Set in the far south of Thailand, close to the Malaysian border, the vast city of Hat Yai is the third-biggest metropolitan area in the entire country. Mostly undiscovered by Westerners, it’s a hub for tourists from Singapore and Malaysia. As the business centre of the region, it holds around 800,000 people in its metropolitan area, and is the rail, air and road transportation hub for Thailand’s far southern provinces.
While Hat Yai isn’t the best place in Thailand for those searching for the country’s traditional culture, it’s great for shopping at the many markets, malls and department stores. The community is multi-ethnic, mixing formerly rural southern Thais with ethnic Chinese and Malay-Muslim incomers, and ensuring a wide choice of tasty Asian cuisines.
An abundance of accommodation is found here, but central, upscale hotels get booked solid at weekends. Budget inns and guesthouses are clustered around the train station, and the mid-range properties and a luxury hotel are set close to the centre and its many shopping and dining options.
Getting here is fastest by air, with Hat Yai’s international airport at the edge of the city Thailand’s southern air hub, handling 1.5 million travellers a year. Singapore, Seoul and Kuala Lumpur are the overseas destinations, and the complex serves both of Bangkok’s airports. Hat Yai’s train station is a hub for local southern train routes and its bus terminal links with southern towns and tourist destinations such as Phuket and Koh Samui. Getting around is by bus, tuk-tuk (motorised rickshaw) or taxi.
Hat Yai’s weather is totally tropical and hot and humid with just two seasons. Storms and monsoon rains are common from May through December, and the dry season is short, lasting from January to April. Temperatures vary little over the year at an average of 30°C and November and December are the wettest months.