Songkhla is a large city located in southern Thailand, near the border with Malaysia. We were inspired to visit this province not so much to admire the architecture as to renew a 30-day Malaysian visa, which was due to expire. It also seemed to be an ideal excuse to spend a few days exploring this southern part of Thailand, and to find out what Songkhla city has to offer.
Exploring Songkhla Thailand
Songkhla is perhaps best known for its iconic symbol of the city – the Golden Mermaid statue, inspired by an epic Thai saga. However, with its endless beaches stretching down the east coast, colorful old town near the west coast and chequered history in a troubled border province, there is much more to discover.
Songkhla Thailand – The Beaches
Songkhla’s beaches can be found on the north and eastern coasts of the city.
The more commercial area is towards the north where you’ll find the Golden Mermaid and the more expensive hotels.
The long stretch of beach heading south from the Golden Mermaid (for about 3 kms) is geared more towards the locals. Here you’ll find lots of families out for a picnic on the grassy verges above the beach.
You can swim here, but this is the Gulf of Thailand bordering the South China Sea, and the open sea crashing on the beaches can be quite rough. In fact, further south the beach is protected by sandbags to prevent it eroding away into the ocean.
For women, this is also not the most comfortable place to parade yourself in a bikini. There is a large Muslim population in the community, and most bathe fully clothed, if at all.
Songkhla Thailand – Eating Out
Songkhla street food is actually a real disappointment. In a city where everything you eat is deep fried and/or tastes like it’s been dipped in sugar, even the soups are sweet. All you can do is add a sour condiment.
This is a far cry from the excellent food on offer further north in Thailand.
If you want a decent English breakfast (or just some edible Western food) head over to the Buzz Stop Irish Pub, (not too far from the Clock Tower).
Reasonable prices and good food all day long.
Songkhla Thailand – The V Hotel
For our 5-night stay in Songkhla we booked the V Hotel online, based on the good reviews and reasonable price – 650 Baht (€18) per night.
The hotel is located close to the Old Town, but a good 25-minute walk from the center. The nearest 7/11 is just 10 minutes down the street. The 7/11 stocks everything you need, including beer (… and you’ll be needing it!). More on this here.
The nearest beach is also a good 25-minute walk away.
The rooms at the V Hotel have large, comfortable beds, air conditioning, good bathrooms and showers, TV, kettles, really cold fridges and daily complimentary water.
Although they spoke almost no English in the hotel, all the staff were very friendly and helpful.
Breakfast is available on request for 100 Baht (€3), and there is a computer for guests to use.
The only thing the hotel lacks is a swimming pool, but for this – in Songkhla – you’d need to choose a hotel costing 2 or 3 times the price.
The first room the V Hotel offered us was on the ground floor with no window. However after one night we were able to move to a 1st floor room with window and balcony. This cost another 100 Baht per night.
The water in the bathroom occasionally didn’t work, but only for short periods and during these times they supplied us with large bottles of water to wash.
Songkhla Thailand – The Old Town
Songkhla Old Town is located towards the south-west of the city. Here you can find a night market and a variety of quaint buildings and street art.
This side of the city faces onto Songkhla Lake, which appears to be used as a giant boatyard. Here we discovered Mr Lee’s Coffee shop where we enjoyed some ginger tea while admiring the picturesque view from Mr Lee’s terrace.
Songkhla Thailand – The City
Songkhla is not an ideal city to discover on foot. Distances are long and the pavements frequently disappear (or are completely blocked by parked cars and bikes).
This means you spend a lot of time walking in the road trying to avoid the chaotic traffic and street vendors.
Apart from the odd temple, the city isn’t particularly beautiful. What it lacks in beauty is replaced by fascinating snatches of local street life wherever you look.
Buying booze from Supermarkets and Stores
Take note that the shops that sell alcohol only do so at specific times of the day. Most supermarkets and small stores sell refrigerated beer, but you can’t buy it between 2 pm and 5 pm.
Try the Lea beer: It tastes better than the other beers, and is a little cheaper at 57 Baht (€1.50) per 600 ml bottle.
You can buy wine and spirits at a few specialized shops. Wine is sold at prohibitively expensive prices (€20 for a bottle of Yellow Tail!). Spirits are not cheap, but you can get a bottle of gin for around €15.
Songkhla Thailand – Is it Safe?
The south-eastern regions of Thailand, leading up to the Malaysian border, have a history of unrest and militant attacks aimed at the Thai government.
Although the danger is worse further south, Songkhla has had its moments, notably in December 2018.
A number of bombs were detonated at key points around the city, most notably at the famous Golden Mermaid statue. Two bombs rocked the popular Samila Beach causing damage to the Golden Mermaid as well as the Cat and Mouse sculpture.
The Thai government blamed the bombings on the BRN (Barisan Revolusi Nasional) insurgent group, a Patani independence movement based in northern Malaysia and southern Thailand. This armed group has routinely intimidated and terrorized local Buddhists, as well as local Muslims who don’t share their extreme ideologies.
There are a number of military bases in Songkhla, and we passed checkpoints where soldiers were scanning vehicles and passengers.
There were large posters with dozens of ‘wanted‘ faces in these areas.
Having said that, we didn’t feel particularly endangered travelling around the city. Though we saw very few westerners during our 5-day stay, everyone we met was friendly and helpful, despite the fact that few people in Songkhla can speak English.
Unless you enjoy inner city life Thai-style, you’ll find that 5 days is more than enough time to spend in Songkhla. This is a very different experience than a trip to the popular Thai locations of Phuket or Koh Lipe.
There again Songkhla has a more authentic southern Thailand feel, without the hype, cost and excessive tourism of those more popular Thai destinations.
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