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Hat Yai | Songkhla

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The famous Songkhla mermaid at sunset

The famous Songkhla mermaid at sunset

 

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Songkhla Town in Songkhla Province

Introduction

Hat Yai and Songkhla are very closely linked but if they are twins they were separated at birth and brought up very differently. Songkhla is everything that Hat Yai isn't, and vice versa, with Hat Yai having most of the vice and Songkhla having most of the versa.

Hat Yai is dirty, brash, aggressive and frenetic. Songkhla is the cleanest Thai town I have ever visited; it's quiet, peaceful and actually quite pretty.

This is not by accident. The Thais have identified certain locations they wish to protect from tacky tourism and commercialism and Songkhla is one of them. One local told me it has nothing to do with the fact it is Prem Tinsulanonda's home town.

 

Prem Tinsulanonda - Songkhla's most famous son

Prem Tinsulanonda - Songkhla's most famous son

 

I don't believe this for a minute and feel certain that Prem's influence has gone a long way in making Songkhla what it is today, but that is a good thing.

Many Thais live in Songkhla and work in Hat Yai, or perhaps live in Hat Yai and study in Songkhla. For this reason, hundreds of minivans and sawng-thaews travel between the two towns every day. There used to be a train that served this route but it was discontinued many years ago.

Being the administrative centre for Songkhla province, there are lots of government buildings, as well as schools and universities. There are also lots of temples. These buildings are located on wide, clean streets with little traffic and flowers everywhere.

Equally significant is what Songkhla doesn't have. Most conspicuous by their absence Until Tesco arrived a few years ago) are any large supermarket chains. The citizens of Songkhla don't want these kind of places and are happy to make the journey to Hat Yai when they need to shop.

Before a branch of Tesco Lotus opened there weren't any large shops in Songkhla at all - just small shops and traditional markets. You also won't find massage shops every 10 yards or shops that have been set up purely for tourists - as you will find in Hat Yai.

There is a small nightlife industry in Songkhla and to a certain extent it is driven by the local oil industry which employs a lot of foreign workers.

 

Songkhla by the sea

Songkhla by the sea

 

Something significant that Songkhla has, compared with Hat Yai, is a beach and some coastline. To be honest, it doesn't compare with certain parts of the Andaman coast in terms of beauty but the beach is clean and some days the sea does actually look quite blue. Songkhla's old town also offers some cultural heritage, which doesn't exist in Hat Yai.

The two towns complement each other. I know people who lived in Songkhla, but became bored and moved to Hat Yai. Hat Yai has a lot, but it is frenetic and doesn't offer a great quality of life. If you share your time between Hat Yai and Songkhla you can have the best of both worlds.

If you are staying in Hat Yai, Songkhla can be visited easily in a day trip. The journey only takes about an hour and now that the road works and overpasses have been completed at Ko Yo junction the journey is a lot faster and easier.

If you want a more relaxed visit there are plenty of places to stay in Songkhla and for views out to the Gulf of Thailand you can stay right on the beach.

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Brief History Of Songkhla

When discussing the history of this region the first thing you must do is to forget about present day countries and borders. Previously, there were just centres of power with loosely defined borders.

Ayuthaya and Sukhothai were once very influential power centres in what is now present-day Thailand. In the south of Thailand, Pattani (now known mostly for violence and Muslim insurgency) was an important centre of trade and well known to the British East India Company. Nakhon Sri Thammarat and Songkhla were also important centres of power in peninsula Thailand.

From the 3rd to 13th centuries the most important empire in the region was Srivijaya kingdom. Its centre was in Sumatra, Indonesia but it extended into the Malay peninsula and southern Thailand. When this empire started to decline a new city (Songkhla) started to form.

From the 6th or 7th century foreign traders (from China, India and maybe elsewhere) visited Southeast Asia to trade in spices and natural resources. They traded using ceramics, silk, jewelry and spices.

The first European traders were the Portuguese in the 16th century. At the end of the 16th century the Dutch followed and then came the British. The British East India Company was founded in 1600.

European East India companies were set up mainly to deal in the spice trade. Songkhla had large pepper cultivations, along with clove, cinnamon and other spices. Other high value items, such as rhino horn, ivory and eaglewood were also traded.

