Make mention of Thailand, and the first cities that come to mind are probably Bangkok or Phuket — and why not? The first is renowned for being one of the world’s food capitals (amongst other things), and the latter for its luxurious villas and resorts.

But lately, we’ve been hearing a lot more about Hat Yai, a humble little city in southern Thailand that is close to the Malaysian border. Getting there is pretty easy; you can jump on an aeroplane, take a bus, or even drive there, which I did during my last bout of adventure.

Albeit a last-minute decision, my group of friends and I decided to drive up. What waited for us was plenty of places to eat, shop, and stay. Here’s what you can expect on your own adventure:

Where to stay

1. Chestnut Hill Eco Resort

Unsurprisingly, anyone who visits Hat Yai is looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. Introducing Chestnut Hill Eco Resort, a stay that’s simple, but what it offers in tranquillity is in abundance. Situated above a mountain stream, it’s the epitome of a peaceful getaway at an affordable price too.

For those who love the outdoors, there is an hour’s hike that leads to a 10-metre waterfall. The resort also has its own organic garden, where all vegetables and herbs are freshly-picked and used at the property’s restaurant.

Address: 174/3 Moo 5 Ban Thung Chang, Phatong, Hat Yai District, Songkhla 90230, Thailand
Contact: +66 74 800 315

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2. Bhava Residence

Bhava Residence is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a budget stay. Located near Central Festival Hatyai Mall, each air-conditioned room has a balcony, flat-screen TV, fridge, kettle, toiletries, and desk. Pretty much all you need for somewhere that’s budget-friendly.

Address: 26 ซอย Karnjanavanit Soi 24 Rd, Kho Hong, Hat Yai District, Songkhla 90110, Thailand
Contact: +66 61 141 6226

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3. Casa 33 Hatyai

Perhaps one of the most beautiful stays in Hat Yai, Casa 33, oozes minimalist beauty and personalised charm. The marriage between of stark white with warm wood accents in its exterior and interior makes this hotel an instant classic. Equipped with an outdoor swimming pool, you can catch up on some R&R during your stay here.

There are six rooms to choose from, depending on your travel group and preference. Don’t forget to check out Double 3 Craft Cafe, a restaurant on the property that provides all-day dining.

Address: 33 Nipatsongkrew 1 Soi 4 Rd, Tambon Hat Yai, หาดใหญ่ Songkhla 90110, Thailand
Contact: +66 61 174 4949

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4. Siam Mansion

Another top pick for a budget hotel in Hat Yai is Siam Mansion. From only RM95 per night, the hotel’s focal point is a hangout space with beanbags and artificial grass in the courtyard. Spacious yet elegant rooms with curtained bunk beds offer privacy to guests. There are plenty of attractions nearby if you want to explore.

Address: 233 Prachathipat Road, Hat Yai, Hat Yai District, Songkhla 90110, Thailand
Contact: +66 64 337 4887

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Where to shop

1. Greenway Night Market

Besides being known as a mini Bangkok, Hat Yai is also a shopping haven. We start with the Greenway Night Market for a shopaholic to thrift, bargain for new clothes, and even have late-night snacks at the food court. Be sure to have cash with you before you go to make payment transactions more straightforward. Parking at the Greenway might be tricky, so we suggest taking a tuk-tuk to save time.

Address: 1406/4 ถนน กาญจนวณิชย์ Hat Yai, Hat Yai District, Songkhla 90110, Thailand
Contact: +66 81 990 6553
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 4pm to 10pm; Closed on Mondays

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2. Santisuk Market

Santisuk Market might not be as famous as Greenway, but it’s definitely worth the visit. This market is relatively small, and they sell electronic goods, apparel, food, cosmetics, and plenty to survey. Located in an alley off Nipatuthit road, Santisuk Market is famous for its street food, dried fruits, and nuts. Who knows, you might find something other markets don’t offer.

Address: นิ พั ท ธุ์, Nipatuthit 2 Rd, Hat Yai, Hat Yai District, Songkhla 90110, Thailand
Contact: +66 90 158 5724
Opening hours: Daily, 9am to 7pm

3. Asean Night Bazaar

Like Santisuk Market, Asean Night Bazaar offers shoppers clothes, food, electronic items, and more. It’s also one of the top bazaars that tourists often flock to in search of local dim sum, grilled seafood, Thai delicacies, and desserts. We recommend visiting with a full wallet and an empty stomach.

Address: 76 Chotevittayakul 3 Rd, Hat Yai, Hat Yai District, Songkhla 90110, Thailand
Contact: +66 81 543 0880
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 4:30pm to 10pm; Closed on Mondays

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4. Central Festival

Another great place to check out is Central Festival, where you can go on a full-blown shopping spree. It’s also the biggest shopping mall in Hat Yai. There are also plenty of food stalls so you can refuel for more energy to shop. Plenty of unique finds are available, which you’re very unlikely to discover in Malaysia, so take your time looking!

Address: 1518 Kanjanavanich Rd, Kho Hong, Hat Yai District, Songkhla 90110, Thailand
Contact: +66 74 801 555
Opening hours: Daily, 10am to 9pm

Where to eat

1. Khlong Hae Floating Market

A trip to Hat Yai is incomplete without visiting Khlong Hae Floating Market, the first and only floating market in southern Thailand. It also stands apart from other floating markets in Thailand due to its diverse trader population.

You can expect to find all sorts of Thai dishes here, and halal food is also easy to find. Another cool thing about this place? All takeaway packaging is eco-friendly, opting for bamboo tubes, coconut shells, and even earthen pots instead of plastic packaging.

Address: Khlong Hae, Hat Yai District, Songkhla 90110, Thailand
Contact: +66 74 305 333
Opening hours: Friday, Saturday & Sunday, 2pm to 9pm

2. Kai-Tod Decha

If you love fried chicken, this is THE place to go; I kid you not. They have some mean fried chicken here, and travellers who frequent this southern state swear by this place. It’s also Muslim-friendly! Besides fried chicken, their spicy papaya salad served with blue crab is not to be missed. Portions are very generous, so you might want to share.

Address: 93 Chee Uthit Rd, Tambon Hat Yai, Hat Yai District, Songkhla 90110, Thailand
Contact: +66 81 098 3751
Opening hours: Daily, 10am to 9:30pm

3. Kaikatsu Halal Japanese Restaurant

When in Thailand, eat Japanese food — is that how the saying goes? I’m kidding. There is no such saying, but when in Hat Yai, definitely check out this Japanese joint; serving Japanese dishes (duh!) and Thai food, you’ll be spoilt for choice.

Address: Hat Yai, Hat Yai District, Songkhla 90110, Thailand
Contact: +66 95 020 8444
Opening hours: Daily, 11:30am to 10pm

4. Lee Garden Plaza

Another one you should check out is Lee Garden Plaza. This night market offers an abundance of Thai street food (and we know just how delicious those are!), clothing, and fun souvenirs to bring home. The Thai iced tea here is on another level, so get yourself a cup. Food wise? The mango sticky rice is a definite must-try, and kerabu Maggi!

Address: 29 Prachathipat Road, Tambon Hat Yai, Amphoe Hat Yai, Songkhla 90110, Thailand
Contact: +66 74 261 111