In contrast to most other provinces, the capital Songkhla is not the largest city in the province. The much newer city of Hat Yai, with a population of 194,000, is twice as big as Songkhla. This often leads to the misconception that Hat Yai is the provincial capital.
Both cities are part of Greater Hatyai-Songkhla Metropolitan Area.
In the north of the province is Songkhla lake, the biggest natural lake in Thailand. This shallow lake covers an area of 1,040 km², and has a south-north extent of 78 kilometers. At its mouth on the Gulf of Thailand near the city of Songkhla, the water becomes brackish. A small population of Irrawaddy Dolphins live in the lake, but are in danger of extinction due to being accidentally caught in the nets of the local fishing industry.
Two national parks are located in the province. San Kala Khiri covers 214 km² of mountain highlands at the Thai-Malay border; Khao Nam Khang, also located at the boundary mountains, includes shelters of Chinese Communists guerilla until the 1980s.
Within the city of Songkhla itself is the beach at the Samila cape, the most popular beach in the province. At this beach is the famous mermaid statue. The two islands Ko Nu and Ko Maew (Mouse and Cat island) not far from the beach are also a popular landmark, and a preferred fishing ground. According to the local legend, a cat, mouse and dog were traveling on a Chinese ship, where they tried to steal a crystal from the merchant. Swimming ashore with the crystal, both the cat and the mouse drowned and became the island, while the dog made it to the beach and died there to become the hill Khao Tang Kuan. The crystal turned into the white sandy beach.
Songkhla was the seat of an old Malay Kingdom with heavy Srivijayan influence. In ancient times (200 AD - 1400 AD), Songkhla formed the northern extremity of the Malay Kingdom of Langkasuka. The city-state then became a tributary of Nakhon Si Thammarat, suffering damage during several attempts to gain independence. Since the 18th century, Songkla has been firmly under Thai suzerainty.
In the 18th century many Chinese immigrants, especially from Guangdong and Fujian, came to the province. Quickly rising to economic wealth, one of them won the bidding for the major tax farm of the province in 1769, establishing the Na Songkhla (i.e. 'from Songkhla') family as the most wealthy and influential. In 1777 the family also gained political power, when the old governor was dismissed and Luang Inthakhiri (Yiang, Chinese name Wu Rang (呉譲)) became the new governor. In 1786 the old governor started an uprising, which was however put down after four months. The post was inherited in the family and held by 8 of his descendants until 1901, when Phraya Wichiankhiri (Chom) was honorably retired as part of the administrative reforms of Prince Damrong Rajanubhab. The family's former home has been converted into the Songkhla National Museum in 1953.
In 1909, Songkhla was formally annexed by Siam as part of Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909 negotiated with the British Empire. Songkhla was the scene of heavy fighting when the Imperial Japanese Army invaded Thailand on 8 December 1941.
Songkhla was not initially affected by the recent outbreak of Pattani Separatism, which began in 2004. However, bombs planted in 2005 and 2007 created fear the insurgence might spread into Songkhla province as well. The districts Chana and Thepha bordering Pattani however are under martial law since 2005.
People of the Buddhist faith make up about three-quarters of the population, most of whom are of Thai or Chinese ethnicity. About a quarter of the population are Muslim, many of whom are of mixed Thai and Malay ancestry. People proclaiming to be of Malay ethnicity make up a minority among the Muslim populace. The Songkhla Malays are very similar in ethnicity and culture to the Malays of Kelantan, Malaysia. They speak the Patani Malay language, which differs from the Bahasa Malay predominantly by means of actively used vocabulary and also in pronunciation.
The southern railway runs through the province to continue further into Malaysia, with Hat Ya being the main station. In the past, a railway line connected the town Songkhla with Hat Yai, but it was closed in 1978 and is now partly dismantled and partly overgrown.
On the island Ko Yo within Songkhla lake, since being easily accessible via the Tinsulanond Bridge, the residents have started to sell the hand-woven fabric named Phathor Ko Yo. Also famous for the island is the local jackfruit variant named Jampada.
Held in the first night of October, the Chak Phra tradition is a Buddhist festival specific to the south of Thailand. It is celebrated with Buddha boat processions or sports events like a run up Khao Tang Kuan hill.
