Hat Yai Year by Year
IntroductionPreviously the information below was on the first page of this site, which is the page I use to introduce Hat Yai. However, that page was getting too big and it had started to look cluttered. I have therefore created a separate page.
I moved to Hat Yai at the end of 2003 and started this site a little later. Starting in 2005 I started to write a very brief overview of each year, including any major events (good and bad) and some of my own impressions as a Hat Yai resident.
It's all personal and therefore very subjective, and you shouldn't take anything too seriously.
The 2005 Farang Invasion of Hat YaiWhen 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.
The 2006 Malaysian Invasion of Hat YaiWhen 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.
The 2007 Demise of Hat YaiIt'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.
2007 Engineering WorksWhenever 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.
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.
January 2008 UpdateAs 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.
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.
May 2010 UpdateThailand 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.
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 UpdateHat 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.
July 2012 UpdateThe 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.
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.
November 2013 UpdateIt has been a quiet year in Hat Yai and I also sense that Thailand has recently entered a period of change.
First of all regarding the local flood situation, there was no flooding last year and this rainy season has been very dry so far. The big Hat Yai flood of 2010 occurred in the early hours of 2nd November after a very wet October. I am writing this on 1st November 2013 and everywhere looks bone dry after an October with very little rain. Other regions of Thailand have experienced some bad flooding recently.
That's the good news, but on the other hand I haven't seen much evidence of the city shoring up its flood defences for when another big storm arrives, as it will do sooner or later. This lack of activity regarding flood protection doesn't exactly fill me with confidence.
The southern insurgency problem hasn't really affected Hat Yai at all this year and even the recent anniversary of the Tak Bai incident on 25th October passed very quietly. This doesn't mean that the situation is improving. It actually seems to be getting worse inside the three affected provinces, but there has been less activity outside of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani.
Security continues to be quite tight in Hat Yai because the authorities are very aware that Hat Yai is a major target for insurgents. Hat Yai is the largest commercial centre in southern Thailand and it is also close to the problem area.
Tourism - mainly from Malaysia and Singapore - brings a lot of money into the city and the relevant authorities don't want to risk losing this income. Identity cards or driving licences must now be shown when parking in any car park and Lee Gardens Plaza intoduced airport style security screening. These measures are quite reassuring.
At times of the year when the security services suspect that there might be problems it is a common sight to see lots of soldiers and police on the streets. It's good to know that the threat is being taken seriously.
Regarding the changes I mentioned above, Thailand has been experiencing a booming economy for quite a long time and the Baht keeps getting stronger and stronger. As a result the economy has become a little detached from reality.
For a long time in Thailand, the used car market has been vastly overpriced. It finally crashed this year as a result of the government operating a populist policy to discount the price of new cars for first time buyers.
Even before this policy was launched there was a lot more supply than demand so I could never work out why used car prices were so high. Once the discount programme had been launched many more cars hit the road. After a while some people realised that they couldn't keep up with repayments and so even more used cars became available.
This extra supply completely saturated the used car markets and prices crashed. Used car prices in Thailand are now more in line with used car prices elsewhere, and no longer go for crazy prices.
I sense that something similar is about to happen with the housing market. This is another sector of the economy that has been going crazy in Hat Yai is recent years. Land prices have shot up and there has been a massive construction boom in recent years.
When I first arrived in Hat Yai, and for several years after, there was just one condo building - Napalai Place. Many of the units inside Napalai Place had remained unsold since it was built and the original plans for shops and restaurants had been abandoned.
A few years ago a condominium boom started and now there must be 60 or so new condo buildings. There are also lots of new housing developments. However, there are now probably too many.
There are rich Thais around who can afford the prices, but not that many. I think that some of the more recent developments are struggling to find buyers. I also believe that a lot of Thais have bought condos and houses solely for investment purposes. If the market crashes, their plans to make a quick profit could be shattered.
The new Central Festival shopping mall has been making good progress and should be open for business on 14th December 2013. I don't expect it to be completely finished when it opens, but more shops should open up throughout 2014. It is a huge development and in addition to shops there will be restaurants and entertainment venues including a cinema.
Everyone seems to be looking forward to it opening, although the traffic around that area is going to be a nightmare. Many thousands of people have moved to Hat Yai from the three troubled provinces in recent years, and with many Thais having bought discounted cars, rush hour traffic in Hat Yai is now almost as bad as Bangkok.
