The Songkhla Shuffle

Could scarcely believe that I’m about to say this, but: the ocean here is almost as beautiful as back Onomea. Doesn’t quite be sporting the diversity nor depth of hue as does the latter (and certainly not the dramatic, crashing waves to be found in Puna), but it’s near impossible to take one’s eyes from it all the same.

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The sandy beach stretches for miles and miles – at the far south of which is a mountain-top temple with some great viewing angles, and at the far north of which is a jetty where the fishermen like congregate…

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…as well as the second-best Naga fountain I’ve seen to-date (the one in Vientiane is going to be very difficult to unseat).

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In case you’re wondering where the rest of the Naga has gone to (I most certainly was), it’s spread about the peninsula. Here, for example, is the tail. (Thais may be among the friendliest people ever, but that does not preclude them from also being among the goofiest…)

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Almost smack in the middle of the long stretch is Samila Beach, which is to where the bulk of the beach-goers flock. The water is fine, and the sand bar enables one to swim out hundreds of yards from the shore and still be only neck-deep in water. The air there at the beach is, I think, the cleanest I’ve smelt in all of Asia – good thing, as both Hat Yai and Songkhla (and especially riding the sawngthaew between the two) are fumigation incarnate. It’s got all the usual beachside services, plus horsey rides…

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…and a bunch of statuary – including this mermaid that’s every bit as popular a photo-destination location as George Town’s Armenian Street bicycle.

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And right near the beach are two hills – the taller has got a temple on top (but also some great beautiful views)…

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…and the shorter has been dubbed “Monkey Mountain” because it’s got on top…

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The troop is a couple-hundred strong, and as entertaining as the day is long. They also range down to the base of the hill, where there’re a bunch of vendors selling fruits for visitors to feed the monkeys with. The latter often go in for cutting out the middle-man, thought, by jumping up onto the vendors’ carts — to be angrily beaten off with each vendor’s well-placed stick. Oh, it’s a hoot.

Man, mermaids and monkeys, cowboys and coconuts, sand and sea – what more do you need? I SAID WHAT MORE DO YOU FUCKING NEED? Okay, fine, it was a rhetorical question. But one really doesn’t need anything else to stay satisfied here for days upon end.

While there are plenty of tourists about, however, I could probably count on one hand the number of farang tourists I’ve seen. I did meet one very cool German/Italian dude who learnt to speak Thai while selling shoes at Chatuchak Market. We had a good, long conversation regarding travel, Durian, organic farming, pollution, ecological limits, and so forth. I then saw him busking at the weekend Night Market, where he was raking in the cash despite not having learnt any Thai songs. I guess he must’ve pulled up stakes the next morning, though, ‘cause I’ve not seen him since.

Before he done so, he told me a cool story about a British guy he’d met who had learnt himself a bunch of old-tyme Thai ditties, and was not only getting money thrown at him hand over fist whilst busking, but was also being offered actual gigs inside swanky restaurants.

If one can manage to pull oneself away from the beach area, there’s plenty more to see and do besides. Who (I ask you), who could resist, for e.g., the Super Barn Nork?

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Or a raging Coconut-fire?

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There’s a long history of settlement here, so the National Museum is quite good.

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The temples and the Old Town area are much ballyhooed; but I found the former were never open, and the latter’s charm was overwhelmed by the never-ending stream of vehicular traffic. There are some pretty cool old structures, I’ll allow.

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For sightseeing tours, it’s even possible to borrow a bike. It’s Songkhla Ecopolis, y’all!

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But before one gets too carried away, n. to the fuckin’ b.:

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The geography is pretty cool. Songkhla’s peninsula is formed not only by the Gulf,  but also the giant Songkhla lake. A short ferry-route away lies another peninsula, formed solely by the lake, which was the location of the original settlements in the area. Beside the two is Ko Yor island, which connects by bridge to each peninsula. Actually two bridges separated by three or four miles of land, the two spans somehow get combined and counted as one, so it’s officially the longest bridge in Thailand.

The island, ringed by fishing nets and huts as far as the eye can see…

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…is circumnavigable  on foot in four or five hours’ time. Be prepared to field the same, obligatory question from the fisherfolk living in the narrow stretch between the water and the mountainous interior: “Where you go????” They’re incredulous that somebody would choose to walk around the island, but it’s a very beautiful stroll, marked by cool old houses, gorgeous flora, massive leaves, and (of course) mountaintop temples.

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The road is quite low-traffic, even though the island is settled all the way around it, and there are more Banana, Coconut, and Papaya trees than one could shake a stick at – there are even some Sapodilla trees as well, though their fruits are not yet ripe.

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At the far southern tip of the island sits this gigantic outdoor Sleeping Buddha. The clouds, trees, and industrial ephemera add much to the experience, do they not? Anybody knows where I can get in on some more outdoor giant-Buddha action, please advise!

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Also on the temple grounds…

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Incineration of plastic bottles and bags is one of the steps to enlightenment, apparently. Who knew?

Both bridges include pedestrian walkways, and both are quite beautiful in the crossing.

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There’s also a big park, just on the mainland side of the southern bridge, with a mangrove ecology learning centre. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to get to that — will hope to do so in a future visit.

At the far northern tip of the island is located the Southern Folklore Museum, which boasts a collection topping 50,000 artifacts. To be honest, I was more impressed with the building in which they were housed, the statues located outside, and the view from mountain’s top.

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There are some nice good pieces, however, including some cool old photos, an entire room dedicated to Coconut graters depicting people and animals from all walks of life, and (natch I’d be in love with) shadow puppets. Thinking back now, I wish I’d taken more pics of those freakin’ Coconut graters — there were so many of them!

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Best of all is the Southern Thai Art Centre, housed in a separate building several hundred metres away from the Folklore Museum. It’s currently showing the work of kids, as young as at least eleven years’ aged, and possibly even younger. I’m here to tell you, these southern Thai youth are fucking talented. Thailand’s artistic future is in a very good way, to  judge by this exhibition. Here’re just a couple few examples, several more at the Flickr page.

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Phew – I’d intended to spend just a night or two in Hat Yai (had never even heard tell of Songkhla ‘til hostel-owner Ed sung its praises), and now nearly two weeks later, am still here. Shit, just as I didn’t want to leave George Town, I kinda want to spend even another week here just being a friggin’ beach-bum. But, no, I shall on the morrow stride forth to engage in some active Tourism some more. But, Songkhla hast made its mark – I do most certainly intend to return.

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