Things To Do - Page 1

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Small waterfall and swimming hole near Hat Yai

Small waterfall and swimming hole near Hat Yai

 

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Thai Language and Culture Tip

Rather than asking, "How are you?" Thais ask if you have eaten yet. "Gin kaaw reu yung?" or, to be more formal, "Taan kaaw reu yung?". You can answer by saying, "Gin lair-o," or, "Taan lair-o,". For politeness add "krup" on the end if you are male or "ka" if you are female.

Activities and Things To Do in Hat Yai - Page 1

Introduction

I can't think of a worse way to experience somewhere new than by following a list of 'Things To Do'. Do you really just want to traipse around a list of temples and museums? The best thing to do is just put on some comfortable footwear and walk. The little things you see and the people you meet are far more interesting than the temples the guide books recommend that are the same as every other temple in Thailand.

Of course, it depends what kind of person you are and what interests you. We are all different. I like to see normal people in their everyday lives - the market vendors at work; the seamstresses operating their sewing machines on a table set up on the roadside; the local Chinese performing ancestor worship rituals; monks doing their alms rounds, etc.

Hat Yai, like many Thai towns and cities, offers stark contrasts. The 'First World' face is that of Lee Gardens Plaza with its international chain restaurants, boutiques and multi-screen cinema. This is what the tourists like and this is the image Hat Yai likes to promote of itself.

Just across the railways tracks from the fresh market though, life couldn't be any more different. Large shanty areas exist with many local people living in flimsy wooden dwellings covered with corrugated iron roofs.

The people living there see very little of the tourist money coming into town and life is a real struggle. This is 'Third World' Hat Yai. It is just a couple of kilometres away from Lee Gardens Plaza but a million miles away in economic terms.

In my suggestions below I will include activities in Hat Yai as well as short trips to nearby places, sometimes in neighbouring provinces. Hat Yai is the main transportation hub in southern Thailand which makes travelling to anywhere else very easy.

I will also include some events that only occur once a year just in case you happen to be in town while one of these events is taking place.

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Click for more details about Preuksa Spa in Hat Yai

Markets

Reclining Buddha, Yo island, Songkhla - Click for larger image I've included some markets on this page instead of putting them in the 'Shopping' section. Why? Because they're fun to walk around but for serious shopping I would recommend one of the large department stores.

The department stores sell good quality products at fixed prices and offer after-sales service. If you leave Thailand by plane you can even get some tax back at the airport. The department stores have permanent sales and their goods are often cheaper than the street markets. Hat Yai municipal park - Click for larger image

If you buy something at a market and have a problem don't expect to get anything exchanged, and certainly don't expect to get a refund.

As a tourist activity, Thai markets are fun and they give a good insight into local Thai life but beware of any purchases you make and don't expect too much in the way of aftersales service.

Saying that, if you are shrewd and know what you are buying, you can get bargains at the market as well.

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Tourist Authority Of Thailand (TAT)
Tourist Authority Of Thailand (TAT) office in Hat Yai - Click for larger image
Address: 1/1 Soi 2 Niphat Uthit 3 Road, Hat Yai, Songkhla, 90110
Map: Map 3
Telephone: +66 (0)74 243747, 238518
Fax: +66 (0)74 245986
Web Site: songkhlatourism.org
E-mail: tathatyai@tat.or.th

Latitude: N 06° 59' 58.0" (N 06° 59.966')

Longitude: E 100° 28' 19.0" (E 100° 28.317')

Google Maps: Street Map or Satellite View

Comments: For help with planning activities don't forget the TAT, which has an office in Hat Yai. There are staff on hand to provide information and they have a selection of useful printed material. You can pick up brochures for hotels and excursions, timetables for trains, buses and planes and discount tickets for local shopping. They can help with queries related to Hat Yai and the surrounding area, and other parts of Thailand for onward travel.

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Aerobics
Aerobics session in Hat Yai - Click for larger image
Comments: Outdoor aerobics sessions are popular in Hat Yai. They are mainly attended by women but a few men turn up occasionally as well. The gyrations of an instructor on a raised stage are watched and copied by hundreds of keep-fit fans to the incessant drum machine beat of Euro-disco music.

You know the songs. They either cover an old song or have new songs with juvenile lyrics about 'cheeky girls' or something. The drum machine beat sounds exactly the same on each song and the female vocalist sounds like 'The Chipmunks' from 30 years ago. They are probably mixed in a home studio in Germany somewhere by a 50 year-old guy called Hermann who has a moustache, permed hair, wears flairs and worships Boney M.

I often wondered where the market was for this rubbish and now I know. The Thais love it. The photo was taken at probably the largest aerobics venue in Hat Yai on the corner of Saeng Sri and Suphasarnrangsan roads. See Map 2. Evening sessions start at 6pm and last for about an hour. There are also sessions in the morning which I think start at 05:30am but I am never awake then.

Sessions are open to anyone and everyone and cost just Bt5. The main exercises are done on your feet but at the end some floor exercises are covered and require a mat. The girls bring along woven beach-style mats for this purpose.

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Ballroom Dancing)
Rasadee School of Dancing, Hat Yai - Click for larger image
Address: 43/26-27 Tanrattanakorn Road, Hat Yai, Songkhla, 90110
Map: Map 4
Telephone: +66 (0)74 247323
Mobile: +66 (0)81 542 9963, +66 (0)86 597 7045
E-mail: rasadee@hotmail.com

Comments: Ballroom dancing is popular with some Asian people. If you live in Bangkok you can go along to Lumpini Park on a Sunday morning to get your Foxtrot and Tango fix.

