Places of Natural Beauty in and around Hat Yai
C e n t r a l- -F e s t i v a l
When Central Festival - the largest shopping mall in southern Thailand - opened in Hat Yai at the end of 2013 it completely transformed the face of shopping, eating and entertainment in the town. Many visitors to Hat Yai now come specifically to visit Central Festival.
Check out my comprehensive floor-by-floor guide to Central Festival in Hat Yai to find out exactly what's there.
As convenient as Hat Yai is for shopping, eating, education and business the town gets more crowded every year and the traffic congestion continues to get worse. It's nowhere near as bad as Bangkok, but it's not good either. With the ongoing insurgency in the three southern provinces, many people from that region have moved permanently to Hat Yai.
In addition, many provincial areas of Thailand have very few job opportunities. Tens of thousands of new graduates are churned out in Thailand every year and they all dream of having successful careers, but this means moving to a location where they can find work. Being such an important commercial centre, and also having quite a big tourist industry, Hat Yai attracts many Thais seeking work.
Originally, I had planned to live elsewhere and had my eye on Chiang Rai province, but marriage and children put an end to my plans. Central Hat Yai is very busy and with every address change I have made since 2003 I have moved further away from the town centre. Unfortunately, I can't avoid the town centre completely and neither would I want to because it contains all the necessities of life. However, I do find that there are times when I need to escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life.
The first thing to note is that although Hat Yai is considered to be a large provincial city, it is actually quite small - especially when compared to Bangkok. The chaos is actually confined to quite a small area and you don't have to go very far at all to get away. Twenty minutes away from central Hat Yai you can find the peace and tranquility of rice fields and rubber plantations where your only companions are cows. My house is ten minutes away from one such area.
Rice field near Hat Yai airport
Rice farmer in Hat Yai
I live near Hat Yai airport and it's actually a great location. It is one of the areas in Hat Yai on high ground that isn't affected by major flooding and this is a very important consideration. It's convenient for the airport, of course, and I can drive to downtown Hat Yai in 15-20 minutes where there are abundant shops, restaurants, schools, hospitals, clinics, etc.
In addition, there are lots of very rural areas in this part of Hat Yai. There is a large reservoir called klong laa, rice fields, fruit orchards and rubber plantations. In these places you have no idea that you are so close to a major provincial town. In many ways, it is the best of both worlds. Places like rural Chiang Rai are very beautiful, but not always convenient.
Head for the hills
Just in front of the range of hills to the east of town are several quiet and peaceful spots. The Prince of Songkla University (known locally as Mor Or or PSU) is open to the public and has lots of green space. There are also lots of cheap cafeterias if you are hungry and/or on a budget. It's a very pleasant environment in which I have spent a lot of time. I worked there for about four years.
The Prince of Songkla University campus
There is a large reservoir within the university campus around which students and lecturers walk, jog, run, and ride bicycles. Lots of people congregate there every evening to exercise and take in some fresh air.
Prince of Songkla University reservoir
You can join in a free aerobics session, or you can find people doing other activities, for example Tai Chi or fan dancing.
The university campus is a safe environment where you will find lots of polite, educated middle-class Thais. The atmosphere is completely different to the tourist areas of Hat Yai, where taxi drivers and shopkeepers aggressively chase the tourist Ringgits.
Fan dancing at the university
Travelling further along Karnchanawanich Road heading north, the Rubber Research Centre has some areas open to the public and then there is Kor Hong (Swan's neck) golf course and Hat Yai municipal park.
The park is very well maintained and although the animal exhibits have now all gone it is still a good place to relax. The only problem with the park is that it gets very busy at certain times.
Saalaa building in the municipal park
The temples on the hill make for an interesting excursion, you can hire a pedalo to cruise around the lake, and sometimes the Saalaa building stages art and photo exhibitions.
From central Hat Yai you can actually walk to Mor Or but failing that there are lots of Bt10 sawng-thaews that will take you to all these places.
You can board a sawng-thaew anywhere along Phetkasem Road but makes sure it turns the right way at the Kor Hong three-way intersection.
You need to turn right for Mor Or and the Rubber Research Centre but left for the golf course and park.
This is one of my favourite escapes from Hat Yai. The setting is great, the grounds are kept beautifully, and the animals all look fairly contented. It's a little tricky getting to - and a little tricky getting around inside the zoo - if you don't have a car.
In the days before there was a water park at the zoo there were very few visitors. However, since the water park opened it is a lot busier. Also, lots of animals have disappeared. Every time I visit the zoo these days, there seem to be less animals.
