The southern commercial capital of Hat Yai may not have won any major prizes for its daylight beauty, but it is indeed winning greater appraisal for its nightlife activities. This once booming rubber and tin town is rapidly becoming overshadowed by its sensuous soapy scene.
For those of you not familiar with these soapy scenarios, they are mostly associated with massage parlours and brothels. It's best to ask Charlie Sheen to fill you in with all the finer details.
It may not be the place one would assume is frequented by the usual American, British, German, Australian and other habitual tourists of which there are far too many to mention here. No, this town is mainly reserved for sybaritic Malaysians.
Whilst the nightclubs, massage parlours and brothels are weightier magnets for single men and perhaps a few married ones too, (my lips are sealed) women and families come here for the wide range of shops and reasonably priced restaurants.
Before I continue with what's happening in town during the day, I just thought I'd inform you (for men only) that there are a number of massage parlours in town advertising ancient massage. Now you might ask yourself is this for the older generation or is this some sort of trick question. I never got to find out myself, but what I will tell you is that it's no ordinary or quick rub-down routine.
You may ask yourself what is there really to do in Hat Yai other than to engage in the wayward nightlife scene. After all, there's little else in the way of cultural attractions and you are not here because of your love of nature either. The only time worth visiting Ton Nga Chang Waterfall which is 24 kilometres west of the town, is during the cool season between November and January.
The only real attraction here is at Wat Hat Yai Nai. This temple can be found in the middle of town and houses the third largest reclining Buddha image in the world. It measures a total of 35 metres (115 feet) long and 15 metres (49 feet) high. You will be allowed to step inside the image via a small shrine. You will also find herbal saunas and traditional Thai massage on offer in the temple grounds.
This photo courtesy of www.pictures-thailand.com
During the daylight hours, there is much to do. These can easily be broken down into two, but very fundamental formats. One I should imagine can be attributed to indulgence which in simple terms, means shopping and the other hypothesis is associated with consumption which in simple terms means, the art of eating.
You have to pop down to Kim Yong Market in town where you'll find Thai street vendors selling a wide range of merchandise. It is an absolute rush. The market has a vibrant atmosphere, lots of friendly locals and an air filled with some of the strangest of smells. It varies from tin pots and pans to shark fin soup.
Speaking of sharks, for those of you who are more than willing to be adventurous when it comes to gastronomic inquisitiveness, you might want to pop into one of the shark fin restaurants. Customers can come from as far as Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok to savour these delicacies.
Other specialities on offer include fried pigeon and smoked duck. If this is not quite your cup of tea, there are several open-air seafood restaurants you can try, many of which are accompanied by live music.
Just as a matter of interest when strolling around the markets, but especially the cosmopolitan downtown area of Hat Yai, you may or may not be amazed to hear several different languages spoken other than the southern Thai dialect. English, Malay, as well as Yawi, (a Malay dialect) Mandarin Chinese, and Hokkien, (a dialect of Min Nan Chinese) are also spoken. Due to its proximity to Malaysia, this part of Thailand has a vast majority of Muslim inhabitants.
If you happen to be in Hat Yai over a weekend at the end of the month, there is a very good chance that you could go to one of the bullfighting events that take place in one or other arena around the city. Unlike the Spanish-style corrida with matadors and picadors, this is strictly Thai-Style bullfighting whereby bulls are pitted against each other.
The winner, in this case, being the animal who manages to force his opponent to retreat to the outer edges of the ring, but in some cases a particular bull may simply win when the other turns and takes fright and flees. You might find the furious betting as much of a spectacle as the fight itself.
If you are coming from Bangkok and have some time to spare, you might decide to drive, but better than that, you can easily fly here with one of the local carriers. If you are coming from Malaysia, it's a whole lot better and more comfortable due to the strategic rail and road links between both countries.
There is a railway link that runs northeast from Malaysia then crosses the border into southern Thailand. You could travel either from the town of Alor Setar near the coast or from Butterworth, the connecting port for Penang Island.
A second rail link heads in a northwesterly direction from the border town of Sungai Kolok. This route takes you to the town of Yala and from there, all the way to Hat Yai.
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