Growing up I always dreamed of going backpacking through Europe and then exploring South East Asia in a huge post-college graduation adventure. It would be the last time that (for a while) where I would have almost an entire summer with no responsibilities and no commitments. While I’ve hit a small snag in this plan, it doesn’t mean I can’t continue to dream up the wonderful places I’ll visit and cultures I’ll explore.
One of the most popular destinations nowadays is Thailand, and it’s quite easy to see why. They have delicious food, sparkling beaches, and almost any city (even the tourist-heavy ones) will give you a rich slice of Thai culture that you’ll never forget. So while many of us will inevitably include major cities like Bangkok and Chiang Mai in our itineraries, I urge you to include some of Thailand’s smaller (yet equally precious) gems - Songkhla.
Songkhla is the capital of the Songkhla Province in Southern Thailand. The city is surrounded by beaches and is often called “the great city on two seas”. A visit to Songkhla will transport you to another world - one that you won’t want to leave. So, to narrow down or at least give you a starting point for your sightseeing, check out some of the coolest spots in Songkhla.
1. Learn about the Golden Mermaid
The Golden Mermaid lounges on some rocks on Samila beach just waiting for her fisherman to return her comb. The mermaid statue was inspired by a saga about a mermaid who combed her hair with a golden comb (kind of like Ariel but also not because this mermaid uses a golden comb and not a fork). Well one day a young fisherman came upon her and it was love at first sight - for him. The mermaid was startled and returned to the ocean, but left her golden comb. The fisherman found the comb and waited every day for her to come back for it, but she never did. Now the Songkhla mermaid is an ode to the story and if you want some good luck in the relationship department, you should rub the mermaid’s hair.**
**I may or may not have made the part about good luck up…but it still makes for a great Insta shot.
The Golden Mermaid
Address: Samila Beach, Songkhla, Thailand
2. Walk across Thailand's longest concrete bridge to Ko Yo Island
Ko Yo Island is on the Eastern side of Songkhla Lake and easily accessible by Thailand’s longest concrete bridge, Tinsulanond Bridge. A trip to Ko Yo is definitely not to be missed, as Ko Yo is known for its amazing and extremely fresh foods, including Jampada and Spicy Catfish, which you can enjoy sitting at a waterfront restaurant like Khun Jit Sea View or Rai Thong. Aside from food, Ko Yo also features various museums and temples and a reclining Buddha (see point 6 below).
3. Practice your bird calls at Thale Noi Waterbird Park
~Insert bird sounds here~
Because I’m definitely not talented enough to make one. But you can practice your calls and spot hundreds of exotic birds at the Thale Noi Waterbird Park. You’ll be able to take a motorboat out into the lake, filled with waterlilies and lotus flowers, and just enjoy the serenity of nature and birds.
Thale Noi Waterbird Park
Address: Khaorup Rd., Khao Rup Chang, Muang Songkhla, Songkhla 90000 Thailand
Price: from 13.50 USD for Longtail Boat Ride
Opening Hours: 8 am - 5 pm (But it’s best to go earlier in the day before it gets really hot)
4. Walk (or ride) to the top of Tang Kuan Hill
Tang Kuan translates to Monkey in Thai - so now’s your chance to trek to the top of “Monkey Hill” (there is an elevator for those who are unable to climb, so don’t worry everyone can take part in this activity). The top of Tang Kuan Hill will give you a panoramic view of the entire city. You can see the city sprawling beneath you and the ocean just beyond that - it’s truly breathtaking. Additionally, at the top of the hill you can also visit Dvaravati Chedi Tower, which houses Buddha relics.
Tang Kuan Hill & Dvaravati Chedi Tower
Address: Khao Tangkuan, Bo Yang, Mueang Songkhla District, Songkhla 90000, Thailand
5. Try not to get eaten by the Dragon Head Statue
So there isn’t actually a threat of being eaten, but you may get sprayed - with water, not fire. The famous Naga Head statue at Song Thale Park was built in 2007, and as such is relatively new to the Songkhla culture. However, its newness hasn’t slowed visitors down, probably due to its unique construction. The dragon head, body, and tail are all found in different locations along Songkhla Lake. The head is by the entrance, the body by the park, and the tail is along the side.
