Getting to know Hat Yai

When you think of Thailand, images of tropical palms and warm sunny beaches come to mind.  Or perhaps bustling Bangkok with its numerous street markets and bazaars.  Or perhaps the jungles of northern Thailand, temples and tigers.  I discovered that Thailand has two sides…

When I first arrived in Thailand, I stayed on the tropical island of Koh Samui and if you follow my blog, I’ve recently written all about it.  It had palm-lined beaches; soft sand, coconut trees, mountains and everything you’d come to expect from a tropical island.  I loved my time there.  But, after completing my TEFL certification, I got a job working for an agency in Hat Yai which is a city in the far south of Thailand in the Songkhla province, close to the Malaysia border.

Not knowing what to expect, I boarded the mini-van and headed south.  From Koh Samui, the journey involved a one hour ferry trip, a 20 minute bus journey and then a 5 hour mini-van journey.  The minivan drivers are renown for their speedy driving, a point which I tried desperately to ignore on the way down.

My bus interior

My bus interior – enough to keep anyone awake!!

Arriving at Hat Yai bus station, I stepped out of the air-conditioned mini-van into the humid air.  Loads of people were milling around waiting for their journeys or selling things.  I got approached by many trying to sell me drinks, snacks, lottery tickets or journeys to other destinations.

A quiet corner of Hat Yai bus station

A quiet corner of Hat Yai bus station

After arriving at my hotel, I explored the area a little.  I wondered if I was staying in the wrong area of town as everything had a rather ‘run-down’ look to it.

Side street in Hat Yai

Side street in Hat Yai

Because Hat Yai is so far south, it doesn’t get many tourists other than the ones coming from Malaysia (which is only just over an hour away).  So when I walked down the street, people openly stared at me.  I remember wondering if I would ever get used to that…

The view from my hotel window

The view from my hotel window

I sampled some of the local street food which was and still is, DELICIOUS!!!

Amazing street food - pork green curry and pork panaeng for 30ThB.

Amazing street food – pork green curry and pork panaeng for 30ThB. (50ThB = 1£)

After two weeks in my slightly dingy hotel, I found an apartment.  The apartments here take getting used to.  Most are just large rooms with an en-suite bathroom.  Because the street food is so cheap, most apartments don’t have a kitchen.  I looked at the two biggest apartment blocks in Hat Yai – City Homes and Napalai.  City Homes offered a very large room with a double bed and couch, an en-suite shower/toilet and a small room with a kitchen sink which could be made into some sort of functioning kitchen.  Prices 4500ThB to 5500ThB (£96 – £116 / $150 – $185) per month.

Napalai, a 43 floor building and the tallest in southern Thailand, offered a lounge/dining room with couch, coffee table and TV stand, separate bedroom with HUGE bed, dressing table and wardrobe, a shower room, a small 2nd bedroom and an area with a sink and running water which could be made into a kitchen. (Well there was enough room for a kettle and some cups).  A full size swimming pool, gym, restaurant, coffee bar and small shop were on site too. They also have an onsite laundry. Prices 7500ThB to 8500ThB (£160 – £180 / $252 – $285) per month.

Because Napalai felt more ‘traditional’, I went for that one.  It is VERY expensive by Thai standards but I like my home comforts.  I pay 8500ThB per month because my furniture is modern.  The cheaper ones have cheaper furniture.

Kitchen Area

Kitchen Area

Dining Room

Dining Room

Lounge

Lounge

Bedroom

Bedroom

A TV and fridge are available for rental but it’s cheaper to buy one yourself.  I bought a second hand fridge so that I could enjoy milk in my tea and cereal.  I opted to go for the unlimited wi-fi so I could watch DVDs online rather than rent a TV.  It also enables me to keep in contact with my Mum, friends and family all over the world.

Hat Yai is an odd city.  Like I mentioned above, it doesn’t get many tourists and the westerners that live here seem to be either teachers (the majority of whom are under 30 and enjoy the nightlife), or a few older men that have retired here to enjoy the cheap prices and whatever else (apologies for the generalisation!).

The city is FULL of motorbikes, but then, that is a very Asian thing.  I did rent one but after accidentally going into the back of a car and being ripped off on the payment in a MAJOR way because I was a foreigner, I decided against having a bike.  I now use the public transport.

A tuk-tuk - roughly 20ThB anywhere in the city.

A tuk-tuk.

These miniature vans charge roughly 20ThB to go anywhere in the city.  You do have to negotiate because they take one look at your white face and you can almost SEE the dollar signs (or should that be Thai Baht signs!).