If you're in Hat Yai and would like to try, but you're not very good, you could go along to the Rasadee School of Dancing for some lessons.

The school is located on the corner just opposite the Wiangpin hotel.

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Birdwatching
Koo Kuut Waterfowl Park near Hat Yai - Click for larger image

Blue-winged Pitta, Prince of Songkla University, Hat Yai - Click for larger image

Comments: Thailand has a lot of resident and migrant birds. If you are the type of person that notices birds, you will see some quite exotic avian species even in quite heavily populated areas of Hat Yai.

Each May you can see lots of White-throated Kingfishers perched on the electricity cables outside Tesco Lotus. Presumably, this is where they come to breed at that time of the year.

Colourful sunbirds feed from flowering bushes around town, and egrets and bitterns patrol Hat Yai's klongs, swooping down to snag fish.

The grounds in the Prince of Songkla University are home to quite a few species of birds. I was fortunate one day to spot a Blue-winged Pitta there - the only one I have ever seen.

However, birdwatching in central Hat Yai is rather hit-and-miss and nothing can be guaranteed.

If you are interested in seeing birds I would recommend venturing into Phattalung province (next to Songkhla), and particularly Thale Noi. Phattalung is full of birds.

If visiting Thale Noi, an overnight stay is recommended so that you can get out early the following morning. If this isn't possible, an alternative might be to visit Koo Kuut Waterfowl Park.

Koo Kuut is in Songkhla province near Sathing Phra district. If you drive over Ko Yo and take the main road to Nakhon Sri Thammarat, it is down a small road on the left. It is quite well signposted and a trip from Hat Yai there can be done easily in half a day.

You need a car though. You could probably get there taking buses and motorbike taxis but it could be a difficult journey.

There isn't much at the visitor centre but f you take a boat out on to the water there are a lot of birds. This location doesn't have all the lotus flowers that Thale Noi has, and therefore isn't as attractive, but the birdwatching there can be quite rewarding.

There are very few tourists, but far more purple herons and Brahminy kites than I have ever seen at Thale Noi.

As usual, the official transliteration of the name is awful and the way it is rendered in English is unintelligible to Thais. If you try, koo (rhyming with 'you') and kuut (rhyming with 'put') you might stand a better chance of being understood.

For more information and photos see my Nature page.

Here are some more Birds of Thailand that I have seen.

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Borripat Waterfall
Borripat Waterfall - Click for larger image
Address: 1/1 Soi 2 Niphat Uthit 3 Road, Hat Yai, Songkhla, 90110
Map: Map 3
Telephone: +66 (0)74 243747, 238518
Fax: +66 (0)74 245986
Web Site: songkhlatourism.org
E-mail: tathatyai@tat.or.th

Latitude: N 06° 59' 39.4" (N 06° 59.657')

Longitude: E 100° 08' 58.1" (E 100° 08.969')

Google Maps: Street Map or Satellite View

Comments: There are a number of small waterfalls just outside of Hat Yai as you head towards Rattaphum district and then onwards to Satun province.

The first and best-known is Tone Nga Chang. Next is Tone Plew. If you keep driving you will start seeing signs to Borripat Waterfall. Tone Nga Chang tends to get quite crowded on weekends and holidays, but the waterfalls further out are a lot quieter.

There are signs to local waterfalls all over Thailand. Quite frankly, the vast majority aren't worth getting too excited about. They aren't the Angel Falls or Niagara. Nevertheless, the areas they are located in are quiet and peaceful and offer a welcome respite to the incessant roar of motorbikes and pickup trucks racing around the streets that are ever-present in urban Thailand.

The waterfalls are generally quite small and sometimes there is only a trickle of water. There are normally small swimming holes where you can take a swim, but do so at your own risk. These aren't managed swimming pools with safety features and life guards. There are rocks and stones, and these are normally quite slippery.

The other thing to note is that most areas in which waterfalls are located have been designated as national parks. That's fine because with national park status the areas should be protected. On the other hand, this also means that a charge is made to enter them.

This wouldn't be a problem if Thailand was like the rest of the world and charged everyone the same entrance fee. Thailand isn't like the rest of the world in many respects. Racial discrimination is alive and well in the country and Thais like to give themselves an advantage on home soil. Thais are charged Bt20 and foreigners are charged ten times as much. Just a small difference.

Attempts are normally made to hide this disgusting and shameful practice from the vast majority of foreigners (who can't read Thai) by writing the Thai entrance fee in Thai using Thai numerals. Other countries should adopt a similar practice for visiting Thais just to see how Thais like it.

And before you start bleating about how poor Thais are, this certainly isn't the case. There are plenty of rich Thais around - just look at the cars being driven on Thai roads. With the European and North American economies in such a mess, it is Westerners who are beginning to suffer financially but any Westerners still wealthy enough to be able to afford a trip to Thailand find themselves having to pay far more for things in Thailand than locals.

A Thai billionaire arriving in his top of the range Mercedes Benz pays Bt20, but the poorest, scruffiest farang kee nok backpacker still has to pay Bt200.

The dual pricing policy also applies to poorly paid foreign English teachers living in Thailand (who pay taxes to the Thai government) and retirees trying to get by on small pensions who have already suffered big drops in their incomes in recent years as a result of the declining exchange rate.

Rant over.

