Feeling a bit inspired by the last few days, I have decided to skip one adventure for the moment, and write about my stay in Thailand instead! This is the first of a two part post, which will be divided to focus separately on my stays in Hat Yai and Koh Lipe. I decided that because both places are so culturally and physically different from one another, although they are within proximity of each other, one post would not do either justice. With that said, let’s begin!
This week has been the end of Ramadan (Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri! Eid Mubarak!) in the Muslim calendar; a month of fasting from dawn until dusk to increase religious observance and self reflection. Therefore, in Malaysia, school and work is generally suspended so families can prepare for the final fast. If a family wants to celebrate with neighbours, there are also giant night bazaars set up across the country, preparing from early in the afternoon for the sun to set.
Therefore I traveled to Thailand, as I had no one immediately related to me in Malaysia that observed the religious season. A week off to explore and hopefully get a tan (AHA! More on this later), I thought. I would not have another opportunity! So I ended up in Hat Yai, a city on the border of Thailand and Malaysia. Hat Yai is geared towards cross border shopping – similar to Buffalo in the US for Canadians – and so there isn’t much in the way of tourist attractions. That being said, there is an exception of the BBB’s – Big, Bad, Buddhas.
There are five famous Buddhas in Hat Yai: the Sleeping Buddha, the Buddha on the Hill, the Smiling Buddha, the Buddha by the Sea and the Four-Faced Buddha. My first stop was with the rather large and lounging one. The Sleeping Buddha, or the Reclining Buddha as I have since researched, is depicting the Buddha during his last illness about to enter Nirvana after death.
Traveler’s note: you will have no explanation as to why these temples are located where they are, or what the idols mean. Therefore, research in advance or write a list of questions to ask Google later. Otherwise you’ll end up like me: “why? But why? I understand that, but why?”
Thankfully Ah Nok, the kind driver who took me around to all these holy places, was patient.
My favourite stop on the tour, was probably the Buddha on the Hill. This brass statue looks out onto all of Hat Yai – a 360 view might I add – and it is spectacular. Particularly when it is about to rain, as you can watch the clouds roll in. This Golden Buddha is flanked on either side by large metal gongs and bells which guests are more than welcome to ring. A bit of music therapy before and after prayers. Also, take a moment and walk down the concrete steps in front of this shrine, which lead to the Smiling Buddha. The Smiling Buddha or Budai as he is also called, brings wealth, good luck and prosperity to those who bring him offerings. Somehow, I passed his monument, probably trying to avoid the rain, but you cannot miss his large, joyful, and boisterous figure, nor the jaws of a golden dragon he uses as his gate.
A cable car away is Phra Phrom – the Four-Faced Buddha or God depending on the individual. In Thailand, Phra Phrom is the deity of good fortune and protection – the Thai version of the Hindu God Brahma. Each face is a different aspect of the God and therefore is revered separately. He is generally surrounded by elephants and Thai music, accompanied by dancers, which he enjoys. At his temple, patrons generally light fireworks to scare away their bad luck, which is honestly terrifying! The noise from those crackers is crazy! If I was any sort of luck, I would be terrified.
The final Buddha was one asleep by the sea, another Reclining Buddha. There is temple being built here so if you are visiting within the next few months, I recommend passing on him. There is a wooden dock set behind the main square that has a nice view of the fishing huts in the bay though.
One thing I did not get to see was the Floating Market. Every travel site I visited mentioned it, however the market is only open on the weekends (which was not mentioned – grrr). From photos and other’s recollecting on it, I would give it my secondhand recommendation. Fortunately I could avert my shopping needs elsewhere: the Chinatown Night Market, which has a fabulous selection of clothing, bags, and food. For 2500 BAHT ($95 CAD) I collected: two shirts, a skirt, a pair of shorts, two ‘designer bags’, a romper and some snacks. I can definitely see the appeal of buying things in Thailand.
In total, the tour with Ah Nok cost around 1500 BAHT ($57 CAD), and took me to a range of temples, the sea, and a few of his favourite restaurants. A great adventure from a local’s perspective of what they believe is important to see in Hat Yai. Special mention to the food selection he offered: it was fantastic and relatively inexpensive. For 300 BAHT ($12 CAD), I ate till I was stuffed. If I end up in Ah Nok’s neck of the woods again, I would definitely ring him up.
My one day in Hat Yai was incredibly eventful, filled with different scenery, people and transportation! I was in a tuk tuk! A great pit stop before I hit the beaches of Koh Lipe! I wish I had been a bit more prepared for the trek however…