Open your mouth as you would say “A” and pronounce an “U” instead. Sătooon. This is the name of the strangest little Thai city I ever visited. I am tempted to call it “mysterious”, but I will not let my ignorance label it.
The first odd thing about Satun is the definition the locals give to the word ”behind”. Rose Inn, where the Thailand Authority of Tourism booked me a room, had no address anywhere on the internet. All references placed it “behind the City Hall”. After an one hour search all over the town, I stopped at a cafe to ask for directions.
– You go behind, to the main road, you turn right behind the hospital, THEN you go behind the police left, THEN you get to the City Hall. Rose Inn is behind it.
According to the Satunese logic, Craiova (a city in Romania) is also “behind the City Hall” only 8,000 km further. Following my instinct more than the directions I got, I found the inn but not the City Hall. I kept searching it for two days out of ambition, and there was no sign of it. I am telling you there is no City Hall in Satun. There is only the “behind the City hall”.
Note: Rose Inn is a lovely bungalow resort on the outskirts. 500 thb will get you a large box in a clean and quiet area, 50 meters from the river and the magnificently carved limestone cliffs. En suite bathroom, hot water, spacious bed, minibar. Internet also, but you have to pay extra.
There are three tourist attractions in Satun. The House of the Spirits, the old buildings on Wanicha Road and the local museum. The trick is in finding them. Never mind the signs, they will not take you anywhere close to where they say they do. Do not follow advice from locals either, you will end up in the “behind” labyrinth. I managed to find two out of three (most probably the museum is part of the same parallel universe as the City Hall). Permission to report.
The House of the Spirits. What do you think about when you hear such a name? About a house with spirits, right? That is exactly the thought that – excuse me – haunted me. I was thinking about the thrills and tingles I would get inside. Forget about it. Stephen King or Lovecraft would not write two words on a napkin about this place.
The House of the Spirits is a pavilion surrounded by wired fence, placed in the courtyard of a Buddhist monastery. If you are really weak maybe there’s a chance you will be scared by the shriveled statuettes. A young monk explained to me that it is dedicated to the ancestors who founded the temple when they first arrived in Satun. That’s it. A memorial, at best. Nothing spooky.
Wanicha Road starts from the main street, turns by Mambang mosque across the street from a sensual massage parlor and melts into the secondary street. Could not be easier, nor more complicated. The old buildings which I came to visit are old, indeed, but not so old as to warrant tourists interest. They seem to be built in the 20th century and never renovated since. Similar to the blocks of flats built by Ceausescu in Bucharest.
Do not get me wrong: Satun has its charm. The most charming things are the limestone cliffs which are suddenly interrupted by the booming city. Here’s a bank, a supermarket and a pub, 50 meters away the guardianship of the jungle, where man has never set foot. If you follow the sign to the House of Spirits (and do wrong believing it will take you where it promises), you will find a bizarre suburb, huddled at the foot of the high slopes where, so I was told, crazy people come to hike. Charmingly strange.
Besides, who comes to Satun to stay in Satun? The homonyms province takes pride in some of the wildest and most beautiful places in Thailand: Koh Tarutao, Koh Lipe, Koh Adang, numerous caves and waterfalls, Cape Than Yong Po and other crazy ones I will tell you about in the next few days.
Satun is served by 3 piers. From the closest to the farthest there are 80 kilometers. As per avoiding my mistake of chaotically commute between them, remember the following rule: the most southern pier, Tammalang, has the best connections to the south (there are daily ferries to the Malaysian island of Langkawi) and the northernmost pier- Pakbakara – is perfect for transfers to the Lipe, Tarutao Lanta and Phi Phi islands.
You will not find travel agents in the city, but you can easily spot them in the ports. The employees are lively, helpful, speak English and can help with anything you might need, from bus tickets to Bangkok to a visa run in Alon Star. If you go on the islands, you will have to leave your saleng in the port. Behind the port, to be precise.