At around the same time the ruler of Songkhla was a Muslim called Datho Mokol (ruled 1605-1620). He was succeeded by his son, Sultan Sulaiman, who decided he would be King Songkhla I and declared Songkhla's independence from the Thai Kingdom, which was centred in Ayuthaya. Sultan Sulaiman was succeeded by his son, Sultan Mustafa.

Datho Mokol implemented an open trading policy which, naturally, was very popular with European traders. Ayuthaya operated a trading monopoly throgh the Royal Warehouse Department, which wasn't popular. The declaration of independence caused friction between Songkhla and Ayuthaya, and employees of the British and Dutch East India Companies actually assisted Songkhla in rebelling against Ayuthaya.

Knowing that Songkhla's open trading policy would anger Ayuthaya, Sulaiman built a large wall around the city for protection. Parts of a city wall can still be seen in Songkhla, but this must be a later wall because the information I have says it was built in 1836 and finished in 1842 (a long time after Sulaiman).

 

Part of the old Songkhla city wall

Part of the old Songkhla city wall

 

Ayuthaya was not happy with the rebellious nature of Songkhla and in 1680 King Narai the Great of Ayuthaya invaded and destroyed Songkhla. In 1685 King Narai made an agreement with the French and Songkhla became a French trading station.

The city has actually had several names and locations. In past times it was known as Singu, Singora, Saingor, Cingor, San Gor, Sangora, Shinichu and the current location is a result of having moved three times. When the original city was destroyed in 1680 to was moved elsewhere in Sathing Phra. From there, a decision by King Rama III moved it to Bo Yang, where it is today.

Some shops in the historic district of Songkhla like to use the old name.

 

Phanmaba (Mad Dog), Singora, Songkhla

Phanmaba (Mad Dog), Singora, Songkhla

 

Thailand was never colonised. In order to achieve this the Thais ceded a lot of territory and were very clever at playing off European colonial powers against each other.

Songkhla's power in the Songkhla Lake region was transferred to Phattalung and this, of course, reduced the importance of Songkhla.

After the Burmese sacked Ayuthaya in 1767, Thailand's capital moved from Thonburi and then across the river to Bangkok. At the same time, Songkhla started to regain some of its importance.

After the arrival of European traders, the Chinese continued to trade and even today you can still see a lot of Chinese influence in Songkhla. Songkhla originally had Chinese rulers, but the Chinese rule was ended in 1901.

Songkhla has always had three main cultural groups, all with their own language and customs: Thai, Malayan and Chinese. In 1884 it was estimated that there 10,000 buildings and 52,000 people in Songkhla: 40,000 Thai, 2,000 Chinese and 10,000 Malay.

Thais were involved with agriculture, fishing and retail. The Chinese did the same things and additionally manufacture pottery, bricks, jewelry and woodwork. Malays concentrated on fishing, retail and weaving.

During WW2 with the British in Malaya and Singapore, British forces defended Singapore from sea attack because they did not expect to be attacked from the other direction.

However, Japanese forces invaded Thailand on the Gulf coast at Pattani, Songkhla, Nakhon Sri Thammarat, Surat Thani, Chumpon, Prajuap Khiri Khan and Samut Prakan.

There were already Japanese people living in Songkhla at the time and they assisted the invading Japanese troops. Thailand put up some resistance, but was overwhelmed. After entering Thailand, Japanese troops made their way down through Malaysia and eventually to Singapore. Churchill described the fall of Singapore as, "The worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history."

Similar to many towns in the USA, railways have played a part in the growth and importance of Songkhla.

 

Original track from the Songkhla to Hat Yai railway line

Original track from the Songkhla to Hat Yai railway line

 

In 1909 a royal decree was made by King Rama V to build a railway through southern Thailand with the northernmost terminus at Petchaburi. The railway ran all the way to the Malayan border at Su-ngai Kolok and Padang Besar.

Songkhla province's railway station was actually located at U Taphao (later moved to Hat Yai when Hat Yai became the economic centre) and there was a separate branch line to Songkhla city.

 

Original ticket from the Songkhla to Hat Yai railway line

Original ticket from the Songkhla to Hat Yai railway line

 

This branch line ran for 60 years, but was closed on 1st July 1978 and very little remains. I think this is very sad. Lots of people travel between Hat Yai and Songkhla everyday and the only option is dangerous minivans. A fast, quiet, clean, safe train would be far better.

