Photo: Songkhla charm.


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With a lake-view heritage quarter on one side of town and a golden beach fading into the sea on the other, the capital of Songkhla province is an excellent alternative destination in Southern Thailand.

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In the 12th century, Indian traders established a port at a channel between the ocean, a vast lake and two peninsulas, dubbing it Singora after a pair of islets resembling lions. Later dominated by Chinese merchants, Malay Muslims and Siamese Buddhists, who preferred the name Songkhla, the port also attracted traders from across Asia, Europe and the Middle East. The area retained a measure of autonomy until the early 20th century, when Songkhla became a Thai province. Locals still harbour a strong sense of regional identity and pride.

Tourists have fun with one of many murals in Songkhla's old town. Photo taken in or around Songkhla, Thailand by David Luekens.

Tourists have fun with one of many murals in Songkhla's old town. Photo: David Luekens

From this deep history came graceful Sino-European houses along with temples, mosques and a magnificent Chinese-style palace that’s now part of Songkhla National Museum. In 2015 the city made architectural preservation “an urgent task,” transforming former wealthy homes into museums as street artists added ghostly murals and entrepreneurs opened cafes, galleries and boutique hotels. While the old town attracts growing numbers of Thai and Malaysian tourists, few Westerners have caught up to Songkhla as of yet.

To the east of town stretches Haad Samila, a pretty beach where you can relax over fresh seafood or watch the sunrise over the Gulf of Thailand. Rimming the city’s western shore is Songkhla Lake, or Thale Sap, Thailand’s largest natural body of fresh water. Visible across a channel to the north, the Sathing Phra Peninsula boasts many more miles of windswept beaches. A climb up Khao Tang Kuan rewards you with a vista encompassing all of this geography.

Samila Beach. Come for the sunrise, stay for the seafood. Photo taken in or around Songkhla, Thailand by David Luekens.

Samila Beach. Come for the sunrise, stay for the seafood. Photo: David Luekens

On a day trip to the island of Ko Yo you can visit villages focused on fishing and weaving before learning about Southern Thai culture at the fascinating Folklore Museum. Birders might stop at Khu Khut Waterbird Sanctuary in Sathing Phra on the way up to Thale Noi in Phatthalung province, which shares the lake with Songkhla.

Overshadowing the provincial capital, nearby Hat Yai is Southern Thailand’s largest city and a major transport hub. It’s a shame that more foreign travellers don’t make the side trip to Songkhla when pivoting between Thailand and Malaysia via Hat Yai—the mix of history, food, architecture and natural scenery left us wishing for an extra few days to explore.

A quiet moment on Ko Yo. Photo taken in or around Songkhla, Thailand by David Luekens.

A quiet moment on Ko Yo. Photo: David Luekens

Some travellers avoid Songkhla province altogether due to fears of attacks, such as a 2012 bombing that killed five at a large Hat Yai hotel, perpetrated by ethnic Malay militants seeking greater autonomy in Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat. Songkhla town has seen but a tiny fraction of the troubles in the Far South (a motorbike bomb outside a hotel in 2005 that did no damage). We feel comfortable travelling throughout the province, but you may decide otherwise; if you do travel here, stay abreast of the news.

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Located 30 kilometres northeast of Hat Yai and 100 kilometres north of the Malaysia border crossing at Sadao, Songkhla town—or Amphoe Muang Songkhla—is the capital of the eponymous province. Spanning the Bo Yang Peninsula, the city is home to around 70,000 people but feels smaller thanks to the spacious layout.

Food is another highlight in charming Songkhla. Photo taken in or around Songkhla, Thailand by David Luekens.

Food is another highlight in charming Songkhla. Photo: David Luekens

Rimming the northeast side of town is Haad Samila, a two-kilometre beach stretching north alongside Laem Son Road towards the northern tip of town. From here you get a view of the large seaport located across the channel, with a car ferry to Sathing Phra departing 500 metres further south.

Songkhla’s old town stretches along the lake for a couple of kilometres on Nakhon Nok, Nakhon Nai and Nang Ngam roads, all of which run from north to south. Running in the same direction is Ramwithi Road (aka Route 407), a main drag that bumps into a clock tower near the spot where minibuses from Hat Yai park.

A woman rides a bike through Songkhla's old town. Photo taken in or around Songkhla, Thailand by David Luekens.

A woman rides a bike through Songkhla's old town. Photo: David Luekens

A left (west) at the clock on Chana Road takes you to the National Museum and the Talad Sapsin fresh market area on Wichianchom Road, a bit north of the old town. This is also where you’ll find the police station, post office, longtail boat pier and several banks and ATMs. A right (east) at the clock on Platha Road will take you past Soi Sri Suda (or Siisuda), hosting some Western-style pubs and an internet shop.

Heading south out of town, Tinsulonanda Road cuts past the bus station before continuing for four kilometres alongside the lake to Songkhla Hospital (T: 074 338 100), located on Route 408. A right (north) on 408 leads across a bridge to Ko Yo and then a second bridge to Sathing Phra, while a left takes you south towards Hat Yai.

Songkhla hosts a Malaysian consulate on Ratchadamnern Road, just south of Haad Samila, which opens Mon–Fri 08:00–12:00 and 13:00–16:00.

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What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Songkhla.
 Check prices, availability & reviews on Agoda
 Read up on where to eat on Songkhla.
 Check out our listings of things to do in and around Songkhla.
 Read up on how to get to Songkhla, or book your transport online with 12Go Asia.
 Do you have travel insurance yet? If not, find out why you need it.
 Planning on riding a scooter in Songkhla? Please read this.
 Buy a SIM card for Thailand—pick it up at the airport when you arrive.
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