Things To Do - Page 3

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A favourite Thai activity

A favourite Thai activity

 

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Activities and Things To Do in Hat Yai - Page 3

Some more ideas and suggestions for activities in and around Hat Yai.

Ko Yo and the Institute for Southern Thai Studies
Ko Yo and the Institute for Southern Thai Studies, Songkhla - Click for larger image
Address: Yo Island, Songkhla

Latitude: N 07° 10' 55.2" (N 07° 10.920')

Longitude: E 100° 32' 35.4" (E 100° 32.590')

Google Maps: Street Map or Satellite View

Comments: At nearby Songkhla is a large inland sea, sometimes referred to as a lake. This is home to a small island called Ko Yo (pronounced Gaw Yaw) which is connected to the mainland by a couple of bridges. It's very easy to get to from Hat Yai. From the clock tower on Phetkasem Road (Map 1) you need to get a sawng-thaew or minivan to Songkhla - both leave regularly. Get off at the Route 4 junction and take a sawng-thaew going towards Nakhon Si Thammarat. As soon as you get across the bridge you are on Ko Yo. If you find yourself on another bridge you are already leaving Ko Yo and need to go back. It's only a very small island.

The Institute for Southern Thai Studies (part of Thaksin University) is located on the north part of the island just before the Tinansulanonda Bridge which forms part of the Route 4 highway. It's up on a hill and has some great views. There is a lookout tower right at the top to give you an even better view.

Its mission is to:

  1. To promote, preserve, and develop southern Thai culture for the benefit of southern Thai society as well as that of the nation.
  2. To serve as a centre for southern Thai folk cultural studies and research.
  3. To organise training projects, conferences and exhibitions on southern Thai culture.
  4. To serve as one of the major attractions of Songkhla where visitors can appreciate the richness of cultures in the southern part of Thailand.

Ko Yo and the Institute for Southern Thai Studies, Songkhla - Click for larger image There we have a nice mission statement rather than the nonsense trotted out by corporate America and, in my humble opinion, the Institute succeeds admirably with what it sets out to do.

The Institute is a serious learning establishment as well as a museum for general interest known as The Folklore Museum. You will probably see Thai students from local Songkhla and Hat Yai universities who are there to learn and study.

It was founded privately in 1975 using, so I am told, contributions from individuals and local companies and known at first as the 'Centre for the Promotion of Southern Thai Language and Culture'. It is a very well-designed and thoughtfully put together museum.

Ko Yo and the Institute for Southern Thai Studies, Songkhla - Click for larger image The main building has four storeys and is known as 'Nawamabhumin'. The other 23 buildings were built using traditional southern Thai architecture. There are arrows to help you navigate from building to building and it is very straightforward to get around.

As its name implies, the institute and museum concentrates solely on the 14 provinces that make up southern Thailand - Chumpon, Ranong, Surat Thani, Phang-Nga, Phuket, Krabi, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Phattalung, Trang, Songkhla, Satun, Narathiwat, Pattani, Yala.

The different ways of life in the south are described with pictures, artefacts and descriptions. Some of the descriptions are in English but not all. The bullfighting exhibit, for example, has no English text.

Ko Yo and the Institute for Southern Thai Studies, Songkhla - Click for larger image One building features coconut graters. Did you realise that coconut grating was a social activity in Thailand? At weddings and feasts people got together to grate coconuts because grated coconut was (and still is) an important ingredient in local dishes. The designers of coconut graters used their sense of humour and imagination to design weird machines so that they become topics of conversation rather than just being mundane kitchen instruments.

There are details about the history of southern Thailand and how the region was settled. Exhibits show how people have made a living in the area such as from fishing, crop production, rubber tapping and tin mining.

The background information is quite interesting in light of the current unrest that is troubling southern Thailand.

Ko Yo and the Institute for Southern Thai Studies, Songkhla - Click for larger image Many people are aware of Thailand's northern hilltribes but did you know about a small tribe of curly-haired, dark-skinned, African-looking pygmies who live in forests in southern Thailand? Known as the Sagai, they have their own language and way of life, but they are nearing extinction.

