Songkhla, a serene city in southern Thailand located just less than an hour away by car from the more well-known city of Hat Yai (a popular destination for Malaysians and Singaporeans), is set in a peninsula and surrounded by water across 3 sides. Although relatively small, Songkhla is brimming with cultural heritage, fine beaches, and culinary delights.
Songkhla is also known for its enchanting blend of Thai and Chinese influences, The city’s laid-back atmosphere is a refreshing contrast to the bustling tourist hotspot such as Bangkok and it also boasts a different vibe from the also-laidback Chiang Mai, making Songkhla an ideal destination for those seeking a relaxed travel experience. I visited the city recently and thought this short Songkhla itinerary inclusive of Pattani might be of help if you are thinking to visit soon.
Table of Contents
Day 1 – Songkhla Itinerary
Renowned for its golden sands and iconic mermaid statue, Samila Beach offers a picturesque setting for relaxation. Visitors can enjoy a leisurely stroll along the coast, indulge in local street food, or partake in the simple joy of kite flying or horse riding on breezy afternoons. I went to the beach first thing in the morning and enjoyed walking around before the heat had set in.
While in Samila Beach, don’t miss out on the iconic Golden Mermaid Statue, a symbol of Songkhla. It was built in 1966 and was modeled after a Thai story about a mermaid who was combing her hair and was frightened away after seeing a fisherman. Based on my own observation, this is probably the most touristy part of Songkhla and throughout the day, you’ll find people taking photos in front of the statue.
For sweeping views of the city, head up to Tangkuan Hill. I recommend doing this either at around 8:30AM when they open or during late afternoon so that it’s not too hot. Take the funicular up (50 Baht to go up and down) and you will be greeted with a white pagoda once you reach the peak. In my case, I walked to the lift station from Samila Beach which was around 900 meters away.
Songkhla National Museum
Just outside the old town, the Songkhla National Museum is set in an attractive Chinese-style old mansion. Originating from 1878, the sprawling grounds houses several archeological finds from the area. Exhibits range from Neolithic tools to royal regalia, offering a comprehensive overview of the region’s history. The museum’s architecture itself is an impressive fusion of Thai, Chinese, and European styles. I highly recommend this museum to gain a better understanding of Songkhla’s importance as a merchant town back in the day.
Songkhla Old Town
Songkhla Old Town is a testament to the city’s rich history and is probably the highlight of any visit to Songkhla. Travelers can marvel at the well-preserved architecture, including traditional shop houses and colonial-era buildings. I have visited other old towns in Southeast Asia such as Melaka, Penang and Hoi An and found Songkhla to be almost up there with these more renowned cities but with just a fraction of their visitor numbers.
Much of the points of interests in Songkhla’s old town are located on 3 parallel streets – these are Nakhonnok, Nakhonnai and Nang Ngam streets. In between, there are also small alleys that intersect these 3 main streets that are filled with noteworthy street art.
You can easily spend hours marveling at the beautiful old buildings in the old town. Some noteworthy stops include the Songkhla City Pillar Shrine which was built at the time the city of Songkhla was established. The pillar itself is located inside a traditional Chinese shrine. Of note are the myriad red lanterns hanging around the complex, making it a rather photogenic stop.
Another noteworthy stop almost immediately next to the city pillar is the Chao Pho Kuan Temple which is especially beautiful at night when it is lit up. See it from Nong Chik Alley for a more atmospheric feel.
For a showcase at how life was back in the day, check out the Nakhon Nai Museum (daily, 9AM to 4:30PM) which offers a peek at life back in the 1800s and early 1900s in Songkhla, with a focus on Chinese merchant families.
The house reminded me very much of the house-turned-museums in Hoi An. Despite the distance between Hoi And and Songkhla, this is perhaps not surprising due to both towns’ location in the eastern coast of mainland Southeast Asia.
To the north of the museum, the Red Rice Mill is one of the more popular landmarks of Songkhla’s old town as it’s painted in red. This used to be a place of business for a Hokkien merchant family but has served various purposes over the years. Currently, it served as a pier for boats coming from the other side of Songkhla, as the nearest bridge is quite a distance away.
Inside, there’s a small museum showcasing regular exhibitions and at times, there are workshops conducted here as well.
Beyond these old town attractions I just mentioned, it is worth strolling down the 3 main streets and the intersecting alleys of Songkhla’s old town. There are plenty of interesting shops, private art galleries, cafes and retail spaces to explore. One such private gallery I chanced upon was Titan Project Space, located just a few buildings south of the red rice mill.
To bring the scents of Songkhla home, there’s SAN Original Scent Store also located within the area. Their two story space also includes a small speakeasy bar at the second floor.
Songkhla Night Market
Platha Street, located just north of the old town, comes alive every Fridays and Saturdays with Songkhla’s weekend night market. Every self-respecting city in Thailand has a “walking street” or night market and this is Songkhla’s version.