Songkhla was important in the past because it was a centre of trade and economy. However, after WW2 Hat Yai overtook Songkhla in all respects. Songkhla's airport diminished as Hat Yai's grew.

Songkhla, being the provincial capital, still has a lot of administrative functions and there are universities in the town, but for shopping, entertainment, medical facilities, etc., Hat Yai offers far more.

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Songkhla Old Town

Although closely linked, Hat Yai and Songkhla are very different in many respects. Hat Yai doesn't really have any cultural history and very few old buildings remain. There are some old wooden houses on stilts near the railway station and a few old shophouse buildings on Niphat Uthit 1 Road, but not much.

 

Thanon Nang Ngam, Songkhla Old Town

Thanon Nang Ngam, Songkhla Old Town

 

Conversely, Songkhla has a lot of history and many old buildings still remain. The old town is centred around three streets: Nakhon Nok, Nakhon Nai and Nakhon Nang Ngam. When Songkhla was an important economic centre this was the Central Business District. One of Songkhla's past industries was brick manufacture and the buildings are built from locally made bricks.

 

Baan Nakhon Nai, Songkhla Old Town

Baan Nakhon Nai, Songkhla Old Town

 

In recent years many of the old buildings have been restored, but they still retain their original character. In some ways it is quite similar to Hoi An in Vietnam, but there are no lanterns and Songkhla is a lot smaller. Hoi An is already a UNESCO World Heritage Centre and I understand that some Songkhla residents have UNESCO aspirations for Songkhla. This may happen some time in the future.

 

Baan Nakhon Nai, Songkhla Old Town

Baan Nakhon Nai, Songkhla Old Town

 

Hoi An is car-free, allowing only pedestrians and bicycles in the town centre. Unfortunately, Songkhla isn't. There are no sidewalks and pedestrians are forced to walk in the road. With Thailand having the second most dangerous roads in the world and many crazy drivers, this can be quite an unnerving experience. To try to remedy this, the city authorities are building a new car park in an attempt to remove some cats from the old town area.

On Nakhon Nok you can find the old red rice mill, Hub Ho Hin, which is on the edge of Songkhla Lake In the past farmers took rice to the mill by boat where it was milled using the power from an English steam engine. When the Japanese invaded Thailand during World War 2 the mill was turned into a Japanese medical storage facility. After the war many other rice mills opened and the red rice mill closed. It turned into an ice making factory and was then use as a storage facility for para rubber.

 

The Red Rice Mill, Songkhla Old Town

The Red Rice Mill, Songkhla Old Town

 

Nowadays, it's just a tourist attraction and various activities are organised at the mill on the second Sunday of every month. In the old red rice mill you can also find information about the old town and some important businessmen from the past who helped to shape Songkhla.

Walking around Songkhla Old Town is a pleasant way to spend a few hours, although some people may find it a little 'twee'. Many of the restored buildings have been turned into coffee or ice cream shops, and there is only so much coffee and ice cream you can consume in one day.

Those with an interest in local history and/or architecture may find a visit to Songkhla Old Town more rewarding. In the old town area, and also at the Songkhla National Museum, there is quite a lot of information about the history of Songkhla.

Being primarily a business district in the past the buildings were built for commercial purposes, but there are slight variations in style, the styles being 'Traditional Chinese Shophouses', 'Commercial Chinese Shophouses', 'Traditional Songkhla Shophouses (Sino-European Shophouses)' and 'Modern Chinese Shophouses'.

The typical shophouse operates a business on the ground floor and the family live in the upstairs rooms. There is often a covered sidewalk (five foot way) in front of the shop and in many Thai shops the business extends on to the sidewalk (which is why pedestrians are forced to walk in the road).

 

Thai tourists, Songkhla Old Town

Thai tourists, Songkhla Old Town

 

Songkhla Old Town has been promoted quite heavily in recent years. As yet, very few foreign tourists seem to visit, but it is very popular with Thai tourists from Songkhla province and elsewhere in southern Thailand.

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People

Historically, this area was home to many Chinese and Muslims and you will still find areas which have been predominantly settled by these two ethnic groups. Many ex-governors and rulers were Chinese and the old governor's Chinese-style house is now the Songkhla National Museum.