I enjoyed studying some of the large paintings which are made up of lots of different scenes. They give a good idea of what life was like in the region once upon a time. The people in the paintings are purely Muslim or Chinese, with no ethnic Thais around. Hundreds of years ago what is now southern Thailand was culturally the same as northern Malaysia and the local people had closer ties to Malaysian and Indonesian culture. In many respects, nothing has changed and that is the root cause behind the southern insurgency we are seeing now. The people of the deep south do not like the way that central Thai culture has been thrust upon them.

The institute is definitely worth a visit if you are staying in Hat Yai for a few days. The island atmosphere of Ko Yo makes a refreshing change from Hat Yai and you can learn a bit about southern Thailand at the same time.

What is surprising for such a great place is how few people visit. When I have visited I have been the only visitor - even at weekends. Part of the reason is the Thai fear of ghosts (seriously). My Thai friends were surprised that I went alone and said they would not go into the small rooms alone because of ghosts.

By its very nature the museum houses lots of old artefacts and the Thais believe that the spirits of the deceased who once owned these things are still around. Thais are Buddhists but their old animist beliefs are still very much in evidence.

Ko Yo is a very pleasant place. It has thriving fruit and fishing industries. The surrounding sea is full of fish hatching nets. On the island are fruit plantations, a market and a local weaving industry. Getting back to Hat Yai is no problem as there are plenty of sawng-thaews. It makes an interesting and relaxing excursion from either Hat Yai or Songkhla.

The Institute for Southern Thai Studies
Thaksin University
Ko Yo, Muang District,
Songkhla 90100
Thailand

Tel. +66 (0)74 331184-9
Fax. +66 (0)74 332008

Admission Fees

  • Children Bt10
  • Adults Bt30
  • Foreigners Bt60 (No comment, I've said my piece about dual pricing in Thailand elsewhere.)

Bangkok Post article about Yo Island: Avoiding the tourist dollar

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Lampo
Lampo, Songkhla province, Thailand - Click for larger image
Latitude: N 07° 09' 11.5" (N 07° 09.192')

Longitude: E 100° 28' 12.6" (E 100° 28.210')

Google Maps: Street Map or Satellite View

Comments: Lampo is a small district on the shore of Songkhla's inland sea (lake). On the other side of the water from Lampo is Yo island. There's not much there, but what is there is quiet and peaceful and it is a welcome break from frenetic Hat Yai.

What's there? There's a small Buddhist temple where there used to be a friendly, caged, one-armed gibbon but the gibbon is no longer around. There's a beach of sorts and a small strip of seafood restaurants on the beach. The restaurants' eating areas are on elevated platforms over the water making it a very pleasant place to eat and the food is good, albeit a little expensive.

In the nearby countryside are many unusual palm trees, herds of cows grazing, and lots of exotic looking tropical birds swooping around.

How do you get there? I'd like to be able to tell you that you can hop on a certain bus or sawng-thaew and it will take you to Lampo but unfortunately that isn't the case. You really need your own transport, and preferably you also need the help of someone who knows how to get there.

It's on the shore of Songkhla lake, between Hat Yai and Songkhla. From Hat Yai, go out past Big C on Niphat Songkhro 1 Road and turn right, taking Lopburi Ramate Road towards Songkhla.

At the first set of traffic lights you need to turn left, but giving directions after this point is quite difficult. I can find my way, but only because at first I was taken there by locals many times.

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Meditation
Hat Yai Meditation Center - Click for larger image
Address: Hat Yai Meditation Center, 226 Soi 4, Klongrien 1 Road, Hat Yai, Songkhla, 90110

Latitude: N 07° 00' 37.2" (N 07° 00.620')

Longitude: E 100° 29' 08.6" (E 100° 29.143')

Google Maps: Street Map or Satellite View

Comments: There is a really comfortable, peaceful meditation centre in Hat Yai. I found it many years ago when I was staying at an apartment building nearby.

It's in quite a large building where there are meditation rooms both upstairs and downstairs. You can meditate while listening to Dhamma lessons on TV or just meditate in silence.

I know very little about the centre. Meditation is a skill that needs to be learned and I'm not sure if you can receive instruction at the centre. I don't know who owns it or how it is funded.

