The network of tunnels that can be found in Vietnam are quite well-known. What many people don’t realize is that Thailand has its own set of tunnels deep in the jungles of Khao Nam Khang National Park on the Malaysian border. These were built by Chinese Communist Fighters during a six year period from 1972 to 1978. They had been fighting on different fronts since the Second World War. First with the British and then later with the Thai. On March 19th, 1987, a contingent of 400 men and women walked out of the jungle and surrendered to the Thai army. Exactly ten years later, the tunnels had been renovated and opened to the general public as a tourist attraction. Former communist soldiers, like Mr. Leong Yee Sing in the above picture, now run the historical attraction. He told me that after they had surrendered they had a choice to stay or go back to Malaysia. They decided to stay. After all these years he said that he had only just received his Thai national identity card.
Khao Nam Khang Historical Tunnel is in Natawee District of Songkhla Province. It was once called Piyamit Village 5. At 1,000 meters, it is the largest and longest man-made tunnel in Thailand. It has three separate corridors and three levels. The tunnel itself could accommodate about 200 persons with several rooms such as conference room, sick bay, radio transmission room, kitchen, firing range, etc. The echo from firing guns here must have been extremely loud. Originally it had only three entrances but this was later extended to sixteen. The picture above shows the main entrance that we passed through. It is hard to believe that all of this was hand cut. When I first heard of these tunnels I thought everything would be underground. However, as soon as we entered the tunnel we in fact started climbing upwards. Most of the tunnels are inside a hill with some exits at the top.
Up top they had some small buildings which were camouflaged to prevent detection from the sky. Here they had a kitchen, wedding chapel and even a basketball court. You can walk around and explore the area by yourself. It is always interesting to visit historical places like this which haven’t changed much over the years. Although we were still in a jungle in the middle of no-where, people fought and died on these hills. We were able to see how they lived for so many years. If you closed your eyes you could almost imagine that you were walking among the insurgents. It must have been hard for them to survive. Up top there was a big bomb crater. So, they must have spent a lot of time in the tunnels. Even sleeping in them. Near the entrance there is a memorial for the fallen soldiers.
It is not easy to get to this area by public transport. The armed soldiers were also a reminder that we were in the deep south. Although this area hasn’t been affected so much by the troubles in the neighbouring provinces, they have been hurt by tourists staying away. However, the entire time I was in Songkhla I never felt that my life was in danger. Most of the tourists visiting Khao Nam Khang Historical Tunnel are Thai or Malaysians who drive across the border for the weekend. You won’t see that many Westerners. I wish to thank the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) for showing us around Hat Yai and Songkhla. You can find more information on our online guidebook at ThailandGuidebook.com. I have also posted some more pictures and notes over at the ThailandQA Forums.
The most well-known symbol of Songkhla Province is this image of the Golden Mermaid at Laem Samila. It is similar to The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, however, this Thai one is not a character from the book of the same name by Hans Christian Andersen. The Golden Mermaid is in fact a character from Phra Aphai Mani, a popular book in Thai literature by Sunthon Phu. In this folk tale, a mermaid sat and combed her hair on a beautiful beach on a stary night. A young fisherman met and frightened her and she fled into the sea. The fisherman waited for her but she disappeared forever. This bronze statue was sculpted in 1966 by Jitr Buabus and has since become the symbol of this beach. When we were there the other day, there were many tourists lining up to have their picture taken with the mermaid. Many of the men sat on her lap and stole a kiss.
Samila Beach has white sand and clear blue water. It is one of those rare beaches which also has green grass and you can lie down in the shade of pine groves. It isn’t really a busy beach and I think it is a nice place for families to come and relax on the beach and to eat seafood in the nearby restaurants. Out in the bay are the two islands of Koh Nu and Koh Maeo. These translate as “Mouse Island” and “Cat Island”. You can see Mouse Island in the background of this picture.
A legend says that a dog, a cat, and a mouse, on a Chinese sampan stole the merchant’s magic crystal and tried to swim ashore but drowned and lost their lives. The mice and cats became islands while the dog died on shore and became the hill called Hin Khao Tang Kuan near the bay. The crystal was totally destroyed and became the white sandy beach called Hat Sai Kaeo. This giant bronze statue was sculpted by Montri Sungmusikanon in 2000. Unlike the mermaid that cost a mere 60,000 baht, local people donated 1.2 million baht for this statue.
Many thanks to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) for flying us down to Songkhla for the weekend and also for showing us around the city. Visit our ThailandGuidebook.com website for more tourist information.
It seems to be the latest fashion for local districts in Thailand to open a “floating market”. The other week we had news that the Bangkok administration will open a floating market in Min Buri. Then, last month, I went to see the Pattaya Floating Market. Now, another floating market has just opened in Songkhla Province in the deep south. We flew down there at the weekend to check it out.
