Hat Yai changes incredibly quickly, as does the rest of Thailand. This site started its life some time in 2004. During 2005 I became bored with the downtown tourist area and moved further out of town for a quieter life. This also coincided with a period when I didn't have an enormous amount of motivation to work on my website.
In early 2006 I realised that quite a few places I had recommended previously had already closed. Also, during 2005, oil prices shot up as the Thai government removed its fuel subsidies. This resulted in transport fares shooting up. The effect of these changes was to render my information quickly out of date.
Later in 2006 I made several updates but restaurants and hotels continued to open and close faster than I could make the changes.
Since then I have made an effort at various times to update the information to ensure that it is current.
As the site has become bigger, making updates has become a bigger task. In 2011 I started to add GPS coordinates. These, hopefully, won't change but adding them is still a work in progress. If you find that information is now out of date please contact me so I can make the necessary changes.
Feedback is always welcome and your input helps to make the information here more useful to other visitors.
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I started writing this site about a year after moving to Hat Yai. My reasons for doing so were for my own amusement and to perhaps assist other people thinking of making a visit. With this web site in mind it has made me generally more observant of things around me.
Before I came to Hat Yai I tried to find information about the town but what I found on the Internet wasn't very good. The only things people ever seem to mention are the whereabouts of a few cheap guest houses and bars on Thamnoon Vithee Road. I found this quite boring and not very useful. Even semi-official looking web sites tend just to use their web space as an advertising board for a few local establishments and don't offer any real information.
The Hat Yai section in the Lonely Planet Thailand Guide isn't particularly good either. Lonely Planet doesn't exactly lie but the information they provide isn't very good and the image of Hat Yai in my mind after reading Lonely Planet wasn't at all how I actually found Hat Yai to be.
Lonely Planet have got Bangkok pretty well sewn up and as Joe Cummings lives in Chiang Mai they do a fairly good job there too. The publication is aimed at backpackers so they concentrate on the well-trodden Banana Pancake Trail through Thailand.
My impression of their Hat Yai entry is that they considered it necessary in a guide to Thailand because Hat Yai is the biggest city in southern Thailand, but not very important, so just included an assortment of hotels, shops and restaurants selected at random in order to fill a few pages. It looks to me as if their researcher was only in town for a couple of days.
The last edition I bothered to look at (2005) was a lot better and more balanced than previous editions but they still missed a lot. It's understandable. Their readership, which consists mainly of backpackers, will typically only be spending a night or two in Hat Yai and not venturing very far from the train station. For this type of traveller the information provided by LP will be quite sufficient.
These pages contain my own personal view of Hat Yai after living in the town since the end of 2003. For that reason, it isn't an impartial view. I express my own opinions and preferences and I concentrate on activities and places that I find interesting.
Depending on what any one individual finds interesting, another person's definition of 'places of interest in Hat Yai' may be completely different.
I have never been much into nightlife and now that I am married I don't have much interest in the places and people that draw many foreign males to Thailand. There are other web sites that cover those topics.
However, I hope that this guide gives a more comprehensive and balanced impression of Hat Yai than the type of on-line resources I found when I was searching for information some years ago.
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Visitors to this Site
Selamat Datang! Most visitors to this website come from nearby Malaysia. The Malaysian border is only an hour away and Hat Yai is a popular destination for Malaysians wanting to take short breaks. Next on the list are visitors from Singapore. Hat Yai is not a very popular destination among Europeans and Scandinavians, although a few Swedish and German visitors do seem to be interested.
The Hat Yai section of this web site was launched some time in 2004 (I can't remember exactly which month) but the following flag counter has only been running since 8th September 2011.
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Perceptions of Hat Yai
No one sees the same place in the same way. If you have come from rural Thailand, Hat Yai seems big and the shopping good. However, if you have come from Bangkok, Singapore or a large Western city, it seems small and the shopping not very good.
Many countries are quite restrictive. Laws are generally enforced more than they are in Thailand, and some countries have restrictive religious laws. Therefore, arriving in Thailand after living elsewhere can seem like a big relief. However, that perception can change if you have lived in Thailand for several years.
The central tourist area of Hat Yai is very different to the rest of town. If, for example, you live on the university campus your view of Hat Yai will be very different compared to someone who only knows Lee Gardens Plaza. Etc, etc.
I have experienced Hat Yai as a wide-eyed tourist with no knowledge of the town, and I have experienced it as a fairly long-term working resident. I have lived near the central area, and I have lived further out. I've met lots of tourists, and I know lots of Thais who work or study in Hat Yai.
As a tourist I used to wear rose-tinted glasses whenever I was in Thailand but they were thrown away a long time ago. Also, during that stage, I didn't know enough to realise what was going on around me. Some of my observations aren't very flattering but I don't believe they are inaccurate. I try to keep a balanced view and therefore you will read things here that you won't find in a normal tourist guide.
