Located in the northern part of Songkhla province, Hat Yai is the commercial and transportation hub of southern Thailand. The city's relative prosperity is reflected in the many high-rise hotels and commercial towers in the central district, which is the main area travellers are likely to visit. Though not a tourist destination per se – most travellers come through on their way to other parts of Thailand – Hat Yai does have a quite a bit to offer the traveller who stays a few days.
The central district has department stores, markets and shops that cater to both Thais and Malaysian visitors. The district is bordered to the west by the train station, to the east by the canal and north and south by Supasarnrangsan and Sripoovanart roads respectively. There is plenty of accommodation in Hat Yai, including dozens of options, from backpacker dorm rooms at Cathay House to five-star elegance at Centara Hotel.
Though not renowned as a culinary centre, Hat Yai has a diverse eating scene. Standard noodle shops and hawker stands cater to the budget conscious, while excellent Chinese, Malaysian and Thai restaurants are around for those with a bit more cash to spend, and you'll also find plenty of Western offerings too. For the late evening crowd, a variety nightspots are on offer, including expat-oriented pubs and night clubs plus karaoke bars popular with locals.
Kimyong, Yongdee and Suntisuk markets are the more traditional places Thais shop outside of the big department stores and all are within easy walking distance of the central district hotels and guesthouses. Most of the more touristy sights are located outside of the central area, from the Sleeping Buddha at Wat Hat Yai Nai to the expansive Hat Yai Municipal Park and Kor Hong Mountain, with its spectacular vista of Hat Yai and its surrounds. With a little planning and negotiation for transportation, these sights offer more of an in-depth introduction to the local culture and traditions of not only Hat Yai but of the province as a whole.
For anyone travelling through southern Thailand, Hat Yai is a thriving city that is well worth a day or so of exploration.
The centre of Hat Yai has an abundance of budget hotels as well as plenty of cheap eats and is the most convenient area for your base camp. Unfortunately the key sights are spread out around town and will require some means of transportation unless you happen to enjoy walking great distances. Depending on time and budget you may want to cluster your sightseeing outings so you can hire a driver for several hours – just getting dropped off does not guarantee there will be anyone passing by later to pick you up.
The easiest landmark to remember and navigate from is the Hat Yai train station. From the train station Thamanoonvithee Road bisects the centre as it runs east to the main canal.
To the north is the main shopping district including the large Kim Yong Market and the smaller Yong Dee, Suntisuk and Phaeng Thong markets. You will find anything and everything for sale there from 'name brand' sunglasses to 'name brand' watches and electronics. They also have plenty of food stalls. Most of the major banks are located in this area with ATMs or money changing available.
Further to the north is the large local market off of Phetkasen Road just to the west of the clock tower. You will find plenty of fresh fruits and veggies as well as various meats – colourful is an understatement. And at night Suphasarnrangsan Road comes to life with a slew of hawkers selling just about everything in addition to street food.
Travelling south of Thamanoonvithee Road to Sripoovanart Road you will find many high-rise hotels, the Tourist Information Centre and the Tourist Police Station.
The main tourism office in Hat Yai is located just off the south end of Niphat Uthit 3 Road and adjacent to the Tourist Police Station. Though most of the pamphlets and brochures are published in Thai they do have available some good maps with sights and points of interest for Hat Yai and Songkhla in both Thai and English. Staff on duty speak English and we found them enthusiastic about assisting in planning travels through the Songkhla region.
The Miami-style Florida Hotel stands as a sentinel to this southern boundary of the central district and is also a visible landmark for new arrivals. The bus station is southeast of Sripoovanart Road but you may not want to walk in that general area after sunset unless you have a keen sense of direction, because it's not well lit.
An abundance of hotels, restaurants and coffee shops offer free WiFi to their customers and many are not secured with a password. There are also few Internet outlets that have desktop facilities for those not carrying a laptop or smart phone. Two are located in the travel agencies directly across from the train station.
Several banks are located within the central part of Hat Yai just a short walk from the train station and most have ATM machines just outside their doors. In addition to the multitude of banks available for money changing, there are money changers along the main road outside of the train station. A few hotels also have 'official' money changing outlets, such as Park Hotel and Yong Dee Hotel.
The main point of entry for Hat Yai is at the Hat Yai International Airport. Visas can be renewed here and if you arrive by plane you'll receive a visa-free stamp or a visa on arrival, depending on nationality.
Useful contact details include
Tourism Authority of Thailand, Southern Office Region 1 1/1 Soi 2 Niphat Uthit 3 Road, Hat Yai. T: (074) 243 747;(074) 238 518;
Cathay Tour Hat Yai (at Cathay Guesthouse) 93/1 Niphat Uthit 2 Road, Hat Yai. T: (089) 466 2591;(074) 232 202
K.S.T. Travel (across from King's Hotel) 113 Niphat-Utit 1 Road, Hat Yai. T: (074) 354 551. F: (074) 245 5700
Tourism Police Hat Yai On the corner of Niphat Uthit 3 Road at Sripoovanart Road. (next to Thailand Tourism Office) T: (074) 246 733, 1155
Bangkok Hat Yai Hospital (private) 75 Soi 15 Phetkasem, Hat Yai. T: (074) 272 800 http://www.bangkokhatyai.com/th/index.php
Hat Yai Hospital (public) 182 Ratthakan Rd, Hat Yai. T: (074) 230 800-4 http://www.hatyaihospital.go.th/
By Vanessa Workman .