For more details see: Things To Do Page 2
Songkhla and Hat Yai are nearby each other and closely associated but the two towns are completely different. Whereas Hat Yai is generally a mess with far too much noise and traffic, Songkhla is quiet, peaceful and beautifully kept.
Sunset at Samila Beach, Songkhla, Thailand
You can choose from Samila Beach, Tangkuan Hill, the harbour area or the old part of town depending on how you feel. The aquarium and Kao Seng Muslim fishing village provide other options.
Nowhere is easier to get to from Hat Yai than Songkhla with scores of buses and minivans travelling between the two places every day.
For more details see: Songkhla
Tone Nga Chang Waterfall
About 26km from Hat Yai this seven-tiered waterfall is located in a jungly area and it is a popular swimming and picnic area with the locals. Nearby is the Hat Yai Resort & Golf Club if you want to play golf.
Sawng-thaews go to the waterfall from Hat Yai but you are better off using your own car if you have one. Any one of the many travel agents in Hat Yai can help you with tours or car rental and there are lots of car rental services in and around the airport.
For more details see: Things To Do Page 3
Tone Plew Waterfall is also attractive. It isn't as well known and attracts fewer visitors.
I think that Phattalung province is one of the best kept secrets in Thailand. It has some of the limestone karst formations that are well-known in other provinces, but it doesn't have the hordes of tourists that you see in the well known tourist resorts of Thailand. I have visited Phattalung on many occasions and can count the number of foreigners I have seen on one hand.
Bamboo bridge, Phattalung province, Thailand
Visiting Phattalung main town is like travelling in a time machine. You see Thailand how it has always been and not the facsimile of Western places that many tourist locations have turned into these days. There are lots of rice fields and an enormous number of wild birds. Everywhere you look there are large, white egrets and many other species.
From Hat Yai it only takes 90 minutes to get there by minivan, about two hours by bus, or you can take a train for some very scenic views.
Thale Noi is wonderful if you like lotus flowers and wild birds. If not, then it will be quite boring because there is very little else. It is located on the northern part of Songkhla Lake and when the lotus flowers open in the morning they completely carpet the lake in some areas.
Fisherman, Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand
The birdlife is quite spectacular with a new species to Thailand even being recorded there in February 2001 - the Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus).
Accommodation is available at the visitor centre and there are also a number of private guest houses. Sawng-thaews heading to Thale Noi leave Phattalung main town fairly regularly and the journey takes about 45 minutes. If you drive directly from Hat Yai, bypassing Phattalung main town, the journey takes about two hours.
For more details see: Thale Noi
Nok Nam Khu Khut Park
Regarding the transliteration of this place and all other Thai locations, I don't like the inaccurate way that Thai place names are rendered in English but I will stick to the standard transliterations. If you pronounce 'Khu Khut' in a way that rhymes with the English 'you put' you will be close.
This is another birdwatching and nature spot which is located on the east coast of Songkhla Lake in Songkhla province. It has the birds, but not the lotus flowers of Thale Noi due to the salinity of the water which varies in different parts of the lake.
In some respects the birdlife is better. I have seen lots more large Purple Herons here and there is one spot that is home to dozens of Brahminy Kites. If you go at the right time when they are all flying around looking for fish it is quite a wonderful site.
To get there drive out of Hat Yai towards Songkhla and take route 408 through Yo island towards Nakhon Sri Thammarat. The park is located just before Sathing Phra and it is signposted.
Signpost to Khu Khut
Juvenile Black-winged stilt
Thale Ban National Park
This pretty park is located on route 4184 in Satun province quite near the Malaysian border. To be honest, I am not sure how you would get there without a car. Even with a car it can be difficult to locate due to the absence of road signs. I was very grateful for my GPS when I went, otherwise I think I would have had some major problems.
It's not that big and I didn't see any birds but there is accommodation available within the park. If you are looking for birds and stay overnight you might have some success early in the morning.
As with all National Parks in Thailand (and several other visitor attractions) the practice of dual pricing exists. The foreign visitor price is written in English and the Thai price, which is 1/10 of the foreign visitor price, is written in Thai with Thai numerals.
This practice is a disgrace but it is something you can't escape from in Thailand.
If you live in Thailand, speak and read some Thai, and have some form of Thai ID you can sometimes negotiate the Thai price. It's not right and it's not fair but this goes on everywhere in Thailand.
Due to the parks location in the deep south and proximity to the Malaysian border, there have been a few warnings about insurgency problems there. I didn't experience anything. The entire staff appear to be Muslim and they were all very friendly, as is usually the case with Thai Muslims.