Depending on your background, your view may be different to mine but it's probably because we are looking at the same thing in a different way. If you are new to Hat Yai, I probably thought the same way as you did when I first arrived but views can change over time.
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Constructive feedback, corrections, and suggestions for improvement are always very welcome. In fact, nothing is more useful to other visitors than real up to date information from people who have just visited Hat Yai.
As I live in Hat Yai, I no longer stay at hotels so information and feedback about hotels is particularly welcome. The site is too large now for me to keep everything constantly up to date. Your feedback makes a big difference.
I answer most e-mails and try my best to help people if I can.
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Orientation - Map of Hat Yai
In Thailand, all secondary towns and cities after Bangkok are very small by comparison. This includes Hat Yai which, although considered quite a large provincial town, is still tiny compared with the sprawling capital. Most places of interest to visitors are within easy walking distance of the central area.
Clicking on the image to the left will open a new window with a map of Hat Yai. The map is divided into quarters and clicking on any quarter will link to a larger map of that quarter. Map references have been included throughout these pages to assist readers with finding places I have referred to.
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Since acquiring a Garmin GPS unit I've started adding latitude and longitude coordinates to the places I've written about in this guide.
However, the guide is quite big now and adding coordinates for every location is going to be a time-consuming process which will take a while to complete.
If you have a GPS this should make places a lot easier to find. Also, if you have a GPS and can send me the coordinates of places I haven't got around to yet it would be appreciated.
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Street Names and Transliteration
Transliterating Thai words and names written in Thai characters to words and names written using the English alphabet is open to all kinds of interpretation. There is no commonly used system; everyone does it their own way and this leads to inconsistencies. Examples of these inconsistencies exist within these pages. When referring to the addresses of individual establishments I have tended to use the version in that establishment's brochure or on their business card but this may differ to the spellings on the map pages.
The map refers to Thamanoonvithee Road but a guest house might spell it 'Thamnoon Vithi Road'. Phetkasem Road also appears as 'Petchkasem Road'. Thais do not use the word 'Road' of course, this is only used in brochures written in English. Phetkasem Road is therefore known as 'Thanon Phetkasem' locally.
The photo I have used here provides another example. The actual street sign says 'Thanon Manasruedee' but on the Map this is referred to as 'Manatruedee Road'. Many Thai characters change sound depending on whether they are used at the beginning or end of a syllable. Some transliteration systems account for this but others don't, e.g., Sawasdee and Sawatdee.
It's a mess. I can do a reasonable job at transliterating Thai words to give a more accurate phonetic representation of the word when written in English, but my version would be different to standard versions and therefore not recognised by human beings or search engines. To avoid this I tend to use the standard version if there is one - i.e., Phuket, and not Poo-get.
There is one very easy way to avoid all this nonsense and that is to learn how to read Thai. It's not actually that difficult.
You may have noticed that the town discussed in these pages is variously written in English as Hat Yai, Hatyai, Had Yai, Haad Yai, etc. The common transliteration is Hat Yai but with Thai to English transliteration there are no right ways, just wrong ways.
Thai words do not have spaces in between so getting rid of the space in the middle would be OK. The vowel in the first syllable is actually a long vowel, therefore 'aa' or even 'ar' would be more accurate.
The final consonant of the first syllable is pronounced 'D' when used as an initial consonant but 'T' when used as a final consonant. I therefore agree with 'T' but this is the reason why some people use 'D'.
If I was doing the transliteration, I would probably write it as 'Haat Yai' in order to get the pronunciation more phonetically correct.
Here's the Thai spelling:
According to the Thai tone rules, 'Haat' should be pronounced with a rising tone and 'Yai' with a low tone.
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Alternative Place Names
As if the Thai language wasn't already difficult enough, Thais take extra precautions to ensure that foreigners can't understand what they are going on about by having alternative names for streets and places. What's more, they don't think anything of using these alternative names with foreigners, and they expect strangers from out of town to know what they mean.
A few examples in Hat Yai would be the Prince of Songkhla university and hospital which is always referred to as Mor Or. The three Niphat Uthit roads are referred to as Sai 1, Sai 2 and Sai 3 but you will never see this stated on a map. An area of Rajyindee Road is known as saamsip met (30 meters) for some reason. Schools tend to be abbreviated to initials so Hat Yai Wittayalai school becomes Yor Wor. Etc etc.
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Please do not steal any of my photos. If you want to use a photo please ask my permission first.
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Population figures are always difficult to obtain for cities because who decides exactly where the city stops? I've read that the population in the greater Hat Yai area is about 850,000, and that there are about 180,000 people living in the city centre.
Compared to most provincial Thai towns and cities Hat Yai is quite big - there is even a recognisable skyline - but compared to Bangkok it is tiny. Nowhere in Thailand even comes close to Bangkok. In Thailand, Bangkok is the size of an elephant and everywhere else is just a mosquito bite on the elephant's backside.
