Activities and Things To Do in Hat Yai - Page 1
Are You In A Hurry?
Presumably you arrived at this page because you wanted some ideas about things to do in Hat Yai and I only have about 10 seconds to get your attention. For a very quick overview of the activities listed in these pages take a look at my Activity Site Map. On a single page you will find quite a varied and diverse list of excursions and pursuits in and around Hat Yai.
I have also made some suggestions in my Ten Things To Do In Hat Yai page, although quite a few of my suggestions are a little way out of town. Hat Yai has many individual recreational venues, but there isn't much variety and to find some different types of activities to do it is necessary to travel out of the area a little way.
I hope that these resources help you get the most from your visit to Hat Yai.
Do You Have More Time?
I hope so because I have been living in, and writing about, Hat Yai since the end of 2003. I have personally visited every hotel, restaurant, shop, massage shop and recreational venue listed in these pages and the process has taken me thousands of hours. It seems a shame, therefore, when someone only visits my site for 10 seconds before leaving.
Please take time to explore my site and look at my photos. If you click on any thumbnail image a larger image will open in a pop-up window.
I have a diverse range of interests, but generally I prefer natural to artificial attractions. My children were born in 2011 and 2014 and with a young family these days I mostly tend to visit places that are suitable for children, however, I still like to explore places alone when I can.
I have listed a couple of resources above for those in a hurry, but I don't really like the 'Top Ten Activities To Do In Hat Yai' type pages that you find on TripAdvisor and other travel websites.
People's likes and dislikes are extremely subjective and one person's idea of a 'Top Ten' list is very different to another person's. In my 'Lists Of Ten' pages I have refrained from using the terms 'Top' or 'Best' because of the subjective nature of the topic. I find the use of these terms to be quite arrogant.
My other criticism of sites like TripAdvisor is that the information they provide is simply a collection of small pieces of information from thousands of people who have only visited Hat Yai for a few days' each. Very few of the contributors can explain the big picture of Hat Yai because they don't actually live there.
I have covered quite a few activities in these pages, but there are some omissions. It is possible that with a new activity I haven't found it yet. However, what is more likely is that the omission is deliberate.
With some attractions I get an intuitive feeling that they will disappoint me and/or they are overpriced. As most visitors to Thailand already know, the system of dual pricing is widespread in Thailand. Thais pay one price and foreigners pay a much higher price.
As well as being unfair, the system is designed to deceive foreigners by displaying the Thai prices in Thai numerals. I can read Thai so I am not deceived, but it annoys me intensely.
On most occasions I can get the Thai price by speaking in Thai and showing a Thai driving license, but if I can't get the Thai price my policy is to walk away. This is another reason why some activities may not be listed on these pages.
The majority of tourists visiting Hat Yai are ethnic Chinese from Malaysia and Singapore. Hat Yai is well known to them and they already know what they want to do before they arrive. Basically they go to Hat Yai for cheap shopping, food and massages. Some men have a few other activities on their itineraries. If they have any time left, some form of merit-making at one of the locals temples is also a popular activity.
I have covered these activities on other parts of this site, however, if these particular activities don't appeal to you very much you may wish to find something else to do. Hat Yai doesn't have the same historical and cultural attractions that some other Thai cities have, but it's not quite as bad as some people make out.
There are other activities in Hat Yai and also, provided you have the time, there are some very attractive places to visit within a couple of hours' drive from Hat Yai. For example, Phattalung province is very undeveloped and a day trip to Phattalung feels like going back in time. The province has some beautiful countryside, a fantastic nature area called Thale Noi where you can see lots of birds and lotus flowers, and a very attractive floating market and hot springs resort.
Another one of my favourite provinces is Trang. I like it because it is relatively undeveloped compared to places like Phuket and it is still possible to experience the 'real' Thailand, rather than 'tourist' Thailand. From Hat Yai you can drive to Trang main town in two hours and get to Trang's unspoilt beaches in 2.5 hours.
If you are only spending two or three days in Hat Yai there is certainly enough in town to keep you active and interested during your visit. If you are in town for longer I would encourage you to try to get out of Hat Yai for at least a day to explore some of the surrounding countryside.
