Songkhla : The Grace of Multi-Faces
The largest lake in Thailand is situated in the southern border province of songkhla. The picturesque and peaceful Songkhla Lake encompasses a vast area, and connects directly to the Gulf of Thailand to the East. Overall. Songkhla Lake encompasses a total area of 365 square kilometers, with many large and small islands contained within its waters. It is covered with green sea grass, which looks like a prairie in the middle of the sea. The”Tinsulanonda” Bridge, the longest bridge in Thailand. stretches above the lake and links Ko Yo Island with Songkhla on the mainland. From the banks of Songkhla Lake, two islets,Mouse and Cat Islands can be seen. This point is the signature identity of Songkhla Province, one of the most famous seaside resort areas in southern Thailand.
Originally called “Sathing City”, Songkhla shares its border with Kedah State (Saiburi) of Malaysia. It was located in the present day Sathing Phra District. The province was formerly called “Singkhala City” by Indian, Persian and Arabian merchants who visited for trading purposes. Singkhala means mountain as Khao Dang and Khao Khieo (Red and Green Mountains) on shore were sighted as a mark. The two islets, Mouse and Cat Islands ,outside the Samila Cape, were named since Ayutthaya Period (1350-1767 A.D.)
Around Songkhla Lake from the Ranot District, passing through the Sathing Phra District to Khao Hua Daeng in Muang District, there was once an old settlement that had a remarkable cultural affinity with the communities on the Java and Sumatra Islands of Indonesia. Archaeological evidence shows that Chedi Ngam, a beautiful pagoda built with coral in The Palastyle of India, was constructed in the early Sivijava Period. Phako Temple in Sathing Phra District was built in Lankan art form in the 22nd Buddhist Century. Phra Malika Chedi in an ancient temple where the Venerable Luang Pho Thuat resided. Venerable Luang Pho Thuat is believed to have turned seawater into fresh water simply by stepping in it.
Another significant historical site in Songkhla is the revered Phra That Pagoda, constructed in Rattanakosin art form. The pagoda, enshrined the Lord Buddha’s relics granted by His Majesty the King, is located about 2,000 feet above the sea on the hilltop of Tangkuan. On the hilltop, a panoramic view of Songkhla can be clearly seen. There are stairs leading to the hilltop on Ratchadamnoen Nai Road. This revered pagoda is constructed in the Dvaravati art form. In October of each year, a ceremony of clothing the pagoda is organized to coincide with the Tak Bat Tewo and Chak Phra Festivals, great events for merit-making in the Buddhist tradition. On the way to the hilltop of Tangkuan is found Sala Viharn Daeng, a red pavilion, which was once the residence of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V).
Ko Yo, in the midst of Songkhla Lake, is linked to the Songkhla mainland by the Tinsulanonda Bridge. Ko Yo has an area of 15sq. meters (3,710 acres), and a population of 4,000 people, who are mainly engaged in farming and fishing. Ko Yo is unique in several ways. First, it boasts orchards with a variery of good quality fruit such as Champedak ( a species of jackfruit), chiko (Thais call it Lamat) and durian. Ko Yo is also unique in its architecture, with the houses preserved in the old style. The authentic food of Ko Yo is Khao Yam Bai Yo. Native cuisine and seafood are also available at most restaurants on the beach. The island is likewise famous for its hand-woven fabric, known as Pha Tho Ko Yo. Crcling along the road around the island will make the trip to Ko Yo even more enjoyable. On the northern part of Ko Yo, near the Tinsulanonda Bridge, is the Southern Study Institute, featuring an exhibition of southern art and culture. Admission to the exhibition is ten baht per person.
Passing over the Tinsulaonda Bridge from Ko Yo to Sathing Phra District on the Sathing Phra-Ranot route, are found several fine beaches with restaurants and accommodations, which are popular with tourists. These beaches include Hat Sai Kaeo, Hat Muang Ngam and Hat Sathing Phra. Three kilometers from Hat Sathing Phra is the Water Birds Khu Khut National Park, which is a part of Songkhla Lake. Hunting is banned here as the park serves as a bird sanctuary. There are hundreds of bird species in the Water Birds Khu Khut National Park. The best time for bird watching there is between December- April. A boat tour service is offered at the Water Birds Park.