Address: Songkhla Lake
6. Lay down next to a reclining Buddha Statue
You can find the Reclining Buddha as you enter the south side of Ko Yo Island. The Reclining Buddha is a part of Wat Phranon Laem Pho (a Buddhist temple) and just sits (lays?) there in all its gilded spectacular-ness. While it may serve as a popular tourist attraction, many of the locals also visit the temple for regular prayer (so it’s truly an authentic experience).
Reclining Buddha at Wat Phranon Laem Pho
Address: Ko Yo, Mueang Songkhla District, Songkhla 90100, Thailand
7. Shop around in the City Pillar
The City Pillar of Songkhla, built around the same time as Songkhla’s founding, is in a Chinese-style building; the shrine itself is also clearly influenced by the city’s Chinese origins. The City Pillar is situated on Nag Ngam Road, which is the heart of local Thai food. You can also shop around on Nag Ngam Road for souvenirs and taste the infamous Thai dessert - Khao Too.
Songkhla's City Pillar
Address: Nang Ngam Road, Amphoe Mueang, Songkhla
Opening Hours: 8 am - 5 pm
8. Walk around the Songkhla Tae Raek night market
Most of the time outdoor markets are only open during the day, but the Songkhla Tae Raek is specifically a night market. You can find this market across from the National Museum of Songkhla and is a great place to get a bite to eat and enjoy the local flavor. After dinner, you can continue to walk around the market and admire (and buy, if you’re like me) anything from the dozens upon dozens of stalls featuring clothing, trinkets, spices, jewelry and more!
Songkhla Tae Raek
Address: Cha na Road, Songkhla, Thailand
Opening Hours: Friday & Saturday nights
9. Visit Khao Kao Seng and the Hua Nai Raeng Boulder
Khao Kao Seng is one of the most stunning beaches you’ll ever visit. If the glittering ocean wasn’t enough to captivate your interest, the boulders that are spotted around the coastline may convince you. The Hua Nai Raeng Boulder is particularly noteworthy. The legend says that the boulder is actually the head of Nai Raeng, as a punishment for not completing an important task. His head was to be placed on top of the gold and other treasures, so many people believe that below the boulder lies hidden treasure (boulder marks the spot).
Full Legend Legend has it that there was a large boy born in Southern Thailand and because of his size, his parents named him Nai Raeng (raeng translates to strength, energy, or power). While the boy was extremely strong, he also had an appetite to match - eating enough for 10 men instead of just one. His appetite forced his parents to send him away, as they were unable to support his diet. However, the ship he found work on was also unhappy with the amount of food Nai Raeng consumed, and so abandoned him in the ocean. Nai Raeng was strong enough to swim to shore and eventually found his way back home. He found a new job and was able to support his parents and soon became governor of Songkhla. One day, there was to be a festival to honor the placement of some of Lord Buddha’s bones in a nearby temple. Nai Raeng was to bring all the money and gifts sent to him to the temple in time for the festival. Nai Raeng was more than honored to do so and was actually going to donate nearly 1 million Baht in gold. But, on his way to the festival a large storm came in crashed Nai Raeng’s boat into some rocks in the South. He was too far away to fix the boat in time for the festival. He was extremely upset over his failure to deliver, and as such ordered his men to carry the gold onto the beach and bury it somewhere safe. Then he ordered his men decapitate him and place his head above the gold, which ended his honest and good life.
Hua Nai Raeng Boulder
Address: Khao Kao Seng Beach
10. Explore the Songkhla Zoo
The Songkhla Zoo is an open-range zoo with the primary goal of nature preservation and conservation. Tourists can drive around the zoo and see a variety of animals including but not limited to camels, birds, tigers, and bantengs. The zoo also features a waterpark, and several shows with tigers, penguins and even the “survival of wildlife”.
Songkhla Zoo & Waterpark
Address: Khao Rup Chang, Mueang Songkhla, Songkhla 90000, Thailand
Price: Adult: from 4.50 USD; Child: from 2 USD
Opening Hours: 8:30 am - 5:30 pm (water park opens at 10:30 am)
Website: Songkhla Zoo & Waterpark
Finding the hidden gems
Just because you’re visiting Thailand doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the time to visit some of the smaller towns in the country. Cities like Songkhla are tourist-friendly, less crowded, and still give you that immersive cultural experience you’re looking for. So next time you’re planning a visit to Thailand (or anywhere else) take a step back and then dive a bit deeper, because you may never know what kind of treasure you’ll find.
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