As you enter Thailand by road from Malaysia at the Dannok border crossing there is a large sign warning of the dangers of HIV and AIDS.
Pfizer, the manufacturer of ViagraŠ, paid for a huge billboard to warn of the dangers of taking fake erection enhancing drugs. The sign first appeared above Gim Yong market then moved to the side of the V.L. Hotel so it was visible from a long way off when approaching Hat Yai from the direction of Satun.
A young Australian I met who had been in Hat Yai for a year teaching and studying told me that every day he questioned his decision about basing himself in Hat Yai. "There are 250 Karaoke bars, but there isn't one art gallery," he told me. I'm not sure how accurate his figure of 250 was but there certainly are a lot of Karaoke bars (where no singing takes place) and I am not aware of any permanent art galleries. If you can't live without art galleries or other forms of cultural stimulation then Hat Yai probably isn't for you. Better choices might be New York, Paris or London.
These things tend to say quite a lot about how Hat Yai is seen by many people. But is there more to Hat Yai? I think there is, otherwise I wouldn't be here, and in these pages I'll attempt to paint a more balanced picture of the town.
According to Lonely Planet, Hat Yai is 933km from Bangkok and is Southern Thailand's commercial centre. Yes, it is a long way south of Bangkok and it is only about 60km away from the Malaysian border. The economy is very dependent on Malaysian tourists who visit continuously throughout the year.
It should be just another slightly depressing provincial Thai town that goes completely dark after sunset but because of its proximity to the Malaysian border it is quite different.
Malaysians view Hat Yai as southern Californians might view Tijuana, or Brits might view Amsterdam. It is close enough to visit for a weekend; it is cheap relative to Malaysia, and it's fun. Groups of Malaysian girls come to shop, families come for weekend breaks, and groups of men come for other reasons. The Malaysian visitors are mostly of Chinese ethnicity but Muslim Malays and Indians also arrive.
In addition to Chinese Malaysian tourists, Hat Yai sees quite a few Chinese Singaporean tourists who come for basically the same reasons. I assume that the easy Thai way of life must also be quite refreshing after living in Singapore for a while.
Asian visitors are not restricted to Malaysians and Singaporeans. An article I read about prostitution in Thailand mentioned that Hat Yai is 'notorious' throughout Indonesia as well as Malaysia. Visitors also come from Hong Kong and China and I am told that there are lots of Japanese also.
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Old Hat Yai
One of the great tragedies of Hat Yai is that no one seems to be interested in preserving the city's old buildings. There are still examples of old wooden buildings but they are fast disappearing. Along one part of Niphat Uthit 1 Road you can even find some examples of classic Sino-Portuguese architecture but the buildings in question look in a very sorry run-down state these days.
It seems almost criminal. In nearby Songkhla (in the old part of town), the old buildings have been protected with preservation orders. On my last trip to Phuket town, I noticed that a lot of the old buildings have been restored, and restored faithfully.
When Lee Kuan Yew began Singapore's journey to that of being a developed country, a lot of old areas were demolished. However, the Singaporeans realised in time that they were destroying their heritage and acted quickly. The brightly coloured Chinese shophouse buildings, intermingled with Singapore's skyscrapers and modern architecture, look fabulous now.
What did Hat Yai used to look like? Probably the best place to get an idea of how things used to look like is the area around the train station where there are still lots of old wooden houses.
A few restaurants and photo frame shops have the odd picture of Hat Yai from some time in the past.
I found quite an extensive collection of old Hat Yai photos in a small restaurant called Hat Yai City, located next door to the Winstar hotel near to Diana department store.
The owner, Khun Juckkris Noonark, is keen on old photographs of Hat Yai and obtained several from different sources (mainly people from old Hat Yai families). He made new prints, framed them and hung them around his shop. They were very interesting, and available to buy.
I am using past tense because when I last visited Hat Yai City the restaurant had gone, and in its place was an illegal gambling operation. I was greeted with some very suspicious looks when I entered innocently for a cup of coffee and a browse of the old photos. Very sad, but the ongoing economic problems have forced a lot of honest businesses to close. Meanwhile, gambling and prostitution continue to thrive.
As I write, there are plans to open a local museum in the old TOT building next to Hat Yai Plaza and the clock tower. It's not open yet, and I'm not sure what it will feature, but hopefully it will give some interesting glimpses into Hat Yai's past.
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What Hat Yai Isn't
Many people I know expressed their surprise when I based myself in Hat Yai because I could have lived anywhere in Thailand. For people who have never been to Hat Yai I have to stress that it is not beautiful. It is not 'Tourist Brochure Thailand'. In fact, compared to many areas of Thailand it is downright ugly.
