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Hat Yai & Songkla - Twin Cities Two Seas

Although the two towns are often paired they are of distinctly different character. Hat Yai has a more Malaya feel to it than Thai does. It is very much a cross boarder town where Malays come to visit their cross boarder wives. It is a transit point for people going somewhere else. Until I visited the town all I knew of place was how to tell if the Bangkok- Butterworth train was on Schedule. If the train was running late I could buy a copy of that days Bangkok Post, if it were on schedule I couldn't. Hat Yai really has very little to offer a western tourist.

However just 32kms the town of Songkla on the Gulf of Siam does with miles of clean white sandy beaches and clear blue water to swim in, although few have visited it. " And let's hope it stays that way" said one offshore oilrig worker who when on land lives in Songkla.

One of the first things to surprise me is that a fishing town in the south of the country should have three embassy's Indonesia, China and Malaysia. The answer it was the centre of the Asian growth triangle. The Malaysia Embassy is convenient for foreigner to their visa run. The building that houses the Embassy of China today was once the American Consulate.

Songkla 947 km by rail or 1,200 kms by road south of Bangkok is a very clean safe town ideal for families. There are no go-go bars and it generally has a better climate that Phuket or Samui. Thais have a certain respect for the town, as it was the birthplace of one of Thailand's greatest statesmen General Prem also the father of HM the King. Songkla is where Thailand's Universities and Medical system was founded. The majority of tourists that do come to Songkla arrive on cruiseships sailing between Bangkok and Singapore.

Songkla was a City-State until 1628 when Suliman the Magnificent and his son Mustapha were attacked and conquered by Narai the Great. During World War II it was the point of the Japanese sealanding into Thailand. Not surprisingly it was also to be home to the British High Command at the same time. The colonial style building at the foot of the Fitness Park the British Officers Club complete with Tennis Court and a golf course across the road.

The town boasts that it was the home to Sukiyaki a dish created in a restaurant in Tanon Raman to cater for the visiting Japanese troops. The restaurant didn't survive but the legend it.

The 1997 Baht crash didn't effect Songkla as it is very much a town of old money. Today it is the largest fishing port in Thailand. The fishermen are all Chinese Muslim. When leaving harbour it is their custom to let off firecrackers as they pass Tiger Cave to wake the spirits so that they will look after them while at and ensure that they return with a bountiful catch.

The old Muslim Village of Songkla stood on the site of the now Samila Beach Hotel. According to rumour, one day while walking on the beach one day Former Thai Prime Minister General Thanon stood in some human excreta and yelled "Get these people out of here". And immediately they were relocated to there present location at Khao Seng headland. This is the best and cheapest place in town to buy fresh fish.

Some fine examples of Songkla's Sino European architectural history can be found Nakhon Nork and Nakhon Nai.

With it's wide variety of trees and flowers as well as many herbal plants grown for educational purposes The General Prem Botanical garden A pleasant relaxing spot, close to Tinasulanond Bridge. The bridge 2.6 km long crossing Songkla Lake and straddling Koh Yoh Island is the longest bridge in Thailand. Songkla Lake is Thailand's largest body of inland water, 80km long and 20km wide. Legend has it that a highly venerated monk was being held captive by a band of pirates in the lake. Noticing that his captors were extremely thirsty and had no fresh water he turned the lake's salt water into fresh water. And out of gratitude they released him.

The must-sees in Songkla are Koh Yoh, The Dutch GraveYard (it's unmarked but is the land infront of Total building), the Muslim graveyard with the mausoleum of Boyyand and the old town of Songkla.

Baan Sattha (House of Loving Respect) was built in honour of His Excellency General Prem Tinsulanon. Privy Councillor, Elder Statesman and 16th Prime Minister of Thailand. The house is 6 buildings in Thai style architecture joined by balconies with 5 bedrooms, 2 general-purpose rooms, a prayer room, kitchen, dinning room, a storage room, 3 washrooms and a garage. It is almost impossible to put a value on the house as the material used in the construction were donated but estimates are the cost was about Baht 50 million. The house was presented to General Prem on 26th August 1991 as gesture of the people of Songkla's appreciation for his work .He lived in the house for a period of five years. On 7th April 1996 he returned the house to the province of Songkla because although he enjoyed every night he slept in the house he felt that it should really be the property of the people of the province. It was developed as an historical tourist attraction for Songkla.

Despite all that Songkla has to offer the real reason to go there should be the miles of unspoilt beaches and the clean water to swim in. The town's prominent symbol is the Golden Mermaid infront of Samila Beach Hotel, but no one seems to know where she came from and why she is there. Just another unsolved mystery.

How to get there

Bus There is a regular bus service from Bangkok's Southern Bus Station (66-2-435-1199) and Hat Yai Bus Terminal (66-74-232404).

Train Both rapid and express trains link Bangkok and Hat Yai.

Air THAI Airways International has a regular service direct from Bangkok and via Phuket to Hat Yai.

Hotels in Hat Yai

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