Central Festival is a continuation of the trend for businesses to open new operations out of town. There is almost no available land in the town centre, and what land is available is very expensive. The central tourist district has changed very little and these days I find it quite boring.
The airport road and the area around the airport is getting very busy with lots of property development taking place - both residential and commercial. There is still plenty of land available in this area and a huge bonus is that most of the land is on high ground and doesn't flood.
With so many out of town superstores these days, there is no need to go downtown. Parking is another problem downtown, whereas all the big stores have big car parks. The opening of Central Festival may even force some downtown businesses to close. Eventually, the area around Lee Gardens Plaza will cater to tourists only.
2014 - The year of another big slowdownFirstly, 2014 has been a very difficult year for me personally. Our son was born with pneumonia just 10 days into the new year, and then our daughter started to receive more treatment for a condition she was born with that was treated, but then relapsed. I hardly get a free minute to myself these days.
For these reasons I haven't had the time to do many updates to this site. I apologise for this, but circumstances have been beyond my control.
Secondly, tourism in Hat Yai from Malaysia and Singapore has been very slow with many hotels only having an occupancy rate of about 20%. The reasons cited are economic problems and issues with Thai politics, but I assume that the last terrorist attack on May 6th 2014 also deterred a lot of tourists from visiting.
The Hat Yai tourist industry has a lot of its eggs in one basket and whenever Malaysia sneezes everyone in Hat Yai gets a cold.
There has also been some tit-for-tat squabbling between Thailand and Malaysia regarding tour buses. For a long time a law regarding the colour of licence plates hasn't been enforced in Malaysia and Thai tour buses have been allowed to travel in Malaysia. However, Malaysia started enforcing the existing law and Thai bus operators started to receive fines.
The Thais responded by only allowing Malaysian tour buses to go as far as Songkhla, and no further. If Malaysians want to travel further into Thailand they must use a Thai tour bus. This is something else that hasn't helped tourism in Thailand.
This web site has been extremely quiet this year. There are many different reasons for this, but one is the reduced number of tourists visiting Hat Yai. If visitor numbers to this site continue to fall I may have to pull the plug completely.
Dengue fever has also been on the rise in Hat Yai this year. We get quite a few of the stripy Aedes mosquitoes that carry Dengue around our house.
Probably my most significant accomplishment this year was converting this website to a responsive design so that it can be viewed properly regardless of the device it is being viewed on. This is important these days with so many people using smartphones as Internet browsers.
2015 - Another quiet year?My personal situation is better than last year, although I am still very busy with two young children in the house. The good news is that instead of having no time at all to do anything, I now have a little time.
I actually had time to go for a foot massage at one of Hat Yai's many massage shops last week and was asking the masseuse about the Malaysian tourist trade. She said that it was very quiet. I have also noticed that the town centre has been very quiet. Chinese New Year should see a sudden influx of tourists, but after that I expect it will go quiet again.
Global economic downturns appear to go round in seven year cycles. The last one was in 2008 and lots of people are predicting that 2015 will be a bad year for the global economy. Like many other people, I am happy that filling my tank with petrol is now cheaper than it has been for a long time, but the low oil price would seem to be an indicator of big economic problems just around the corner.
As I stated before, the Hat Yai tourist trade relies almost exclusively on tourists from Malaysia, and the Malaysian economy has entered a bad patch.
Malaysia is the only emerging economy in Asia that is a major energy exporter, and liquefied natural gas and petroleum products make up 14 percent of exports. The low oil price is therefore hurting the Malaysian economy.
In addition, the Malaysian Ringgit has recently been at its lowest value against the dollar since 2009. Further, the Malaysian government is expected to introduce a Goods and Services Tax (GST)in April. This will increase the inflation figure and it means that Malaysians will have less money in their pockets for luxury items, such as weekend trips to Thailand.
I am writing a day after there were a couple of small explosions near the Siam Paragon shopping mall in Bangkok. No one was killed, but these things cause fear and panic. If a similar incident occurs in Hat Yai this year it will be a devastating blow to an already ailing tourist trade.
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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. Every time I research hotel prices the Agoda price is always the lowest and I have received good customer service, therefore I am happy to recommend the company to other people.
If you don't wish to pay for your hotel at the time of booking, Booking.com normally allows you to pay when you check in at the hotel. Some people prefer this method, but I have always found Booking.com to be more expensive than Agoda.
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. However, you will normally find that Agoda is the cheapest and therefore you can save yourself time and money by just booking through Agoda in the first place.
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