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Bullfighting
Bullfighting in Hat Yai - Click for larger image
Comments: The image of two bulls locking horns as they compete against each other in a duel of strength is a powerful piece of southern Thai symbolism. It also gives the Thais an opportunity to take part in one of their favourite leisure activities - gambling.

More details and photos, plus accounts of my visits, can be found on my Bullfighting page.

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Cable Car
The Hat Yai cable car - Click for larger image
Comments: This project has been talked about for years and the Hat Yai cable car finally opened to the public on 5th December 2011. The 5th December is an auspicious day in Thailand as it is the King's birthday.

It is located in the municipal park and joins two temple sites on Kor Hong hill.

Let's start with the positives.

It's a fun ride and you get some great views. You can see Songkhla Lake and the Songkhla central mosque quite easily. The temples on Kor Hong hill consist of three sites. There is a temple that seems to be dedicated to elephants, a Chinese temple, and the site where the huge golden Buddha image is located. The cable car runs from the elephant temple to the golden Buddha.

Reassuringly, it was constructed by the Swiss-Austrian Doppelmayr Garaventa Group. With any piece of engineering like this, you want it to be made in Germany, Austria or Switzerland. Safety, therefore, shouldn't be a concern.

I was impressed, but at the same time I was disappointed with a few things.

The temples aren't really accessible by foot. You can walk but it is a very tough climb for most normal people. I was hoping that the cable car would fix this problem. It doesn't. You still need to drive quite a long way up the hill to get to the cable car station.

Considering the fact that you have to drive up the hill, the car park at the elephant temple is miniscule. There is room for less than a dozen cars. If there are no spaces it is highly inconvenient. If you go when there are a lot of people you will be better off parking at the golden Buddha station. If you drive up yourself, you need to ensure that your car is in good shape - especially the brakes. The road is steep and there are some very sharp bends.

My final disappointment is something that really irritates me about Thailand. Dual pricing.

Everywhere you go in Thailand, there is one price for the locals and another for foreigners. The price for foreigners can be as much as ten times the Thai price. At the Hat Yai cable car it is double. Thais pay Bt100 and foreigners pay Bt200.

This practice infuriates me to the extent that if they insist I pay the foreigner price I simply walk away. I have lived in Thailand for a long time and while I was working I paid Thai taxes. If someone were to take this issue to an international court of justice you would probably find it is illegal but it is widespread in Thailand.

At most places the Thai price is disguised to foreigners by writing the prices using Thai numbers, which few foreigners can read. The prices aren't disguised at the Hat Yai cable car but it is still disgusting.

I made my usual protest - all in Thai - and paid the Thai price. I often get the Thai price by speaking in Thai and/or showing my Thai driving licence. On some occasions I don't, in which case I organise my own personal boycott and walk away. If every foreigner in Thailand did this, the Thais might reconsider this disgusting racist practice.

Some stupid foreigners think it is OK because "All Thais are poor and all foreigners are rich." This view is extremely naive. If you are in Thailand look around at some of the houses and look at the foreign cars that many Thais drive. There are lots of very wealthy Thais, and many foreigners are feeling quite poor now because of the economic woes in the West.

The ticket (whatever price you pay) is for a return trip, so you can get back to where you started from. If you go at the weekend or on a public holiday when there are lots of people, you may have to wait a while. There are just two cable cars and each holds only eight people.

Update June 2012 There is now a free trolley bus service operating between the Ice Dome (near the entrance of the park) and the cable car station. This will be very useful for people arriving at the park who don't have their own transport.

It's just a shame that a cable car station wasn't built near to the entrance of the park in the first place.

The Hat Yai cable car - Click for larger image
The Hat Yai cable car - Click for larger image
The Hat Yai cable car - Click for larger image

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Elephant Trekking
Elephant trekking in Hat Yai - Click for larger image

Elephant trekking in Hat Yai - Click for larger image

Address: Karnchanawanich Road between Hat Yai and Songkhla
Map: Map 2
Mobile: +66 (0)84 540 6459, +66 (0)86 952 4126, +66 (0)87 629 3184
Web Site: Elephant Camp Hat Yai

Latitude: N 07° 03' 23.2" (N 07° 03.387')

Longitude: E 100° 30' 50.5" (E 100° 30.842')

Google Maps: Street Map or Satellite View

Comments: Elephant trekking trips are commonplace in Thai tourist areas that attract farang tourists, but Hat Yai attracts mainly tourists from Malaysia and Singapore and they have very different tastes.

Malaysian tourists like to eat seafood, buy cheap non-perishable food, and take advantage of Hat Yai's many cheap massage shops ... among other things.

Farang tourists like to buy baggy Chinese fisherman pants, fake watches, ethnic shoulder bags, and poor quality Indian tailoring. Activity-wise they like Thai cooking classes, Thai massage classes, meditation retreats, northern hilltribe treks, and elephant trekking.

The people working in Thailand's tourist industry know their customers very well and provide all the tourist cliches. This applies to Hat Yai just as much as anywhere else.

For a long time there weren't any elephant trekking facilities in the area until Chang Puak Camp opened in May 2012.

It's in the early stages at the moment (July 2012) and still undergoing development. Elephant treks take about 30 minutes and cost Bt500. As well as getting more elephants, there are also plans to open an archery centre and an All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) off-road track.

To find the camp, take the old route to Songkhla (Karnchanawanich Road) from Hat Yai. Go past Kor Hong golf course, Hat Yai technical college and the municipal park (all on the right) and you will see a big sign at the entrance to the camp, which is also on the right.