There are licensed guys on motorbikes, aptly called ‘motorbike taxis’ who will take you anywhere in the city for a pre-negotiated price.  Beware of being ripped off though and make sure you negotiate BEFORE you get on.  There are a group of motorbike taxis who sit in front of the hospital next door to Napalai and they all take turns to take me to work.  I negotiated a rate the first time I used them and they all charge me the same now.  They wave when they see me in town and if they see me walking over to them in the morning, they will quickly jump on their bikes and come and collect me.  So sweet…  (I bought them all biscuits for Christmas much to their delight!)

Songthaew

Songthaew

Alternatively, you can use the Songthaews (pronounced songtow) which have set routes along the main roads and charge just 10ThB for the journey.  Here is a great explanation from Wikipedia:

songthaew literally “two rows”; is a passenger vehicle inMalaysiaThailand and Laos adapted from a pick-up or a larger truck and used as a share taxi. It takes its name from the two bench seats fixed along either side of the back of the truck; in some vehicles a third bench is put down the middle of the seating area. Additionally a roof is fitted over the rear of the vehicle, to which curtains and plastic sheeting to keep out rain may be attached. Some vehicles have roofs large enough to accommodate standing passengers within the vehicle, or passengers may stand on a platform attached to the rear.

I really enjoy my journeys in these vehicles.  They go slowly because they are always stopping and dropping people off or picking people up and it really gives you a chance to look around.  Because they are open, they are airy which is a welcome relief from the heat too.  They can get really full though so if you have a problem with people sitting almost on your lap, perhaps consider taking other forms of transport…

Hat Yai has a few western-style restaurants which are frequented by the local western community as well as a few locals.  The Swan pub is owned by a thai man who actually lived in London for a while.  When you enter, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in a pub in England.  Premier League football flags and scarves adorn the walls and ceiling, various English pub ornaments, pictures as well as bar mats are scattered everywhere.  He offers everything from delicious Thai food to some good ‘home’ comforts.  Sausages and mash, english breakfast fry up, roast chicken and gravy, pizza and salads to mention just a few.

The inside of The Swan pub

The inside of The Swan pub

There is a municipal park in Hat Yai which is nice to visit if you want a break from the city.  It is a short drive out of the city centre and is also reachable by songthaew.  If you’re feeling energetic, you can walk/run up the hill to see the huge Buddha statue and see a magnificent view of Hat Yai itself. If you’re not feeling energetic, which is completely understandable in 32C heat and 78% humidity, you can get a tuk-tuk or motorbike taxi to the top.

Hat Yai Municipal Park

The view from the top of Hat Yai Municipal Park (you can see Napalai standing proud on the left of the picture)

Hat Yai Municipal Park

You can hire little pedal boats and pedal around the lake.  Be careful though, there are some SERIOUSLY large catfish in there…

It’s very peaceful up there.  Every so often, you can hear a gentle gong played by people walking around the temple under the statue.

Buddha statue on top of the hill

Buddha statue on top of the hill

One thing I love about being here is, from my bedroom window, I am treated to the most beautiful sunsets that I have ever seen in my life.  The sun goes down around 18:00 and depending on the air and the clouds, nature paints her colours across the sky and I have lost count of the number of photos I have taken.

Beautiful sunset

Beautiful sunset

Hat Yai is just under an hour from the Malaysian border so it’s easy to pop across and boast about visiting another country for an hour and being back in time for lunch.

I will be writing about my visit to Malaysia in the next blog post.

 

 

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6 Responses to Getting to know Hat Yai

  1. Ellalla says:

    Where did you rent the bike? I want to! :) thanks!!

    • admin says:

      Hi there
      I actually rented the bike privately but there are many places around town to rent bikes. They are easy to find because they’ll have many bikes standing outside the front of the shop.
      Roughly 150Thb a day or 3000Thb a month.
      Good luck. If there’s anything rise you’d like to know, feel free to ask :-)

  2. Isabel says:

    Great sharing! I enjoyed the details and thank you for the tips you provided here. Me and my colleague are visiting Hat Yai from KL on 14July so the information is very useful. Cheers! :)

  3. 'Izzat says:

    Hi man when renting a bike is it hard to find the rental shop around town? and do we need a licence to show them to rent the bike? thanks!!

    • admin says:

      Hi
      There are many bike rental places which can easily be seen by the number of bikes outside. The major places will ask for your license yes, and often will keep your passport during the length of the rental.
      Hope this helps.

  4. Ella says:

    Awwww reading your post again. It’s one of my favourite resources ref: hatyai.

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