was thicker and piquantly sweet. Both of the vegetables were much appreciated, simple and tasty. The taufu with crabmeat seems to be the most luxurious item. The overall meal was homely, satisfying and delicious!
We thought that was all there is for food. But oh boy, just a short stroll away I spotted this little shop selling ice cream. And when I saw the raw egg yolk, I was hooked! The next thing we know, all of us are holding a cup each! 🙂
Stuffed with coconut juice and ice cream and eggs, we strolled across the road and bought the famous BIG PAUs for tea!
Big, juicy, plump pork buns.. heavenly! Read more about them HERE.
The tour continued with us visiting some of the famous shrines and temples within the vicinity. Enroute, I stopped at some of the shops along the whole street. As I said earlier, this street was flanked both sides with shops selling food items, antiques and shrines.
Unfortunately these were not for sale. 🙁 They would have made great collectibles for sure!
We stepped into a Hokkien shrine; Kuan Uu Shrine, one of the many in the Old Town. The Chinese shrine is regarded as an important institution in the community, a place to express their worship and faith. Chinese people firmly believe in religion and the location of many Chinese shrines could be found at the center of the community, for the sake of their convenience.
The many shrines housed different Gods with different “capabilities”. Many are worshiped as a sign of respect and also for the the belief that the Gods will bestow upon them good health, prosperity, happiness, security/safety and many other good tidings.
The Kuan Uu Shrine – located on Nang Ngam Road near the Songkhla City Pillar Shrine.
Right in front of the shrine is this raised Chinese opera stage where customers must bend down to be seated. It was an astounding sight and immediately flashes of images of people squatting under a stage and slurping a bowl of noodles came to mind. Wouldn’t it be uncomfortable, I wondered?
It is not actually! See the patrons sit below enjoying bowls of noodles and drinks? Unless you’re exceptionally tall, the height of the stage accommodates just nicely when you see on the low stools. Likewise, all food and drinks are prepared on the same spot.
Songkhla Old Town:
Consist of 3 major streets _ Nakhon Noak, Nakorn Nai and Nang Ngam. Muslim communities also lived peacefully in the same area where their mosques can be seen not far from old Chinese shrines and Buddhist temples. The food you see above are on Nang Ngam street.
Our next destination was the Tang Kuan Hill.
We bid the cheerful Mayor Peera farewell at this stage and thanked him for joining us. Really, he’s such a humble man and it’s charming of him to allocate time off his busy schedule to sight-see, have lunch, accommodate an interview session, joked and share his stories of Songkhla with us.
Tang Kuan Hill, Songkhla reminds me of Penang Hill.
For a nominal fee, a visitor takes a lift up to the top for panaromic views of Songkhla.
Yes, it’s modelled almost like the venicular trains that goes up Penang Hill. Back then in Penang, hiking up Penang Hill was my favourite past time. I think that was the only thing I missed about Penang. 🙁
Tang Kuan Lift carries a maximum 20 passengers per round to the top of hill daily. Though a short ride, it wasn’t the most comfortable as the lift can be packed and everyone has to stand.
The view at the top could be worth it for some.
However, most visitors are here to see the Phra Chedi Luang, the royal pavilion built during the reign of King Rama V.
We took the same tram down and at the bottom of the hill, I was reminded of Penang again.
Monkeys! Yes, just like the Botanical Gardens near Penang Hill. But the monkeys here have a better time, with “toys” such as swimming pool below built specially for them!
I was specially beguiled seeing the monkeys with their newborns hanging on them.
As typically when around monkeys, be careful and hold on tight to your possessions – hat/bags/cameras. The nursing ones are particularly aggressive as they are protective of their newborns.
Next we headed to the Hat Yai Cable Car. I bet you didn’t know Hat Yai has cable cars huh? 🙂
It was opened rather recently I was told; at the beginning of December 2011. At the foot of the hill there is a place of worship which is called the Elephant Temple/Brahman Shrine. This beautiful statue of a three headed elephant is one of the main attractions.
The cable car serves also as a connecting point to the Kuan Im/Guan Yin (Goddess of Mercy) and Buddha Statue on top of the hill. Could you see the golden stature in the distance in the picture below? 🙂
We didn’t take the cable car as we were rushing to get back to the hotel for the Hat Yai Fashion Festival that evening. Our van took us right to the Golden Buddha on the hill of the Hatyai Municipal Park so we could look around and snap some shots.
Here you go; more scenic views of Songkhla.
Below: The statue of Kuan Yin in the far distance. From the Golden Buddha you can opt to walk down these stairs to the Kuan Yin below.
Or if you’re lucky/lazy like us, we got our van to drive us there! 😀
Many people are here to worship and offer their prayers to Kuan Yin, including myself. There was also a grand colourful stature of Kuan Kung, also respected as God of War or for business.
This rather interesting monument was this dragon staircase. It was popular for pictures with the tourists for obvious reasons.
Done with the tour we headed back to our hotel to freshen up and headed out again for FASHION time! 🙂
**This excursion was part of the media trip organised by Firefly Airlines as part of their inaugural Subang-Hatyai flight.
Firefly Airline has commenced flight between Subang (KL) to Hat Yai (Thailand) as of 17th Aug 2012. Current promotion is RM99 one way till further notice.
Hat Yai (HDY) – Subang (SZB)
Commencement: 17 August 2012
|FY 3614||SZB-HDY||9.50 am||10.10 am||1 hour 20 min||Mon, Wed, Fri, Sun|
|FY 3615||HDY – SZB||10.30 am||1.00 pm||1 hour 30 min||Mon, Wed, Fri, Sun|
Ticket purchases can be made from Firefly’s website (www.fireflyz.com.my), mobile application, airport and city ticketing offices, call-centre and through travel agents.