In a nutshell
Songkhla is an attractive capital of one of the southern provinces bordering with Malaysia. The city is stretched between the bigger natural lake in the country on the west and the gulf of Thailand on the east, combining the relaxing atmosphere of a lakeside town with the slow pace of a coastal fishermen village.
Why go to Songkhla
For centuries Songkhla has been a major port and a primary trading center for Chinese, Indians, Malays and Siamese people, and this multicultural pot can be clearly appreciated walking around the old town.
Nowadays despite being the province capital, Songkhla has lost his commercial leadership in favor of Hat Yai, the biggest city in the south of Thailand, just 30 km away. People choosing to make their way to Songkhla will discover a fascinating old town which is currently going through a revival movement that is giving new life and character to what was few years back just a collection of abandoned old buildings and will be able to relax on one of the most beautiful beaches on the southern end of the gulf. A couple of noticeable museums and a few temples will give a cultural touch to your trip, while fresh seafood and delicious street food will be the highlights of your nights.
When to go to Songkhla
If you don’t want to deal with rain, Songkhla has only a couple of months which can be really considered dry season, February and March. Being affected by both the monsoon seasons that hit Thailand, all the rest of the year chances for a daily storm are pretty high, with the strongest precipitations happening in October and November. The temperature remains quite constant all year round, with a slight decrease between November and January.
Held every year in October Lark Phra and Tak Bat Devo is a traditional religious festival starting from Khao Tang Kuan (one of the hills in the northern side of town) where hundreds of monks will descend the hill in procession while all the devotes are aligned on the side to make an offer. Later during the day, colorful vehicles decorated with Buddha’s images coming from different temples will parade around town before gathering at the lotus pond where the winner will be selected.
Where to stay in Songkhla
There’s quite a big variety of accommodation options in Songkhla. Cheap guesthouses can be found at the northern end of the old town close to the National Museum with prices starting at THB250. No need for reservation in this case since the places are more or less all the same and a room will be always available in one of them. In the old town the solutions available are more in the mid-range budget and the quality is definitely better. Room rates start at around THB500 with some more valuable solution going up over THB1000.
For those who want to sleep close to the beach there’s not a lot of choice except for an aged high-end resort.
What to eat in Songkhla
Street food lovers will love Songkhla; even if the small night market is not comparable to some others in Thailand (except on weekends when it’s a not to miss destination), food stalls and street vendors can be found everywhere and especially in the old town, giving everyone the chance for a quick bite at any time of the day, and offering peculiar dishes that can’t be find anywhere else in Thailand; due to his Chinese heritage, the influence of that cuisine is strong and can be easily appreciated in most of the restaurants. Modern sophisticated cafés on the lakeside offer a mix of Thai and Western food with great views, jazz live music and artistic objects hanging on the walls. Restaurants on the beach offer fresh seafood at reasonable prices.
How to get around Songkhla
The old town can be easily covered on foot and the same can be said for all the other attractions in town if you don’t mind to walk for half an hour.
Otherwise motorbike taxies and tuk-tuks are widely available and will take you everywhere in the city center for roughly THB50.
There is a free tram service which covers all the most touristy sites in Songkhla; the entire tour takes 45 minutes but you can stop as long as you want and catch the next tram (there’s one every hour). An easy way to move around.
How to get to and from Songkhla
The main bus station is located at the southern end of town and can be reached by motorbike taxies, tuk-tuks and public songthaews.
Several direct buses depart from Bangkok Southern bus station every day; the first departure in the morning is at 8:00am while the last is at 7:00pm. Less options are also available from Mo Chit station. Prices ranges from THB500 (2nd class) to THB110 (VIP). The trip is quite long, taking anywhere between 12 and 16 hours, depending on the bus and the traffic.
Buses to Sungai Kolok on the Malaysian border departs from Songkhla twice a day at 2:30pm and 4:30pm. The ticket is THB200 and the trip takes 4 hours.
A few other buses connect on daily basis Songkhla to Surat Thani (THB125) and Chumpon (THB260) while minivan are available to Trang, Krabi and Pattani.
For a lot more destinations in Thailand and Malaysia you have to transfer to Hat Yai, the mayor transportation hub in the South of the country. Minivans to Hat Yai don’t depart from the bus station, but from a small terminal on Ramwithi Road, close to the National Museum and cost THB30. In Hat Yai they stop and depart at the bus station or in town at the clock tower. Hat Yai can be reached by flight and train if you want to avoid the long trip from Bangkok on the bus (see the dedicated article for more detailed information).
