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's 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 Then it gives some five year old outdated information on hotels and bars, in my 2 year old edition anyway.
In general, what are the pickings like for an EFL teacher?
Be around either May or October time and the pickings are pretty good. Most jobs are snapped up in this town so be precise in your timing if coming here for work.
Songkhla is considered the education capital of the South, and it certainly has a large amount of schools, universities, and colleges very keen to employ foreign teachers.
A good EFL teachers salary doesn't really top more than 30k and averages out to 25k per month on a full-time salary. Otherwise the hourly rate is between 250-300 baht per hour for part-time work.
How far from Bangkok or civilization?
It's 950km 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.
What's the place like for nightlife, eating out etc?
It gets a bit predictable but there is a good bit of nightlife. The infamous Dark Side, a string of bars on Sadao Road is the single gentleman's playground. Some are more full on than others and there are genuine girlfriend and wife-friendly places such as The Office or The Lodge.
Other good hang outs are The Buzz Stop, Songkhla's only Irish bar. It is owned by a very entertaining Irishman and it possibly does the best cooked breakfast in Thailand. Bargirl-free.
Otherwise make your own entertainment by doing a BBQ on the beach with a bottle of wine etc.
How much to rent a house or basic apartment?
Ranges from 2,500 baht for a single room plus bathroom with fan to 5,000 baht for a room with a stunning view and aircon. Houses are unfurnished but a two bed townhouse I live in costs 5,500 baht.
Shopping malls, department stores?
Nope, but you only have to travel 45 minutes if you need one.
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 fallangs about.
(ii)Theres very little Thai/Fallang 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 a few 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 Tuktuks (8-10 baht anywhere in Songkhla) or motorcycle taxis (20 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. Excellent seafood and cooked breakfasts. Three beaches are never more that 10 minutes walk away. Very handy for border runs with the Sadao Crossing only 1 hour 30 minutes away.
And what are the downsides?
Limited and predictable nightlife, relatively high rents, and you're 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 80 baht a 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 upto 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 aircon bungalows are around 400baht a night.
Where's the best place to meet other farangs or are they best avoided?
Despite it's oil worker reputation, jobs in this sector have been dwindling of late, 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.The Buzz Stop on Sisuda Road is a good place to meet people as is the Parlang on Sai Ngam Road home of the local Hash House Harriers, and the Office bar at the end of the Darkside on Sadao Road.