Hanging Out Like a Local in Hat Yai

The Kuan Yin shrine overlooking the Hat Yai metropolis
The Kuan Yin shrine overlooks the Hat Yai metropolis

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.

Lifelike wax monk
He looks real to me

Realistic wax likenesses sit casually in the foyer. At first I mistook the statues for real meditating monks, the wax figures are so lifelike.

 

Small cable car, huge views at the Hat Yai Municipal Park
Small cable car, huge views

 

 

I mistook the statues for real meditating monks, the wax figures are so lifelike. Click To Tweet

Cable car

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.

Elephants galore at the Four Faced Buddha Shrine, Hat Yai Municipal Park
Elephants galore

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

 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

 

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Slow Train from the City of Angels to the Southern Border

Eat, Shop, Play Pool

 

 

 

Slow Train from the City of Angels to the Southern Border

Our train ready to leave Bangkok Train Station
Getting ready to leave Hua Lamphon (Bangkok Train Station)

Bangkok Train Station to Hat Yai

After our stay in HCMC we flew to Bangkok. The other captain and I hadn’t been to Thailand in a while. I’d forgotten how exotic and friendly the Thais are. And how much I love their green curries. The other captain’s brother, an overseas travel virgin, was beginning to get the hang of SE Asian travel.

The plan was to check out the great city then take the overnight train from Bangkok to the southern border town of Hat Yai.

The city of angels

Bangkok is just the name people who don’t come from Thailand call this gritty city. Bangkok translates as “village of wild plums”. Not exactly sexy. Whereas Krung Thep (กรุงเทพ), as the Thais call it, means “city of angels”. The full name translates as:

The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city (of Ayutthaya) of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn.

I didn’t see any angels in the happy city. But I had fun chatting with some beautiful girls on Soi Cowboy when the other captain’s brother asked us to show him the bright lights.

Waterfront homes with gardens floating past
Waterfront homes with gardens floating past

River Cruise

One of the highlights of our stay was a river cruise. With a 150 baht ticket (about six Aussie dollars) you can get off and on Chao Phraya Tourist Boat  as often as you like at the eight piers along the route. You can stop to check out cathedrals, temples, museums, markets and the Grand Palace.

z-bangkok-temple

Along the river five star hotels stand next to falling apart local dwellings. Longtail boats fly past. Barges laden down to their water level lumber by. Islands of plants float past.

Along Bangkok's Chao Phraya River five star hotels stand next to falling apart local dwellings. Click To Tweet

Skytrain

We stayed in Sukhumvit, right on the Skytrain (Bangkok Mass Transit System or BTS) route, making it easy (and cheap) to get around. Our stop was On Nut, which was simple enough to remember. Our first destination was often Asok, which sounds like asshole when announced over the train PA system. Just so you know.

Slow train from Bangkok to Hat Yai

The slow train from Bangkok central to Hat Yai is a 16 hour trip, leaving at around 2pm.  A sleeper ticket is 1300 baht (1100 for the top bunk). It’s no secret I love train travel. We had no trouble getting our ticket at Bangkok Train Station for the next day. In fact our train was about 70% empty. Our party of three had a pair of two-berth cabins with a connecting door, and one empty berth.

The cabins are clean, simple and comfortable. You can have a delicious dinner set for 170 baht. I had the green chicken curry with jasmine rice, tom yum soup, fruit juice and fresh fruit platter. Yum!

I took this trip by myself when we first bought Yana de Lys.  I’d been to Pattaya to meet the previous owners and collect some boat stuff they were storing. I shared my cabin with a mountain of gear, including a brand new sail belonging to Yana.

Before the train even left Bangkok Train Station the steward had asked me if I fancy a beer for the trip. At the time I thought, “Sure a couple of cans of Chang might be nice for sunset”. Next thing I knew my basin was filled with ice and two king browns. Did I look like I was dying of thirst?

Bangkok Train Station encourages you to leave you booze here.
Bangkok Train Station encourages you to leave you booze here. So why are the bottles empty?

Well it’s different now. Technically you’re not supposed to drink on the train, but we were subtle about it and the staff didn’t seem to care anyway. (There are no smoking signs but the conductors have a puff at the end of the train.)

So if you fancy a beer for the journey it’s a good idea to stock up before you leave. And if you like em cold you can buy some ice from the convenience store at the train station.

Hat Yai

Around 6:00 the next morning we arrived in the… er exciting town of Hat Yai. I’ll tell you about it in my next blog. When I get around to it. (Slow travel = slow blog writing.)

Top Tips for Travellers

  1. Taxis can be very exxy in Bangkok, especially if you get stuck in the endless and frequent traffic jams. Take the Skytrain if you can.
  2. You can only buy alcohol in supermarkets and convenience stores from 1100-1400 and 1700-2400. It seems like a weird law, and some smaller shops may not enforce the rules. Try just acting like a dumb farang if you get the times wrong and you might be okay.
  3. If you’re planning on visiting any temples make sure you wear (or bring) clothes that cover your shoulders and knees and ideally your ankles too.

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