This southern city and province has some of the best scenery in Thailand and a mix of Thai, Chinese and Malay cultures. But would a teacher be happy and feel safe there?
The Lonely Planet guidebook says......?
The name Songkhla is derived from Yawi. It's bloody old, 8th century. Lots of history about muslim traders. The population is a combintion of Thais Chinese and Malay.
Seafood's nice, but the beaches (Samila and Chalatas) are crap for swimming, and the lake is polluted.
Slightly westernised from a big influx of multinational oil companies. Then it gives some five year old outdated information on hotels and bars, in my old edition anyway.
In general, what are the pickings like for an EFL teacher?
Normally, there are teaching jobs at numerous schools and several universities and colleges. I find it's best to apply in person just before the start of each semester. A good EFL teachers' salary doesn't exceed more than 40K and averages out to 30-35K per month on a full-time salary. Otherwise, the hourly rate is around 300 baht per hour for part-time work.
How far from Bangkok or civilization?
It's 950 km from Bangkok. About 15 hours journey by bus.
It's 45 minutes from Hatyai
It's 3 hours to the relative civilization of Penang.
It's about 7 hours from KL.
It's 4 hours from Krabi.
It's 5 hours from Koh Samui.
It's 7 hours from Phuket
What's the place like for nightlife, eating out etc?
Songkhla used to be the playground for offshore oil and gas workers on rotation. However, the Thai government nationalized the industry and foreign workers are being replaced by locals when their contracts expire. This led to the closing of most entertainment venues in the area known as "Darkside" on Sadao Road and on Srisuda.
What's left are several beach bars near Rajamangala University, The White Chair on Sadao Road has live music and a very good menu, with a lovely palm tree lined sitting area opposite the Kanoi Palace (Governor's residence). The Corner Bier and Oscars are also popular.
The Buzz Stop on Srisuda is the only Irish bar in town serving draft Guinness from Dublin and an excellent Western /Thai menu including Angus beef steaks and burgers and a hearty breakfast.
How much to rent a house or basic apartment?
Ranges from 3,000 baht for a single room plus bathroom with fan to 7,000 baht+ for a room with a stunning view and air-con. Houses are unfurnished but a two bed-townhouse I live in costs 5,500 baht.
Shopping malls, department stores?
Songkhla has a Tesco Lotus near Thaksin University and a modest department store near the Old Town. There is also a convenience store called AKE that has imported European goods.
How is mobile / internet coverage?
Will you be stared at? and what's the likelihood of a good beating?
(i) You'll be stared at and talked about like a monkey in a cage, though you won't be that unusual as theres quite a few farangs about.
(ii) Theres very little Thai/Farang crime in Songkhla though of course petty crime is not unheard of. It is said that Son Om beach is unsafe to walk along at night following a high profile murder many years back. Otherwise it's a very safe place to live, if you ignore the horrific motorcycle accident statistics.
Taxis, buses....or horse and cart?
Buses and minibuses to Hatyai, Pattani and Yala. Taxis are beaten up, gigantic station wagons and are pricey unless shared, generally used to get to another town only. Local travel is generally in the form of 4-wheeled tuk-tuks (20-40 baht anywhere in Songkhla) or motorcycle taxis (20-30 baht, but have been known to rip newbies off).
Main advantages of living there?
It's a laidback, pretty seaside town, with lots of work for teachers, and not yet over-run with backpackers. It has excellent seafood and cooked breakfasts. There are three beaches never more than 10 minutes walk away. It's very handy for border runs with the Sadao crossing only an hour and a half away.
And what are the downsides?
Limited and predictable nightlife, relatively high rents, and you're certainly not going to make your fortune here. Also the beaches ain't exactly Koh Phi Phi.
Any local attractions?
Samila Beach is towards the tip of the Peninsula and has the mermaid statue on the rocks which symbolises Songkhla. There is also the Cat and Rat staue which fronts Songkhla's two islands Koh Noo and Koh Maew.
The BP Samila Hotel has a nice swimming pool and fitness centre overlooking the beach which can be used for a single session or longer term membership is available.
Just inland from Samila beach is the giant Kao Tang Kuwan hill, known by the local Farangs as Monkey Mountain. Every evening towards sunset a tribe of wild monkeys come down and are fed by locals. The hill can be walked up for free (takes about 10 mins at a good pace), or you can have the privilage of paying 30 baht for a rather uninspiring elevator ride up. (can take up to 20 minutes after queueing).
The top of the hill has an old Chedi (Pagoda-style structure) and gives an unparalled panorama view of Songkhla. A restaurant and visitors centre is still under contruction at the top and should be open within a few months.
Koh Yo is an island sandwiching two giant bridges which cross the inland sea Thale Sap. Theres the Institute for Southern Thai Studies, a hill-topped museum, with nice views but the museum is not exactly awe inspiring, and there are some excellent seafood restaurants on it's east side.
There's a lovely isolated beach resort called Had Kaew just 30 minutes away on the otherside of the lake, decent air-con bungalows are around 700 baht a night.
Where's the best place to meet other farangs or are they best avoided?
Despite its oil worker reputation, jobs in this sector have dwindled over the past years, and teachers are starting to make up a larger proportion of ex-pats, along with bar and restaurant owners - plus it's a popular choice with retirees. Overall ex-pats are a friendly, happy-go-lucky crowd.
Stroll along Srisuda and you are bound to run into foreigners. Also check out the cafes in Singora, the Old Town. The beach bars on Chalatat beach are packed with Thai students and teenagers. The farang scene is pretty dead, but if you're young and into Thai music, the town is buzzing.