Ten Things To Do 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.
Elsewhere on this site I have listed five pages of activities that you can do in and around Hat Yai. However, if you don't know Hat Yai and you have a limited amount of time in the town you may have difficulties deciding what to do.
The Internet is awash with various 'Lists of Ten', so here is my attempt at narrowing down the list to just ten options.
These are daytime activities and therefore I haven't listed any night time or massage options. You can participate in these things in the evening after your daytime activities!
When I say 'around' Hat Yai, I have included some places in the neighbouring province of Phattalung that are about two hours away.
None of these Internet 'Lists of Ten' are definitive and they should all be taken lightly with a large grain of salt. You wouldn't ask me what to have for your lunch because it is only you who knows what you want and my choice is likely to be very different. It's exactly the same with activities.
I have lived in Hat Yai since 2003 and have seen virtually everything there is to see in the town centre many times over. When I have free time, therefore, I don't rush to the downtown area. In fact, I generally avoid it and only go there when I have to.
My personal preference these days is to get out of town and into some attractive, quiet, peaceful areas. However, this wasn't the case when I first moved to Hat Yai and I appreciate that first-time visitors will want to see a lot of the things that now bore me.
I also have two young children these days and any parent knows that the activities you can do with children are very different to the activities that you can do when you are single.
I realise that my tastes are different to other people's and therefore I have included a couple of shopping suggestions, even though shopping isn't one of my preferred leisure activities.
Anyway, take these suggestions for what they are and if you want some more choices there are five pages of activities elsewhere on this site starting here.
In guide books and websites about Hat Yai you will inevitably find the same activity suggestions. You may find that the things that are suggested everywhere else are omitted from this page. Why?
Firstly, it is so that this page doesn't simply duplicate information that can be found everywhere else. Secondly, it is because some of well-known places that get recommended time after time are overrated.
Technically, the reclining Buddha at Hat Yai Nai temple is one of the largest reclining Buddhas in the world. However, once you have made a visit, snapped a photo on your smartphone and posted it to Facebook, that's it. It's a bit of an underwhelming experience.
As I said above, don't take this seriously. Treat these as some alternative suggestions to those you may find elsewhere and do the things that most appeal to you.
For each suggestion below I have also included a 'Getting There' section. Some places, such as Songkhla, are easy to get to using public transport, but others not so. Ideally, you need a car for a lot of these places because they are a slightly off the beaten track. If you have driven up from Malaysia and have a car already, that is perfect.
If you want to hire a car, this is probably best done at the airport. Within the airport terminal are desks for some of the major car rental companies. Also, within the last couple of years, a number of small car rental companies have sprung up on the airport road just outside the airport offering a day's car hire for as low as Bt600 (petrol not included).
My only advice if you use one of these small companies is to check the insurance very carefully beforehand. If you have no, or insufficient insurance, and you are involved in an accident, potentially you could be liable for a lot of money.
If, instead, you want to hire a car and a driver this can be done quite easily. There are lots of freelance taxi drivers in Hat Yai who would be glad to offer this service.
To find a driver, ask your hotel receptionist or just ask a taxi driver on the street. In the downtown area you can find taxi drivers hanging around Duangchan Road just next to the Golden Crown Plaza hotel.
Comments: Many people who visit Hat Yai, both Thais and foreigners alike, do so in order to shop. It's a big shopping town and shopping is a big attraction.
The shopping can broadly be classified into two types. Firstly, there are the Thai style markets, such as Gim Yong and Suntisuk, and secondly there are Western style department stores and shopping malls.
When Central Festival opned at the end of 2013 it completely transformed the shopping landscape in Hat Yai. Before Central Festival opened the malls and department stores were in different locations, but Festival is so big - and so many businesses have moved there - that now virtually everything is under one roof.
In addition to lots of shops, you will find banks, beauty clinics, service organisations, and lots of restaurants. The parking facilities are excellent and unless you visit on an extremely busy day you won't have any problems finding a parking space.
