Why Hat Yai? Is Hat Yai in Thailand’s Songkla province near the Malaysian border on anyone’s bucket list?
The 2006, 2007 and 2014 bombings are still evident in the strict security measures as you go into places like the Central Festival shopping centre. A shopping mecca and tourist magnet for Malaysians and Singaporeans, Hat Yai was at the end of our train trip from Bangkok. You can continue on the train south to Butterworth in Malaysia, but we had other plans.Is Hat Yai in Thailand’s Songkla province on anyone's bucket list? Click To Tweet
Early morning arrival in Hat Yai
After the 16 hour overnight train trip from Bangkok we finally arrived in Hat Yai at 6 am. The tuk tuk drivers outside the train station were vying for our trade, offering ridiculously outrageous prices for the 20 minute ride to our hotel. We walked away after some good natured bargaining.
Then the tuk tuk drivers had a chat among themselves and decided on a designated driver to offer the ride for about a third of their original offer.
Would we be allowed to check in early? We weren’t ready to wander the streets, we were ready for some chill time in our rooms. The Smart Hotel had just opened and the front office people were still trying to figure out how everything worked. The upside was the hotel was almost empty and they were happy for us to move in early.
All the staff were very friendly and accommodating. Especially at first when we had to ask them for the kettle and coffee making stuff. Which I swear they collected from the other just-vacated rooms. I guess they were still deciding how many kettles they needed to buy.
After catching our breath with that welcome chill time in our lovely clean rooms, we were ready to tackle Hat Yai.
How to act like a local in Hat Yai
The Hat Yai Municipal Park is a kind of a playground for the locals. The swimming pools near the entrance were packed. We watched kids cavorting around in the water while we at ate pad thai from the food stalls.
After that we spent quality time at the top of the hill, exploring the two temples and riding the cable car.
Kuan Yin Shrine
There’s a bus to take you from the foot of the hill to the Kuan Yin Shrine with the tallest standing Buddha in southern Thailand overlooking the Hat Yai metropolis and surrounding area.
Realistic wax likenesses sit casually in the foyer. At first I mistook the statues for real meditating monks, the wax figures are so lifelike.
I mistook the statues for real meditating monks, the wax figures are so lifelike. Click To Tweet
The itty bitty cable car takes just two and a half minutes to cover the 525 meters from the Kuan Yin Shrine to the Elephant Temple or Four-Faced Brahma Shrine. But the views are spectacular all the way.
Four-Faced Brahma Shrine
There are golden elephants galore around this shrine. The Four-Faced Buddha simultaneously faces north, east, south and west. Surrounded by elephants of course.
We took the bus back down the hill, but kind of regretted we didn’t walk. By then we’d run out of time to check out the Science and Astronomy Centre about halfway down the hill.
Top Tips for Travellers
- Local buses are cheap saving you long walks and expensive taxi fares. There’s a regular local bus running along the main drag leading to the Municipal Park. Just hang with the locals at the bus stop, get on and off anywhere and pay the driver what the locals are paying. It felt like a donation system, sort of. Once we didn’t have any small notes but the driver smiled happily when we piled out all our pocket change into his hand.
- Choose the most recently opened hotels for your stay. You’ll get a clean room with a modern TV, aircon that works and toilets that flush reliably (you hope). For the same price the older hotels can be dirty and smelly, with last century televisions and equipment that doesn’t work as well as it did in the eighties.
- The locals are infamous for their habit of hiking prices up for tourists. Take note of what the locals pay for their bowl of tom yum while you’re savouring yours, then simply offer the same amount when you go to pay. This worked for us some of the time. But keep your first world wallet in perspective: the difference is probably petty cash in your currency.