Songkhla Old Town: An 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.
The best time to visit Songkhla, a province in southern Thailand, is during the dry season, which generally extends from December to April. This period offers the most favorable weather conditions for exploring the region and enjoying its attractions. Here’s a breakdown of the seasons in Songkhla:
Dry Season (December to April): This is the peak tourist season in Songkhla. During these months, you can expect pleasant temperatures, lower humidity levels, and minimal rainfall. It’s an ideal time to visit the beaches, enjoy water activities, and explore outdoor attractions such as Hat Yai Municipal Park, Songkhla Old Town, and Tang Kuan Hill.
Rainy Season (May to November): The rainy season in Songkhla experiences higher rainfall and increased humidity. Heavy showers and occasional thunderstorms are common, particularly from May to September. While the rainfall can bring lush greenery and vibrant landscapes, it may also limit certain outdoor activities. However, if you don’t mind occasional rain and prefer fewer crowds, you can still visit during this period and enjoy discounted prices on accommodations and tours.
It’s important to note that weather patterns can vary, and unexpected rain showers can occur even during the dry season. It’s advisable to check the weather forecast before your trip and come prepared with appropriate rain gear if visiting during the rainy season.
Additionally, it’s worth considering any specific events or festivals happening in Songkhla when planning your visit. The annual Songkhla International Marathon held in February and the Songkhla Seafood Festival in July are popular events that attract visitors from near and far.
In summary, the best time to visit Songkhla is during the dry season from December to April when you can enjoy pleasant weather and partake in various outdoor activities. However, if you don’t mind occasional rain showers and want to experience the region with fewer tourists, the rainy season can still offer unique experiences.
Insider Note: Make sure you check the Thai government’s meteorological website for accurate weather forecasts, before your trip.
To travel from Bangkok to Songkhla, you have several transportation options. Below are the most common ways to make the journey:
By Air: The fastest way to reach Songkhla from Bangkok is by taking a flight. Songkhla has its own airport called Hat Yai International Airport (HDY), which is well-connected to Bangkok’s major airports, such as Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) and Don Mueang International Airport (DMK). Multiple airlines operate flights between these destinations, offering several daily flights. The flight duration is approximately 1.5 hours.
By Train: Another popular option is to take a train from Bangkok to Hat Yai, which is the nearest major city to Songkhla. Trains depart from Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong Railway Station and arrive at Hat Yai Railway Station. The journey takes approximately 16 to 17 hours, depending on the train type and schedule. From Hat Yai, you can then take a bus or a taxi to Songkhla, which is around 30 kilometers away.
By Bus: Buses are a convenient and economical way to travel from Bangkok to Songkhla. Numerous bus operators provide regular services between the two cities. Buses typically depart from Bangkok’s Southern Bus Terminal (Sai Tai Mai) and arrive at Songkhla’s main bus terminal, located in Hat Yai. The duration of the bus journey ranges from 12 to 14 hours, depending on traffic conditions and the type of bus you choose. From Hat Yai, you can easily catch a local bus or take a taxi to reach Songkhla.
By Car: If you prefer the flexibility of driving, you can rent a car in Bangkok and travel to Songkhla by road. The journey takes approximately 11 to 12 hours, depending on traffic and the route you choose. You can take Highway 4 (Phetkasem Road) heading south, passing through various cities and towns before reaching Songkhla. It’s advisable to plan your route in advance and have a GPS or map for navigation.
It’s worth noting that the transportation options and schedules may vary, so it’s recommended to check the availability and timings of flights, trains, or buses based on your preferred travel dates.
To travel from Singapore to Songkhla, you can consider the following transportation options:
By Flight: The most convenient way to reach Songkhla from Singapore is by taking a flight. The nearest airport to Songkhla is Hat Yai International Airport (HDY), which is well-connected to various cities, including Singapore. Several airlines operate direct flights between Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) and Hat Yai, with a flight duration of approximately 1.5 to 2 hours. From Hat Yai Airport, you can then take a taxi or a bus to reach Songkhla, which is approximately a 30-kilometer journey.
By Bus: Although it involves a longer journey, you can also consider traveling from Singapore to Songkhla by bus. Several bus companies offer services from Singapore to Hat Yai, which is the nearest major city to Songkhla. The journey usually involves a combination of bus transfers at the border checkpoint between Singapore and Malaysia. Once you arrive in Hat Yai, you can take a local bus or a taxi to reach Songkhla, which is around 30 kilometers away. The total travel time by bus can vary, but it typically takes around 12 to 14 hours, depending on traffic and border crossing procedures.
By Train and Bus: Another option is to combine train and bus travel. You can take a train from Singapore’s Woodlands Train Checkpoint to Padang Besar, a town on the Malaysia-Thailand border. From there, you can proceed to Hat Yai by bus or take a connecting train to Hat Yai Railway Station. Once in Hat Yai, you can continue to Songkhla by local bus or taxi, as mentioned earlier. The train journey from Singapore to Padang Besar takes around 6 to 7 hours, and the bus or train journey from Padang Besar to Hat Yai is approximately 1 to 2 hours.
It’s important to note that transportation options and schedules may vary, so it’s advisable to check the availability and timings of flights, buses, or trains based on your preferred travel dates. Additionally, it’s recommended to check the visa requirements and border crossing procedures for traveling between Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand, as they may vary depending on your nationality.
To travel from Kuala Lumpur to Songkhla, you have a few transportation options. Below is a step-by-step guide:
By Flight: The most convenient way to reach Songkhla from Kuala Lumpur is by taking a flight. You can check for flights from Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) or Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (KLIA2) to Hat Yai International Airport (HDY), which is the closest airport to Songkhla. Several airlines operate flights on this route, including AirAsia, Malaysia Airlines, and Thai Airways. The flight duration is approximately 1 hour.
