Songkhla and Penang: Two Aspects in Two Different Cities

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Songkhla is a province of southern Thailand, whereas Penang is a state in northern Malaysia. Although there is a border between Thailand and Malaysia nowadays, southern Thailand and Malaysia had been in the same kingdom before the colonial separated them and brought cultural diversity to Malaysia. Songkhla and Penang cultures have a lot of things in common, but they still have some differences.

There are significant similarities between Songkhla and Penang. The first obvious commonality is Chinese ethnicity. In July 2018, Penang is full of Peranakan or Penangite Chinese, an ethnic group of Chinese descendants, especially Hokkiens with 2⁄5 of Penang's population or 39.42%. There are also a lot of Chinese ethnic groups in Songkhla, for example, Teochew, Hokkien, Hainanese, Hakka, and Cantonese. Another commonality of these cities is their architecture. The Sino-Portuguese magnificent buildings with a façade of the upper floor with timber shutter windows, such as the Pinang Peranakan Mansion, are scattered all over Penang Island. In Songkhla, the Sino-Portuguese shown through historical buildings on Nakhon Nai, Nakhon Nok and Nang Ngam Road decorated with Corinthian, Stucco, and Ionic columns, for example, the Songkhla National Museum and Hub Ho Hin. In short, the majority of the population in both cities is Chinese decent. Although Penang has more Hokkian population than Songkhla, there is a large diversity of Chinese ethnic groups in Songkhla. Moreover, western colonial influences on both cities brought them a combination of architectural cultures.

Despite the cultural similarities, there are differences between the two cities. One of the cultural differences between Songkhla and Penang is languages. Although Bahasa Malay is currently the official language in Penang, English was the official language when Great Britain colonized it. Moreover, the Indian community uses Tamil, and Penangite Chinese speaks Hokkien. People in Songkhla mostly speak Thai in the Songkhla dialect or Singora dialect, while Thai-Chinese speaks both Thai and their ethnic Chinese. Furthermore, Songkhla Malays speak the Patani Malay language, and words are quite different from Bahasa Malay. Another cultural dissimilarity of these cities is the majority of religion. Penang has Islam as the official religion of the State of Penang. According to the Population and Housing Census, approximately 61.3% are Muslims, 19.8% are Buddhists, 9.2% are Christians, and the remaining 9.7% are others. On the other hand, the main religion in Songkhla is Buddhism. The statistic shows that the population in Songkhla approximately 64.71% practice Buddhism, 31.98% practice Islam, and 3.31% practice other religions, such as Christianity and Hinduism. In conclusion, the first dissimilarity between Songkhla and Penang is languages. Although Bahasa Malay is the only language that is rather similar to Patani Malay due to Malay descents in Songkhla, words in both languages are still different. Furthermore, the majority of the population’s religion is also dissimilar between the two cities. In Penang, the majority practice Islam, whereas Buddhism is practiced by most people in Songkhla.

In summary, Songkhla and Penang have similar cultures, but their cultures are still different. Chinese descendants tend to increase in Penang, and this will make people speak more Chinese languages. On the other hand, the rate of Thai-Chinese is increasing, but they tend to speak Thai more than their ancestors’ languages. Furthermore, Islam still is the major religion in Penang, whereas Buddhism is the majority in Songkhla. However, the certain commonality of these cities is the Sinno-Portuguese architecture, which is shown through their buildings. 

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