When I used to go, I used the facilities without paying. The people there were always very friendly and never asked for any money. However, this doesn't seem quite right and I'm sure that donations would be appreciated.

The centre organises trips to famous temples in Thailand for large Buddhist ceremonies, such as the Gatin ceremony where robes are offered to monks.

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Merit Making Ceremony
Buddhist monks, Hat Yai - Click for larger image

Comments: Hat Yai stages a huge Buddhist merit making ceremony once a year in August. It is very popular not only with Thais but with Chinese Singaporeans and Malaysians who come to town in their thousands to participate. If you are planning a visit to Hat Yai in August check the date of the ceremony and make an advanced hotel booking. It is held on the Sunday that follows the 12th of August.

A section of Niphat Uthit 3 is completely blocked off and a huge plastic sheet laid over the road. Thousands of people gather on both sides of the road with bags full of offerings waiting for the monks to arrive. It is an early morning affair and if you want to get a good spot you should plan to arrive before 7am.

Announcements are made over a PA system in Thai, Chinese (for the large Chinese contingent present) and even in English. Buddhist chants in Pali are also relayed to the crowd. At around 7:30am some important looking monks walk through splashing holy water on to the spectators. At this point I saw a woman come out from the crowd and prostrate herself in front of one of the monks.

A little later the other monks start walking up and down the street; there are thousands of them and quite a few very young novices. People start to give alms. They place their gifts in the monks' alms bowls from where they are taken out and put into plastic bags by a small army of monks' assistants.

It's quite a spectacle and worth seeing. As far as the religious content goes, a lot of it is just instutionalised, mechanical Buddhism. People carry on in life doing what they want, not leading very Buddhist lives, but think that handing over some food to monks in a very public setting is enough to be a good person.

Getting ready for the procession of monks - Click for larger image
The annual making merit ceremony in Hat Yai draws big crowds - Click for larger image
Waiting to give to the monks, Hat Yai - Click for larger image

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Night Market
Night market, Hat Yai - Click for larger image

Comments: Hat Yai has a decent size night market that operates in the evenings from Thursday to Sunday. It's nothing like the scale of Jatujuk in Bangkok (and doesn't have the live animals that Chatuchak has) but the format is similar.

It is covered and there are small lanes with several shops selling a variety of things. There are also many food stalls selling everything from common Thai fried-rice dishes and noodles to deep-fried insects.

It is adjacent to the bus station (bor kor sor Map 4) and known officially as the Asean market, or something, but the locals call it bpert-taay. This translates to 'open boot' as in the boot (or trunk to Americans) of a car.

In the UK it would be known as a car boot sale. This was how the market started apparently when the economy crashed in 1997. The Baht was devalued, people were struggling with money, so loaded their cars up with possessions they didn't need and went to where the night market is now to sell them.

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Observatory
Hat Yai observatory (due to open in 2011) - Click for larger image

Hat Yai observatory (due to open in 2011) - Click for larger image

Comments: The photos on the left were taken in 2010 before the observatory opened. It opened the same day as the cable car; on the 5th December 2011.

The observatory is located on the same hill as the well-known Kuan Im temple behind the municipal park. Unless you have a vehicle, it's a very difficult journey.

The park and the temples on the hill are probably the most attractive sights in Hat Yai and it's good to see that the mayor of Hat Yai, Prai Pattano, is directing funds to invest in the local tourist infrastructure.

This area is now home to a number of tourist attractions. There is the lantern festival, ice dome, cable car and now the observatory.

Not only is the observatory the cheapest to get into, it is probably the best attraction of the lot. What's more, there is no special price for foreign tourists. I was amazed when I found this out.

The entrance charge is just Bt20 and it is a really good facility. The special roof opens to provide an uninterrupted view of the sky. Inside the dome at the top of the building are 30 large telescopes that cost over Bt100,000 each.

The observatory is open from 9am until 8pm. If you want to observe the night sky you need to go after it gets dark, obviously. This window of opportunity lasts from about 6pm to 8pm.

During the hours of daylight you can look at the sun using a telescope with a special filter. There isn't too much to see but occasionally you can see sunspots. If the conditions are right during the daytime you can also observe the moon.