The range of hills behind the park is quite attractive and the environment is much better for the elephants. One of the sad sights in Hat Yai is seeing owners walking their elephants around town selling food to tourists for the unfortunate pachyderms to eat.

Busy urban environments such as Hat Yai are not good places for elephants to be. They're much happier in the forests and jungles.

The camp is open from 8am until 5pm. One of the staff, named Ju, who greets visitors speaks reasonable English so you shouldn't have a problem if you can't speak Thai.

I haven't been for a trek myself yet, but it looks like quite good fun.

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Foot Massage
Foot massage in Hat Yai - Click for larger image

Foot massage at Hat Yai municipal park - Click for larger image

Foot massage in Songkhla - Click for larger image

Comments: In some parts of central Hat Yai every other shop is a foot massage place. Some shops also offer hair cuts and facial treatments but a big part of their revenue is from foot massage. This is very popular with Chinese Malaysian tourists.

It can be a pleasant experience although I suspect there is little medical benefit. Most shops have big reflex charts outside and anatomical diagrams inside but hardly any of the 'masseuses' understand anything about reflexology or reflex points.

Don't expect it to be a proper reflexology session but, nonetheless, it can be a pleasant experience.

The massage shop owners in town are a close-knit community and stick together operating a cartel system. Prices are therefore fixed. The price used to be Bt250 for one hour, but it may be higher these days.

When you consider that two hours of ordinary Thai massage can be had for Bt200, and that many Thais only earn about Bt150 a day, this seems expensive.

It's partly price fixing but also because renting shops in the centre of Hat Yai's tourist district around Lee Gardens is very expensive - up to Bt70,000 a month.

Apart from the massage shops in the central Hat Yai tourist area, you can get a foot massage at many other places in Hat Yai and the surrounding areas. I have seen masseuses at the Songkhla Sunday market and at other markets. Because the masseuses at these places don't have high overheads, they are a lot cheaper. Some only charge Bt100.

The photo of the man having a foot massage was taken at Hat Yai municipal park and the other photo was taken at Songkhla Sunday market.

Since writing this, I have added a separate section about massage in Hat Yai.

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Fresh Market
Fresh market in Hat Yai - Click for larger image
Comments: The fresh market (Map 1) shouldn't be missed. It's a real piece of authentic Thailand and a stark contrast to Lee Gardens Plaza. If Lee Gardens Plaza is first world Thailand then the fresh market is definitely third world Thailand.

It's not for the squeamish though. A smell hangs in the air that I have only ever smelt at Thai fresh markets and some of the sights are quite gut churning. Pigs' heads, internal organs and intestines lie out in the open covered with flies alongside dead chickens and ducks. None of the meat is refrigerated or covered.

Most of the fish and shellfish aren't alive but air-breathing catfish squirm around in buckets until they are unceremoniously put on a wooden board to have their heads chopped off.

Old women sit on the pavement selling fruit, meat and fish. The atmosphere is quite frenetic and on very hot days the sights and smells can be overwhelming. The market is best visited in the early morning.

The fresh market sprawls along Rattakarn and Montri roads, going back as far as the railway track.

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Gim Yong Market
Gim Yong street market, Hat Yai - Click for larger image

Inside Gim Yong market, Hat Yai - Click for larger image

Address: Karnchanawanich Road between Hat Yai and Songkhla
Map: Map 2
Mobile: +66 (0)84 540 6459, +66 (0)86 952 4126, +66 (0)87 629 3184
Web Site: Elephant Camp Hat Yai

Latitude: N 07° 00' 27.9" (N 07° 00.466')

Longitude: E 100° 28' 11.2" (E 100° 28.187')

Google Maps: Street Map or Satellite View

Comments: Gim Yong market (Map 3) is the nearest authentic Thai street market to central Hat Yai and it is within easy walking distance of Lee Gardens Plaza. Part of it is on the street and part of it is housed indoors. Many of the market traders are Muslim, whereas they used to be Chinese.

You will find clothes, ready cooked food, tinned and dried food, fruit, hot chestnuts, groceries, toiletries, cheap electronics, children's toys, watches, umbrellas and household items. There is also a wet market inside.

It's a busy place that is fun to walk around. The fruit stalls outside have prices displayed and the food stalls have fixed prices but when buying anything else you should attempt to haggle.

It is actually very similar to Suntisuk market but doesn't have quite the amount of pirated movies, music and software that Suntisuk has.

Venerable Hat Yai market struggles on

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Golf
Playing golf in Hat Yai - Click for larger image
Comments: Golf is becoming increasingly popular in Asia; even though often this is for reasons of status rather than simply for the enjoyment of playing the game.

Upwardly mobile Thais like to play, and quite a few Malaysians and Singaporeans also schedule a round of golf into their Hat Yai trip. Larger hotels and travel agents will be able to make arrangements if you don't want to do it yourself.

If you prefer to contact the course directly, here are some details:

Kor Hong Golf Club
Tel. 074 219050-9; Mobile 081 277 1202

Thong Yai Golf Course
Tel. 074 323761

Southern Hills Golf and Country Club
Tel. 074 343560-2; Mobile 081 609 3385

Hat Yai Resort and Golf Club
Tel. 074 434770-3

A reader who is familiar with playing golf in Hat Yai very kind provided an update on the current state of courses in the area. See: Golf Courses in Hat Yai

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Greenway Market
Greenway market - Click for larger image
Comments: The sign at Greenway market (Map 4) decribes it (in English) as a 'Flea Market'. My dictionary defines this as 'a usually open market selling secondhand articles and antiques' so I guess that is just about correct.