A friend from the UK who visited at the end of 2004 described it as the, 'Harlow of Thailand,' and anyone who has visited Harlow in Essex will understand that this comparison isn't exactly complimentary. Friends and family tend to visit once and then they never return!
In the books with beautiful glossy photographs of Thailand and similar books that summarise the best hotels Thailand has to offer there is never a mention of Hat Yai, and for good reason.
There are no beautiful white, palm-fringed beaches. There are no turquoise seas with opportunities to snorkel amidst stunningly colourful tropical fish. There are no giant limestone karst formations rising majestically out of the ground and sea, creating a magnificent backdrop to the town. There are no royal palaces, no ancient ruins from past Thai civilisations, no historic or particularly beautiful temples, no national archives or museums.
But also what Hat Yai isn't is a big farang tourist trap. Yes, it is actually a big tourist town but most of the tourists are Malaysians just there for the weekend. There are no Indian tailor shops and generally I don't get hassled while walking around. Vendors in the local markets and some tuk-tuk drivers try to inflate prices but it is nothing to how prices have been inflated in mainstream farang tourist areas like Bangkok and Phuket. Prices for pretty much everything are cheap.
In Hat Yai I actually feel like I am in Thailand and not in a suburb of Frankfurt or downtown Stockholm. As I walk around I see real Thais doing real jobs. It's a working town and not somewhere where every business is there purely for foreign tourists. Also, as I wander around, I get big smiles and I talk to a lot of people. I am not just another farang tourist and the locals haven't yet become jaded towards people like me. It's a nice feeling and something that disappeared from places like Phuket and Koh Samui long ago.
I've seen lots of beautiful beaches, lovely turquoise seas, tropical fish and palm trees. Quite frankly they bore me very quickly and the tourists can keep them. I also get bored very quickly with greedy Thais at tourist resorts who think I am just another idiot straight off the plane who is only there to be cheated and ripped off. I am grateful that Hat Yai isn't beautiful and long may it stay that way.
Hat Yai is also a good size for me. I find the sheer scale of Bangkok overwhelming and I would get bored living in a small town or village in the countryside. Hat Yai is big enough not to be boring but small enough to still have a personal touch to it. There are excellent transport links to other parts of Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore so it is easy to get away from for short trips and in many respects I find it an ideal base.
It provides a good mix of 'Thainess' and farang comforts. I can eat as much cheap, authentic Thai food as I like but when I crave a burger, pizza of KFC mashed potato, that stuff is also available. There are cinemas in town showing movies in English, bookshops with English language books and restaurants selling Western food but it's not like Phuket where everything is there for the tourists. In many ways it's the best of both worlds but (I'll say it again) it isn't beautiful.
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According to the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network, the population in Hat Yai is estimated to be 371,000.
Hat Yai is Chinese dominated. Estimates I have heard for the proportion of Thai-Chinese living in Hat Yai vary from 50% to 80%. These are Thais whose parents, grandparents or great-grandparents came to Thailand from China.
The majority of tourists (from Malaysia and Singapore) are also ethnic Chinese. Many of the massage and shop staff in Hat Yai speak Chinese but not English. I understand a fair amount of Thai but often, while in the downtown area, it doesn't feel as if I'm in Thailand because all I hear is Chinese.
Hat Yai is tiny compared to Bangkok, but as far as provincial Thailand is concerned it is a big city. There are lots of employment opportunities and therefore Thais from all over Thailand come to Hat Yai to find work.
Almost all of the massage girls are from the north and northeast of Thailand, as well as quite a few from Burma. The 'booking girls' mainly come from the north and northeast, and there are lot of other hotel, shop and salon workers from the other southern provinces.
I have met many Thais in Hat Yai from Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat, Trang, Phattalung, Surat Thani, Nakhon Si Thammarat, etc. etc. Most come from these areas for regular work. Of the girls working in massage and night time entertainment, a disproportionately high number come from the north-east area (Isaan) and the north (Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai).
There are several schools in town catering to the local population, as well as a large campus for the Prince of Songkla University which attracts students from all over Thailand.
Hat Yai and Songkhla are very closely tied together, although the two towns are quite different. Songkhla is the provincial capital and location of many local government departments, schools and universities. Hat Yai is more commercial and tourist oriented.
A great number of locals travel between the two towns each day because they live in one place and work or study in the other.
In addition to the ethnic Chinese population, there is also a large Muslim community. After Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani, Songkhla is the fourth southern province where Islam is widely followed. Mosques can to be found amidst Buddhist temples and Protestant and Catholic churches.
Because of the tourist money, Hat Yai draws in many people from other areas of Thailand who cannot find work where they live. There has been an incredible amount of economic migration in Thailand where people have moved from poor areas either to Bangkok or to one of the popular tourist areas. It has confirmed to me how important the tourist industry is to Thailand.