Hat Yai observatory - Click for larger image
Hat Yai observatory - Click for larger image
Hat Yai observatory - Click for larger image

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Scuba Diving
Scuba Diving shop, Hat Yai - Click for larger image
Address: Klongrien 2 Road
Map: Map 4

Comments: Diving in Hat Yai is not recommended as visibility in the klongs doesn't tend to be very good but there are a few dive shops around that can organise trips or courses. Both dive shops I know of are located close to each other in Klongrien 2 Road.

Hadyai Diving is at number 82. The owner's name is Boy and he can be contacted on 01 969 1331 or 074 357699. Another couple of numbers the shop gave me are 01 599 9108 and 05 896 9320.

The other is White & Blue Dive Club at number 163 Klongrien 2 Road. Tel: +66 (0)74 357721-2 Fax: +66 (0)74 357534.

Both shops organise trips to well known dive locations as well as to some really obscure, small islands that I guarantee you will never have heard of. Equipment can be rented and instruction given although I'm not sure how proficient their English is.

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Shooting Range
Hat Yai Shooting Range - Click for larger image
Address: Opposite main police station, Hat Yai Nai
Map: Map 1

Comments: You've planned a trip down to the three provinces and equipped yourself with a powerful firearm for protection from insurgents (which you bought from Suntisook market). The problem is you're not quite sure how to use it. What do you do?

No problem. Just over the railway bridge - heading out of Hat Yai - you will see the main police station on the left, and on the right is Hat Yai's very own shooting range. For a fee you can play the part of an all-American action hero and offload bullets into a paper target.

Three calibres of pistol are available and you get 50 shots:

  • .38 - Bt1,500
  • .9 - Bt1,700
  • .45 - Bt1,700
A standard target like the one in the photo costs Bt5 and a man costs Bt8. Presumably this is a man-shaped paper target and not a real man, although I can think of some Thai ex-politicians who would make very good targets.

The range is open daily from 09:00 - 16:30 but closed all day on Mondays.

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Snake House Restaurant (NOW CLOSED)
Snake House Restaurant, Hat Yai - Click for larger image
Address: Thung Sao 1 Road
Map: Map 4

Comments: This is one of those Asian travel experiences people see on TV travel programmes (I think back to Michael Palin's exploits many years ago) but rarely see for real. That can all be changed in Hat Yai where you can experience the real thing.

The restaurant specialises in snakes and there are lots of them, all housed in cages. The woman who runs the restaurant told me they are from jungle areas near Nakhon Si Thammarat. The venomous reptiles come in three flavours. There are large cobras, small cobras and some kind of banded black and yellow snake I don't know the name of. Large cobras cost Bt1000, small ones Bt500 and their black and yellow cousins are Bt300.

According to the shop owner - and customers who are mainly Chinese - eating the snakes provides the body with power and strength. (When she told me this she glanced surreptitiously at my groin). The idea is that once you've selected your snake it is skinned and drained of its blood which is then mixed with Thai whisky and honey and drunk. The gall bladder is also eaten for extra power and strength.

The snake meat is turned into soup which is sold for Bt150 a bowl and the shop also sells other snakeskin products such as wallets and belts. I believe this is mainly a Chinese thing and the majority of Malaysian and Singaporean tourists to Hat Yai are Chinese. Muslims cannot eat snake, pork or frogs.

As these pages are aimed at Westerners I deliberately avoided putting this information in the food section. Some Westerners may have an appetite for snake but I suspect that the majority don't. For me, the restaurant is just an interesting piece of Asian culture and not a potential eatery.

It is located on the other side of Sripoovanart Road to central Hat Yai, not far west of the bus station. All tuk-tuk drivers will know it if you can get them to understand where you want to go.

Important Update: I passed by in October 2008 and noticed there were no cages full of snakes outside. What's going on? I called in and spoke to the owner only to find out that this Hat Yai institution no longer exists. She has called time on her snake business; the only reminders being various products made from snake skin that she continues to sell.

I was absolutely gutted.

It's not that I would ever dream of eating snake meat or drinking a snake blood cocktail, but you kind of expect these places to exist in Asia, don't you? It's all part of the experience of living in, or visiting, this part of the world.

It's very sad but Hat Yai's Snake House restaurant has now been consigned to history.

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