By Bus: If you prefer a more economical option, you can consider traveling by bus. First, you’ll need to get to the Terminal Bersepadu Selatan (TBS) bus terminal in Kuala Lumpur. From there, you can find several bus operators that offer services to Hat Yai, which is the nearest major city to Songkhla. The journey by bus usually takes around 8-10 hours, depending on traffic conditions and the specific bus operator. Once you reach Hat Yai, you can take a local bus or a taxi to Songkhla, which is about 30 kilometers away.
By Train: Another alternative is to take a train from Kuala Lumpur to Hat Yai. Unfortunately, there is no direct train connection between the two cities, so you’ll need to transfer at the Padang Besar railway station, which is located on the Malaysia-Thailand border. From Kuala Lumpur, you can take a train to Padang Besar and then proceed to Hat Yai by taking another train. Once you reach Hat Yai, you can follow the same approach as mentioned earlier to reach Songkhla.
It’s essential to check the latest schedules, fares, and availability for flights, buses, or trains before making your travel arrangements.
Songkhla is a city in southern Thailand with its own unique charm and attractions, making it worth considering for a visit. Below are some reasons why Songkhla can be a worthwhile destination:
Historical and Cultural Significance: Songkhla is rich in history and culture. The city has a long history dating back to ancient times, and you can explore historical sites such as the Songkhla Old Town, the Songkhla National Museum, and the Songkhla City Pillar Shrine. These places offer insights into the region’s heritage and provide a glimpse into the past.
Beautiful Beaches and Scenic Landscapes: Songkhla boasts picturesque beaches and scenic landscapes. Hat Sai Kaeo (Samila Beach) is a popular beach known for its golden sands and the famous “Mermaid Statue.” Additionally, the nearby island of Ko Yo offers serene beaches and scenic views. For nature lovers, there are also national parks in the region, such as Khao Nam Khang National Park and Songkhla Zoo, where you can explore diverse flora and fauna.
Culinary Delights: Songkhla is renowned for its delicious cuisine. The city offers a wide range of culinary experiences, including fresh seafood, traditional Thai dishes, and unique local specialties. Don’t miss the opportunity to savor local delicacies and explore the vibrant street food scene in Songkhla.
Local Festivals and Events: Songkhla hosts several vibrant festivals throughout the year, showcasing the local culture and traditions. The annual Songkhla Seafood Festival is a highlight, where you can indulge in mouthwatering seafood dishes while enjoying live music and entertainment. The Loy Krathong festival, which takes place on the full moon night of the twelfth lunar month, is another event worth experiencing.
Relaxing Atmosphere: Compared to bustling tourist destinations, Songkhla offers a more relaxed and laid-back atmosphere. It’s an excellent choice for those seeking a quieter and less crowded getaway. You can leisurely explore the city, take leisurely walks along the waterfront, or simply relax and enjoy the tranquil surroundings.
As with any destination, personal preferences and interests play a significant role in determining whether a place is worth visiting. If you have an appreciation for history, culture, scenic landscapes, and a desire to explore a lesser-known part of Thailand, then Songkhla can be a worthwhile addition to your itinerary.
Songkhla, like any other destination, has its own safety considerations. Generally, Songkhla is considered a relatively safe place to visit. However, it’s always recommended to take standard safety precautions to ensure a smooth and secure trip:
Stay informed: Before traveling to Songkhla, check the current travel advisories issued by your government or relevant authorities. These advisories provide up-to-date information regarding safety concerns, local regulations, and any potential risks.
Secure your belongings: Exercise caution with your personal belongings, such as passports, wallets, and electronics. Keep them secure and be vigilant in crowded areas to prevent theft or pickpocketing.
Stay in reputable accommodations: Choose well-established hotels or guesthouses with good reviews and security measures in place. They can provide a safer environment for your stay.
Be cautious at night: As with any destination, it’s advisable to be cautious when exploring unfamiliar areas, especially at night. Stick to well-lit and populated areas, and consider traveling with a companion when possible.
Follow local laws and customs: Respect the local laws, customs, and traditions of Songkhla. Familiarize yourself with local customs to avoid inadvertently causing offense or misunderstanding.
Take transportation precautions: Use licensed taxis or reputable transportation services when moving around Songkhla. Be cautious while using public transportation and be aware of your surroundings.
Stay updated on weather conditions: If you visit Songkhla during monsoon season or when severe weather is expected, stay informed about weather conditions and follow any advisories or warnings issued by local authorities.
Remember, safety can vary depending on specific circumstances, so it’s crucial to gather information from reliable sources, monitor travel advisories, and exercise personal judgment when visiting any destination.
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.
Fun (Historical) Facts: Songkhla’s historical significance stems from its strategic location as a trading hub and its interactions with various civilizations throughout history. As an ancient settlement, Songkhla has been a center of trade and maritime activities for thousands of years. It was part of the influential Srivijaya Empire during the 8th to 13th centuries, which contributed to its trade connections, cultural exchange, and the spread of Buddhism in the region.
Over the centuries, Songkhla came under the influence of Thai kingdoms, including the Sukhothai and Ayutthaya Kingdoms, further solidifying its importance as a regional trading center. The city’s rich history is also marked by colonial presence, with the Portuguese, Dutch, and British leaving their imprints on Songkhla’s architecture and cultural heritage. Additionally, Songkhla played a significant role during World War II as a battleground between Japanese forces and the Allies.
Exploring Songkhla’s historical sites, including Old Town and its museums, allows visitors to delve into the city’s past and witness the diverse influences that have shaped its identity.