Even if you have very little time it's worth taking a trip to nearby Songkhla, which is only an hour away. Hat Yai and Songkhla are very closely linked, but they are very different in character. Hat Yai is all about business and commerce, whereas life is a lot more laid back in Songkhla and it also has a beach.
Enjoy Hat Yai and I hope that the information in these pages helps you to make the most of your trip.
MarketsI'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.
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.
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.
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.
Latitude: N 06° 55' 28.5" (N 06° 55.475')
Longitude: E 100° 27' 23.5" (E 100° 27.391')
Google Maps: Street Map or Satellite View
Comments: When I first arrived in Hat Yai there were no floating markets. In 2008, a floating market opened at Klong Hair temple and it proved to be very popular with tourists who were getting fed up with the limited variety of activities in Hat Yai, namely, shopping, eating and massages.
What followed though was a bit of a joke. In an attempt to get the tourist dollars, markets were springing up in every location where there was a drop of water and being labelled as floating markets. Some places didn't even have water, so water was added.
Floating markets are one of the biggest tourist cliches in Thailand and all visitors want to visit an "authentic Thai floating market" despite the fact there isn't an authentic floating market in the country. They are simply tourist attractions.
I thus raised a very cynical eyebrow when, in February 2016, I saw signs appear for yet another floating market at Baan Pru. Hat Yai is a district in Songkhla province and Baan Pru is a subdistrict in Hat Yai. It can be approached from the airport road or from the road that runs from Hat Yai to Sadao and onward to the Malaysian border.
Despite my cynicism, I took my family along to have a look and I was very pleasantly surprised.
The problem with most new attractions in Hat Yai is that there has been insufficient investment. It's as if the owner isn't sure whether it will be a success or not, so is reluctant to spend any money. The result is a shoddy attraction and, sure enough, people don't go.
This new floating market isn't like that. It occupies quite a lot of land and there is a large body of water present. The new buildings have been built well and obviously there was quite a large investment. In addition to the usual shops and food stalls, there are quite a lot of activities for children. This is great for me because I have two young children.
There is a zipline, pony rides, trampolines, a bouncy castle, games, and a pen where children can feed goats and sheep. In contrast, the children's rides and bouncy castle at Klong Hair floating market look as if they come from a scrap heap and are quite embarrassing. If you have young children, the floating market at Baan Pru is a much better option than Klong Hair.
I went just after the market opened and I think I was there with half the population of Hat Yai. Parking was difficult and there were so many people it felt claustrophobic. On my second visit it was still very busy, but a lot more comfortable. There were a lot more vendors selling food near the water and the food centre wasn't as packed.
On my first visit I was told that the market was open Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but food was only available on Saturdays. This seemed very strange. However, on my second visit I was told the market is only open on Saturdays. The market opens from around 4pm to 9pm.
Entrance is free and prices are reasonable. Food vendors are barred from selling any food that costs more than Bt50. I would now recommend Baan Pru floating market over Klong Hair floating market.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Comments: This project was talked about for years and the Hat Yai cable car finally opened to the public on 5th December 2011. The 5th of 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.
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
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: Farang tourists in Thailand 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 ... among other things.
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.
I was therefore quite surprised when an elephant trekking facility opened in Hat Yai, where there are lots of Malaysian tourists and very few farang tourists, but it seems to be quite popular. 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.
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.
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.
Address: Junction of Phetkasem and Supasarnrangsan roads
Map: Map 1
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 if you haven't seen this kind of thing before. The fruit stalls outside have prices displayed and the food stalls have fixed prices. You can try to haggle, but don't expect to win. The vendors inside operate a price-fixing cartel and aren't normally interested in haggling.
I have been hundreds of times and now I find it quite boring. It is also overrated and expensive. The market is a mess, and because of this people think it must be cheap. It isn't and most things can be bought cheaper elsewhere. The chocolate eggs my children like are Bt40 at Gim Yong, but only Bt29 at TOPS supermarket.