Klonghae Floating Market is in Tambon Klonghae in Amphoe Hat Yai (also spelled haadyai). It has only been open about three months but they already have an impressive array of vendors selling food. One of the local administrators showed us around. At the end of the tour he asked me if I had any suggestions to make it better. However, I was pretty impressed with what they had done so far. A good sign of success is crowd size and there were certainly a lot of people there.
What impressed me the most was the large number of vendors selling food and the variety of snacks on offer. You could easily come here every day and never get bored with the food. We were scheduled to visit a restaurant afterwards but I was too tempted with the delicious food on show. It is a real shame it is not in my area as I would love to go back there again. All of the vendors were so friendly. They all smiled for me whenever I took any pictures.
The floating market is open on Friday to Sunday from 3 p.m. until about 9 p.m. If you go earlier you can hire boats to go for a paddle and they apparently also have boat tours of the local area. The market seems to be in the middle of nowhere but they said you can take local transport from Hat Yai City. I think this place will become popular with Malaysians who drive up to Hat Yai for the weekend. I didn’t see any Westerners here at all. Many thanks to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) for flying us down here and also for showing us around. We were put up at the Centara Hotel in Hat Yai.
One of the most colourful festivals taking place at the moment in Thailand is the Lantern Festival in Hat Yai. The Thai slogan translates as “colours of the south”. It is running between 14th and 28th February 2009. This is the third time that they have organized the festival at the Hat Yai Municipality Park. Although this year’s event is very impressive, the city mayor promised that next year would be even more spectacular. The theme of the festival is “Seven Wonders” and there are categories such as International Lanterns, Amazing Fowl and Animals and World of Kids. After wandering around looking at the lanterns, you can then go shopping for OTOP products which have both locally produced food and handicrafts.
The first section at the festival were various lanterns from other cultures in Asia such as Chinese, Korean and Japanese. Thai people have been decorating lanterns for hundreds of years. During the Sukhothai and Ayutthaya periods, a Brahman rite was performed in the 12th lunar month to welcome the gods. In Buddhism it is believed that creating lanterns is a form of merit making. There are two types of lanterns. In this picture, you can see decorative hanging lanterns made of paper and cloth with a bamboo frame. It is believed that lighting this lantern at night will bring you good luck. Another kind of lantern popular in Northern Thailand is the floating lantern, which can also be hanged, but is often made to float away into the sky. This is done as a merit making exercise to Chulamani in heaven during the Yipeng Festival.
My favourite section of the Lantern Festival was the “Aquarium”. Here you can find Nemo and many of his colourful friends. We walked down a kind of tunnel which was lined with blue fairy lights. Hanging from the inside of the tunnel were the various aquatic animals such as sharks, seahorses, jellyfish and clownfish. The kids obviously enjoyed this section and wanted their pictures taken in front of each lantern. A bit further on, there was also popular cartoon characters from both the American and Japanese cultures. There were also lanterns of African animals such as hippo, giraffes and elephants and also pandas from China. Out on the lake were colourful floating lanterns representing “loy krathong”. I will post more pictures on our ThailandQA.com Forums.
The festival is on every day from about 4 p.m. until 9 p.m. Going earlier in the day makes it easier to take pictures but you won’t be able to fully appreciate the strong colours until it is really dark. There were plenty of people wandering around the park taking pictures of their children or loved ones in front of the various lanterns. However, the people who used a flash will find that the lanterns won’t look that beautiful. The pictures without flash had stronger colours but the people will just turn out as silhouettes. Though, if you do it right, you can make some nice patterns as you can see in this above picture of two sweethearts in front of one of the largest lanterns.
Hat Yai is situated in Songkhla Province in the deep south of Thailand. It is true that they had some bomb attacks in the last few years, however, the whole time I was travelling in this province it never did concern me. Everyone is carrying on as normal. Songkhla borders Malaysia and so it is popular with both Malaysians and Singaporeans who drive up for long weekends. We saw quite a few foreign cars on the streets and most people in the hotels seemed to be Malaysian with some Westerners. Although Songkhla is the provincial capital, it is Hat Yai where most people head for shopping and entertainment. You can find more information about Songkhla Province at our ThailandGuidebook.com website.
Many thanks to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) for flying us down to Hat Yai for the weekend and also for showing us around. I will be posting more reports of our weekend in Hat Yai here at www.thai-blogs.com later this week. We are the number one travel blog in Thailand with an average of 10,000 visitors per day. Visit PaknamWeb.com for the latest Thai travel news and free online guidebooks for Thailand.