Activities And Things To Do In Hat Yai - Page 1
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.
The majority of tourists visiting Hat Yai are ethnic Chinese from Malaysia and Singapore. Hat Yai is well known to them and most 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 local 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.
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.
There are many markets in Hat Yai, just as there are in cities and towns throughout Thailand. As well as being tourist attractions, you can also shop and eat at markets. I therefore wasn't sure in which category to list them so I have listed them separately.
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.
Comments: Adult visitors shouldn't have a problem finding things to do in Hat Yai. However, it is a different story if you have young children who, generally, don't like shopping, massage or eating out.
Central Festival has a games area for children, but it's not very healthy being indoors all the time. Hat Yai Municipal Park is very pleasant, but young children will probably get bored after a while. What can you do?
One option would be to take a trip to the Asian Cultural Village in Dannok on the Thai/Malaysian border. Getting there takes about an hour by road from Hat Yai and if you don't have your own car, lots of minivans leave for Dannok from the bus terminal (Map 4).
The village has activities for children and adults alike. It is very pleasantly laid out and well maintained. Day trips are easy from Hat Yai, but many of the attractions stay open until late and are lit up at night. To see them at their best it is probably better to stay overnight at the village.
Lots more information here: Asian Cultural Village
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.
Latitude: N 07° 00' 25.1" (N 07° 00.418')
Longitude: E 100° 29' 17.1" (E 100° 29.285')
Google Maps: Street Map or Satellite View
Comments: I wasn't sure whether to categorise this under activities or shopping. There's a garden in which you can relax and observe bees going in and out of their hives, but the real reason for attracting visitors is to sell them bee-based products in the large shop.
According to their promotional material, honey and pollen products can cure absolutely anything. Big Bee Garden is open every day from 08:00 until 17:00.
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.
Address: Winning Stadium, Boonraj Alley, Hat Yai
Map: Map 2
Mobile: +66 (0)81 963 1042, +66 (0)88 399 7227
Latitude: N 07° 00' 55.0" (N 07° 0.914')
Longitude: E 100° 28' 53.0" (E 100° 28.875')
Google Maps: Street Map or Satellite View
Comments: I wouldn't expect this to be of any interest to visiting Malaysian tourists, but it might be useful for some people living in Hat Yai.
Winning Stadium has three artificial turf football pitches, which are open from 13:00 to 22:00 every day.
Pitches 1 and 2 are 40m x 20m. The price to use them is Bt750 between 13:00 and 18:00, and Bt1,000 between 18:00 and 22:00.
Pitch 3 is smaller and measures 36m x 16m. The price is Bt550 between 13:00 and 18:00, and Bt750 between 18:00 and 22:00.
It all looks to be very informal and I would imagine that if you want to play just turn up in suitable clothes and ask for a game. Thai men are normally very accommodating to other people when they want to join in an activity.
The stadium is adjacent to the canal that passes under Rajuthit Road, not too far from the Bangkok Hat Yai hospital. There is a Cafe Amazon just next door.
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.
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