 

Muslim children playing in the sea at Kao Seng, Songkhla

Muslim children playing in the sea at Kao Seng, Songkhla

 

Nowadays there are lots of Buddhist Thais and not an insignificant number of farangs but nothing on the scale of Phuket, Samui or Pattaya. Farangs living Songkhla, if they are not there as oil workers, tend to be those types who want a quiet life in Thailand. The town, with its many schools, also provides opportunities for English teachers.

It is a favourite day-trip retreat for people in the three troubled southern provinces. On the beach you will see lots of Muslims and if you speak with them you will often find they come from Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani. They are just as tired of the ongoing problems as everyone else and take trips to Songkhla to escape the madness.

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Seafood

There is a very active commercial fishing industry in Songkhla and if you pass anywhere near one of the fish canning factories on a hot day the overwhelming smell will make this quite evident.

 

Muslim boys fishing at Samila Beach, Songkhla

Muslim boys fishing at Samila Beach, Songkhla

 

From atop the hill on Ko Yo (a small island near Songkhla town) you will see thousands of enclosures in the surrounding sea where people buy small fish and grow them into large ones to sell.

Songkhla has many seafood restaurants, especially along Samila beach. There isn't much between them as far as the food is concerned but probably the most attractive restaurant is Samila Sea Sport (Tel. 074 327244-5).

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Things To Do

I reiterate that Songkhla is very different to Hat Yai. Malaysian and Singaporean tourists visit Hat Yai to shop, eat, have massages, and maybe make merit somewhere. There are plenty of restaurants and temples in Songkhla, but there isn't the same profusion of massage and retail shops. Activities in Songkhla tend to be quite different, which may or may not suit you. Here are a few.

Samila Beach

Samila beach is very popular on Sunday evenings. People stroll along the beach road, eat seafood, and Thai teenagers like to cruise around on their motorbikes. If you've been to one of the major tourist resorts in Thailand, such as Patong or Pattaya, it is quite a different experience.

 

Horseback riding on Samila Beach

Horseback riding on Samila Beach

 

There are lots of seafood restaurants on Samila Beach and they all seem to be run by Muslims. This is good for Muslim guests as there will be no issues with Halal food. Because of the number of restaurants there is a lot of competition and as you walk past people try to drag you into their restaurant.

The food is fine and not too expensive. In October 2018 I ate at one of these places in a group of four adults and four children. The bill was Bt1,500.

Songkhla National Museum

The National Museum I mentioned above is located in an interesting old Chinese house, which used to be occupied by the Governor of Songkhla. It is located near to part of the old city wall. Normally in museums I enjoy looking at old artefacts, however, in this museum I find the written information about the history of Songkhla more interesting than the exhibits. Most of the historical information above was gleaned from here.

 

Songkhla National Museum

Songkhla National Museum

 

The Songkhla National Museum is open from Wednesday to Sunday from 09:00 to 16:00. It is closed on Mondays, Tuesdays and National Holidays.

If you are Thai entrance is free. If you aren't Thai someone will start shouting at you demanding that you pay Bt150.

Yo Island

Yo Island is a pleasant place. The Institute of Southern Thai Studies is a more interesting museum than the one in Songkhla and I have covered it elsewhere in these pages.

 

The Institute of Southern Thai Studies

The Institute of Southern Thai Studies

 

Ko Yo produces lots of fish and fruit, and there is also an active cloth weaving cottage industry.

Songkhla Zoo

Songkhla Zoo is in a fantastic location and when I first visited (in 2004) I thought it was a fantastic zoo. However, since then it has gone downhill quite a lot. There used to be a lot of animals and very few people. Normally at zoos the animals ignore human visitors because there are so many people, but on my first few visits to Songkhla Zoo the animals paid attention to me.

 

Swimming tiger at Songkhla Zoo

Swimming tiger at Songkhla Zoo

 

Subsequently, a water park opened within the zoo and this increased the visitor numbers significantly. I also noticed that on every visit there were fewer and fewer animals. The location is still great, but it's not the same with far more people and far fewer animals.

Songkhla Aquarium

People who have visited other aquaria will probably be quite disappointed with the one at Songkhla. There are very few fish and the main attraction is watching a scuba diver hugging large turtles. I like to see animals behave naturally, but Thais like animal shows and lots of human interaction.

