Welcome to Hat Yai
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Hat Yai (หาดใหญ่) is the biggest city in southern Thailand and it has its own unique blend of cultures and traditions. It may not be the most beautiful city in Thailand but it can be a rewarding place to visit. Hat Yai is right on the border with Malaysia and this has a huge influence on the feel of the place. Many tourists visit the Hat Yai attractions; including a significant number from across the border. Some people complain that it can be more expensive here than other parts of Southern Thailand, but it is still possible to have a great time without spending too much money.
Many foreign visitors to Hat Yai are on their way to or from Malaysia. In the past there would be many people arriving here just to cross the border and come right back with a new thirty day visa. This isn’t as popular now though because the rules have changed and only fifteen day Thai visas are available at the Malaysian border for those hoping to extend their time in Thailand.
Hat Yai is actually a district of Songkhla province. Many people living here are of Chinese decent but there is also a sizeable Muslim population as well. You will frequently hear people speaking in Mandarin Chinese, and it is easy to imagine that you aren’t in Thailand at all. Hat Yai is a unique place that is full of surprises.
Hat Yai Arrivals and Departures
Hat Yai International Airport deals with flights from Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), and Singapore. In Bangkok it is possible to fly from then new airport (Suvarnabhumi) as well as the old airport (Don Muang). Hat Yai Airport can be found 9km outside of the city. This airport is can get quite busy during Hajj when local Muslims start their journey to Mecca from here; during Hajj the airport has direct flights to Saudi Arabia.
There is a train station in Hat Yai and it is possible to go north from here on the Thailand Southern Line to Bangkok or go south to Malaysia. Those coming from Bangkok will find regular trains coming from Hualamphong Train Station; there are rapid as well as ordinary trains. For maximum comfort it is probably best to get a night sleeper train; although you will usually need to book this in advance.
You will find many buses going to Hat Yai from Bangkok and all the Southern cities. You will also find buses going to Malaysian cities. If you are coming from elsewhere in Thailand then the best option is probably the government buses; these are regular and it is probably the cheapest option as well. There are different classes of government bus; rot air are the air conditioned buses and rot thammada are the ordinary buses. You will also find plenty of private companies providing buses that go to Hat Yai; you will be able to find out about these in any of the tourist destinations.
Getting Around Hat Yai
Rent a Car or Motorbike
There are not that many places renting motorbikes directly to tourists but if you ask in any hotel or guest house they should be able to direct you appropriately. It is probably good that these rented motorbikes are not widely advertised as Hat Yai is a busy city and traffic is often chaotic. If you want to rent a car then you can do this at Hat Yai airport or speak to your hotel staff.
You will see plenty of Tuk-Tuks whizzing around Hat Yai; these are often ideal for making it through traffic jams. You can just flag an empty Tuk-Tuk if you see one on the street; they will often be parked outside of hotels and in tourist areas. It is always advisable to negotiate the price before you commence your journey.
Like most other cities Hat Yai also has a regular taxi service. You will see these prowling the streets looking for business or you can have your hotel order one for you. If you are using a metered taxi you might sometimes have to ask that they turn on the meter; unless you are happy to negotiate a price.
What to See in Hat Yai
Wat Hat Yai Nai
Wat Hat Yai Nai (วัดหาดใหญ่ใน) is home to the third largest reclining statue on the planet. This is a really impressive sight and it is difficult to not feel at least a little in awe. This Buddha is 35 meters long and 15 meters tall. People travel from all over Thailand just to pay respect to this statue. As well as the reclining Buddha there are also a few other interesting statues and structures to see. The grounds of the temple can also be quite peaceful. This is a Hat Yai attraction that is well worth seeing.
Hat Yai Floating Market
The Klonghae Floating Market is only relatively new but it is already attracting a lot of tourists. It can be found in the Klonghae district of Hat Yai. You will find plenty of food on sale here from vendors in boats as well as other interesting items. It is also possible to rent a boat if you want to get closer to the action.