The farang expats in Hat Yai and Songkhla keep a fairly low profile. It seems that most foreigners living in the area long-term do so because they want a quiet life. Backpackers pass through while travelling between Thailand and Malaysia but don't stick around for long, and English teachers come and go.
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Southern Thailand is hot all year round. Sometimes it's just hot, other times it's very hot and occasionally it's very, very hot. The humidity can get quite high too. They told me the hot season was March and April. In true Thai fashion that wasn't exactly a lie, but neither exactly was it the truth. March and April are indeed very hot but so is January, February, May, June, July, August, and September.
Unlike northern Thailand, Hat Yai doesn't get cold at night in the 'cool' season. In all my time spent living in Hat Yai I have never once needed any article of warm clothing.
The town is surrounded by a ring of hills which effectively places Hat Yai in a 'bowl' and I think this is why it gets so hot in the summer. On a trip to Phuket one year I was surprised at how cool Phuket felt, and how hot Hat Yai felt when I returned.
The rainy season varies slightly from year to year but fairly regular rain appears to arrive around mid-late September. October through to January can be very wet causing the floods which affect Hat Yai periodically. Every major flood that has hit Hat Yai has occurred in November. By February it's getting damn hot again, ready for the full-blown hot season and seven or eight months of intense heat.
Be prepared for anything though. The winter of 2004/2005 was very dry - so dry in fact that over 50 Thai provinces were affected by drought conditions. In 2005/2006 there was a small flood and in 2010 there was a major flood.
Many areas of Hat Yai used to flood regularly. In 2000 there was a big flood in which several people were killed by drowning and electrocution. There were still floods after I arrived at the end of 2003.
Lots of work has been done to improve the flood defences in recent years, but the problem isn't fixed yet. Some areas still have problems when there is exceptionally heavy rain but many places that used to suffer are now flood-free.
The most pleasant time of year is during the October to January rainy season, provided it's not actually raining. This is when the temperature is most bearable but heavy, persistent rain during this period can make life quite miserable.
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When To Go
Hat Yai doesn't have a high and low season tourist as such. It's not like Phuket, for example, where there are huge crowds between November and March. The Malaysian/Singaporean tourist trade stays fairly constant year round but as they tend to visit at weekends there is a definite pattern each week.
Central Hat Yai on a Saturday or Sunday looks very different compared to Monday mornings after most of the Malaysians have gone home. If you are planning to stay for a short visit and can time your arrival to fall on a Sunday or Monday it's a good idea (provided the previous weekend isn't a Malaysian public holiday). If you arrive on a Friday or Saturday, hotel vacancies may be more difficult to find.
With regard to the time of year you visit, see my comments above about the weather. To summarise though, February through to September is very hot while October through to January is still hot but can be very wet. October and November appear to be about the two most comfortable months - temperature wise - but this period is subject to heavy downpours which can be a little disruptive.
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The 2005 Farang Invasion of Hat Yai
When I first visited Thailand in 1987 there were very few foreigners in the country compared to the situation now, even in Bangkok. That changed a long time ago. For many years it hasn't been possible to go anywhere in Bangkok and avoid farangs.
Chiang Mai became a favourite farang alternative to Bangkok some years ago and is now overrun by Westerners. Coastal areas (Hua Hin, Pattaya, etc) and major tourist islands (Phuket, Samui, etc) have gone the same way.
I have nothing against my own kind per se but being surrounded by Westerners rather defeats the purpose of my being in Thailand.
When looking for somewhere to live in Thailand I wanted a decent level of infrastructure, the availability of a few Western comforts, but somewhere that still felt very 'Thai'. Hat Yai seemed to fit the bill quite well. It's not pretty, but pretty gets boring. A day or two on even the most beautiful beach or island in Thailand is about all I can take before I am bored out of my brain.
On my first visit to Hat Yai in 2002 the lack of foreigners was one of the things that attracted me and when I went to live there near the end of 2003 there were still very few. It was rare to see more than a handful in one day, even in the city centre.
That all changed in 2005 for some reason. At the beginning of 2006 I couldn't believe how many I saw every day now and it wasn't just my imagination because all of my Thai friends were saying the same thing.
Footnote: After the immigration clampdown that started around September 2006, and which subsequently made it difficult for foreigners without proper visas to stay permanently in Thailand, a lot of the farangs who suddenly arrived in 2005 disappeared again.
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The 2006 Malaysian Invasion of Hat Yai
When the insurgency problems in southern Thailand flared up again at the beginning of 2004 it affected business in Hat Yai even though Hat Yai was hardly affected by the troubles. Throughout 2004 and 2005 there were a lot fewer Malaysian tourists visiting Hat Yai than usual.
Things returned to normal in 2006. The 2006 Songkran festival resulted in about 75,000 visitors making a trip to Hat Yai and, for the first time in ages, all hotel rooms in town were booked out. Since then the Malaysians have continued to make their weekend trips as confidence has been restored. The majority are ethnic Chinese, along with a few Indians and ethnic Malays.
