Hat Yai, Thailand
Located in the Southern Thai province of Songkla, some 947 kilometers from Bangkok and 50 kilometers north of the Malaysian border, Hat Yai makes an ideal stopover for visitors. Its vibrant nightlife, attractive shopping areas, exotic food and gorgeous temples appeal to travelers of all purposes - as an ideal family getaway, a romantic interlude for couples or budget travelers looking for an interesting holiday.
At first glance, the town can be described as plain at best. The dilapidated buildings lining the major roads could put you off a little, but only for a while.
The real charm shines through once you observe the town a little more closely. On the "tourist streets" of Niphat Uthit 1, Niphat Uthit 2 and Niphat Uthit 3, large restaurants dishing out gourmet seafood beckons all food lovers. Oriental delicacies like bird's nest, roast pigeon and shark's fin soup are served. Customers are invited to take their pick of the day's catch from the seafood freezers placed outside the restaurant. Choose from a wide range of tiger prawns, squids and fish; and get them to cook it to your specifications. The prices are rather attractive too - a gourmet meal for two starts from around 500 Baht. If you're looking at enjoying the delicious Thai food from the comfort of a hotel, Lee Garden Plaza hotel would be a good choice. A 'Top of Hat Yai' eat-as-much-as-you-like meal at their skyway restaurant costs no more than 200 Baht per person.
For foodies who prefer more down-to-earth choices, numerous roadside stalls serving popular Thai beef noodles, Chicken Rice, the mouth-watering Tom Yam and barbecued seafood for bargain prices. There's also heaps of local fruits like lychees, the ever-famous durian, mangoes and rambutan to try after your meal. Food served at roadside stalls are generally safe for consumption However, visitors are strongly advised to drink bottled mineral water as the tap water in Hat Yai is not fit to drink.
Food aside, the main attraction in Hat Yai would be shopping. Shoppers can indulge in the myriad of goods available - from high-end designer clothes and leather handbags available at Central Sukontha Shopping Center and Robinsons to more modest items from the makeshift stalls. Pseudo-designer goods festoon these stalls, with beautiful Thai silk material, intricate handicrafts and jewelry, leather bags, watches and sportswear all going for a song.
If the Niphat roads are not enough to satisfy your shopping needs, you can venture further afield to the market area (known as "pasar" to the locals) on a "tuk-tuk". (A "tuk-tuk" - a modified pick-up truck - is the best way to travel around the city, especially when you're laden with purchases. A ride within Hat Yai town costs 10 Baht per person.)
At night, the town comes to live with garish neon lights and music from alfrenso cafes like Delifrance and Coffee Bean. The unique thing is that these street cafes only appear after 10pm. Sipping a cup of coffee in the middle of Hat Yai is one of the most memorable experience ever - a must-try for all visitors.
In the middle of your cuppa, you might find an elephant standing nearby. These elephants, displaced from timber camps in Northern Thailand, are trained to stretch out their trunk for a few Baht. If you oblige, you get to feed the elephant sugarcane. The beast will thank you by playing a few notes on a harmonica. Cool, huh?
If it's the raunchy Hat Yai nightlife you want to experience, there's plenty to choose from - and for a fraction of the price in other cities. Tasteful cabaret shows, like the Tiffany Show featuring male transvestites, are a favorite haunt for tourists. The performers, clad in shimmering costumes, will flaunt their assets as they dance gracefully on stage. Indeed, some of the transvestites will put many females to shame with their dancing skills. The cabaret shows, plus nightclubs, bars, pubs and discotheques will ensure that night owls will have a memorable trip.
Tired bodies can head for the famed traditional Thai massage, which costs around 300 Baht. These professionally trained masseurs that can be invited to the hotel room, as long as you inform the hotel staff.
International class accommodation is plentiful and offers reasonable rates, due to the favorable exchange rates. A one-night stay at top hotels, such as the Central Sukhonta, Lee Garden Plaza Hotel and Regency Hotel starts from approximately 1200 Baht per night. These are four star hotels that offer comfortable rooms and excellent service. For budget travelers, cheaper accommodation starts at around 100 Baht per night, at the non air-conditioned hostels. If you're not adverse to making reservations via the Internet, check out the Phuket Jet Tour website. I made my reservations via this online travel agent, and was very satisfied with the results. Alternatively, you can make a reservation with Lee Gardens Plaza.
This southern province of Thailand makes an excellent, low-budget holiday, where you can shop till you drop, indulge in a gastronomic bonanza or simply enjoy the glittering attractions waiting to sweep you off your feet.
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Hat Yai is easily accessible by rail, road and air. Thai Airways flies daily from Bangkok to the Hat Yai International Airport. Flying time is about an hour.
Trains depart from the Bangkok Main Station several times a day.
Air-conditioned buses leave the Bangkok Southern Bus Terminal nine times a day. The fare for the 14-hour journey is about 450 Baht.
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