I have my doubts about Songkhla. Having been led to believe it was a pleasant small town by the beach on the southern-most stretch of the Gulf of Thailand, my first impression was of a sparse light-industrial complex full of catering supply stores and tire marts, which made me want to drive through it and just keep going.
If, however, by small one thinks no one and nothing of interest, then that seems spot on. From my slightly ramshackle guest house charging prices I am accustomed to paying in establishments where the bathroom roof does not look like it is either falling down or full of asbestos, I ventured out to see if this place had any redeeming features.
The guesthouses are clustered for no apparent reason on one side of the main highway – near the ‘tourist port’ which has all the charm of an abandoned animal shelter. But nearby there are plenty of concrete Rubiks-cube inspired harbour buildings, before you reach the guy with the gun and all the riot wire who interfered with me doing the walk I wanted.
There is a beach, which I found after walking for about an hour and a half. While diminutive on the attraction front, Songkhla is spread out thinner than butter in a cheap deli. I’ve never been to a place where I’ve spent four or five hours stomping around and I still have no idea where the centre is. Or, more crucially, a place where I might consume a decent coffee.
Songkhla is on a pensinsula, and it fills it, I guess because it can. On the map I had, it looked like all the features of interest were clustered in a nice manageable area. Not so! Eventually I realised what this town reminded me of was Los Angeles. Well, Los Angeles minus the film studios and celebrities and anything that makes LA worth visiting, but with the lack of zoning and streetscapes of brain-numbing dullness that make me want to lie in the nearest drain. No shortage of drains. And drain smells though.
Shreds of skin are hanging off my poor, overworked feet, and I still haven’t seen a place that might serve a decent breakfast.
Actually, this afternoon I was starving, and I couldn’t even find a stall selling fruit. How hard is it normally to find a few pineapple chunks in a plastic bag in Thailand? Not hard at all normally. There were tonnes of tropical delicacies calling to me as I scurried through Hat Yai on my way here, but foolishly I thought there will be plenty in Songkhla. I did find some finally, but that was after I’d been hijacked by the squid.
The beach was a relief after all the concrete and I saw cat and rat island – guessing rat was the smaller one – and I saw a restaurant, or at least a large collection of plastic chairs on the sand and I scurried over. The menu was entirely in Thai and I ordered off pictures, and guided by prices on the page. The spicy chicken salad had a wonderfully nutty dressing, the squid was in a curry sauce. The squid was a bit chewy and – I like my seafood tidy – full of squishy stuff that I couldn’t bring myself to eat because I didn’t want any nasty surprises. The biggest surprise however was how much it cost – I didn’t really like the squid that much and it cost four times more than I thought.
I think I may return to Hat Yai tomorrow. It’s a grey transport hub, but at least they have coffee there. Songkhla does have a mermaid statue, which is apparently significant. There are pictures of it all over the municipal maps, but none of them bother to say where it is located.
Lucky I had a map of my own – no one you ask here has any idea where anything is. Even when you stick a map in front of them. Purely by chance I wandered by ‘tourist services’, a woman sitting at a table on a verandah, and though she couldn’t say guesthouse, she told me where to head to find decrepit accommodation. but nothing else. Wasn’t offered a brochure, nothing.
What else can I complain about? Well it’s really hot and my black shirt has white stains on the front from all the salty sweat I’ve produced along with my churlishness. While lost I found a collection of stalls and a woman made me a sugary strawberry drink to which she added farang tax. That is, people in front of me paid what they paid, and then they charged me more for the same thing. I remembered that from my last trip to this area. It’s dingy and pricey because foreigners are charged more for everything. I was really tired, otherwise I would have said for that price you can drink your diabetes-inducing concoction yourself.
Found the mermaid too – it’s so small I walked past it the first time without seeing it. Supposedly the symbol of the beach, just down the road there is a much, much larger statue of some dude reading a book. Wecome to Songkhla, a place that makes no sense at all.