Kingdom of Langkasuka
Langkasuka was an early Malay kingdom founded at Kedah and later moved to Pattani, in modern Thailand. The modern Province of Songkhla was part of this kingdom. Langkasuka means "Resplendent Land" in Sanskrit.
Apparently the kingdom was founded in the second century, but the earliest external reference to it is in Chinese records when it was called Lang-ya-xiu during the sixth century. A Chinese Buddhist monk visited it back then and described the kingdom’s capital city as being surrounded by walls, having double gates, towers and pavilions. In year 515, King Bhagadatta of Langkasuka established relations with China.
By the 12th century, the kingdom became a tributary of the Srivijaya Kingdom. The last was quite different from other empires and kingdoms in the area because it dominated mainly coasts and maritime trade routes. In the beginning, it controlled the trade routes of commodities grown out in the Musi River Basin. The main products were camphor, aloes, cloves, sandal-wood, nutmegs, and cardamom, though various metals were included in this golden basket. Afterwards it began expanding and gained control over the Sunda Strait from Palembang and the Malacca Straits from Kedah.
This part of the Silk Road controlled much of the trade between China and India. Charging a toll on passing ships, the kingdom accumulated wealth of mythical dimensions.
By the twelfth century, the kingdom included parts of Sumatra, Ceylon, the whole Malay Peninsula (including Songkhla, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Surat Thani and other locations within modern Thailand), Western Java, Sulawesi, the Moluccas, Borneo, the Philippines (the Visaya Islands in the central Philippines were named after the kingdom), and the Sulu Archipelago. Its core was the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra and Java. However, the Indian Chola invasion and the sedimentation of the river connecting its capital – Palembang – with the sea, sealed this kingdom’s fate.
The city of Nakhon Si Thammarat became a kingdom controlling much of the northern Malay Peninsula after the fall of Srivijaya. Songkhla, Surat Thani and Chaiya became part of this kingdom as tributary states. In parallel, Nakhon Si Thammarat was suzerain of the various Thai kingdoms (Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, Thonburi and the modern one); thus Songkhla and other parts of former Langkasuka entered the Thai sphere of influence.
During the troubled 18th and 19th centuries, when Thailand (or the Kingdom of Siam as it was called back then) was under threat by the Burmese from the west and the French from the east, Songkhla was of little importance and retained a certain degree of suzerainty.
In 1893 the French used border disputes to provoke a crisis with Thailand. French gunboats appeared at Bangkok, and demanded the cession of territories east of the Mekong. King Chulalongkorn appealed to the British, but these offered no significant help, though they made an agreement with France guaranteeing the independence of the rest of Siam. This event precipitated the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909 that fixed the borders between the British Empire and Siam and gave Siam a much needed recognition as an answer to the French expansionism. In that treaty, Songkhla was formally annexed to Thailand.
The next time Songkhla City was part of significant events in Thai history was in December 1941, when the Imperial Japanese Army landed there and in other Thai cities.
Taking in account these events, the presence of a significant Malay minority in the province – and in all of southern Thailand is clear. However, the cultural reality of Songkhla is more complex since a large and influential Chinese community exists.
Many immigrants from Guangdong and Fujian arrived here during the 18th century and became the major economic force in the province. In 1769, one of these families – named Na Songkhla - became the governor of the province for eight generations until 1901. The former Na Songkhla family house has become the Songkhla National Museum and can be visited in Songkhla City.
And Hat Yai?
During most of these events, Hat Yai was a very small village. However, when the railway crossed the area and the town became the junction connecting Bangkok, Songkhla and Malaysia, it began growing rapidly until it became the main city in the province.