Getting There: Central Festival is a little way out of town and the distance would be too far most people to walk, unless you stay at the Crystal Hotel, which is just across the road.
There are plenty of sawng-thaews (modified pickup trucks with rows of seats in the back) that go there from the downtown area and the price is fixed at Bt10. The problem for many foreigners is that sawng-thaew destinations are normally written in Thai and a little local knowledge is necessary to be able to use them. However, once you get the hang of them they are quite easy.
The other alternatives are tuk-tuks or motorbike taxis. The problem with these is that the drivers ignore the official fare policy and quote passengers the highest fare they think they will be able to get away with. What this means, in practice, is that foreigners get charged a lot more than Thais and that you have to negotiate with the drivers.
More Information: Central Festival
Comments: Hat Yai has no real association with elephants, unlike other places in Thailand such as Surin, where there are lots of elephants, or northern Thailand, where traditionally elephants were used in the teak logging business.
Nonetheless, an elephant trekking facility was set up a few years ago and it is now possible to go elephant trekking in Songkhla province.
Getting There: There are two roads running between Hat Yai and Songkhla and the elephant camp is located on the 'old' road. It's not too far from Hat Yai and you could take a tuk-tuk from town, although the tuk-tuk driver will probably ask for a few hundred Baht.
The cheapest way is just to get on a bus, minivan or sawng-thaew that is going from Hat Yai to Songkhla and to tell the driver to let you off at the elephant camp. This way, it will only cost you around Bt30 (give or take a few Baht).
When returning to Hat Yai, just wait on the main road in front of the camp and you will see quite a lot of buses, minivans and sawng-thaews heading into Hat Yai. Just wave one down and climb on board.
More Information: Elephant Trekking
Comments: I first visited Klong Hair floating market just after it opened in 2008. It was a new experience in Hat Yai, there were no tourists, and I quite enjoyed it. However, after that it quickly became a standard part of the Malaysian tourist loop and screamed 'Tourist Trap'. Every time it was open the car park was completely full of large Malaysian tour buses.
I still took my visiting friends and family along, but I wasn't impressed. On one visit, with a Thai friend who lives in the US, we took a boat trip out on the canal and the water was strewn with garbage. It was quite unpleasant. After that, I didn't return for several years and didn't recommend it.
However, I went back at the end of 2015 and it looked a lot better. The water had been cleaned up and generally the market looked better. There were lots of people and this attraction is obviously still very popular with the Malaysian tourists.
If you have never been before it's worth a look. If you have more time, go along to Khaochaison Floating Market in Phattalung province. It's smaller than Hat Yai, but the setting it is located in is much more attractive. You can also visit Khaochaison Hot Springs, which is nearby.
Early in 2016 another floating market opened in Hat Yai. Baan Pru Floating Market is quite large and has a lot more activities for children compared to Klong Hair.
More Information: Klong Hair Floating Market
Comments: This Chinese-style temple, near the Prince of Songkla University and Tesco Lotus, was turned into a Buddhist university. A lot of work has been carried out and it is now quite an attractive temple. If you enjoy photography it is a scenic place in which to take photos.
Some years ago, at great expense, a pagoda was erected in the grounds of the temple. It is free to climb and from the top you get some great views of downtown Hat Yai and the surrounding area. For sunset photos, plan to visit at just after 6pm.
Everything is free, but it is good form to donate some money when visiting temples. You can do so using a donation box, or you can buy some food for the thousands of large koi carp that also reside at the temple.
Getting There: Mahapanya Vidayalai is located at the far end of Thamanoonvithi Road near the Prince of Songkhla University. It's at the opposite end of Thamanoonvithi Road to the train station. From the centre of town I would consider this a fairly comfortable walk, but many people wouldn't.
If you aren't keen on walking just hop in a tuk-tuk or on a motorbike taxi. When I first arrived in Hat Yai the fare for this distance was Bt10, however, nowadys the drivers will want Bt40 or more.