In September or October at the Chinese Lunar festival the Thai-Chinese present their offerings to the moon or Queen of the heavens in gratitude for past and future fortunes.
The provincial tree is the Sa-dao-thiam (Azadirachta excelsa).
Laem Sai Estuary Fortress (ป้อมปืนปากน้ำแหลมทราย) Today this fortress is behind the Songkhla Provincial Police Headquarters.
Wat Matchimawat or Wat Khlang (วัดมัชฌิมาวาสหรือวัดกลาง), on Sai Buri Road, is a large temple and the most important in Songkhla. It is about 400 years old. This temple also has the Phattharasin Museum that houses various artefacts gathered from Songkhla, Sathing Phra, Ranot, and elsewhere.
Wat Chai Mongkhon (วัดชัยมงคล), on Phetmongkhon-Chaimongkhon Road, has a chedi that was built to house the Buddhist relics brought back from Langka by a monk named “Na Issaro” who was teaching Pali there in B.E. 2435.
The Songkhla National Museum (พิพิธภัณฑสถานแห่งชาติสงขลา) It became the domicile of Songkhla’s upper administrative officers and finally the City Hall. Today it is the source of local archaeology, history, and folk art and culture. It has a notable collection of the artefacts of the ‘Na Songkhla Family’ that used to rule the city.
Phathammarong Museum (พิพิธภัณฑ์พะธำมะรง) It was constructed in a Thai style to resemble the birthplace of H.E. Prem Tinsulanond, the former Prime Minister and Statesman who is a Songkhla native. The construction was based on his testimony when his father was the prison warden.
Ban Sattha (บ้านศรัทธา) It is surrounded by coconut plantations. The city people had it built for H.E. Prem Tinsulanond, the Privy Councilor and Statesman, when he was the Prime Minister. Construction was completed. In B.E. 2539, H.E. Prem gave the house back to the people of Songkhla.
Laem Samila (แหลมสมิหลา) This peninsula is well-known for its white sandy beach, shady pine groves, and the statue of a mermaid that is Songkhla’s symbol.
Ko Nu and Ko Maeo (เกาะหนู – เกาะแมว) A legend says that a dog, a cat, and a mouse, on a Chinese sampan stole the merchant’s magic crystal and tried to swim ashore but drowned and lost their lives. The mice and cats became the islands in the Songkhla Lake while the dog died on shore and became the hill called Hin Khao Tang Kuan near the bay. The crystal was totally destroyed and became the white sandy beach called Hat Sai Kaeo.
Khao Tang Kuan (เขาตังกวน) at Laem Samila has the Sala Vihan Daeng, the royal pavilion built during the reign of King Rama V. On the hilltop is a Dvaravati chedi housing the Buddha’s relics that was built during the Nakhon Si Thammarat Empire. A rail based cabin tram offers ascent from the street level to the hilltop. Very good 360 degree view of Songkhla and surroundings form a variety of viewpoints here. A playground for local monkeys near the base station of this hilltrain attracts visitors and locals alike.
Laem Son On (แหลมสนอ่อน) It is well shaded with sea pines. At the end of the peninsula stands the statue of Prince Chumphon Khet Udomsak. This peninsula is the best spot to view Ko Nu and the Songkhla Lake.
Khao Noi (เขาน้อย) has a road to the hilltop for paying homage to the statue of Prince Lop Buri Ramet (The Southern Viceroy), and to view the city. On the east is a public park with food services and tennis courts. On the northeast is Suan Seri, another park with ornamental plants in animal shapes.
Khao Kao Seng (เขาเก้าเส้ง) It is one of the beautiful beaches of Songkhla, dotted with large boulders one of which is on a rock. It was said that underneath this boulder there used to be treasures stored by the people as funds for the construction of the Nakhon Si Thammarat Chedi and had protecting spirits.
Songkhla Zoo (สวนสัตว์สงขลา) It was established for the preservation of Thai wildlife and to return them to the wild. The zoo covers a hilly area with an asphalt ring road. The various animals have been grouped separately, such camels, birds, red gaur, tigers, crocodiles, and others.
