A wealth of attractions completely unspoiled by mass tourism can be found in the southernmost provinces of Thailand
The southernmost provinces of Songkhla, Satun, Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat are little known to the travel industry, and even less so by the tourist.
First-time visitors are therefore delighted to discover a wealth of attractions completely unspoiled by mass tourism, such as offshore islands, national parks, interesting museums, local handicrafts, historical monu ments, deserted beaches, wildlife and bird sanctuaries, excellent shopping, lively entertainment, great food, fascinating local fairs and festivals - plus the added attractions of Malaysia, just across the border.
This proximity gives a subtle flavour to the area, a pleasant blend of Thailands sparkling personality with the more serious yet equally colourful and friendly character of Malaysia.
The city of Hat Yai in Songkhla Province, with its excellent air, road and rail connections, serves as an ideal base for exploring this delightful region and is itself well worth visiting.
A number of excursions allow the traveller to discover the principal attractions in comfort, and in the company of a qualified guide. Alternatively, vehicles to suit every need are available through Avis, which has a rental office in the hotel. Many visitors find that a few organised tours followed by the freedom of a rental car make a perfect sightseeing combination.
Among the many natural attractions is the alluring island of Tarutao - today a national park but once a penal colony for political prisoners - accessible only from mid-December to the end of April. Thale Ban National Park on the mainland is open year-round, and a sanctuary to many rare varieties of flora and fauna.
The region enjoys a warm tropical climate year-round, with long periods of sunshine punctuated by heavy rainfall, which clothes the already beautiful scenery in myriad shades of green. The local people are helpful and friendly, and accommodation is of an excellent standard.
Most visitors underestimate the diversity and range of attractions. I wish we could have stayed a little longer is a comment we hear very often.
Southern Thailand is unsuitable for those people drawn to crowded beaches or the whine of water scooters. But for those blessed with the true spirit of travel and an appreciation of nature, few other regions offer so much, are so easily accessible - yet remain such well-kept secrets.
* Half-day Hat Yai and Songkhla tour:
Visit the interesting four-faced Buddha overlooking Hat Yai municipal park and admire panoramic views of the region. Proceed to Songkhla and cross by bridge to the island of Ko Yor on Songkhla Lake to visit the Museum of Southern Thai Folklore, then to a small market where local weavers can be seen at work. Return via car ferry to Songkhla and visit the temple of Ma jimawat, famous for its art treasures, then on to Songkhlas National Museum which displays interesting exhibits from the southern provinces. Lunch at a seaside restaurant, and time to explore the beach and visit the mermaid statue.
* Full-day tour to Khu Khut Bird Sanctuary and Songkhla: T
ake a coach to Ko Yor and a boat ride through Khu Khut bird sanctuary, a haven for more than 200 migrant and indigenous species. Proceed by road to the famous temple of Wat Pako, and a small palm sugar making centre before lunch on Ko Yor. The afternoon includes a visit to the Museum of Southern Thai Folklore, and the weavers market, Ma jimawat temple and the National Museum of Songkhla. At the end of the tour, guests may visit Kautang Kuan lighthouse, or explore Samila beach at leisure.
* Full-day Yala-Pattani tour:
On the road to Yala, visit the 300-year-old Wat Chang Hai, and the fascinating cave-front temple of Kuha Pimuk (Ratburana) whose origins date back to 750 A.D.
Pass through Yala town to Pattani, and visit the famous unfinished Kreu-Se mosque dating back to 1578, and proceed to the cemetery of Goddess Lim Ko Niao. After lunch, view the provincial mosque and proceed to Ko Niao shrine, site of an important annual festival. On return, stop for refreshments at Hat Sakorn, one of Pattanis beautiful beaches.
* Full-day Tarutao Island and Thale Ban National Park tour (The Tarutao section operates only from December 15 to April 30): Drive to Pak Bara pier at Satun for a 1-hour scenic cruise to Tarutao island, formerly a prison colony, now a national park. Have lunch at the park ranger restaurant and explore the white sandy beach. Visit the small museum before returning by boat to Satun. Proceed to beautiful Thale Ban National Park with its tranquil lake, waterfalls, high mountain peaks and superb scenery.
* From May 1 to December 14, the following alternative tour operates: On arrival at Pak Bara pier, take a short boat journey to Gasing Island, to Pak Nam Resort. The rest of the morning is for leisure, exploring, swimming or relaxing. Lunch at Pak Nam Resort before returning to Pak Bara pier. The tour then proceeds to Thale Ban National Park as above.