Day and night, Hat Yai hosts countless carts and simple shophouse kitchens churning out khao man gai (chicken rice), dim sum, khao na ped (roasted duck with rice), Southern Thai curries, jok (rice porridge), roti, fresh fruit, bird’s nest soup and roasted chestnuts, among many others. It can all be scored in the vicinity of Kim Yong and Suntisook markets downtown, and at an excellent Saturday night market held in front of Odean Shopping Centre on Thumnoonvithi Road. You’ll also find a strong spread of food at Greenway night market, which requires a trip outside of downtown.
Often sold on the same street cart, two items ubiquitous in Hat Yai are Malay-influenced fried chicken (gai tort) and mango with sticky rice, providing a one-two punch for your savoury and sweet. To get your chicken on in more comfortable surrounds, head to Gai Tort Decha (or Daycha), a local institution serving crispy chicken with loads of flavour that you can order atop a mound of khao mok, Southern Thai biryani-style rice. The Muslim chefs also whip up crab with black pepper, spicy raw beef salad and several Southern Thai specialties served to tables under a large open-sided pavilion. Expect to pay 100 baht for fried chicken, drinks and a plate of som tam. Across the street is Ahaan Phi Suk Tap, a large Chinese-Thai eatery serving strictly vegetarian and vegan fare.
Another good Muslim-Thai option is Tamrab, a spacious eatery specialising in mataba, unleavened fried bread stuffed with beef and spices. They also do chaa yen (Thai iced tea), curries like gaeng panang and gaeng neua (beef curry) displayed in the back, and tempeh cooked several different ways, with prices starting at 30 baht.
In this vicinity you’ll also find Kip’s streetside wok sizzling up filling Chinese-Malay noodle dishes like char kuaytiao, hokkien mee and hokkien char for 50 baht. Pile on the chilli sauce and be transported to Penang.
Going strong for more than four decades, Koh Tii Ochaa sets a high bar for Hat Yai’s many no-frills eateries run by Chinese-Thai families. The utilitarian tables fill up from dawn to early afternoon with diners craving bak kut-te, a Chinese-style “meatbone tea” soup featuring pork ribs, offal, congealed chicken blood and mushrooms in a bold broth that goes heavy on the black soy sauce. If that’s more than you can handle breakfast, opt for a simpler plate of khao muu daeng (roasted “red pork” with rice) or khao man gai. Prices start at 40 baht, pots of Chinese tea are free and some staffers speak clear English.
Several restaurants draw travellers and locals on Thumnoonvithi Road in the heart of town, including Sor Hueng 3 with its roundtables stretching inside a large dining area. The Chinese-Thai joint serves all sorts of ahaan sang tham (“made to order”) dishes like stir-fried clams with Thai basil and pak buung fai daeng (stir-fried morning glory) eaten with khao tom (rice soup) or steamed rice. Otherwise you can select from pre-prepared dishes like stir-fried aubergine and stir-fried soft tofu with ground pork, with a big plate of food setting you back just 50 baht or so.
A few doors down from Sor Hueng 3 is Dao Thiam, a more traveller-oriented spot with air-con and loads of foreign currencies joining vintage advertisements on the walls. Open since 1959, the chefs do a decent job with Southern Thai dishes like pad kapi sator (shrimp paste stir fry with stink beans) and gai tom kumin (chicken soup with fresh cumin) along with plenty of standard Thai dishes like pad Thai, tom yum and green curry. Staff speaks some English and prices start at 60 baht.
Thumnoonvithi is also the place for nightlife, which gets a tad seedy at some spots but not to the extent of, say, Patong on Phuket or Chaweng on Ko Samui. The oddly named Post Laser Disc and The Swan both offer British-style pub vibes with fish and chips and burgers that you can wash down with a frothy Karlsberg or Guinness. The nearby Sin Tonic appeared to be a better option for cocktails, while Homeless Bar and Grill has more of a hipster Thai vibe just north of Thumnoonvithi on Soi Pracharom.
Dao Thiam: 79/3 Thumnoonvithi Rd (next to The Pubb); open 07:00–20:00.
Gai Tort Decha: Sheutit Rd (one block east of Saeng Chan Rd); open daily 11:00–21:30; T: (081) 098 3751; (087) 289 5008.
Greenway night market: Just off Route 407 in East Hat Yai; open Wed–Sun 17:00–22:00.
Kip’s Hokkien Mee: Corner of Niphat Uthit 2 Rd and Preedarom Rd (just south of Red Planet Hotel); open 07:00-14:30; T: (092) 894 6599.
Koh Tii Ochaa: 134-136 Niphat Uthit 3 Rd (across from D-One Hotel); open daily 04:30–14:00; T: (074) 234 243; (081) 896 1564.
Namaste: Niphat Uthit 1 Rd (just north of Niyomrat Rd); open Mon–Sat 08:30–20:00; T: (074) 354 132 ; (081) 375 7099.
Sor Hueng 3: 79/16 Thumnoonvithi Rd; open 16:00–02:00.
Tamrab Muslim: Corner of Niphat Uthit 1 Rd and Niyomrat Rd; open for lunch and dinner.
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.