There is still so much hotel capacity that you will always be able to find a room somewhere but if you arrive at the weekend and want to stay somewhere specific it would be wise to book a room in advance.
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The 2007 Demise of Hat Yai
It's May 2007 and Hat Yai appears to be dying a slow death. Ever since the insurgency problems in the southern provinces flared up again at the beginning of 2004, Hat Yai's tourist economy has suffered.
The incidents that have actually occurred in Hat Yai didn't help but the economy seemed resilient enough to be able to stage a comeback. However, now that we are into the fourth year of the problems and there is still no end in sight, I'm not so sure about that any longer.
Yesterday was a Friday and in the evening I went downtown for a massage. The streets should have been crowded with weekend tourists from Malaysia and Singapore but they were deserted.
I went to the Siam Centre hotel only to find out they have closed their massage shop. One of the hotel staff told me it was because there were no customers. I heard recently that C-Spa has closed down and I have noticed that a number of small businesses and restaurants ('2gether' restaurant and Orkar Part 2 nightclub, for example) have also closed. The massage place I ended up at was also deserted.
What is interesting is that new hotels continue to open fairly regularly. I guess though that what will happen is the new hotels will attract guests and that, in turn, will result in some of the older ones closing down.
It's a sad thing to witness. The government desperately needs to sort out the situation in the south otherwise the situation will only continue to deteriorate.
Update 28th May 2007. Last night, more explosions went off in Hat Yai. I was not aware of any problems until I saw the report on The Nation web site this morning. When the last explosions happened I received quite a few phone calls but mobile phone networks were cut last night just in case mobile phones were being used to detonate the devices.
According to the report, no one was killed. The devices were small, apparently, designed to create chaos rather than cause loss of life. I suspect that the terrorists have been successful in meeting their objectives and that Hat Yai's tourist trade will go even quieter than it has been recently.
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2007 Engineering Works
Whenever I return to Thailand from Singapore, one of the most notable aspects of Thailand is that there are electricity cables everywhere. In Singapore - as in most developed countries - these are hidden underground.
A few years ago, some local government billboards appeared promoting the idea of doing the same in Hat Yai but nothing happened.
Of all the local government ideas, I really liked the idea of burying ugly electricity cables but it looked as if nothing would ever happen. However, all of a sudden some time during 2007, the workmen arrived and started digging up lots of roads.
After everything was finished it looked great. Around the same time that the cables were put underground, new pavements were laid and it gave central Hat Yai a completely different look.
The man behind this work was Hat Yai's mayor, Prai Pattano.
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January 2008 Update
As 2008 gets underway, here is a quick update on what's happening in southern Thailand's main commercial and transport hub. It's a mixture of good and bad.
Starting with the good stuff, the ongoing civic redevelopment of the city centre that started last year is taking shape very nicely. Running in parallel with the project to bury electricity cables underground, they have also been laying new pavements (sidewalks, if you are American).
All of a sudden, Singapore-style 'developed world' pavements have started to replace the typical broken and uneven excuses for pavements that can be seen all over Thailand. I am extremely impressed. They have even repaved the road surface around Lee Gardens and it looks great.
While the work was being carried out, the Lee Gardens area was closed to traffic and very pleasant it was too. Last year, on one version of the free map that is given away to tourists, there was an artists impression of the area as it would finally look and the drawing indicated it would be a pedestrian-only zone.
I was therefore disappointed that when the work was completed, they reopened the road to traffic. There is already far too much traffic on the surrounding roads and it would have been great just to have one small area where you could walk around without fear of being run down by kids racing their motorbikes.
The other question that remains to be answered is whether the new pavements will remain clear or not. The fact that the work has been carried out by the local municipality would indicate that the pavements are public property but Thais have a habit of claiming pavements in front of their houses and shops as their own.
They clutter them up so that pedestrians cannot pass and even create physical obstructions with large plant pots and other objects so that people are forced into the road in order to get past.
The pavement upgrade programme covers a large area and when it is all finished - along with the removal of the rest of the overhead power cables - it will have completely transformed the general look of Hat Yai.
In addition to the work in the downtown area, another new development has been built next to Diana department store. It's a small leisure area with water in the middle, some small shops and a food centre that is pleasant to sit or walk around in the evenings.
On the downside, the economy is still not good and for a town that relies so much on Malaysian weekend tourism, hotel occupancy rates are still way down. The town still gets very busy on fixed holidays (New Year, Chinese New Year, Songkran, Muslim holidays, etc.) but is quiet the rest of the time.
The last time I went to Hat Yai airport (November 2007), it was still being advertised as an international airport but that is no longer the case. For a while, the sole remaining international flight out of and into Hat Yai was operated by Tiger Airways to Singapore but Tiger pulled the plug in November.