More Information: Mahapanya Vidayalai
Comments: Like Central Park in New York, Hat Yai's municipal park acts as the lungs of the city. There are very few open or green spaces downtown and people need wide open green spaces in order to breathe. The park is a great leisure area and it is well maintained.
There is quite a large lake, on which you can rent a pedalo, or you can buy some fish food to feed the many large fish.
On the hill behind the park are three separate religious monuments and they are all worth a visit. A cable car was added a few years ago and although it is fun, the experience has been tarnished by the common Thai policy of dual pricing, in which Thais pay one price and foreigners pay a much higher price. On the hill is also an observatory.
From the top of the hill you can get great views of the surrounding area, including the Songkhla Central Mosque, and the canals that take flood water out to Songkhla Lake.
Back at street level there are restaurants with good, reasonably priced food, and also a large memorial to commemorate King Rama V. The Ice Dome is another attraction, but it is one that I refuse to visit because of the dual pricing policy.
Getting There: The park is very easy to get to using public transport as lots of white sawng-thaews go in that direction from Phetkasem Road. The fixed fare is Bt10.
However, if you want to ascend the hill to visit the temples, observatory and cable car, it can be quite a tough walk. A tuk-tuk should have enough power to get up the hill provided that there aren't too many heavy people on board. Negotiate with a tuk-tuk, but make it very clear where you want to go to. On one visit I went by tuk-tuk, but once inside the park the driver refused to go up the hill.
Comments: Hat Yai and Songkhla are joined at the hip like Siamese twins, but they are very different places. If the noise, congestion and general hustle and bustle of Hat Yai starts to get too much for you, a visit to Songkhla can make for a very refreshing change of scene.
Hat Yai is a big commercial town and transport hub. It's good for shopping and business. Songkhla is by the sea, which Hat Yai isn't, and it is a lot more laid back. The streets are generally wider and many are lined with flowers.
You can wander around the historic district looking at old Chinese temples, shopping in traditional style shops, and eating in traditional ice cream parlours, or you can wander along Samila beach. Kao Seng, a small Muslim fishing village with brightly coloured boats right at the end of the beach, is a good place for photos.
Taking the funicular railway to the top of Tang Kuan hill offers some great views of the city and it is fun feeding the monkeys that wait for handouts at the bottom of the hill. Songkhla also has an aquarium.
Getting There: From Hat Yai, nowhere is easier to get to than Songkhla. Many Thais work or study in one town and live in the other. For this reason, there are hundreds of minivans, sawng-thaews, and buses going between the two towns every day.
The most convenient place to find some public transport going to Songkhla depends on where you are staying in Hat Yai. Simply ask your hotel receptionist or one of the locals where to get a bus or van to Songkhla.
More Information: Songkhla
Comments: Songkhla Zoo is one of my favourite zoos. I love animals; the zoo is well maintained; and its location is very attractive. It used to be better, with hardly any visitors, but since a water park was opened inside the zoo it has got a lot busier. Nonetheless, it is still less crowded than many zoos around the world.
There isn't a huge variety of fauna, but most of the animals look to be fairly content. The deer park is great for kids because the deer are tame and can be hand-fed.
Getting There: My initial visits to Songkhla zoo were by public transport. This wasn't easy and involved firstly a bus or minivan, then a sawngthaew, and finally a motorbike taxi. It didn't get any easier once I arrived at the zoo.
The zoo exhibits are widely spread out and there are some very steep inclines. It is possible to walk around the zoo, but very hard work.
The only really practical and comfortable way to get to, and around, the zoo is by car. If you don't have your own car, hire a self-drive car or a car and driver.
More Information: Songkhla Zoo
Comments: I was reluctant to inclde too many temples on this page. Thailand, of course, is famous for its temples, but travelling around just looking at temples can get a bit old.
However, the stainless steel temple behind the Prince of Songkhla university known as Prataat Jedi is quite different to any other temple I have visited in Thailand. The choice of building material is unusual, as is the design of the temple.
Even if you have visited a lot of temples in Thailand, this one is still probably worth a visit.
