SONGKHLA AND HAT YAI
Songkhla is an eastern coastal province in southern Thailand edging the Thai Gulf. The province covers some 7,150 square kilometers. The provincial capital is 950 kilometers south of Bangkok. Linked to the provincial capital by a 30-minute road journey along Highway 407, Hat Yai is Songkhla's and southern Thailand's principal commercial, communications, entertainment and shopping center. Songkhla was formerly known as Singha-la (a lion) by Indian, Persian and Arabian merchants since the petitie offshore Cat and Rat islands presented a somewhat leonine appearance from the sea. Once a medieval pirate stronghold, Songkhla is a sleepy historic town with a thriving fishing community edging the fine Samila Beach and the Great Songkhla Lake, Thailand's largest body of inland water.
City Attractions - in the city
3 kilometers from the municipal market on Ratchadamnoen Road, soft white sand and beachside pine trees characterize this fine beach. The major landmark is the Golden Mermaid statue fronting the headland.
This hillock behind the Samila Beach headland commands a panoramic view of Songkhla, and contains a fitness park and a petite topiary garden.
Songkhla Golf Course
Locally known as Thong Yai Golf Course, this 9-hole beachside course faces Samila Beach. It is open to the public daily.
Son On Beach
This lies directly north of Samila Beach. Hundreds of beachside pine trees provide cool shade for several restaurants offering simple but deliciously fresh seafood. The attractive area is particularly popular during the late afternoon and evening.
Cat & Rat Islands
These prominent marine landmarks face Samila and Son On beaches. Local anglers favour the island's coastal waters.
This headland 3 kilometers south of the Golden Mermaid statue shelters a Muslim fishing village noteworthy for Korlae fishing boats decorated with hand-painted floral motifs.
National Institute of Coastal Aquaculture
Located 1 kilometer south of Khao Seng, this complex contains laboratories, a fish museum and hatcheries for important marine life such as prawns, turtles, gigantic sea perch and groupers.
Tang Khuan Hill
Located west of Khao Noi, this supports ancient pagodas and royal pavilions in a bucolic setting.
Pak Nam Laem Sai Fort
Located near Tang Khuan, behind the Songkhla Police Station, this complex dates from the early 1800s when 'modern' Songkhla was constructed.
Songkhla National Museum
This lovely complex on Rongmuang Road dates from the 1870s and was constructed in southern Thai-Chinese architectural style as the residence of a local merchant.
Located on Nakhon Nai Road opposite the Post Office, this is the major venue for purchasing fresh seafood, poultry, meat, herbs, fruits, vegetables and spices, and is open every day from early morning to late afternoon.
The 400-year-old complex on Saibun Road is Songkhla's largest monastery. A temple museum contains several ruins and artifacts discovered throughout southern Thailand.
Located near the former railway station, the main pagoda contains a holy relic of the Lord Buddha obtained from Sri Lanka.
Attractions - out of the city
Great Songkhla Lake
Thailand's largest inland body of water extends some 80 kilometers northwards from its estuarine entrance near Son On Beach. The freshwater lake, and national park, extends some 20 kilometers at its widest point and supports two wildfowl sanctuaries, namely the Nok Nam Thale Noi at its northernmost end, near Phattalung, and the Khu Khut Waterfowl Park near Songkhla. Khu Khut is best visited by traveling by road to Km. 126 on Highway 4107, and thence to Khu Khut village from where hired boats explore the area. The sanctuary supports some 140 species of migratory and resident birds. Literally thousands of birds can be seen, particularly during late afternoon when they are at their most active.
Wat Pha Kho
This is located beside the Great Songkhla Lake in Sathing Phra district. The temple was once the residence of the venerated holy man, the late Luang Pho Thuat. According to legend, pirates once kidnapped Luang Pho Thuat. Their ship was blown off course during a violent storm and their fresh water was exhausted. They suffered great discomfort until Luang Pho Thuat inserted his left foot into salt water to make it drinkable. The pirates were so grateful. They immediately released him. A statue of the great man, a Reclining Buddha image, a stupa and murals number among major temple attractions.
Institute for Southern Thai Studies
This folklore museum is located on Ko Yo Hill, some 10 kilometers from Songkhla, or 20 kilometers from Hat Yai. The museum houses a collection of southern Thai arts categorically grouped into a Shadow Play Garden, Ancient Beads Garden, Traditional Medicinal Garden, Bamboo Culture Garden and the like. A great variety of local plant species within the museum compound helps make it an exceptionally appealing place.
Attractions - in the city
Wat Hat Yai Nai
This complex near the bridge crossing Khlong U-Tapao on the airport road, is popular with Chinese and Malaysian visitors, and houses a Reclining Buddha image some 35 meters long and 15 meters in height.
Ruchirawong Shooting Range
This is located opposite the Hat Yai Police Station.
Attractions - out of the city
Ton Nga Chang Waterfall
Literally translated as Elephant Tusk Waterfall, this cascade is located some 24 kilometers west of Hat Yai in Rattaphum district along Highway 4, and at the end of a turning from Hu Rae village. The towering seven-tiered waterfall cascades down a steep cliff in two streams resembling elephant tusks. The waterfall is loveliest when water is most abundant, generally from October through December.
These are found in Chana district, some 40 kilometers southeast of Hat Yai. The cooing doves are popular with Muslim villagers. Dove cooing competitions are organized annually between January and June among dove lovers in Chana, and nearby Trang, Pattani and Narathiwat provinces. Doves are caged in poles 6 to 8 meters tall. Judgment of the dove's sound is based on pitch, melody and volume. Winning doves are valued for as much as US$12,000. Chana's dove nurseries welcome visitors.
Tham Khao Rup Chang
Literally translated as Elephant-shaped Mountain, and located near Wat Khao Rup Chang, some 10 kilometers from Padang Besar market, three large caves with natural stalagmite and stalactite formations house Mahayana Buddhist images.
Hat Yai offers particularly good buys in Thai handicrafts, readymade leisure and sportswear, preserved Thai fruits, seafood delicacies, and imported foodstuffs from all over Southeast Asia and China. Principal shopping areas are concentrated around the Niphat-Uthit 2 and 3 Roads, Sane-hanuson Road and the Plaza Market.
Sat Duan Sip Festival
The Festival of the Tenth Lunar Month, each September, is a traditional merit-making occasion for the benefit of deceased ancestors when, over a 15-day period, food offerings are made to Buddhist monks.
Chinese Lunar Festival
Each September, or October, Thais of Chinese ancestry make offerings to the Moon, or Queen of the Heavens, in gratitude for past and future fortune. Traditional festivities include lion and dragon dances, lantern processions, contests, displays and folk entertainment.