Situated in the Songkhla province of Thailand, this southern city was built on tourism originating from Malaysia and Singapore. Like the ever-busy Bangkok, Hat Yai is a sprawling food and shopping hub. However, what makes this vibrant city stand out, is the clash between the modern and the traditional. From the endless array of night markets to sleek shopping malls, this beautiful city is often skipped by western travellers, despite the fact that it boasts natural wonders and stunning religious sites.
Hat Yai is hot and humid with just two seasons. The wet season runs from May until December. During this time, monsoons and storms occur frequently. The dry season occurs from January – April and brings more pleasant weather for travellers.
Although Hat Yai is frequently visited by Malaysians, Singaporeans and even Thais, to western travellers, it is still very much off the beaten track. The main reason that backpackers tend to visit, is to extend their visas.
Despite being a cosmopolitan hub used mainly for weekend trips, the prices are surprisingly reasonable. Hat Yai is considerably cheaper than Bangkok so don’t worry if you’re on a tight budget.
Where to stay in Hat Yai
There are plenty of good budget accommodation options in Hat Yai for backpackers. Most of the accommodation options are located in the centre of the city and are close to the main shopping and entertainment area. The railway station is located in the city centre which is really convenient if you are travelling by train.
Top 3 Hostels in Hat Yai!
This hostel situated in the heart of Hatyai is recommended for backpackers for its strong WiFi, shared lounge, simple yet chic dormitory rooms and low price. Owing to its fantastic location in Hat Yai downtown, there are plenty of options if you are looking for street food and things to do. The hostel is located around 5 km away from the three major night markets in Hat Yai.
This highly rated hostel is hugely popular with backpackers and is known for its friendly staff. There are dorm beds and private rooms which have AC. They provide free WiFi and also have a shared kitchen which guests can use. Dorm beds begin at around $10USD per night.
Just a 10-minute walk from the city’s train station, this basic but cheerful accommodation option is a good option for travellers on a budget. Bunks start at just $7USD and there are also private options for couples and families. A simple breakfast is included in the price and consists of fresh fruit and bread.
Besides hostels, Hat Yai also has an abundance of cheap hotels to choose from. Here are some of the best options for backpackers.
Top 3 Budget Hotels in Hat Yai!
Xis Chic Inn
This is a popular choice due to the location and budget-friendly stays offered. For as low as $19USD, you can get a private room which is equipped with a private bathroom and a TV. It is basic but a nice treat for the backpacker craving a little privacy.
With an ensuite double room costing just $22USD per night, you really can’t go wrong with a stay at Hatyai GreenView Hotel. The staff here often let guests check in early which is a welcome relief if you have travelled from Bangkok! There is also an on-site Asian restaurant which is handy if you can’t be bothered to go out and hunt for food!
This budget-friendly yet modern hotel is located in the downtown area of Hat Yai. Free WiFi is provided and rated highly by guests – something not always that common over Southeast Asia! It is located on a quiet street, yet within easy walking distance to the local markets where it is possible to grab cheap street food.
Things to do in Hat Yai
Visit the Khlong Hae Floating Market
Thailand is well known for its floating markets which are located all over the country. Whilst some claim that they are a tourist trap, floating markets offer a way of life for the locals, making it possible for them to travel and sell their wares. Usually, Thailand’s floating markets are only open on the weekends. To beat the crowds of tourists, it’s best to visit early in the morning when the goods on sale are still fresh.
Check out the Night Markets
Bargain hunters will adore getting lost in the three major night markets and taking in the sounds and smell of the city. The best part is, these three markets are located on the same stretch of road which makes it even easier to hop between them.
Asean Night Bazaar is a lively night market. You can find almost everything here from electronics to ‘designer’ clothes. It is commonplace to bargain here so make sure you’ve perfected your haggling skills before your trip!
If you’re visiting with a few people, keep an eye on everyone as this place is packed with crowds and it is easy to get separated. Pickpockets have also been known to frequent this area so make sure you keep tabs on your belongings. After all the bargaining and endless shopping, head up to the second floor for some delicious food. From Pad Thai to Malaysian fried rice and delicious Tom Yum seafood noodles, this night market has got something for everyone.
Greenway Night Market is located around a 3-minute walk from Asean Night Bazaar. There are a variety of products such as cosmetics, handicrafts and clothes available. Compared to Asean Night Bazaar, the hawker centre here is spacious and clean. It is a great place to grab some food too, they offer over one thousand items on the menu! This selection includes local Thai dishes to international cuisine. The most difficult thing about visiting Greenway Night Market is definitely deciding what you are going to eat!