Getting There: This temple is located behind the Prince of Songkla University on Punakan Road, whick runs alongside the university. It's not that far from central Hat Yai, but it's an awkward journey.
As far as I know, there are no sawng-thaews that run along this road, but in recent years many residential buildings have been built in this area and therefore there may now be a sawng-thaew service.
Even if you can get to the right location, the next problem is that the temple is on top of a hill with a steep, windy, unmade road leading to it. It would be a tough climb up the hill.
Considering that a trip to the temple and back will only take a few hours, it probably isn't worth hiring a car for the entire day.
If you don't have your own car, my suggestion would be to charter a tuk-tuk for a few hours. Be aware that if you aren't Thai the driver will ask for a lot of money, so be ready to barter down his opening gambit.
More Information: Prataant Jedi
Comments: Of the traditional Thai-style markets in Hat Yai, Gim Yong and Suntisuk are probably the best known. Although the top floor of Gim Yong market has a lot of cheap electronic goods from China, this market is mainly known for food and clothes.
Suntisuk, on the other hand, has DVDs, computer software, lots of gadgets, and para-military style clothing, shoes and accessories. It wouldn't normally be my first choice for buying things (even though I do buy from Suntisuk occasionally), but I just find it an interesting little place to walk around.
Most Westerners will probably be surprised at some of the things for sale at Suntisuk. There are items that would definitely be illegal in most countries, and they probably are in Thailand too, but that doesn't stop anyone from selling them.
Foreigners should also be aware that the computer software and DVDs sold at Suntisuk probably aren't that legal, either. If you use it in Thailand it won't be a problem, but the airport customs and excise department back in your home country might show some interest.
Getting There: Suntisuk is located right in the middle of town and very easy to get to. It is within comfortable walking distance of virtually every hotel in the tourist district of Hat Yai. Every local knows where it is if you can't find it.
More Information: Suntisuk Market
Comments: Phattalung province is still very undeveloped and thus it retains a lot of the natural beauty that disappeared from built-up provincial areas of Thailand, such as Hat Yai, many years ago.
Thale Noi is a protected wetlands area that is very well known both in Thailand and abroad. There are herds of buffalo and a wide diversity of flora and fauna, but it is probably best known for its avian inhabitants.
In addition to many birds that are native to Thailand, Thale Noi also attracts many varieties of migrating birds from faraway lands.
Even if you aren't a dedicated twitcher, it's just a pleasant place to relax and connect with nature.
From Hat Yai, Thale Noi can be visited in a day trip, but my advice would be to stay overnight and take a longtail boatride out on the wetlands early in the morning. There are millions of lotus flowers that close in the heat of the day and are thus best seen in the morning when they are open.
The drive from Hat Yai to Thale Noi takes around two hours. Government accommodation is available and there are also a number of private accommodation options.
If you decide to visit Thale Noi and you also want to see as much as possible in this area of southern Thailand, you can stop by Khaochaison on the way back. The main road (Highway 4) from Phattalung to Hat Yai passes the Khaochaison intersection and visiting the floating market and hot springs would only add a couple of hours to your journey.
I think that the hot springs are open every day, but bear in mind that the floating market only operates at weekends.
Getting There: My first visits to Thale Noi were done using public transport. From Hat Yai, there are quite a lot of buses and minivans that go to Phattalung town every day. The vans take about 90 minutes and the big buses around two hours.
If you have plenty of time and want to enjoy some good scenery there is also a train that runs between Hat Yai and Phattalung. It's slow, but it's very cheap and quite a pleasant ride.
Once in Phattalung main town you can get a sawng-thaew to Thale Noi. The journey time will depend on how long the driver wants to wait around for passengers. If his sawng-thaew has empty seats he may decide to wait around a long time to try to fill them.
The journey by public transport takes quite a long time, but it isn't too bad. Driving your own car is best and it only takes about two hours to get from Hat Yai all the way to Thale Noi.
More Information: Thale Noi
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