There are lots of secondhand articles ranging from shoes, bags and clothes to magazines, toys and old office equipment. You can also find new goods and handicrafts (such as hand-made photo frames and postcards, etc.), food, and a few services such as getting photos taken and printed.

It runs at the same time - Thursday to Sunday evenings - and is close to the night market near the bus station so walking between the two markets is very easy. The combination of these two markets is the closest you will get in Hat Yai to Jatujak in Bangkok or Camden in London but on a much smaller scale with much less choice.

From central Hat Yai you can get there by catching any sawng-thaew that goes to the bus station (kon-song). As you go along Karnchanawanich Road (map spelling) you will see Greenway on the right before the sawng-thaew turns right to go to the bus station and that's when you need to ring the bell to tell the driver to stop.

As is always the case, it helps to be able to read (or at least to speak) a little Thai but if not you will find the locals very helpful. The market is known by the English name 'Greenway' which makes things easy but just remember to pronounce the second syllable in a high tone, as Thais tend to do when pronouncing English words.

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Hat Yai Floating Market
Hat Yai Floating market - Click for larger image

Latitude: N 07° 00' 25.7" (N 07° 00.429')

Longitude: E 100° 27' 10.2" (E 100° 27.170')

Google Maps: Street Map or Satellite View

Comments: Floating markets are a tourist cliche in Thailand. Thais are fully aware that one of the main things foreign tourists want to do is visit a floating market and so they construct ordinary markets near bodies of water and label them floating markets, even though nothing floats. This keeps the tourists happy.

It would be like the French opening a market in Paris where people walk around in stripy shirts and berets selling strings of onions. It's a tourist cliche that doesn't exist in the real world, but when tourists go to certain countries they expect to see certain things.

This latest 'floating market' opened some time in 2014. I was passing one day and went inside to take this photo, but the market was closed. So far I haven't been able to drum up enough enthusiasm to visit, though I suspect I will make a visit eventually.

It is located in the Hat Yai Nai area and opens every day from 15:00 to 22:00.

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Hat Yai Municipal Park
Hat Yai municipal park - Click for larger image
Address: Karnchanawanich Road between Hat Yai and Songkhla
Map: Map 2
Mobile: +66 (0)84 540 6459, +66 (0)86 952 4126, +66 (0)87 629 3184
Web Site: Elephant Camp Hat Yai

Latitude: N 07° 02' 35.8" (N 07° 02.597')

Longitude: E 100° 30' 14.0" (E 100° 30.233')

Google Maps: Street Map or Satellite View

Comments: Hat Yai Municipal Park (Map 2) is a very pleasant green space near to town. There are some nicely laid out gardens and an artificial lake where you can hire a pedalo.

Fishing is banned in the lake and consequently it is teeming with fish; there are some very large catfish. Vendors sell fish food for Bt10 a bag and feeding the fish is a popular way for Buddhist Thais to make merit.

When I first visited in 2003 there was a small aviary near the entrance to the park containing some exotic looking birds, including some fearsome looking Australian cassowaries. Unfortunately the aviary disappeared some time in 2007 and the birds were relocated.

At the back of the park is a large walk-in aviary, similar to Jurong bird park in Singapore. Unfortunately, it has been closed all the time I have lived in Hat Yai. This is a real shame because it would be a fabulous attraction.

If you don't have your own transport, getting to the park is easy and cheap. Just hail a white sawng-thaew on Phetkasem Road going towards Songkhla. There are hundreds each day and the fare is Bt10. At the end of Phetkasem they turn left on Karnchanawanich Road towards Songkhla. Don't get one that turns right towards Mor Or, Lotus and the bus station. The park is located just after the golf course on the right hand side of the road.

To make sure you don't go past, tell the driver suan saa-taa-ra-na.

The park is the entry point for Kuan Im temple, the cable car, the Ice Dome, and the King Rama V memorial. There is also a pavilion (saa-laa) where art and photography exhibitions are held occasionally.

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Hat Yai Nai Sunday Market
Knives, guns, knuckle dusters, etc., at Hat Yai Nai Sunday market - Click for larger image
Comments: There is a typical Thai street market held in Hat Yai Nai every Sunday. It is similar to the Sunday market in Songkhla but not as big and not as good. However, for people living in Hat Yai it is more convenient.

Hat Yai Nai is the area across the railway bridge from central Hat Yai and plenty of sawng-thaews go that way so it isn't a problem getting there.

For newbie visitors to Thailand these things are a lot of fun but after 500 visits to Thai markets they tend to get a little boring. On sale are clothes, food, fruit and handicrafts, etc. As at Suntisuk market, there is an extensive selection of dangerous weapons. It's frightening what can be bought in Thailand.

The good thing is that markets in places like Hat Yai are genuine markets for local people to buy things, and not simply tourist attractions that have been set up purely for foreign tourists.

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Hat Yai Sports Club (NOW CLOSED)
Hat Yai Sports Club 10th March 2006 - Click for larger image
Address: Phetkasem Road

Latitude: N 07° 01' 08.9" (N 07° 01.148')

Longitude: E 100° 29' 25.6" (E 100° 29.426')

Google Maps: Street Map or Satellite View

Comments: If you are looking for a brothel in Penang just follow the 'Health Club' signs. Asians like to use attractive euphemisms for such establishments - and I guess that is the case everywhere. When I first noticed the Hat Yai Sports Club (Map 2) on Phetkasem Road I thought it was like a 'Health Club' in Penang.

