In a nutshell
Hat Yai, the biggest city in the Southern Thailand, is located just 60 km from the Malaysian border.
Why go to Hat Yai
With an international airport, two main bus stations and an important train station, for the majority of the Western tourists Hat Yai is just a big transportation hub for further travel to the southern provinces of Thailand or, in the best case, a quick stopover on their way to Malaysia.
Many Westerners would be very much surprised to find out that it is actually a big tourist destination for the Thais and even a bigger one – for Malaysian and Singaporean tourists, who are attracted by big shopping malls where they can shop about everything at cheaper prices compared to their own countries.
If you have time to stop here for one or two nights, Hat Yai will be a pleasant surprise, with its unique combination of tradition and modernity and cosmopolitan atmosphere which is mostly due to the great numbers of Chinese and Malaysian immigrants who populate the city.
A nice floating market and a flea market where you can find everything you might think of will be a challenge for your bargaining skills and the delicious street food will make you happy you decided to stop for the night in Hat Yai.
When to go to Hat Yai
Hat Yai has only two seasons, the dry one, from January to April, and the long rainy season the rest of the year.
The dry season can be really hot and walking around the city can be a bit of a challenge. The worst months in terms of rain in the wet season are usually October and November. In any case, with shopping and eating being the two main activities in Hat Yai, it doesn’t really make a huge difference whether it’s raining or not. Anyway, if you decide to stop in Hat Yai, it is more than likely that Hat Yai won’t be the main destination of your trip but just a stopover point.
Where to stay in Hat Yai
There’s usually no problem to find accommodation in Hat Yai even if you decide to stop here for the night at the very last minute. Some of the big hotels in the city centre might be occasionally fully booked during weekends and some Malaysian or Singaporean holidays, but there’re enough places to find a room at any time of the year.
What to eat in Hat Yai
The cosmopolitan feel of Hat Yai deeply reflects in its multi ethnical cuisine; everywhere in town you will find an abundance of options for Thai, Malaysian and Chinese food and the Western influences coming from the community of expats living in town are also playing a significant role in giving a unique flavour to Hat Yai culinary scene.
A number of night markets will give you the opportunity to taste genuine and tasteful food for few baht, while the big shopping malls host all the major international chains if you’re missing food from home.
How to get around Hat Yai
Hat Yai city centre is quite small and can be easily covered by foot. If shopping is supposed to be your main activity in Hat Yai, then probably you won’t need to get away from the city centre and won’t need any transportation.
Anyway plenty of metered taxis are available and tuk-tuks can be hired at any corner, too. As usually, if travelling by tuk-tuk, always negotiate the price before your start your trip or you’ll end up spending more than for a comfortable ride in air-conditioned taxi. THB70 per person is what you should expect for a ride around town. If you’re a single traveller then a motorbike taxi is cheaper and quicker.
How to get to and from Hat Yai
Hat Yai international airport is the main airport in the Southern Thailand. There are direct daily flights to/from Bangkok Don Mueang (Nok Air, Air Asia, and Lion Air), Bangkok Suvarnabhumi (Thai Smile), Chiang Mai (Air Asia and Lion Air), Phuket (Bangkok Airways), Pattaya (Air Asia) and Chiang Rai (Air Asia).
Check the airlines websites in advance for the best fares. They’re all low cost companies so if you find the cheaper tickets it might be more convenient than travelling by bus or train.
From the airport to town and back you can take a taxi for THB250 or a shared minivan for THB100.
The train station in Hat Yai is located right in the city centre west of all the biggest hotel and Robinson shopping centre. It’s an important hub for all the southern provinces and all journeys further down to Malaysia and Singapore.
There are 5 daily trains leaving Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong train station in the afternoon (the first one at 1pm and the last one at 10.50pm) and heading to Hat Yai. The journey takes around 15 hours and tickets starts at THB530 for a second class rapid train to THB1600 for a first class sleeper. Same prices for the trip back to Bangkok with the last train leaving Hat Yai at 6.45pm.
Other destinations in Thailand which you can reach by train from Hat Yai include Hua Hin and Chumphon, the latter being transit point for trips to Koh Tao.
There is no more direct train from Hat Yai to Malaysia. Regular trains will take you to the border (Padang Besar) for THB70. Once the border is crossed, you can take a Malay train to Butterworth from where you can get the ferry to Penang. An easier option would be to take a minivan (see next section). There are trains from Butterworth to Kuala Lumpur if you need to travel by rail. But direct buses from Hat Yai are probably an easier way to get there.
Buses depart from Hat Yai bus terminal, 3 km away from the train station. To get there, take a motorbike taxi for THB50 or a tuk-tuk for THB100. Buses for Hat Yai depart from Bangkok Southern bus terminal (Sai Tai Mai) all day long. The 12-hours trip will cost you from THB550 for a second class seat to THB1070 for a VIP bus.
From Hat Yai, all the major destinations in the Southern Thailand can be easily reached by direct buses. These also include Surat Thani (5 hours, THB140) and Phuket (6 hours, THB250). A long journey also will take you to Pattaya (18 hours, THB930).
Direct buses are also available to Kuala Lumpur (THB500) and Singapore (THB900).
The main minivan station in Hat Yai is Talad Kaset Station, few km west of the train station. There are direct minivans to Krabi (5 hours, THB230), Pak Bara (main port to Koh Lipe, 3 hours, THB110), Surat Thani (5 hours, THB235) and Phuket (6 hours, THB360).
Minivans to Penang via Butterworth leave any time of the day from different locations in Hat Yai. If you’re close to the train station, then check King’s hotel. The 4-hour journey will cost THB300 and they will drop you at any hotel in Georgetown.
Is Hat Yai a safe place to visit?
Like other southern provinces of Thailand, where Malay rebels are fighting for independence, Hat Yai has been a target for internal terrorism in the last 15 years. The situation has been a lot quieter recently though, with the last bombing happening in 2012.
For any medical emergency Hat Hai has more than twenty hospitals and private clinics to guarantee some of the best medical treatment in Thailand.