While other cities like Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai have plenty of handicrafts in their weekend markets, the one in Songkhla is decidedly more focused on clothing, jewelry and food. Prices are on the low side as it’s catered mostly to locals but it’s still useful to bargain.
Where to Eat in Songkhla
Songkhla has plenty of food options – from market street stalls to hipster cafes and restaurants that have been around for generations.
One of the first places I tried was Lyn’s (daily, 9:30AM to 9PM). This is a relatively safe option in the center of town as their voluminous menu includes both Thai and Western dishes. It’s also a good option for vegetarians as they have a separate vegetarian assortment of dishes.
Just opposite Lyn’s is a relatively new dessert shop called Ploy Bualoyyang (daily, 11AM to 9PM). Set in a colorful shophouse, guests can indulge in traditional Thai desserts such as rice balls with fillings such as peanut and black sesame. If you are feeling adventurous, you can even opt for the ones filled with durian paste.
One of the most popular restaurants in Songkhla is Tae Hiang Aew. The place is known for its Thai-influenced Chinese cuisine. Expect plenty of stir-fries, seafood and vegetables. I went for their Lime and Garlic Seabass which was especially tangy and quite addictive especially when paired with rice.
Day 2 – Pattani Itinerary
From Songkhla, I opted to visit Pattani which is roughly 2.5 hours away by car. Pattani is considered part of the 3 southernmost provinces of Thailand which have a Muslim majority. Among the 3 southern provinces, I chose to go to Pattani due to its heritage as it used to be the capital of the Kingdom of Pattani which existed from the 15th century up until 1902. Pattani is the name of the southern province as well as its capital city.
How to Get From Songkhla to Pattani
A number of minibuses ply the Songkhla to Pattani route and you can easily hop on a bus for the 2.5 hour trip from Songkhla Bus Terminal located almost 2 km south of the old town. Alternatively, you can also ask your hotel to book you a private car with driver. Expect to pay about THB 1,000 for a one-way trip if you choose to go by private car.
Visit Pattani Central Mosque
As the morning sun climbs, a visit to the Pattani Central Mosque is essential. This magnificent structure, known for its stunning architecture, is the largest mosque in Thailand. Open from 8:00 AM, visitors should dress respectfully to witness its grandeur first-hand, absorbing the serene atmosphere. The minibuses are quite flexible in dropping off passengers and I had requested to be dropped off right at the doorstep of the mosque when I arrived in Pattani.
Lim Ko Niao Shrine
From the mosque, it’s about 20 minutes walk to the Lim Ko Niao Shrine so I opted to hail a motorbike to take me there. This Chinese temple reflects the area’s spiritual heritage and is adorned with intricate decorations and offerings. It also offers a rare peek at the customs of the local Chinese community in Pattani.
The street where the shrine is located, Anoaru Street, is considered as Pattani’s Chinatown and a large plaque at the beginning of the said street announces exactly that. The entire street is filled with many historical buildings and some traditional shops and it is worth doing a short stroll to admire them.
Marvel at the Architecture of Krue Se Mosque
An ancient mosque constructed in the 16th century, the Krue Se Mosque, located roughly 5km outside of town, reflects the Pattani Kingdom’s architectural prowess. It is an iconic historical structure built with a unique blend of Middle Eastern and Malay architectural styles. To get here, I hired a car to bring me there from the center of town.
Immerse in the Creativity of Patani Artspace
Located among the rice fields in the outskirts of Pattani, Patani Artspace is an eye-opening art gallery featuring works by local artists. It was founded by Abdullah Jesorho as a gathering place for locals and visitors and as such, the space also houses an open-air theater and cafe. The artworks here are a reminder of the struggles of the southern provinces of Thailand, with many pieces depicting guns and weapons. One stark reminder I saw was a painting of a lady wearing a hijab that came in the pattern of guns.
The town of Pattani can easily be explored in a day and you can either get a taxi or hop on a minibus for trips back to Songkhla or to Hat Yai.
Best Time to Visit
Songkhla is generally pleasant enough to visit during most of the year as the city has a relatively short but rather intense rainy season spanning from October to December.
Outside of this, rainfall is relatively moderate and scattered, with January to April being the driest months.
Getting to Songkhla
Songkhla does not have its own airport, but the nearby Hat Yai International Airport serves as the main gateway by air. Located approximately 43 kilometers from Songkhla city center (50 minute drive), it offers:
- Daily flights from major cities such as Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
- Airlines: Thai Airways, AirAsia, Bangkok Airways, Scoot and others provide regular service.
Where to Stay
I stayed at La Pino Hotel which is located by the highway just 1 to 2km from the old town. Rooms carry something of a Scandi theme and most stays include a good breakfast which is held at the topmost floor with views of the lake. For something within/walking distance from the old town, Songkhla Tae Raek Antique Hotel is set in a beautiful shophouse filled with plenty of chinoiserie. Rooms feature a myriad of colorful beddings.