However, that isn't the case. After a closer inspection and some questioning I realised it was all perfectly genuine. Unlike Penang 'Health Clubs', which contain nothing but young girls from mainland China, the Hat Yai Sports Club has quite a few sporting facilities.

There is an outdoor swimming pool, a kids' pool, tennis courts, basketball courts, a gym with proper weight training equipment, and snooker tables. Different kinds of membership charges are available for 1, 3, 6 or 12 months or you can just pay for each session without becoming a member.

As one reader pointed out, a lot of the facilities have now gone. The swimming pool is still open and the charge is Bt60 per session. It's clean and if you go during school hours it is normally empty. The tennis courts are also still open.

Hat Yai Sports Club 1st June 2012 - Click for larger image October 2012 Important Update: I reported above that many of the facilities that used to be in existence had disappeared. It makes me feel extremely sad to report that the swimming pools have now gone as well.

I used to take my daughter for a swim at Hat Yai Sports Club regularly. The last photo I took before the pools were demolished was on 1st June 2012.

I went today on Saturday 6th October 2012 only to find that the swimming pools and garden area have been turned into a building site. The swimming pools have been filled with earth and will soon be replaced by a new Nissan showroom.

Enjoying swimming at Hat Yai Sports - Click for larger image Hat Yai just gets busier and busier every year and every vacant piece of land is being built on. Everything is done solely to maximise profits and the current craze for building high-rise condos is because more homes can be built in a smaller area.

This, unfortunately, is how Thais think. In the Thai value system nothing is ever more important than money and material possessions, especially cars. It is ironic that one of the few leisure facilities in Hat Yai has been closed to make way for yet another car showroom. Aren't there enough car showrooms already?

Bangkok has capacity for two million cars, yet there are five million. This is why Bangkok's roads are always gridlocked and why pollution in the capital is so bad. Hat Yai, although on a much smaller scale, is going the same way.

Thais are obsessed with social status and the ultimate status symbol in Thailand is a car. Everyone wants a car and the situation will just get worse. So what is the government doing to help the environment?

Nothing. Quite the opposite, in fact. Thai politicians are only interested in holding on to power and they create populist policies in order to do so. Young kids have been given computer tablets to play with at school, graduates and daily-paid workers have been promised higher salaries, and first time car buyers have been given a big government discount. As a result, car sales are on the increase.

When every last piece of land has been built on and the people of Thailand are choking on the exhaust fumes of yet more and more traffic, maybe they will start to see the foolishness of their shortsighted lust for money and cars.

All that appears to be left of Hat Yai Sports Club now are the tennis courts at the back of the building. The pleasant grass area at the front and swimming pools no longer exist; and not a lot seems to be going inside the building.

I feel pretty angry about this, but the owner is entitled to do whatever he wants with his land. One of the problems in Thailand is that too much land is owned privately and the land is only used to maximise profits.

Hat Yai Sports Club 6th October 2012 - Click for larger image More land should be publicly owned and this land should be used to improve the quality of life for local residents by having suitable green spaces and other areas to relax. Hat Yai Municipal Park is pleasant but it's a long way out of town. Apart from a few temples, there are no quiet, peaceful areas for people to relax in the town itself. Quiet, peaceful areas aren't profitable, are they?

Of course, Thais don't pay any form of rates or council tax to the local municipality and so there is less money to spend on public amenities.

UK residents don't particularly like paying council tax, and neither would Thais. It's therefore difficult to know what to do. All I do know - after first visiting Thailand in 1987 and having lived there for many years - is that many attractive places all over the country have been completely ruined as a result of greed and that this continues to be the case.

Tel. +66 (0)74 234735-6 (Presumably there will be no one there to answer the phone now.)

Reader Comments:

  • I went to the Hat Yai Sports Club in early May (2010). For your information the gym, snooker tables and the dancing section are gone. It had been so for a while if I understood the staff correctly. (I don't speak much Thai!) Also the tennis court didn't seem to be in the best condition :-( You could, at the time, take a swim in their swimming pool and a few kids were playing in the small pool. (15th July 2010)

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Ice Skating
Ice skating at Central Festival, Hat Yai - Click for larger image
Comments: When Central Festival opened in December 2013 one of its new entertainment venues was an ice skating rink, something that had not been available in Hat Yai before.

It is open every day from 10am until 10pm and there are various pricing options.

Adult sessions are Bt180 per hour between Monday and Friday and Bt200 on Saturday and Sunday. The respective prices for children (no taller than 140cm) are Bt140 and Bt160. These prices include skate hire.

Wednesday is what they refer to as 'Sub Zero Day' when there is a fixed price for everyone of just Bt90.

If an hour isn't enough, a one-day pass is Bt400 from Monday to Friday, and Bt500 on Saturday and Sunday.

In the evenings there is a special 'Night Buffet'. From Monday to Thursday skaters can skate from 6pm until the rink closes at 10pm for Bt200. On Saturday and Sunday this same deal costs Bt250.

If you don't take your own socks, you can buy a pair of socks at the rink for Bt50. Socks cannot be hired. Lockers are available for a deposit of Bt250, which is refunded when you return the keycard.

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Kao Seng
Kao Seng in Songkhla - Click for larger image

The legend of Kao Seng - Click for larger image

Fishing boats in Kao Seng, Songkhla - Click for larger image

Kao Seng on a sunny day, Songkhla - Click for larger image

Latitude: N 07° 10' 53.6" (N 07° 10.893')

Longitude: E 100° 37' 03.9" (E 100° 37.065')

Google Maps: Street Map or Satellite View

Comments: On one visit to Kao Seng I talked to one of the fishermen about the name of the village. The name seems to be a corruption of the Thai:

เก้าแสน

gao sairn is Thai for 900,000. This relates to a local legend that is explained on one of the pictures to the left. Click any small thumbnail image on this site to see a larger image.