 

Songkhla Aquarium

Songkhla Aquarium

 

As with many Thai tourist attractions, there is a system of dual pricing that is hidden from foreigners by the use of Thai script and Thai numerals. If you can't read Thai you will see that adults are charged Bt300 and children Bt200.

If you can read Thai, as I can, you will see that it is Bt120 for Thai adults and Bt80 for Thai children. Further, if a Thai person shares or likes the aquarium on social media the price is reduced to Bt100 for adults and Bt60 for children. Personally, I think this policy of discriminating based upon race is quite disgusting.

Songkhla Old Town

With lots of old buildings and temples, this area is worth visiting.

 

Coffee shop in Songkhla old town

Coffee shop in Songkhla old town

 

There are lots of small speciality shops selling such things as traditional, home-made Thai ice cream and sticky rice with mango. This dessert is only available when the mangoes are in season and the shops that sell it are so famous that people travel great distances to buy this sweet delicacy.

See above for more details.

Tang Kuan Hill

Tang Kuan Hill has a Buddhist shrine at the top and a funicular railway to get visitors up and down. From the top of the hill there are good views of Songkhla. This area is also home to a large colony of long-tailed macaques. Vendors sell bananas and peanuts to feed them and it's good fun watching their antics.

 

Atop Tang Kuan Hill, Songkhla

Atop Tang Kuan Hill, Songkhla

 

The problem is that their main source of food now comes from human visitors. On a Sunday, when there are plenty of visitors and plenty of food, the monkeys are quite well behaved but on quiet days with few visitors and little food to go round they are hungry and can get quite aggressive.

 

Mother and baby long-tailed macaque, Songkhla

Mother and baby long-tailed macaque, Songkhla

 

I enjoy watching them but I am always a little on edge because they are wild, unpredictable animals with large teeth. You do not want to upset a full-grown male macaque, or even a female nursing a baby. The consequences could be pretty dire.

Treat them the same as you would any wild animal, be careful, and don't tease them - as I saw one Thai man doing.

Kao Seng

Kao Seng is a small Muslim fishing village at the southern end of Samila beach which I enjoy visiting. The people there live simple lives that revolve around fishing. The men go out early for the catch while the women repair nets and prepare the fish ready to be sold.

 

Painting a fishing boat in Kao Seng

Painting a fishing boat in Kao Seng

 

The children in the village play simple games to amuse themselves and the sea is their playground. Muslims cannot touch dogs so Muslim areas of Thailand are one of the few places where you won't see hundreds of stray dogs. One small shop in Kao Seng is home to a large collection beautiful Persian cats.

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Accommodation

The main beach hotel is the BP Samila which offers sea view rooms for between Bt1,000 and Bt2,000 per night. I first stayed there in 2003, after which it started to look a little dilapidated, but then the hotel underwent quite a big renovation.

The Rajamangala Pavilion a little further down the coast is a smaller hotel with better rooms at cheaper prices but the location isn't quite as convenient. I have stayed at both hotels.

There are a number of small hotels in town as well as guest houses. Some backpacker type guest houses can be found next door to the National Museum.

It's not normally necessary to book but the large hotels host meetings, seminars and wedding receptions fairly often which can limit room availability. You can try to get a discount but last time I stayed at the BP Samila I heard the receptionist talking to a farang on the phone who was trying his best to get a discount and she wouldn't budge on the price which she claimed was already discounted.

Find and reserve hotel rooms in Songkhla with Agoda.

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BP Samila Beach Hotel And Resort (★★★★)

BP Samila Beach Hotel And Resort, Songkhla - Click for larger image

View from BP Samila Beach Hotel And Resort, Songkhla - Click for larger image

Agoda Rating: Very good 7.3 - See here for details

Booking.com

Address: 8 Rachadumnern Road, Songkhla, 90000
Telephone: +66 (0)74 440222
Fax: +66 (0)74 440442
Room Rate: Bt1,250

Comments: This large hotel is right on the beach and there are great views across the Gulf of Thailand.

Get The Best Deal At The BP Samila Hotel In Songkhla

The hotel room rates quoted on this site are walk-in rates, also known as rack rates. These are full price rates with no discounts, and in most cases this is the most expensive way to pay for a hotel room.