Accommodation is available within the park.
The distance from Hat Yai as the crow flies is only about 60km but there is no direct road and the driving distance is about 100km.
Thaleban National Park, Satun province, Thailand
Thaleban National Park, Satun province, Thailand
For more information the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation maintain a web site in English through which you can also book accommodation.
I was also given a phone number for Thale Ban but I'm not sure whose number it is or how proficient the person is in English: +66 (0)83 533 1770.
I am a great fan of Songkhla Lake which is located in both Songkhla and Phattalung provinces. There are beautiful spots all round the lake and I have mentioned a couple already.
Close to Phattalung main town is a small area transliterated as Lum Pum, Lam Pam, or Lampam but a more accurate rendering would be Lum Bpum. There's not much there but you can stay at the Lampam Resort & Hotel to relax for a night or two.
The hotel has a restaurant and you can hire kayaks or bikes. Room rates vary between Bt500 and Bt1,200. The road around the lake is very pretty with lots of birwatching opportunities and Thale Noi isn't very far away.
Lum Bpum, Phattalung
Lampam Resort with a minor flood
Walkway into nature
Eye of an owl, Phattalung
Peninsular Botanic Gardens, Phattalung
Amazon Thailand, Phattalung
The official name is the General Prem Tinsulanonda Historical Park, although I don't know what is historical about it. This is a very pleasant natural area which is within easy striking distance of Songkhla or frenetic Hat Yai.
General Prem Tinsulanonda Historical Park, Songkhla
Getting there is very easy if you have your own transport. Alternatively you could take a bus or minivan to the big intersection between Hat Yai and Songkhla and then take a sawng-thaew or motorbike taxi towards Yo island.
General Prem Tinsulanonda Historical Park, Songkhla
Route 408 from Songkhla passes through Yo island and there are two long bridges (the longest in Thailand, I believe) which connect the island with the mainland. These bridges are also named after General Prem.
The park is located just before the first bridge on the left. It's open every day and entrance is free. Bicycles can be rented for Bt20 an hour.
The park consists of landscaped gardens with several expanses of water. Bird lovers will appreciate the many cormorants and egrets that nest here as the park is close to a bountiful supply of fish in Songkhla Lake.
General Prem Tinsulanonda Historical Park, Songkhla
There is also a boardwalk which allows visitors to walk out into the mangrove areas. This arrangement is similar to the facility that exists in Krabi.
There are many saalaas and other places to rest or have a picnic. However, there doesn't appear to be any food or drink for sale within the park. You need to take your own.
On the last Sunday of each month there is a special 'Music in the Park' event from 4pm to 8pm. I haven't been, therefore I'm not sure what type of music is played.
After living in Hat Yai for too long, trips to places like this are very welcome. I don't know why Thailand doesn't improve the quality of its cities.
The bigger cities are dirty, noisy, crowded places and the peaceful areas are all well outside. Many big cities in other countries have 'lungs', that is, areas of greenery within cities that allow the city to breathe. But not Thailand.
Latitude: N 07° 08' 50.5" (N 07° 08.841')
Longitude: E 100° 33' 44.0" (E 100° 33.733')
Google Maps: Street Map or Satellite View
Get The Best Deal On Your Hat Yai Hotel Room
Listed opposite are some of my personal recommendations for hotels in Hat Yai based on budget. I have lived permanently in Hat Yai since 2003 and my recommendations are based on a lot of local knowledge.
Each link will take you to the relevant page on the Agoda website where you can see photos, read reviews, and book on-line. I use Agoda to book all of my own hotels in Thailand and the Southeast Asia region. Agoda hotel rates are usually always the lowest and I have received good customer service, therefore I am happy to recommend the company to other people. Here is some analysis I did regarding booking hotels in Southeast Asia.
Booking.com used to be more expensive than Agoda, but when I have checked hotel prices recently I have found their rates to be quite competitive. Unlike Agoda, you don't need to pay at the time of booking with Booking.com - you can simply pay at the hotel when you check in. Also, Booking.com show you total prices whereas Agoda show you a price and then add on 17% for tax and service charge.
If you want to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined.
Images of Thailand
- Buri Sriphu Hotel
- Centara Hotel Hat Yai
- Crystal Hotel
- The Habita
- Hansa JB Hotel
- Hatyai Signature Hotel
- La Pause
- New Season Square Hotel
- S Hadyai Hotel
Near Central Festival