Kao Seng is a traditional Muslim fishing village near Songkhla. From Hat Yai you first need to get to Songkhla which is very easy. Once in Songkhla, go down to the beach road and take a sawng-thaew or tuk-tuk to Kao Seng which is a couple of kilometres south.

Alternative, if you take a bus or minivan from Hat Yai to Songkhla you can get off where the mental hospital is located. At the traffic lights turn right and Kao Seng is about a five minute walk.

I suspect that Kao Seng has not changed for many years which is quite refreshing in this fast-changing world. The fishermen go out in the mornings using boats with brightly coloured sails to get their catch.

In the afternoons they descale the fish, maintain and paint their boats, and repair nets, etc. They go out again in the evening once darkness falls to catch squid.

Walking through the village is a different world as the residents go about their daily tasks while chickens, ducks and cats wander around their huts. The Muslim people are very friendly. This is the other side of Islam that many Westerners have forgotten about or don't realise exists.

Generally I don't like man-made tourist attractions, but I love naturally interesting places like Kao Seng. If you go there when the light is right it is a photographer's dream. Whenever I'm showing people around Hat Yai and Songkhla I normally make a point of stopping by Kao Seng.

Muslims cannot touch dogs so Muslim villages are about the only places in Thailand where you don't see stray dogs wandering all over the place. Instead, you often see cats and goats.

There is a small shop in Kao Seng where they keep about 20 Persian cats. The cats are gorgeous and if you love cats - as I do - you will love this place.

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Khaochaison Floating Market
Khaochaison Floating Market, Phattalung province - Click for larger image

Khaochaison Floating Market, Phattalung province - Click for larger image

Latitude: N 07° 27' 29.7" (N 07° 27.495')

Longitude: E 100° 07' 45.7" (E 100° 07.762')

Google Maps: Street Map or Satellite View

Comments: Tourists looking for an 'authentic Thai floating market' need to realise that there is no such thing. Every floating market in the country is a tourist attraction, and they also serve to keep the locals amused and to provide some employment.

Nonetheless, they are fun to look around and some are very scenic. Khaochaison is a district in Phattalung province. The area takes its name from a large rock formation that juts out of the ground, in a similar way to Ayers Rock. There are also some hot springs and caves.

The floating market opened on 6th April 2013 and when I visited in July 2013 there were very few people there and not one foreign tourist. I suspect that this will change in time.

Looking at Google Maps, there didn't use to be any water here. This is an entirely man-made attraction and the water was added when they decided to open a floating market.

The market only opens on Saturdays and Sundays. Some vendors start doing business around 1pm and everything closes between 9pm and 10pm.

Just like Klong Hair floating market, nothing floats. The vendors at Klong Hair sell their food from permanently moored boats. At Khaochaison the vendors are near some water, but nothing actually takes place on the water. Maybe this will change in the future.

There is very little at this market - maybe 20-30 tented food stalls. However, it is set against the most stunning of backdrops. The location is just in front of the rock formation and it is an area of immense natural beauty. There is more at Klong Hair, but it isn't an attractive place at all.

It is located approximately one hour away from Hat Yai by car. Take Route 4 from Hat Yai to Phattalung and after about 70km you will see Khaochaison Hot Springs clearly signposted.

Turn right at the sign and follow the road for about 6-7km. The hot springs and market (located very near to each other) are on the right just before you enter the main town of Khaochaison.

This floating market is worth visiting, not necessarily for the market, but for the magnificent surroundings. If visiting, give yourself enough time to visit the hot springs as well.

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Khaochaison Hot Springs
Khaochaison Hot Springs, Phattalung province - Click for larger image

Khaochaison Floating Market, Phattalung province - Click for larger image

Khaochaison Hot Springs, Phattalung province - Click for larger image

Khaochaison Hot Springs, Phattalung province - Click for larger image

Latitude: N 07° 27' 03.2" (N 07° 27.053')

Longitude: E 100° 07' 51.9" (E 100° 07.865')

Google Maps: Street Map or Satellite View

Comments: On my first visit to Phattalung in 2004 I saw a sign on Route 4 for Khaochaison Hot Springs. Subsequently, on various trips along that road, I saw the same sign many more times.

I kept saying to myself that I must visit, but I never did. On my return from Khanom district in Nakhon Sri Thammarat in June 2013 I saw another sign advertising a floating market in Khaochaison. I now had two reasons to visit and so I finally went in July 2013.

This whole area is spectacularly pretty and the huge rock formation sticking out of the ground is the main focal point.

The water that comes out of the ground is about 60� Celsius. A pool has been built in which people can bathe. The water in the pool is mixed with cold water to make it bearable.

Everything is free, which quite surprised me. There is no charge for Thais, no dual pricing, and therefore no very high price for foreigners. This is quite unusual in Thailand, but highly commendable.

There is a cave about 700 metres away that has a cool water pool inside. The depth of the water in the cave is about one metre. I didn't have a chance to visit the cave when I went, but this is something I would like to do next time. The name of the cave is tum pruh in Thai.

There are some bungalows at the hot springs where you can stay overnight. The cost is just Bt500 per night and they are fully equipped in the same way as a hotel room with bedding, towels, A/C, and a TV. However, there is one big advantage over a hotel room.