Songkhla Lake (ทะเลสาบสงขลา), the only natural lake in Thailand is about 80 kilometres long and 20 to 25 kilometres wide. It is a freshwater lake with brackish water near the mouth. Boats are available for touring the lake.
Tinsulanond Bridge (สะพานติณสูลานนท์) It is the longest concrete bridge in Thailand, with two parts: the first part connects the coast of Amphoe Mueang Songkhla to the southern coast of Ko Yo; the second part connects the northern shore of Ko Yo to the coast of Ban Khao Khiao.
Ko Yo (เกาะยอ) is a small island in the Songkhla Lake but is the important attraction of Songkhla. The island, covering an area of 9,275 rais (3,710 acres).
The Institute for Southern Thai Studies (สถาบันทักษิณคดีศึกษา) It was established in B.E. 2521 for the studies of southern art and culture. Its museum has comprehensive exhibits on local art and culture, and southern lives as well as artefacts echoing local wisdom accumulated through several generations.
The city of Hat Yai (ตัวเมืองหาดใหญ่) is the gateway to the neighboring countries of Malaysia and Singapore. It is only 60 kilometres from the port of entry at Sadao. Hat Yai has grown significantly into the commercial, transportation, communication, educational, and tourism centre of the south.
Hat Yai Municipal Park (สวนสาธารณะเทศบาลเมืองหาดใหญ่) The park is full of beautiful flowering plants, with a pavilion in the middle of the pond, avarium, and food stalls. At the foot of the hill near the avarium stands the statue of King Rama V. And at the southern foothill near the boy scout camp stands the jade statue of Guan-yin, the Chinese Goddess.
Wat Hat Yai Nai (วัดหาดใหญ่ใน) is the site of a large reclining Buddha measuring 35 metres long, 15 metres tall, and 10 metres wide, named Phra Phuttha Hattha Mongkhon, believed to be the third largest reclining Buddha in the world.
Namtok Ton Nga Chang (น้ำตกโตนงาช้าง) It is one of the beautiful waterfalls of the south, about 26 kilometres from the city. This waterfall has seven levels, the third level is the most beautiful and is named after the waterfall.
Namtok Boriphat Forestry Park (วนอุทยานน้ำตกบริพัตร) is about 52 kilometres from Amphoe Mueang Songkhla. It is a small all-season waterfall.
Wat Tham Khao Rup Chang (วัดถ้ำเขารูปช้าง) The temple uses the cave as religious ground. The cave has been partitioned into several rooms with delicate stalactites and stalagmites.
Khao Nam Khang National Park (อุทยานแห่งชาติเขาน้ำค้าง) has lush forest cover. There are two waterfalls within this park: Ton Dat Fa and Ton Lat Fa.
Khao Nam Khang Historic Tunnel (อุโมงค์ประวัติศาสตร์เขาน้ำค้าง) This tunnel was once known as the Piyamit Village 5, run by the Communist insurgents. It is the largest and longest man-made tunnel in Thailand, completed in two years with three separate corridors and three levels deep.
Hat Sakom (หาดสะกอม) is about 53 kilometres from Amphoe Mueang Songkhla, on the Songkhla-Chana-Thepha Highway.
Chedi Phi Nong Yot Khao Daeng (เจดีย์พี่น้องยอดเขาแดง) consists of two stupas: Chedi Ong Dam (The Black Chedi), and Chedi Ong Khao (The White Chedi).
Khu Khut Waterfowl Park (Tha-le Sap Songkhla Wildlife Refuge) (อุทยานนกน้ำคูขุด-เขตห้ามล่าสัตว์ป่าทะเลสาปสงขลา) In fact this waterfowl park is part of Tha-le Sap Songkhla or Songkhla Lake. The survey undertook by the Royal Forestry Department discovered 44 families, 137 genus, and 219 species of avian. The best times to view the birds are from December to March.
Wat Cha Thing Phra (วัดจะทิ้งพระ) This temple has several ancient ruins from the Srivijaya Period such as Chedi Phra Maha That, Wihan Phra Phutthasaiyat (reclining Buddha), and the bell tower.