If you’ve battled your way through the biggest of the night markets and you now want the opportunity to shop in peace, head to Central Festival: southern Thailand’s biggest and newest mall. It is so large, that it even features an ice skating rink!
Scale the Ton Nga Chang Waterfall
The jewel is Hat Yai’s crown is undoubtedly the Ton Nga Chang Waterfall. This waterfall is a whopping seven stories high! Located amidst the dense jungle of a wildlife sanctuary, this picture-perfect scenery is a welcome break from the buzz of the city.
It’s advisable to leave early if you plan to visit this waterfall and reach the upper tiers. This is where the views are best. Remember to bring your most grippy travel shoes for the rewarding hike.
Explore the Historical and Religious Sites
Wat Hat Yai Nai is home to a huge reclining Buddha which sees far fewer visitors than the one located at the Wat Pho in Bangkok.
The views from the Hat Yai Municipal Park are great and once you have made it up to the top, there is plenty to do there. Make sure you check out the Buddhist temple and the religious statues.
The serene Phra Maha Chedi Tripob Trimongkol is a beautifully unique attraction even if you are beginning to feel ‘templed out’. It is made from stainless steel which means it is very different from the usual Thai temples. For extra beauty, it is well worth visiting during the evening when it is lit up.
As with visiting any religious temple in Thailand, you will need to make sure you are dressed appropriately to gain entrance into these sites. That means no strappy tops or shots!
Head to Khao Kao Seng
This beautiful Muslim fishing village, located around a half-hour taxi trip outside of Hat Yai is to some, the most picturesque beach in Songkhla.
This area is characterised by the extraordinary rock formations which are located there. Just behind these rocks, lies a royal temple. Despite its royal connections, this place is quite far off the beaten track and sees few tourists.
There are wide boardwalks and the rocks are so big, you can even climb on them. With breathtaking views of the ocean, you won’t believe that you are still so close to Hat Yai.
Sun yourself at Samila Beach
The Golden Mermaid located on Samila beach is an iconic symbol of Songkhla. Locals believe that touching the breasts of the statue will bring them good fortune (ooh la la)!
There is the option to do pony riding on the beach but always ensure that the animals are being treated fairly to avoid feeding into an abusive industry.
End your day on this beach relaxing with a fresh coconut. The sunsets are really something special here so if you can stay to watch the spectacle, definitely do!
Getting Around Hat Yai
With a wide range of transport to choose from, getting around Hat Yai is fairly easy and most importantly for backpackers, cheap. From tuk-tuks to motorcycle taxis, there is no need to walk anywhere! In downtown Hat Yai (shopper’s paradise!), it is recommended to use tuk-tuks to get from A to B, partly for the novel factor but also because the costs can easily be shared. A ride in the city will usually cost around 20baht ($0.60USD) to 60 baht ($2USD).
To get to the outskirts of Hat Yai where the magic lies, the fares are slightly higher. Getting to the Ton Nga Chang Waterfall via a tuk-tuk is tough as if there are usually no passengers going in the same direction as you and you will have to bear all the cost by yourself. Therefore, renting a motorbike is highly recommended as it is difficult to get any transport back to town. Additionally, like in most of the Southeast Asian countries, a motorbike gives you freedom! You can ask the staff are your accommodation for more information about renting motorbikes in Hat Yai.
If you prefer your transport to be slow yet safe, there is always the option of using Uber or popular Southeast Asian alternative, Grab. Transport via these apps costs a little more, however, it is easier to avoid getting ripped off when the price is set. You can opt for the driver to wait for you if you are going to somewhere secluded like the Ton Nga Chang Waterfall or the Khao Kao Seng. Of course, if you arrange for your driver to wait for you, this will come at an additional cost.
Where to go next?
Hat Yai is a great gateway city which provides onward travel to other Thai destinations and neighbouring country Malaysia.
Head south across the Thai/Malaysia border to explore Penang. Malaysia’s street art capital is a great place to chill for a few days, offering a blend of incredible cosines and plenty of different things to do.
Phuket is a great jumping-off point for the most popular Thai islands and it costs just 600baht ($19USD) for the minibus journey there. Although it is not the most comfortable transport in the world, you only have to endure the journey for around 6 hours. Let’s hope the beaches and cheap booze of Phuket is worth the trip!
Make your way north to Thailand’s capital for a crazy few days in the city. With everything from tasty street food, cheap massages, buzzing bar crawls and abandoned sites like the plane graveyard, there is something for every kind of traveller – provided they can withstand the pace!
Header image by Libor Skophek.