I visited the historic city of Songkla, once the Sultanate of Singgora, later an important provincial centre in the South of Thailand. The old city centre of Songkla reminds me a bit like the historic core of Melaka - narrow streets, old Chinese clan houses and temples and Sino-Portuguese shophouses. In fact, Songkla is working towards Unesco World Heritage listing as well. A few old shophouses are already converted into eateries for the occasional visitor. The streets are still very quiet. The overall state of preservation is still mixed and some new structures do threaten the integrity of the whole site.
Let me set aside my heritage purist cap and put on my b-school hat - if you are Thai citizen and have some spare cash, maybe this is a place to buy a few old houses and convert them to heritage inns and restaurants in due course. The return may take longer than elsewhere to realise as Songkla is far from other major moneyed population centres; but the potential is there.
Kingdom of Red Penis: This photo was taken at the ancient walls of the Kingdom of Ligor or Nakhon Si Thammarat (13th to 19th century), once a trading port city-state and tributary state of the Sukhothai and later Ayuthaya empires.
Before that, this was the capital of the Tambralinga Kingdom which in the 7th to 9th centuries sent tributary missions to Tang Dynasty China on at least 5 occasions. Tambralinga, which was a Hindu state, means Red Penis in Sanskrit, a name with deep religious and spiritual significance.
The Kingdom reached its height in 1247 when King Chandrabhanu invaded Sri Lanka and made himself King of Jaffna for 15 years - the only known Southeast Asian invasion of South Asia. In 1262, Chandrabhanu invaded southern Sri Lanka and was killed in battle. This marked the destruction of his extended empire and his home city emerged as Ligor, which was for all intents and purposes a small trading city state and tributary of great regional powers.
Chaiya, once a regional capital of the Srivijaya Empire that controlled the coasts of Sumatra, Malay and Southern Thai Peninsula, western Borneo and Java in the 10th century.
I took a bus here from Surat Thani. Visited the Chaiya National Museum, Wat Boromma That Chaiya, and ruins of two Srivijaya chedis - Chedi Wat Long and Chedi Wat Kaew.
Surat Thani (meaning the City of Good People in the Thai language), a city with population 130,000 and capital of a province of the same name in Southern Thailand. First settled in the 3rd century AD, this used to be a major regional capital of the Srivijaya Empire (9th to 13th century) based in Palembang in South Sumatra but whose naval forces once controlled the coasts of Sumatra, Malay and South Thai Peninsula, and parts of Borneo and Java.
Today, Surat Thani is a sleepy provincial city and the transit point for ferries to the full moon party islands of Ko Samui, Ko Phangan and Ko Tao. I'm not keen on the sun and the sea. Instead, I'll do a day trip to Chaiya tomorrow to explore remnants of the Srivijaya civilisation, then head southwards to the Province of Nakhon Sri Thammarat.
What a coincidence the French government is holding two exhibitions on Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince right now! I'll be heading to Tarfaya in Southern Morocco in June, where Antoine de Saint-Exupery was a Sahara airmail pilot for many years and his experiences there inspired his great work.