In the bathrooms are large tubs with plumbing to bring the natural hot spring water right to your room. To make a reservation, use one of the following phone numbers:

+66 (0)74 691405, +66 (0)74 691632, +66 (0)74 691590

If you booked into a hotel at a European natural hot springs resort to take the waters it would cost a fortune. In Thailand you can do the same thing for the price of about three pints of beer. You can even get a herbal massage for just Bt120

This area is also home to a colony of longtailed macaques, as can be found in other areas of Thailand. They are quite tame, but you need to be cautious because they can bite.

At other places in Thailand where there are monkeys there are often vendors selling monkey food. However, you can't buy any food for the monkeys here and feeding them is actually discouraged. They do have food and it looks as if someone does take care of them.

For directions from Hat Yai, see the information above for Khaochaison Floating Market.

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Klong Hair Floating Market
Klong Hair Floating Market, Songkhla province - Click for larger image
Latitude: N 07° 02' 41.6" (N 07° 02.693')

Longitude: E 100° 28' 30.5" (E 100° 28.509')

Google Maps: Street Map or Satellite View

Comments: The photo on the left shows the Thai spelling. If you can't read Thai, the pronunciation is something along the lines of 'dta-laat naam klong-hair'.

The market started off as a really enjoyable experience and I was quite impressed. However, in no time at all it had just become another standard Thai tourist attraction and then it was no more fun.

Previously, one of my biggest disappointments in Thailand was visiting the well-known floating market at Damnoen Saduak.

If you want to see farangs dressed in shorts and Teva activity sandals pointing cameras at each other it's a great place. However, if you want to experience something close to an authentic Thai floating market you are wasting your time.

The Hat Yai floating market attracts very few farangs but there are scores of Malaysian and Singaporean tourists. You can normally hear far more Chinese being spoken than Thai.

Klong Hair Floating Market, Songkhla province - Click for larger image
Klong Hair Floating Market, Songkhla province - Click for larger image
Klong Hair Floating Market, Songkhla province - Click for larger image

Klong Hair Floating Market, Songkhla province - Click for larger image
Klong Hair Floating Market, Songkhla province - Click for larger image
Klong Hair Floating Market, Songkhla province - Click for larger image

On my first visit to Klong Hair (October 2008, or thereabouts) I was the only foreigner there and it was great. The interest people took in me, and the smiles they gave me, were all genuine. It was like being in Thailand 25 years ago before mass tourism arrived.

The market isn't big, the vendors' boats don't move, and there are no small boats for visitors to hire to ride around the klongs on like there are at Damnoen Saduak. However, there are now large boats that give visitors a ride around the canal for Bt20. It's actually a very enjoyable little trip and well worth Bt20. It would be even more enjoyable if all the rubbish floating on top of the water was removed.

Vendors sell food from permanently moored boats. To pass food to customers, and to receive money, the vendors use little baskets on sticks. The market runs Friday to Sunday from around 3pm to 9pm.

There is no entrance fee, the food is good, all the food seems to cost Bt20 per portion, some of the drinks are served in cups made from real bamboo, and there is no dual-pricing system in place. All these things are good.

Getting there can be slightly problematic if you don't have a Thai friend in the area who has a vehicle because there are no sawng-thaews or buses. However, it's not too far from central Hat Yai and easily reached by tuk-tuk or motorbike taxi.

The motorbike taxi fare is about Bt60 and a tuk-tuk driver will charge you as much as he can get away with.

If you have your own vehicle, it's not difficult to get to. Head down Niphat Songkhrao 5 Road (Map 2) for a couple of kms and you will come to a fork in the road. Take the right fork, follow the road and you will come to the market on your left. Just follow the crowds of people.

If you are part of a group tour visiting Hat Yai, your tour company will most likely organise a trip to Klong Hair. These days, there are always lots of large Malaysian tour buses parked outside.

On my second visit I saw one of the big Malaysian tour buses parked outside. On a visit in April 2010 I saw at least 10 Malaysian tour buses, so the floating market has now become part of the standard Malaysian tourist trail.

If you've never been, it's worth a visit. However, if you've been once and then go back subsequently it's not going to be very exciting.

Official Web Site

Be warned, the official web site isn't exactly brimming with information. There's a Google map and a few photos but not even basic information such as when the market is open.

The market is open from Thursday to Sunday and it gets going at about 4pm. By 6pm it is quite busy and I think it closes at around 9pm.

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Klong Nga Saturday Market
Second-hand shoes for sale at the Saturday market in Klong Ngae - Click for larger image
Comments: Klong Nga is the town that you pass through when travelling from Hat Yai to Sadao and then on to the Malaysian border. In Thai terms it is classed as a Tambon and part of Amphoe Sadao.

There is a big market in Klong Nga every Saturday morning with a strong emphasis on used clothes and shoes. New goods are also available though, and there is a traditional Thai fresh market.

The area is home to many Muslims, and loudspeakers blast out Islamic religious music in Arabic giving the impression that you might be in the Middle East rather than the Far East. It's an interesting excursion from Hat Yai for a few hours.

The market starts early. When I went, we left at 6:30am and returned at 9am. This proved to be a good move because even at 9am the temperature was beginning to get uncomfortably hot.

I went with Thai friends but I have seen sawng-thaews around that go to Klong Nga. If you don't read Thai though you will need some help from a Thai person. The same applies with buses. If you want to go, it shouldn't be a problem getting there but you might need some assistance from one of the locals.

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