It take only 30 minutes to travel back along Highway No.407 starting from the Tinsulanonda Bridge, passing through Ko Yo towards Hat Yai District. A modern town with rapid economic growth, Hat Yai is recognized as the trade and communications center of southern Thailand. It serves as the gateway to Malaysia, and is only 52 kilometers from the Sadao border checkpoint . Old merkets and modern shopping centers at Hat Yai offer numerous interesting products. A wide variety of night entertainment places are available in town. Hat Yai is one location where antiquity blends perfectly with the modern. This is another unique feature that makes Songkhla Province a popular tourist destination.
From Ko Yo, across the Tinsulanonda Bridge, to the south is Chana District, about 40 kilometers from Songkhla town. Chana District is noted for the raising and sale of Java cooing doves. The raising of cooing doves is popular among southern residents, and most houses usually have a dove cage hanging out front. Making dove cages has become a folk craft of the region. To help highlight its dove farming and cage making, Chana District holds a cooing dove contest each year between January and July. Tourists interested in the way of life of southern residents are encouraged to visit the cooing dove farms of Chana District.
Moving between Chana District and Na Thawi District, visitors can enjoy eco-tours at the Khao Nam Khang National Park. There are two waterfalls here, the Ton Dat Fa and the Ton Lat Fa Waterfalls. Diverse forms of nature study and bird watching are among the interesting activities available at the National Park. Near the National Park is the Khao Nam Khang Historical Tunnel, which used to be a stronghold of the Communist Party of Malaya. Construction of the tunnel began in 1972, and it took nine years to complete. The tunnel is the longest one in Thailand with three storeys and 16 passageways. It is about 600 meters long and can accommodate 200 people. There are many rooms in the tunnel. This underground stronghold sustained many heavy attacks during the fighting without suffering serious damage. The fighting did not end until 1987, when the communist insurgents gave up and began cooperating with the government. Later, the tunnel was developed as part of the Khao Nam Khang National Park.
Returning to Highway No. 408, from Na Thawi District in the direction of Songkhla town, visitors will arrive at an ancient settlement where houses of the old style have been maintained in good condition. Narrow streets like Nang Ngam feature numerous Chinese restaurants and small shops selling Thai desserts and sweets, as well as authentic Songkhla food. On this road is also found the City Pillar, constructed at the same time as Songkhla town. The pillar is also in the Chinese architectural style like the old houses in the area.
Songkhla is the birthplace of President of the Privy Council and Statesman General Prem Tinsulanonda, who was formerly the Prime Minister of Thailand. To honor him, Songkhla Province constructed a replica of his birthplace called Pha Thammarong Museum.
Songkhla residents also built a house called Ban Sattha for General Prem. This house is three kilometers from the Tinsulanonda Bridge. Construction of the house was completed in 1991, and General Prem returned the house to Songkhla residents in 1996. The house is now used as a museum featuring exhibitions on the General’s biography and achievements.
Khao Noi is anoter source of pride for Songkhla residents. It is located on Sadao Road, and is the location of khao Noi Royal Residence, built in 1911 as the residence of Prince Yukon (Krommaluang Lop Buri Ramesuan). His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Her Majesty Queen Sirikit used to reside there in 1959. In times past, there was a 10 year-old boy who passed this former royal residence every day on this way to secondary school. He would look at the three-storey building in the European style, situated inside a residential compound on an area of 12 rai (some four acres), and wonder how big it really was. Later that boy lives in this same residence in his capacity as Songkhla’s Governor. Governor Banyat Jansena appreciates the historic importance of this site and is convinced it must be maintained in good repair for all Thai people.
Photos Credit : http://www.songkhla.go.th