Phuket, Krabi and Samui are some of the most sought-after beach destinations in southern Thailand. As these cities top most travelers’ bucket lists, there are times during the year when visiting them leave visitors little sand space of their own to enjoy. Fortunately, our Thailand Insider team is bringing you on a short two and a half-day journey to two other southern provinces that are worth exploring if you are looking for activities that are off the beaten path.
Not necessarily a sleepy town, but also not inundated with foreign tourists, Songkhla has daily flights from Bangkok right into Hat Yai airport, which is another major hub in southern Thailand. During a recent Thailand Insider trip, our team arrived at the airport and drove an hour to the neighboring eastern province of Phattalung to start our southern adventure.
Being a coastal province, Phattalung has many points that connect to the sea via canals and small rivers. The province is renowned for its diverse natural beauty, drawing Thais to experience the flat grasslands, rolling hills, pristine coast line, caves, hot springs, and national parks.
Nora Dance Tradition at Wat Tha Khae
As a part of southern tradition, we were welcomed by the local Phattalung community at Wat Tha Khae with a traditional Nora Dance. Tha Khae Temple is considered to be the historical center for this ancient dance, which dancers are believed to call on their ancestors to embody them while performing.
The temple has performances throughout the year and is also home to a program that helps preserve Nora dance tradition among the youth and local community. Those visiting on the weekends can watch and observe the intricate Nora teaching/training sessions.
Southern Wicker Creations at Varni Craft
After learning about some of Phattalung’s unique cultural traditions, we made our way over to Varni Craft, a southern wicker shop and homestay. Here, we learned about the art of weaving bags and other household items from locally-gathered seagrass and straw. We also had the opportunity to participate in a small workshop to weave coasters and personalize our own wicker bags.
The various products made at Varni Craft are created by a local collective and are meant to generate a sustainable income for the local community. Varni craft creations are sold at major shopping malls throughout Thailand and are a great sense of pride for both the maker and the buyer.
Sri Pak Pra Hotel
After a long first day in southern Thailand, we needed to refuel and recharge. We ended our night with a dinner of freshly caught seafood at our hotel, Sri Pak Pra. The hotel sits right over the edge of Thale Noi with a gorgeous view of the giant “yor” (local fishing nets). The hotel is wedged well into the natural surroundings, giving visitors the illusion of floating on water and is a true gem in Phattalung.
Thale Noi Excursion
A major highlight of visiting Phattalung is a boat ride through Thale Noi / Ta-lay Noi (Little Sea). Also known as “Nok Nam Talay Noi” national park, Talay Noi is a freshwater lake in the northern part of Songkhla Lake, with the Nang Ream Canal linking Talay Noi and Songkhla Lake. The body of water connects three provinces: Phattalung, Songkhla, and Nakhon Srithammarat. The area is filled year round with water and has become a natural wetland for wild buffalos, migrating birds, and fish. It is also where rice is grown for local consumption. Visitors often ride out on small boats early in the morning to watch the sunrise as they ride pass giant yors locals use to collect their daily catch.
Another beautiful aspect of visiting Thale Noi is going into the inner parts of the lake to the Waterfowl Reserve, where millions of lotus flowers poke their heads through the water. The best time of year to experience the lotus blossoms is between February and the beginning of April. Those who are avid bird watchers should visit between March and October when the bird population is at its highest.
We spent about 2-3 hours exploring Thale Noi and were dropped off at the Sri Pak Pra hotel via boat just in time for breakfast, which includes southern delicacies like kanom jeen and deep-fried mackerel with fermented shrimp paste dip. Shortly after, we packed up and were on our way back to Hat Yai, Songkhla, but stopped for merit-making at Wat Pako Suwannaram. Afterward, we visited the Folklore Museum Institute for Southern Thai Studies on Yor Island to learn more about southern culture, local Thai wisdom, and history of the area. The museum is perched high over Songkhla lake with a view of the community’s giant yors and boasts several exhibition halls of ancient crafts to historic warfare instruments.
For those who have more time, Yor Island is a small island in the middle of Songkhla lake. The island is filled with landmarks and remains a traditional fisherman community where visitors can experience the local fishing process and farming of aquatic animals.
A List Hotel- Songkhla
Before going out on Songkhla lake for a dinner cruise, we checked into the A List hotel. Songkhla over the years has been developing their local product to appeal to an international market, and the A List hotel is a prime example of their efforts. The hotel is a relatively newer property in the city with eclectic European furniture and comfortable amenities but is still filled with the charm of Southern Thai people. A List is also within walking distance from many restaurants, coffee/cafe shops, and open markets – a major plus!
A mere five-minute drive from the A List Hotel, Samila Beach is a Songkhla highlight with its famed Golden Mermaid sculpture erected on a big stone. According to local urban legend, a mermaid swam to the beach each day to brush her hair with a golden comb. She was spotted by a fisherman one day and fled the beach but left her golden comb behind. The fisherman came back every day after in hopes of seeing her but never did.
Aside from the golden mermaid, beachgoers visit Samila for the smaller crowds and soft white sand lined beneath neighboring pine trees. Samila Beach also connects with Chalatat Beach, which also has the same relaxing atmosphere.
Old Town Songkhla
Located in the metropolis’ district of Songkhla, Old Town has three main streets: outer street, inner street, and Nang-Ngarm street. This chic neighborhood is filled with street art and architecture, reflecting the merchants who used it as a port over the centuries because of its access to the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand. Many of Old Town’s shops have been open for generations and make walking through the streets even more memorable and fun. A walk through Old Town allows you to meet locals, witness their daily routine, and embrace a side of Thailand many international travelers miss out on.
Songkhla National Museum
Before flying out of Hat Yai, our last stop was a visit to the Songkhla National Museum. The main structure was built in 1878, which was used as the Governor’s palace and then later as city hall. The building was neglected for decades and was finally reopened in 1982 as the National Museum. Not only does the museum house an array of historical artifacts from the province’s past, but it also provides information about the family that initially founded the provinces centuries before.
After two and a half days, it was hard to head back to the hustle and bustle of Bangkok. Still, after spending a short time in Phattalung and Songkhla, we were ready to discover other hidden gems tucked in different pockets throughout Thailand. The next time you have a few extra days in Thailand and are looking for a destination where you can roam with ease, consider Phattalung and Songkhla.