Hat Yai is the largest town in Songkhla Province and the fourth largest in Thailand. It is frequented by many travelers passing through from and to Malaysia, lending it a cosmopolitan feel that is unique to the area. It is well known as a travel hub, a medical centre and a shopping haven for Thais. Hat Yai’s appeal is different from Koh Samui’s or Phuket’s and it is an extremely popular tourist spot for Malaysians and Singaporeans meaning that prices are subsequently high and that you won’t see many western faces here except as transit visitors.
Downtown Hat Yai is fairly unremarkable and is compartmentalized into shopping are entertainment areas. Getting around town is fairly easy and cheap by motorcycle taxi and even cabs are relatively cheap when compared to other tourist-orientated destinations in Thailand. English is not as widely spoken here as in say, Bangkok, and you will need a phrasebook or an English-Thai dictionary.
What to Do in Hat Yai
Hat Yai Cable Car is a recent addition to Hat Yai's attractions scene; located in Hat Yai Municipal Park, it offers outstanding views over the city, and the two stations available for now (two more are planned to be built in a second phase) Thao Maha Phrom and Phra Buddha Mongkol Maharaj permit to discover a large four-face Brahma statue at the former, and a 20m tall Buddha statue at the latter.
Hat Yai’s floating market may not be up to Bangkok’s standards but it is an enjoyable experience nonetheless: try the grilled and fried insects! There is also a flea market that is known to stock everything, from lingerie to lollipops, and from jeans to juices. Just be prepared to bargain hard here as locals automatically hike the prices once they see a western face; likewise at the local night bazaar, another colourful attraction.
Wat Hat Yai Nai is the best local Buddhist temple to visit and it houses the third-largest reclining Buddha image in Thailand. If you happen to be in Hat Yai in November check out the local lantern festival during the beautiful Loy Krathong Festival.
Believe it or not, Hat Yai train station is a good place to go if you’re a shutterbug. Photogenic and steeped in the past, it’s worth checking out. There are no theme parks and water world activities here but hiking in the surrounding countryside is rewarding as is renting a bicycle or even a moped (about 200 baht a day – make sure NOT to leave your passport as guarantee – rather leave a pre-prepared photocopy).
About 26km outside town, the Ton Nga Chang Wildlife Sanctuary is a worthy place to visit and during the rainy season (May-November) its waterfall is definitely worth checking out. This being Thailand, a great way to spend an afternoon (or even a day) is to go to a spa and simply get spoiled rotten with facials, massages, packages and scrubs. Plus, you’ll look all the better for it!
Hat Yai Restaurants & Dining
As with most Thai towns, food plays an important part of everyday life in Hat Yai and sometimes the basics are the best so don’t be afraid to try out the simple yet delicious fare offered by street vendors and hawkers. Word has it for the best western breakfast, the Regency Hotel Coffee House & Restaurant is king of the hill, while for a quality Thai buffet lunch go to the Palm Court Restaurant.
According to visitors' feedbacks, one of the most popular restaurants in Hat Yai is Gäp's Garten, a German beer garden located on Thammanunchi Road not far from Tesco Lotus and Prince of Songkhla University. For Thai and western food in a relaxed atmosphere try Post Laser Disc it’s a pub that has been popular for over 30 years and so you can’t go wrong with that sort of longstanding reputation. Regarding Asian food, Thai, Chinese, Malay and Indian cuisines are very well represented in Hat Yai with venues such as Kan Eng Restaurant (Thai), Chokdee Dim Sum (Chinese), Namaste Hatyai (Indian) and Serai Restaurant (Malay, Halal).
Hat Yai Shopping
Hat Yai is and has always been the prime shopping and commercial hub of South Thailand. As mentioned, it has a few interesting local markets with a wide selection of goods for sale including handbags, knock-off (copy) goods, DVDs, electronics, ‘brand-name’ clothing, and footwear, not to mention fake designer jeans. Take a good look at the merchandise and compare prices before committing to a purchase and by all means bargain the price down as a western face invites escalated prices in this town.
As for ‘legitimate’ goods and the real stuff, Hat Yai hosts a great number of shopping malls and department stores such as Central Department Store Hat Yai (the latest arrived in 2013), Lee Garden Plaza (with its multiplex cinema, games arcade and Karaoke booths popular with Thai teenagers), Robinson Department Store (one of the longest-established large store in Hat Yai), two Tesco Lotus supermarkets, two Big C supercentres, and more; those are the places to score marked-down brand-name shirts and jeans as well as accessories. There always seems to be one promotion or another going on in department stores here. Hat Yai is also a good place to buy precious metals and jewelry and is the centre of gold trade for the region.
Getting Around Hat Yai
As previously mentioned, motorcycle taxis are easily flagged down and there are several locations where these dudes are to be found. Compared to Phuket and Samui, prices for taxis and motorcycle taxis are laughably cheap so don’t hesitate to use this service. Hat Yai has an airport and a large bus station as well as a train station so getting in and out is relatively painless as the town does not suffer from traffic jams (except when it rains heavily) and traffic is reasonably fluid.
Hat Yai Hotels - Where to Stay in Hat Yai
Hat Yai (aka Haad Yai) is considered something of a frontier town and indeed many visitors here are on the KL- Bangkok route and enjoy a night or two before moving on but many also come with one intention: Shopping. With street after street of glittering shops and colourful night markets, this city holds a lot to explore and discover. So why not check out some of the best hotels that Hat Yai has to offer so as to maximise your enjoyment quota while staying here?