Thursday, 10 September 2015

Hat Yai: Southern Thailand's frontier market town

Hat Yai is the capital of Thailand's Songkhla province. The city is perhaps best known for being the last major Thai settlement on the route to Malaysia's Georgetown / Penang. However, Hat Yai deserves to be much more than just a dot on a map or a passing sign on an express train journey from Bangkok to Malaysia.

The Hat Yai train station which connects the city with other parts of Thailand, including Bangkok as well as the Malaysian city of Butterworth
Hat Yai is a travel destination in its own right. If the number of Malaysian voices one hears around Hat Yai is any indication, Malaysians seem to agree.

The city is a combination of street markets and many cultural attractions. The reclining Buddha, the Guan Im Temple and the Four Faced Buddha are just a few of the monuments sprinkled around the city.

A view of the 'small' reclining Buddha
The Reclining Buddha Temple, said to be the second largest in Thailand

A lazy visitor relaxes at the steps of the Guan Im Temple, dutifully guarded by a golden royal dragon
Note there are no mosques in the above list. Odd, given Hat Yai's population is approximately 40 percent Muslim (it's hard to find accurate statistics online). Nonetheless, for Pakistani (or Pakistani origin!) visitors, there is a particular place of worship in Hat Yai not to be missed: the aptly named Masjid Pakistan or Pakistani Mosque!

The notable Masjid Pakistan or Pakistani Mosque located near Hat Yai's main train station
According to a local inside the mosque, the Masjid Pakistan was originally constructed about 50 years ago by three wealthy Pakistani merchant residents of Hat Yai. The philanthropists bought the land and funded the mosque's construction. Subsequently, in the early 1990s, a major expansion of the mosque was carried out, also spearheaded by the descendants of the Pakistani families but with the larger community's involvement.

Perhaps the greatest part of Hat Yai's charm lies in its small town feel coupled with a unique demographic mix. The city's population is less than 200,000 and includes sizeable Chinese and Muslim populations. In fact, Hat Yai is unique among Thai cities in that the combined Muslim and Chinese populations outnumber the 'traditional' Thai population.

Colorful examples of Peranakan architecture on a Hat Yai street
The mixed population results in a unique cuisine blending Malay dishes with the Thai penchant for chilli. As with the rest of Thailand, the food alone is enough to entice a traveller into Hat Yai.

A wall mural of a dragon painted on the walls of a Chinese temple
Since the start of a low level Islamist insurgency in 2001, many travellers have stayed away from Thailand's southern provinces for security reasons. Certainly, there have been scattered incidents of violence in the past. But Hat Yai is much too enchanting to avoid simply because of the activities of a few misguided souls!
Imran is a Singapore based Tour Guide with a special interest in arts and history. Imran has lived and worked in several countries in his career as an international banker. He enjoys traveling, especially by train, to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. Imran can be contacted at

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