This was a huge blow to me personally, as I have family in Singapore. It was great being able to take a 20 minute ride to the airport and fly down to Singapore in just over an hour for not a lot of money. My options now are to fly to Bangkok first and then get a connecting flight to Singapore (inconvenient and expensive) or sit on a bus for 14 hours and arrive in Singapore at 4am.
It will also be a disappointment to those Singaporeans who used to enjoy weekends in Hat Yai. Tiger Airways, apparently, are very keen on the Indian market and since starting routes into that sector want to do as much business there as they can. As they don't have a massive fleet, it has meant cancelling other routes and Hat Yai is the casualty. Tiger still operate flights to Phuket and Bangkok from Singapore.
In the same month, Nok pulled the plug on its Hat Yai to Phuket flight. Being the lucky person I am, I flew to Phuket one day before this happened. I was thus unable to get a direct flight back from Phuket and had to fly via Bangkok. What should have been a 40 minute flight ended up taking me all day to get home.
Another unwelcome result of the flagging economy are increasing crime rates. Barely a week goes by without hearing about a break-in or a bag-snatching incident. There was a break-in where I work last week and a computer LCD monitor was stolen.
At the beginning of January, the room next to mine was broken into early one morning. The single girl staying there was beaten severely, robbed, and her assailant then tried to rape her.
The detection rate is very low and people I know who have had bags snatched have told me the police told them they can't do anything. However, the burglar/thug/rapist was picked up on a nearby shop's CCTV system and the police apprehended him.
As happens in Thailand, he was taken back to the scene of the crime later (along with lots of police and an army of press and photographers) to re-enact his crime. I just hope he spends a very long time behind bars.
There is certainly no need to be paranoid about crime in Hat Yai but it would be advisable to exercise caution, especially in quiet areas at night. Single females should be especially careful and make sure their rooms are secure at night. Without exception, every incident I have heard about has only involved female victims. It would appear that Thai criminals are not very brave.
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May 2010 Update
Thailand is certainly a very different place now compared to how the country was when I first arrived seven years ago.
On top of a global recession southern Thailand has suffered from renewed outbreaks of Muslim insurgency since the beginning of 2004. Just as that started to quieten down, the Red Shirt problem in Bangkok flared up, causing further turmoil. When will it all end?
Hat Yai's tourism industry has never really recovered. At times it looks to have done so, but then everything goes quiet again.
This year was exceptionally busy during Chinese New Year and the Songkran festival with Hat Yai hotels fully booked. However, outside of major holidays it has been very quiet.
There has been another little influx of farangs this year. I'm not sure why; perhaps it has to do with the problems in Bangkok? Quite a few appeared just before the beginning of the new school year so I expect most will be doing the teaching English thing in Thailand, as many farangs do.
Hat Yai's development continues, with large posters of each project and a grinning Phrai Pattano staring out at you all around town.
There has been talk of a cable car for years, and recently more posters have appeared. It looks as if it will be located in the municipal park and carry people up to the Kuan Im temple.
This will be a welcome addition because the temple is difficult to get to if you don't have a car. The road leading up the hill is so steep that tuk-tuks can't even make the ascent.
The project of burying electricity cables in the centre of town a few years ago was a great success. The overhead cables look a real mess. More posters have appeared indicating that this work will continue in other areas of town.
The mess of cables in the photo above is directly above the 'before and after' poster to the right.
It's a shame that still nothing has been done about a pedestrian bridge in front of Carrefour. Carrefour has been open for about six years now, it's a very busy area. and sometimes it is almost impossible to cross the road in front of the supermarket.
December 2011 Update
Hat Yai continues to grow and develop and the town is noticeably busier than when I first arrived at the end of 2003. I started off living quite centrally and gradually moved further out. My next move will take me quite a long way out.
The central area is convenient for many things, but nowadays there is too much traffic and general hustle and bustle for me personally.
Since last writing one of these updates, there was a big flood in November 2010. By all accounts it was the biggest flood ever to hit Hat Yai. The damage was huge. Some businesses, such as the TOPS supermarket branches at various locations, took about seven months to recover and other businesses closed altogether.
With bad flooding in Thailand's northern and central regions in 2011, a lot of people were worried that Hat Yai would flood again. However, at the time of writing there hasn't been a problem. From what local people have told me, some big errors were made last year. This year, however, the situation is being managed very carefully.
Hat Yai actually has excellent flood defences and the problem last year came about because of mismanagement of the reservoir levels in adjacent districts.
More overhead electricity cables are being put underground along Phetkasem Road, and the 'new' road between Hat Yai and Songkhla is being resurfaced. These projects have caused quite a lot of inconvenience but they will make things better in the long term.
I've had a busy year personally and haven't been able to get out and about as much as I would have liked. On the occasions that I do, it amazes me how quickly Hat Yai changes. Old businesses close and new ones spring up all the time. It's difficult keeping pace with the changes.
