The workroom of the Ratchawat Saeng Song La Weaving Group.
A short drive from the old town of Songkhla to Songkhla Lake is where you will find Ko Yo. The size of this small island in the southern part of the country is only 15km².
It is believed that people have lived in the island since the Ayutthaya period. There were locals of Songkhla and also Chinese who migrated from China. Today Ko Yo is home to more than 4,700 people. Most of them are Buddhist. The island is a popular destination for having seafood in a relaxed atmosphere as well as observing old heritages. Here are the list of eight things to do to let you truly know the island.
1. Selfie with Tinsulanonda Bridge
The bridge was completed in 1984 when the Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda was prime minister. It consists of two parts: the 940m-long bridge links Ban Nam Krachai in Muang district of Songkhla to the southeast of the island. The other part is 1,700m long and connects the northern tip of the island to Ban Khao Kheo in Singha Nakhon district. The bridge was named after the leader to honour him because Songkhla was his hometown. The best place to take a selfie with the bridge is on the hilltop at the Folklore Museum. (More details on this below.)
2. Pay respect to the reclining Buddha image
You will notice the large reclining Buddha sculpture while you are crossing the Tinsulanonda Bridge from Songkhla town to the island. The bright gold Buddha image is located at Wat Laem Pho, also known as Wat Phra Non Laem Pho. Built in 1817, the temple turns 201 years old this year. It also houses an ordination hall (ubosot), built during the period of King Rama III.
3. See old monks’ quarters
Built in 1768, Wat Thai Yo is the oldest temple on the island. The name was — meaning “at the edge of the world” — was inspired by its location. It houses the 200-year-old raised-floor wooden houses used as monks’ quarters. The houses have clay roof tiles, popular products of the island in the past. Also located in the temple compound is a white stupa built during the period of King Rama IV.
4. Shop for hand-woven fabrics
Ko Yo is well known for a specific pattern of woven cloth called ratchawat. It shows the design that looks like the neck of a lace-necked dove. According to Wichai Marasena, the chairman of Ratchawat Saeng Song La Weaving Group, one of nine such groups in Ko Yo, the name was given by King Rama V when he visited the island in 1900.
He said locals of Ko Yo have woven cloth for more than two centuries. In the past, they grew cotton plants for making yarn and dyed them in natural colours. They also created patterns based on nature around them, such as flowers, animals or insects. Ko Yo woven cloth is certified as an Otop (One Tambon, One Product) of Songkhla.
5. Learn the history of the South
The Folklore Museum of the Institute for Southern Thai Studies of Thaksin University is the best place for you to gain knowledge about history, culture and tradition of people in the southern peninsula. Opened in 1991, the museum has 30 rooms in its four exhibition buildings. It has more than 50,000 artefacts, including old sculptures and pottery, ancient beads and other ornaments, coin collections, traditional costumes, handicrafts and household items.
The museum has an observation tower that gives you a panoramic view of Songkhla Lake. It is also the best place from which to see the Tinsulanonda Bridge.
6. Try spicy seaweed
Yam sarai phom nang is the name of a local dish you should try. It is made of red seaweed (Gracilaria fisheri) mixed with fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, chillies, sliced shallots, toasted and grated coconut, and ground peanuts. You can find the dish in the market close to Wat Phra Non Laem Pho, or at certain local restaurants.
7. Taste local sweets
Champada thod is a popular snack from the island. It is deep-fried cempedak fritters. The taste is very sweet because the fruit itself is sweet when ripe. The fruit is in the same genus as jackfruit, but the taste is sweeter and has a stronger smell than jackfruit.
8. Stay overnight in a khanam
Khanam is the name of a hut-like accommodation built in the lake. Its original purpose is for owners of fish pens to guard their properties. Khanam later were converted into a homestay for tourists. There are a number of homestay services in Ko Yo where you may try overnight stays. Be warned that it might be noisy sometimes if you happen to spend a night next to a khanam that has a group of tourists who sing karaoke non-stop.
The fastest way to travel to Ko Yo is to fly to Hat Yai airport (hatyaiairportthai.com/th) and take a public van from there to Ha Yaek Nam Krachai (also known as Ha Yaek Ko Yo, in the town of Songkhla). Take a red songthaew modified pickup (along the route of either Songkhla-Sathing Phra or Songkhla-Muang Ngam), and get off after the vehicle crossing at the Tinsulanonda Bridge.
To travel around Ko Yo, hire a motorcycle taxi to give you a tour. An alternative is to rent a car from the airport.
For group tour, Ko Yo Municipality offers a rental shuttle bus with a tour guide. The service is 1,700 baht for up to 25 people.
Call the municipality at 074-300-458 or visit www.songkhlatourism.org.
For more information, call the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s Hat Yai office at 074-243-747 or visit www.tourismthailand.org.