Safe travel in Songkhla
When considering a trip in Songkhla it’s important to be aware that the province is part of the troubled southern area where Malay rebels have been fighting for independence for the last 70 years, with an escalation in the conflict that started in 2001 and caused several attacks and casualties. If it’s true that the town itself hasn’t been affected by bombings for more than 10 years, in 2016 in Thepa district (is the south of the province) a bomb killed one person and injured several more, while earlier this year (August 2017) a series of 13 coordinated attacks shook three different provinces (Songkhla included).
Songkhla station guide
Songkhla - Bus
Located in Thailand’s far south, Songkhla is the capital, although not the biggest city, of the province of Songkhla. The town is around 20kms northeast of the south’s biggest city, Hat Yai, and is nestled on the southeastern coast of the country. Buses leave Bangkok’s Southern terminal on a daily basis and take 12 to 13 hours.
Air-conditioned VIP buses are available from the capital, but it’s advisable to pre-book these tickets in advance because of the high demand. The VIP buses are overnight options, but for those looking to travel in the daytime Class 2 buses are available at about half the price.
Local buses run between Songkhla and many of the main cities in the south including Surat Thani, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Chumphon. A ticket for the big green buses to nearby Hat Yai only costs 20 baht. If travelling from Bangkok, there is also the option of flying or taking the train to Hat Yai, before catching connecting buses to Songkhla.
The city’s bus station is situated just off Taoluang Road, near the lake. From here, songthaews and motorcycle taxis can take you to your next port of call. A 7-Eleven is situated just a minute’s walk from the station so stocking up on last-minute snacks before the trip is not a problem.
Sadao - Bus
Sadao is the name of both a district and a town that lies very close to the Thai-Malay border in the far south of Songkhla province. The actual border is situated at the town of Danok, 10 kilometres from Sadao. From here travellers can easily board mini buses going north along National Highway 4 to the major city of Hat Yai, 60 kilometres away and connected to Bangkok by frequent services to and from the Southern bus terminal. Minivans for Hat Yai can be found in front of the 7-11 convenience store nearest to the border. There is also a busy airport at Hat Yai.
The bus terminal in Sadao is located just off the main thoroughfare, Thanon Phetkasem. It’s open but covered and you can find plenty of restaurants, hotels and services within a few minutes’ walk of it. Since this is a busy border crossing, travellers are advised to make use of an online booking service to ensure getting a seat on the bus they want to catch.
The Malaysian town of Bukit Kayu Hitam stands across the border. From here travellers can board buses for Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. The best way to get around Sadao and Danok is by using local taxis and motorcycle taxis. There is a major duty free shopping complex located on the Malaysian side of the border crossing.
Rattaphum - Bus
Rattaphum straddles a major road junction in the far south Thailand and is just 30kms north of the main transport interchange in the region, the city of Hat Yai. Buses travelling between the Thai capital of Bangkok and Hat Yai stop at Rattaphum. Bus companies have official stops at the junction of Phetkasem Road and Highway 43.
Most buses to Hat Yai leave from the capital’s Southern bus station, but there are a few from Mochit terminal as well. They take 13 to 13 hours to cover the 900kms to Rattaphum. There are several different classes of bus. The most expensive come with extra legroom, hostess service, onboard toilets and complimentary snacks and drinks.
Chana - Bus
Chana is a small town in southern Thailand’s Songkhla province, some 985kms from Bangkok and 90kms from the Malaysian border. The town has its own bus station, with six overnight buses departing Bangkok’s Southern terminal for Chana daily. There is also a small railway station here and three trains leave Bangkok each day, arriving at Chana Railway station 15 to 16 hours later.
Places of interest near Chana include Wat Poo Khao Lom, Songkhla Zoo and Nakhon Hat Yai Municipal Public Park. It is also not far from the beach. There are a few places to stay here, such as Sakom Kabana Hotel and Leela Resort.
Na Thawi - Bus
The town of Na Thawi is 15kms from Thailand’s southern border with Malaysia and lies just east of Highway 4. This highway links the southern city of Hat Yai to the Sadao border crossing at Dannok. This crossing is the busiest on the common border and is the transit point for bus passengers travelling between the two nations.
Na Thawi is just under 1,000kms from Bangkok. Travellers have the choice of bus, train or aeroplane to Hat Yai and then a local bus for the last part of the journey to Na Thawi. Bangkok to Hat Yai buses take 12 hours and leave from the Southern terminal, while the local bus to Na Thawi takes about one hour. Khao Nam Khang National Park is the highlight of the regional tourism draws.