I still like Hat Yai. I used to enjoy Bangkok but I don't these days. The capital is too big, too crowded, too crazy, too hot, too developed, and there are too many Westerners there. The popular farang tourist resorts in Thailand have been ruined by tackiness and overdevelopment. In contrast, many others areas of Thailand remain underdeveloped and are a bit boring.
On the other hand, I like the balance in Hat Yai. It is developed enough to be comfortable and convenient, but it is still like a real Thai town and it is interesting. There are lots of tourists but they are nearly all Malaysian and Singaporean. Because of this, it doesn't have the same feel as Pattaya, Samui, Phuket, etc.
Regarding tourism, the problems in the southern provinces have eased, and many tourists have returned. The town is always full of Malaysian tour buses and these can be seen in great numbers at Hat Yai's floating market. Once again, hotels are getting fully booked on Malaysian holidays and this is good for the local economy.
If you arrive in Hat Yai during a busy time and find all the hotels in the central area full, bear in mind there are several hotels a short distance outside the central tourist area which almost always have vacant rooms.
This site continues to attract new visitors, especially from Malaysia and Singapore, and I am always happy to try to help. I've met a few people personally this year and it has been fun.
Please consider providing some feedback about hotels, restaurants and anything else in Hat Yai because your comments will help to improve the information here.
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July 2012 Update
The lowlight of the year so far was the car bomb blast in the Lee Gardens Plaza carpark on Saturday 31st March.
The tourist industry was doing quite well up until then and everyone was getting ready for a big influx of Malaysian and Singaporean tourists for the Songkran festival. Of course, this event resulted in lots of hotel cancellations and Songkran was a damp squib, just as the New Year celebrations were this year due to torrential rain.
The businesses operating in Lee Gardens Plaza were forced to close, although the Lee Gardens Plaza hotel opened again quite quickly. As I write, McDonalds has just opened again (looking better than before) and other businesses have opened or are about to open.
The tourists have started to come back but numbers still look a bit low.
The traffic situation in Hat Yai these days resembles Bangkok at times. From about 3pm on weekdays (when parents start to collect their kids from school) until around 7pm after everyone has gone home from work the roads are gridlocked. It's no joke.
I've really had enough and should hopefully be moving out of the central area soon. However, the area we are moving to near the airport is also getting very busy with lots of new housing developments being built. Hat Yai continues to grow at a crazy rate.
The employment opportunities in Hat Yai attract people from all over Thailand and apparently lots of people have moved to Songkhla from the three troubled provinces in the deep south - Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala.
On a more positive note, more electricity cables and phone lines have been put underground (this time along Phetkasem Road) and not being able to see ugly cables everywhere has made a huge difference. It looks so much better.
Another large branch of HomePro has opened on the Sadao road and a new Central Festival department store will open on the same road soon. A large branch of Thai Watsadu opened on the airport road. In this respect, Hat Yai is becoming more like Phuket with all of the out-of-town superstores.
Houses are being built everywhere and the demand for housing is rapidly pushing up land and property prices. If you thought that houses in provincial Thailand were cheap as chips, Hat Yai is becoming an exception. Interestingly, a lot of new condominium buildings have sprung up and these are selling like hotcakes. Most are sold offplan before the building is even built.
A lot of Thais are buying new properties purely for investment purposes. New places are built, but then not occupied. The local investors seem to think that property prices will keep going up and are waiting for the best time to sell.
They might be right, but what is happening looks very much like the formation of a property bubble. There have been many in recent years and they always end with a big pop.
There is Eight Condominium, Plus Condo, Prompt Condo, Peony Condominium, The Grand IB, The Best Condominium, Centris, The Rise, and many others.
A friend who invests in land and property and thus keeps tabs on the local property market told me that there are 43 new condo buildings in Hat Yai.
When I first arrived in Hat Yai the only condominium building was Napalai Place and condo units there sat unsold for years because no one was interested. Now, it seems that everyone wants to buy a condo.
It is possible that increased land and house prices have pushed people out of the market for houses and now their only option is to buy a condo. Building condos also maximises profits for developers as they can build far more condos than they can houses on a given piece of land.
This is good news for foreigners wanting to buy property in Hat Yai because Thai law prevents them from buying land. Condos don't have any land. However, if you are interested in buying a condo you need to get in very quick.
I looked at some one and two bedroom condos. The design made good use of the space but they were tiny. I guess that the buyers are young, single professionals or maybe university students whose parents have money. There is no garden, of course, and very little maintenance. This will suit some people.
High rise condos are also good places to be when there is a flood. All the building in Hat Yai hasn't helped the flood situation and I have been told that nothing has been done regarding flood prevention since the big 2010 flood.
Flooding is still a very serious issue in the region, however, lower than average rainfall is being predicted for this coming rainy season which will commence in October.
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