After a rather lengthy 7h sequence of taxi, ferry, sawngthaew, local bus, and lastly motorcyle ride, I finally marked my return to the Land of Smiles with my arrival in Hat Yai, the fourth-largest city in the country, and arguably the commercial heart of the Southern provinces.
As a major transport hub, Hat Yai sees hordes of tourists and businessmen from neighbouring Malaysia daily, and walking around the downtown area, it almost seems like I hear more of the Malaysian-Chinese dialects (Mandarin, Hokkien, Teochew and Cantonese) being spoken than Thai itself! On several occasions I was greeted by vendors in those dialects, rather than Thai. Quite clearly the Chinese diaspora has had a significant influence here over the years.
Yet this didn't come as a particular surprise to me. I'd known my Chinese grandparents had a long time ago settled here for a while, before they finally moved southwards to Malaysia, so they must have found a thriving Chinese community in Hat Yai even back then, over half a century ago. Also, this wasn't my first time here. I remember driving up here from Penang with my grandparents and aunt's family some twenty-odd years ago, when I was just
a little boy. Of course apart from the Micro Machines mini-toycar models that I eyed eagerly in the departmental store back then, I don't remember much of anything else about the city! So walking around today as a adult is eye-opening, even though there aren't really any famous tourist major tourist attractions to speak of. Apparently the city also used to be a major red light district several decades ago, but a massive clean-up campaign seems to have now eradicated the bulk of the sleaze. Some of it still remains, but certainly nowhere close to the likes of Bangkok and Pattaya.
What I also hadn't quite remembered from my childhood visit was the obvious Muslim influence here, being close to the deep South bordering Malaysia. Headscarf- and songkot
-donning Muslim women and men respectively are ubiquitous, and it continues to catch me off-guard when I hear them speaking Thai, rather than Malay or Indonesian as I would have instinctively expected. Hat Yai is perhaps the closest, relatively safe place in the South in which to observe the Muslim-Buddhist interactions, as it remains quite protected from the tensions and strife that afflict the neighbouring provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat. And
Apparently crafted by the experts from Harbin, China. -15 degrees Celcius inside. I thought it'd be a cakewalk given my experience with the harsh New England winters, but I was dead wrong, BRRRRRR!
it's all relative, of course, since Hat Yai did experience a bombing as recently as two years ago, when scores of people were killed and injured. Let's hope we don't see a re-occurrence of that anytime soon, or better yet, ever again...
Stayed at Ladda Guesthouse.
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