Sathing Phra - Bus
Sathing Phra is a township slightly to the north of the noted southern Thai seaside resort of Songkhla. It is situated on a narrow strip of land that separates the Gulf of Thailand and Songkhla Lake. The long stretch of Maharat Beach’s pristine sands stretches along the gulf coast here. Sathing Pura is one of a number of holiday resorts and eateries close to the beach.
Songkhla and Bangkok are 1,000kms apart. There are eight direct buses a day in each direction between Bangkok’s Southern terminal and Songkhla. They run at staggered intervals during the day and take up to 13 hours to complete the journey. One of the buses is a VIP service which is a great choice for such a long trip. The last stage to Sathing Phra is accomplished by songthaew.
Ranot - Bus
Ranot is midway between Nakhon Si Thammarat and the southern Thai seaside of Songkhla. It lies on a narrow sliver of land sandwiched between Songkhla Lake and the Gulf of Thailand. Resorts such as the Sri Sawas allow holidaymakers to enjoy the peace and solitude of the beach here.
There are several direct intercity buses to Nakhon Si Thammarat every day from Bangkok’s Southern bus station. They take about 12 hours to cover the 900kms. Passengers have to switch to local buses for the last part of the journey to Ranot. Intercity buses are less frequent than local ones and it is a good idea to book online for services to and from Nakhon Si Thammarat to avoid lengthy waits.
Singhanakhon - Bus
Located in Songkhla province’s northern region in southern Thailand, Singhanakhon was established in 1988. Singhanakhon bus station is small and offers limited amenities. There are air-conditioned bus services from Bangkok to Songkhla, which depart daily from Bangkok’s Southern bus terminal. The trip by bus takes around 13 hours.
Amphoe Singhanakhon is home to the impressive Chedi Phi Nong Yot Khao Daeng. This Buddhist structure consists of two stupas. Located at the summit of Khao Daeng, the black chedi (Chedi Ong Dam) offers wonderful vistas. Singhanakhon also houses several resorts and hotels. One of the tasty and inexpensive local food products that visitors should taste are the fish and shrimp crackers.
Dannok - Bus
Dannock is a small town that sits right at the border of Malaysia in Songkhla province, just over 800kms south of Bangkok and 60kms from Hat Yai. There is no actual bus station in the town, though there is a bus stop, and three overnight buses depart from Bangkok’s Southern terminal to Dannock each night.
An airport in Hat Yai makes it a breeze to fly to the area and then take a taxi or minivan to Dannock. It is also possible to arrive into the area by train, as there is a railway station in Padang Besar, some 19kms away. Minivans leave from the bus stop for Malaysia, Hat Yai and other destinations in the province.
There are two bus stops in Dannock: one in front of the Vichusin Centre and the other in front of 7-Eleven. Both are located on Phetkasem Road and all motorbike taxis and tuk-tuk drivers will know where to drop you off. There are plenty of food stalls close to the border to grab a snack and numerous ATMs around. To ensure a seat on a bus it is best to reserve online ahead of time.
Dannock does not have many attractions, as it is predominantly a transport hub to and from Malaysia, though it does have a lively nightlife scene. There are a number of places to stay, including Siam Thana, Oliver, President and Queen Park hotels.
Padang Besar - Bus
Padang Besar is the name of two towns facing each other on Thailand’s southern border with Malaysia. The Thai town is approximately 1,000kms south of Bangkok and just 60kms from Hat Yai, the capital of the province. The railway line between Bangkok and Butterworth in Malaysia passes through Padang Besar.
Combined immigration and customs control points for both Thailand and Malaysia are at the town’s railway station. Although most people use trains when travelling between the two countries, it is possible to do the journey by road. Buses from Bangkok’s Southern terminal and locations such as Surat Thani on the Thai peninsula terminate at Hat Yai.
The trip from Bangkok to Hat Yai takes 12 hours with air-conditioned buses which can be booked in advance online. Travel options from here to Padang Besar are standard non-air-conditioned buses or mini-buses, both taking around one hour. The services stop at the Thai immigration point before the town.
There is a gap between the Thai and Malaysian immigration points at this border crossing, but during the day there are always plenty of motorcycle taxis around for the trip. The drivers will even stop at the large duty-free shop on the way. The Thai town does not have much in the way of tourism sites. The Royal Inn is one of several budget hotels and there are also shops, including a 7-Eleven.