Wat Pha Kho or Wat Ratchapraditsathan (วัดพะโคะหรือวัดราชประดิษฐาน) This temple was the seat of Somdet Pha Kho or Luang Pho Thuat Yiap Nam Tha-le Chuet, the most revered monk in the south.
Wat Ek Choeng Sae (วัดเอกเชิงแส) It has the revered coral Buddha image that had been covered with plaster. The image is 70 centimetres wide at the lap and 120 centimetres tall.
Laem Khwai Rap Wildlife Protection Unit (หน่วยพิทักษ์สัตว์ป่าแหลมควายราบ) There are a large number of waterfowls around the Unit and can be seen without having to travel by boat into the Lake, especially in the morning and evening when the birds are out searching for food.
Sacred Pond at Wat Laem Bo Tho (บ่อน้ำศักดิ์สิทธิ์วัดแหลมบ่อท่อ) It was said that a monk named Phra Sin Narai and a layman named Khun Wichai Phromsat built this pond on their way from India to Ayutthaya. This sacred pond has clean freshwater all year round.
Khao Java Birds (นกเขาชวา) is the favourite domesticated bird in the south. The famous bird-culture area is Amphoe Chana, about 40 kilometres from Amphoe Hat Yai, on Highway 408. Bird singing contests are usually held annually from January to July. Singing birds are judged by their tone, voice, beat, loudness, and continuation. The winners are highly priced.
Shooting for sport (กีฬายิงปืน) in Songkhla can be carried out at two shooting ranges that are open to the public, as follows.
Ruchirawong Range (สนามยิงปืนรุจิรวงศ์) is located in Amphoe Hat Yai, across from the Hat Yai District Police Office.
Songkhla Royal Navy Range (สนามยิงปืนราชนาวีสงขลา) is located within the Songkhla Navy Base, on Chalatat Road (on the coast).
Thai Boxing (มวยไทย) in Songkhla is held either at the Songkhla Navy Base.
Golf (กอล์ฟ) can be enjoyed at various courses.
Nang Talung (shadow puppet) is the south’s folk art that is shown to the general public in Nakhon Si Thammarat, Phatthalung, Trang, and Songkhla. A temporary platform is usually built for the performance. The puppets, cut from animal hide, are placed against the rear of a white screen in front of a bright light so the audience can see their shadows. The story is told by narrators.
Ko Yo Hand-woven Fabric is another folk product of Songkhla, produced mainly from Ko Yo, Amphoe Mueang Songkhla. The sturdy hand-woven fabric has intricate designs such as Lai Rat Chawat, and Lai Luk Kaeo.
Thai Goods and Produce Promotion Fair (เทศกาลส่งเสริมสินค้าและผลไม้ไทย) is usually held in the middle of July when fruits are at their peaks. The fair boasts large selection of the best agricultural products from all southern provinces both for display and for sale.
Tham Bun Duean Sip (งานเทศกาลทำบุญเดือนสิบ) is another southern tradition that is held on the full moon of the tenth lunar month. This festival grew from the belief that during the new moon phase in the tenth month, the souls of the deceased relatives and friends, especially those not yet reborn would be released to meet the living relatives. So the living would prepare foods to offer them to the monks in their names. In Sathing Phra this festivity is different than in other districts whereby tall gold figures are paraded as the “proxy” for the deceased who were respected by the villagers.
Lak Phra and Tak Bat Thewo (giving alms) (งานประเพณีลากพระและตักบาตรเทโว) is held on the new moon in the eleventh lunar month, around October of every year in Amphoe Mueang Songkhla. The festivity would start one day before the actual day to wrap a large cloth around the top of the Chedi on Khao Tang Kuan. In the morning of the festival day, alms are offered to monks (tak bat thewo) at the foot of the hill. Several hundred monks would walk down from Khao Tang Kuan to receive the offerings. Late in the morning monks travelling by boat from other temples in Songkhla would proceed along the waterfront so the Buddhist can offer alms and pull their boats along. Such acts are considered highly merited. The monks’ boats would congregate at the lotus pond to participate in the boat decoration contest. On the festival ground there are also art and culture performances.