Songkhla: A Better Alternative to Hat Yai
A mere 40 minutes from the bustling concrete jungle of Hat Yai is a charming and quaint coastal city known as Songkhla Old Town.
The town itself has a distinctive nostalgic feel – it almost looks like a roll of 1970’s Kodacolor film with vibrant and heritage-rich undertones. Even the weathered walls of the town’s historic shophouses pay homage to the early 1800s, a time when immigrants from Fujian and Guangdong settled Songkhla’s shores.
The cultural preservation of the town’s original Sino-Portuguese ambience is striking.
Most of the old quarter’s rustic backstreets are festooned with rows of vividly red Dēnglóng lights, while the baroque architecture of the buildings is reminiscent of the alleyways of Lisbon. Together, they give the town an eclectic multicultural atmosphere.
Throughout Songkhla Old Town, street kitchens honor their Chinese heritage by serving big bowls of silky rice porridge and heaps of perfectly-roasted duck, alongside steamed buns.
Unlike other tourist spots in southern Thailand (even neighboring Hat Yai), the shops here have remained inexpensive yet mouthwatering. Many of them even overlook Songkhla Lake, a scenic harbor fed by the Gulf of Thailand.
Within Nong Chik Alley, there’s a shop that has retained Songkhla’s rich culinary history better than others. Armed with generational knowledge, Bong Jong Dee (ไทยด้านล่างค่า) still produces a unique Thai dessert, kanom sum pun nee, with the same ingredients and same handmade process as when the shop first opened 100+ years ago.
Kanom Sum Pun Nee is a savory dessert made of hand-stirred tapioca flour and coconut cream. It’s a simple delight that Bong Jong Dee has mastered – soft, creamy coconut cookies with a gooey interior and crispy edges that are honestly more addictive than crack.
Just outside of Songkhla’s urban stronghold is a ~3 km stretch of powdery khaki sand that’s lined with shady pine groves and calm shallow water – an idyllic place to unwind and relax.
While Samila Beach is famous for its golden mermaid sculpture, the real stars of the show here are the Thai cowboys. For 500 baht (~$14), they’ll let you go on a horseback ride and gallop the entire length of the beach and back.
As a metropolis known for endless shopping and Thailand’s best fried chicken, Hat Yai isn’t exactly at the top of an adventure traveler’s bucket list. Sure there are a variety of things to do, but most of the city’s top attractions like the Greenway Night Market are focused on being a curated shopping experience for westernized goods, which isn’t our cup of tea.
While Hat Yai is a pretty cool city in its own right and a decent option for long-term stay within Thailand, there’s just not much to do that matches our preferred style of travel.
Outside of visiting the city’s Municipal Park and touring the grounds of the Central Mosque of Songkhla, Hat Yai is primarily a shopping destination. Nothing more, nothing less.
For individuals like us, who prefer to seek out immersive and authentic experiences while traveling, staying in Songkhla Old Town is a significantly better choice.
We recommend staying within walking distance of Songkhla Old Town, as this is where the highest concentration of restaurants and points of interest are located. The best value hotel in the area is Baan Nai Nakhon.
Alternatively, Samila Beach can also be great place to base yourself if you have a vehicle (car or motorbike). BP Samila Beach Hotel is the best option in the area.
Songkhla Old Town is a year-round destination, however during the peak of Thailand’s rainy season (August – September), there will be periodic heavy downpours with occasional flooding. If possible, try to avoid visiting during a Thai government holiday – this mini city will likely be packed to the brim with domestic tourists.
Be sure to check the Thai government’s meteorological website for accurate weather forecasts, before your trip.
From Bangkok, the best options for getting to Songkhla is to book a direct flight or train into Hat Yai. From Hat Yai, you can then book a taxi or minivan ride into Songkhla Old Town.
For an online reference of flight / train / bus schedules, check out 12go.
Songkhla Old Town is certainly safe. Just be vigilant of petty theft and stay aware of the current news regarding the insurgency in neighboring provinces – otherwise, there’s nothing to worry about.
Tip #1: While staying in Songkhla, head over to neighboring Phatthalung for a boat ride on Thale Noi lake. It’s roughly a 2 hour drive from Songkhla and can be easily done as a daytrip.
Tip #2: The best restaurants / cafes in Songkhla Old Town are: Nong Yao, Studio 55, Roti Ama, Ko Ban Noodle Shop, and Tae Hiang Aew.
Tip #3: Make time to visit the Songkhla City Pillar Shrine, it’s a Sino-Portuguese influenced shrine that was constructed in 1842. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to witness a local performing a joss paper burning ceremony – a time-honored tradition of ancestor worship.