Sunday, 2 August 2009

A few days in the 'deep south' town of Hatyai --- 'Hard-Yai'

When I disembarked in Singapore I had originally planned to stay a few days in the gleaming metropolis that is Singapore, see a few sites and maybe make contact with an acquaintance or two, however, change of plan. When I was booking my bus to Thailand the guy behind the counter told me that there was a bus leaving in 1/2 an hour, so I thought for 1/2 a sec, and then bought a ticket. In reality, apart from shopping — and I am not much of a shopper — Sing is not terribly exciting. As soon as the prospect of Thailand beckoned, I succumbed.

The plan was to travel from Sing directly through Malaysia to the Thai town of Hatyai. This journey consumed 14 hours, but as I did the trip overnight, the time went quickly. Also the bus was near deserted, giving me plenty of personal space, which I like

The attraction of Hatyai is that it lies half way between Sing and Pattaya, making it a convenient stopping point, also it is relatively small and quiet, but it does have a few sites worth seeing. Note: due to the variable means by which Thai names (the Thai alphabet has 44 characters) are transliterated into English the word 'Hatyai'—which means 'Big Beach' is more correctly pronounced (at least to my ear) as 'Hard Yai'. JIC you wanted to know.

Hatyai lies in the 'deep south', as Thai people say. That is to say it is at the bottom of the long, winding peninsular of southern Thailand. Much of this territory was wrested from the Malay states in the early 20th century. As such its culture is noticably different from that of northern Thailand. There is also a measure of unrest in the 'south', how much of this is due to what is debateable, however, I myself saw no signs of trouble. Dangerous? People always ask this, and the answer No! The greatest danger you will face in s.e. Asia is the traffic. No joke.

There is a surprising amount of tourism in Hatyai, largely from Malaysia and Singapore. The numbers are not huge, and at the moment, the numbers are less than a year previously, but there are always a few Malay/Sing tourists to be seen wandering the streets. The number of farang is low, westerners are something of a rarity in this city. I came across three or so 'farang' bars, that was about it. To be frank, most of these Sing/Malay tourists are sex tourists, visiting the town for only a few days.

During my time in Hatyai I stayed at the 'Regency Hotel'. This is just about the most expensive hotel in town, costing 1,300b a day (including a small breakfast). I probably should have stayed at a cheaper, but as I was only in town for three days, no biggee.

Hatyai is considered to be 'poor', but there are no obvious signs of poverty. There are no beggars in the streets and there are the usual signs of civilisation: Sizzler, McDonalds, etc. The town has a somewhat 'seedy' look, that is to say, it is worn and just a little gubby. There are also lots of drivers and other people waiting to help/exploit you. One thing to be aware of, there are many touts at the train and bus stops ready to 'help' you. By and large, ignore these people. Grab a taxi to your hotel and go.

During my stay I saw several temples. First, the Hatyai Nai temple located in the city itself. It has a large reclining Buddha (35m long), resident monks, 'funeral facilities', and a tourism trinket stand. The day I visited there were a bunch of men in the process of signing up for their three month stint as a monk. About an hours drive outside the town, on a hill top, is a Buddhist Wat, and just below it is a shrine to Quan Yin. From this spot there is an excellent view of Hatyai.

After my time in Hatyai I made ready to travel to Pattaya. In doing so I made a neophyte mistake. I got ripped off in a typical tourist move. Frak, you would think that I would not fall for these things but I did, having seen it a 1,000 times before! I walked into the bus station, and a guy said to me, come with me, I will sell u a ticket. He then took me to his family bus booking agency across the road, and sold me a pricey ticket for a VIP bus, which did not in fact exist. When I came to get onto my bus I saw it was a 'normal' bus, but he was not to be found frown. Alas -- the wickedness of the world.

Overnight to Bangkok, and from their a two hour taxi ride to Pattaya where I returned to my fav guest house.

Jog-dee-krap (good luck, in Thai)

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