Booking your hotel through an on-line travel agent such as Agoda or Booking.com is the easiest way to get the cheapest deals available.

  1. Agoda : Agoda rates are usually the cheapest, however, you normally have to pre-pay at the time of booking. Be aware that the advertised prices don't include tax and service charges, which are an extra 17%.
  2. Booking.com : I used to find Booking.com expensive, but now their rates are quite competitive and you can normally pay at the hotel without pre-paying. the rate they advertise is the rate you pay.
  3. Hotels Combined : If you want the cheapest possible deal and don't want to spend a long time researching prices, you can compare prices using Hotels Combined. Just enter your hotel and travel dates and Hotels Combined will search the top travel sites to find you the cheapest price.

The following are direct links that will take you straight to the relevant page for this hotel without needing to search.

Book Now!

Booking.com

Compare Prices

Guest Comments: No guest comments yet. Be the first to comment. Send an e-mail to phil@phil.uk.net, or use the following form. Comments will be added anonymously.

Important - Please read the following carefully before sending me your comments: Do not use this form for availability or rate enquiries. I am not a travel agent, and neither am I affiliated with any hotels or guest houses in Hat Yai. Contact the establishment directly using the information given above. Use this form only if you have stayed at this particular establishment and wish to give some feedback.

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Rajamangala Pavilion Beach Resort (★★★)

Rajamangala Pavilion Beach Resort, Songkhla - Click for larger image

Rajamangala Pavilion Beach Resort, Songkhla - Click for larger image

Agoda Rating: Good 6.2 - See here for details

Address: 1 Ratjadamnoennok Road, Amphur Muang, Songkhla, 90000
Telephone: +66 (0)74 487222, 487081-4, 487438-50, 487352
Fax: +66 (0)74 487353
Web Site: Rajamangala Pavilion Beach Resort
Room Rate: Bt1,200

Comments: This hotel is also right on the beach with great views across the Gulf of Thailand, but it is a little isolated.

Get The Best Deal At The Rajamangala Pavilion In Songkhla

The hotel room rates quoted on this site are walk-in rates, also known as rack rates. These are full price rates with no discounts, and in most cases this is the most expensive way to pay for a hotel room.

Booking your hotel through an on-line travel agent such as Agoda or Booking.com is the easiest way to get the cheapest deals available.

  1. Agoda : Agoda rates are usually the cheapest, however, you normally have to pre-pay at the time of booking. Be aware that the advertised prices don't include tax and service charges, which are an extra 17%.
  2. Booking.com : I used to find Booking.com expensive, but now their rates are quite competitive and you can normally pay at the hotel without pre-paying. the rate they advertise is the rate you pay.
  3. Hotels Combined : If you want the cheapest possible deal and don't want to spend a long time researching prices, you can compare prices using Hotels Combined. Just enter your hotel and travel dates and Hotels Combined will search the top travel sites to find you the cheapest price.

The following are direct links that will take you straight to the relevant page for this hotel without needing to search.

Book Now!

Compare Prices

 

Guest Comments: No guest comments yet. Be the first to comment. Send an e-mail to phil@phil.uk.net, or use the following form. Comments will be added anonymously.

Important - Please read the following carefully before sending me your comments: Do not use this form for availability or rate enquiries. I am not a travel agent, and neither am I affiliated with any hotels or guest houses in Hat Yai. Contact the establishment directly using the information given above. Use this form only if you have stayed at this particular establishment and wish to give some feedback.

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Get The Best Deal On Your Songkhla Hotel Room

Listed opposite are some of my personal recommendations for hotels in Songkhla based on budget. Each link will take you to the relevant page on the Agoda website where you can see photos, read reviews, and book on-line. I use Agoda to book all of my own hotels in Thailand. Every time I research hotel prices the Agoda price is always the lowest and I have received good customer service so I am happy to recommend the company to other people.

If you don't wish to pay for your hotel at the time of booking, Booking.com normally allows you to pay when you check in at the hotel. Some people prefer this method, but I have always found Booking.com to be more expensive than Agoda.

If you want to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined. However, you will normally find that Agoda is the cheapest and therefore you can save yourself time and money by just booking through Agoda in the first place.

Images of Thailand

Images of Thailand