I thought it was time to go suss out the nearest beach to Hatyai, and this is it: Songkhla. It’s just 40 minutes by minibus, and costs just 28 baht to get there, which is next to nothing (around 50 pence).
As with Hatyai, Lonely planet Guide mostly overlooks Songkhla, merely noting that it’s the last city where you can safely see the culturally Muslim Thailand (any further south is deemed unsafe with insurgents running around).
It mentions the bronze mermaid statue, a tribute to the Hindu/Buddhist earth goddess. It was hard to get a photo of it because there was pretty much always a crowd of people taking photos next to it, and quite honestly I was expecting something bigger. If it weren’t for the big crowd of camera clickers it would be easy to miss it.
Behind it you can see Cat and Rat islands (so named because their shapes are said to resemble the animals).
There was a surprisingly good beach there. This part of the coast isn’t as popular as the Andaman coast further up, however this also means far, far lower prices, less tourists and more space on the beach. I had the beach pretty much to myself, even on a Sunday. The Thais mainly hang out in the shade under the trees, with their picnics, kites and guitars, seeming pretty chilled. But without other westerners the beach itself is pretty much empty.
There were no jet-skis, beach shacks or the like; the usual beach paraphernalia was all missing. However rather bizarrely there were a couple of stalls offering white pottery that you could purchase to paint yourself, which did seem an odd type of ‘beach activity’ to me.
I guess they don’t get too many farangs in Songkhla. The main attraction when I walked along the seashore seemed to be me. Most of the Thais were keen to practice their entire repertoire of English with me, although luckily that pretty much consisted of ‘good morning’, ‘how are you’ and ‘see you soon’.
In Hatyai the locals are used to seeing foreigners; buses come down from places like Phuket full of westerners doing their visa run and people pass through all the time, often staying just one night whilst they wait for their transport connection. Plus there is an ever-expanding resident population (pretty much all teachers from what I’ve seen, along with a few small business owners). Songkhla, I’m guessing, doesn’t get this and so the presence of a farang is more of a rarity for them. Hence the attention.
Sidenote: the postcode for the whole of Songkhla province is 90210, the same as Beverley Hills. This amused me far more than it should.