Ton Nga Chang Waterfall
Ton Nga Chang Waterfall is located about 25km away from Hat Yai city center. This is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Songkhla province and for good reason. If you arrive here following the rainy season you will find the fall at its most spectacular. The water fall is made up of seven stories and on one of these the water breaks up into two cascades; they look like twins and create a visually stunning effect.
Visa Run Hat Yai
The Malaysian border is actually 50km away from Hat Yai but many visitors will stay in the city before crossing or when they first arrive. It is possible to just cross the border to Padang Besar and just come right back again; this will give tourists an extra fifteen days in Thailand. Those who want a longer stay need to travel to Penang or Georgetown in Malaysia and apply for a tourist visa at the Thai consulate. There are minibuses that will take you to the Malaysian border and back again to Hat Yai; it is also possible to hire a taxi. There are also a good selection of cheap hotels in Hat Yai to choose from if you need to stay overnight.
What to Do in Hat Yai
A Night on the Town in Hat Yai
There are some good western style bars in Hat Yai as well as beer bars, disco bars, music venues, and karaoke bars. Many of these venues cater specifically for Malaysian visitors as many people arrive here from across the border to let their hair down. While there is a large Muslim population in Hat Yai it is still possible to find some Hat Yai girls looking to have a good time if that’s your thing.
There are some great deals to be found in Hat Yai. In fact there are many people who make the trip regularly from Malaysia to do some Hat Yai shopping and pick up some bargains. The city has plenty of markets where you can not only pick up cheap clothes and food items but also the latest electrical gadgets. Kim Yong market is probably the most famous in Hat Yai shopping venue and you will find a wide selection of goods on sale here. Sutisook market is similar to Kim Yong but on a smaller scale. You will also find plenty of large department stores where you can also get to spend your money.
Watch Bull Fighting
Hat Yai regularly plays host to bull fighting; this is on the first Saturday of each month. This is not like the type of bull fighting that occurs in places like Spain; instead it involves one bull fighting another bull. This can be a bit barbaric and best avoided if you don’t enjoy animal cruelty. This bull fighting is very popular locally though and a lot of money changes hands through illegal gambling.
Off the Beaten Track in Hat Yai
Hat Yai Municipal Park
Hat Yai Municipal Park is a natural oasis just 6km outside the city. This is a popular destination for the local people who like to come here on their day off. Inside the park there is a lake; you will usually find vendors here selling snacks. There are also a number of statues spread out around the park; including an interesting one of the laughing Buddha. If you are looking for a lot of excitement then you probably won’t find it at Hat Yai Municipal Park but it is a nice place to spend a peaceful few hours away from the city.
Emergencies in Hat Yai
There have been tensions in the past here between the Buddhist and Muslim communities in the local area. These incidents are fairly rare and shouldn’t really impact the tourist. Always walk in the opposite direction if you notice people protesting or see any type of violence. On a few occasions bombs have been detonated in the city and airport; this is in no way a regular occurrence though.
There is a bit of crime in Hat Yai; it is a border town and tends to attract all types of interesting characters. Most crime that does occur doesn’t tend to affect the tourist. If you do find that you are the victim of crime then you would be advised to deal with the tourist police. These can be contacted by calling 1155.
Highlights of Hat Yai
- Shopping for deals in a Hat Yai market or department store.
- Doing a visa run and spending a few hours (or longer) in a different country.
- Visit Ton Nga Chang Waterfall and get to see one of the most stunning natural beauties in Southern Thailand.
Where to Next?
- Visit Krabi province and get to see some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Nowhere else in Thailand has so many natural jewels including top tourist islands like Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lanta.
- Cross over into Malaysia and explore what this country has to offer. If you are really feeling adventurous then you can travel all the way down to Singapore.
- Travel up to Northern Thailand to Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Pai or Udon Thani and get to experience another part of the country with its own culture and way of life.