Raining cats and dogs in Hat Yai

This was the first trip ever I had to change my itinerary due to adverse weather. It slipped my mind that when we went to Krabi last year, we heard news about flooding in southern Thailand. The weather in Krabi was really good, while on the eastern coast, the monsoon wreaked havoc. History repeated itself this year.

My plan was to drive to Koh Samui from Hat Yai. Hat Yai is too boring for 4 nights, and there isn’t much to see around the region as well. The coastal route would take me from Nakhon si Thammarat to Donsak pier in the shortest time possible. Unfortunately, i had to turn back as the road was closed due to flooding.

Road-turned-swimming-pool

I considered looping around, going through Surat Thani, a route that would take twice the time, but thankfully Google Maps informed me that the road from Surat Thani to Donsak pier was closed as well. I decided not to risk travelling more than 2 hours only to have to turn back.

The road divider had to be demolished to let water out of the flooded area
Business as usual
One of the few newly built houses that has taken into account the annual flooding, which seems to be a recent phenomenon. Global warming is like

I guess you could say this was a once in a lifetime experience, driving through knee deep water. The water would actually splash onto the car bonnet, and you keep wondering if water was going into the engine compartment. Anyway, the car survived, and I learned something new about the water resistivity of cars (the typical saloon). The car would probably be fine if it traversed through knee deep water in less than half a minute.

The most nerve wrecking stretch we had to drive through
Officials capturing snapshots of the situation
I was supposed to stay in this hotel, but the road leading to the hotel became off-limits to cars

Anyway, as with any trip I embark on, I would take up a rental car wherever possible. China and Indonesia are the only exceptions so far. Having a rental car in Hat Yai not just saves you money, it allows you to do the itinerary I would consider to be ideal: Hat Yai – Songkhla – Nakhon si Thammarat – Ko Samui – Kiriwong – Hat Yai. The ferry at Donsak pier allows you to bring your car to Ko Samui for cheap.

Arriving on a Monday, I could not visit the night markets (the prominent ones being Greenway and ASEAN) as they are closed on Mondays. They also close much earlier (10pm) than one would expect night markets to. In spite of missing the night markets, I felt it wasn’t a big deal, as, to me, having dinner in a sit-down restaurant is preferable.

Central Festival
There were stalls set up in the basement of the mall as part of the festivities celebration, and we managed to grab this nicely done Mango with sticky rice.

When it comes to shopping, Central Festival is the place to be. It is a spacious mall, has decent dining options, and you may be able to find branded goods for less depending on the ongoing promotion. You can also find all the foodstuff you would normally want to bring home in the basement supermarket. Forget about the dated Lee Gardens Plaza.

If you’re after cheap apparels or knick knacks, then any of the night or day time markets or bazaars can fit the bill. We managed to grab cheap cashew nuts from Kim Yong market. They were cheaper than from Bangkok.

Kim Yong market
Dried sundries stalls

Speaking of Kim Yong market, this is a good place to grab breakfast.

Stalls just outside of Kim Yong market offering a wide variety of breakfast options
The seating area has probably been unchanged for half a century, and Thais tend to keep things as-is, which feels current and nostalgic at the same time
Noodles with Yong Tau Fu. Coffee was decent
Fried fritters in Thailand have smooth skin
Crispy fried pork
The Bak Chang (glutinous rice dumplings) came stuffed with a lots of ingredients

If you did a search for Hat Yai food, you’ll invariably end up at places like Kim Eng, Chok Dee and Nai Roo, which are Thai Chinese food. We were more interested in Thai food, and I also prefer to avoid places tourists flock to, and so we went to places marked out in Google maps which don’t show up in TripAdvisor nor blogger sites, and these turned out to be excellent choices. No other tourist in sight at these places. Well, if my blog posting gets popular, then they’ll have the same fate, but heck, i was there first muahaha.

Hia Kai

Seafood place that offers Thai and Japanese dishes! The menu was extensive, and the food was excellent.

Lots of street food at the intersection of Supasarnrangsan Road and Sangsri Soi 2 Road, where Hia Kai is located. You really don’t have to go to the night market if you’re just after street food.
Hia Kai, with Japanese deco
The 240 Baht (S$9.90) Salmon Sashimi set. Eat piece of Sashimi comes with a Salmon roe!
Nicely put together Unagi Sushi
Kang Kong, more tender than the ones from Malaysia
Fried Squid. Thankfully the portion was not too big, because there were just too many dishes we wanted to try
Claypot vermicelli with prawns (Goong Ob Woon Sen), came with huge prawns and a price (700 Baht or S$28.80) to match. This was too filling, so i would suggest skipping this.
Complimentary fried yam stick. Similar to the ones from Putian but with an even more crispy skin.
Baked lobster with cheese. 800 Baht (S$33). Definitely worth your calories and monies.

Mit Ocha

This place is as local as it gets. It is housed in a shed, which is the most typical building style in southern Thailand. It is sandwiched between two roads, and does not have any proper parking place. All diners were local. Menu in Thai only and no English spoken. Point to picture (on your phone) to order. Cash only.

Don’t expect fine dining standard, but it is Thai food done right.

The entrance which looks as if it leads into a jungle
The “shed”
Kailan with Siew Yok (fried pork). Too spicy.
Omellete. Always amazes me how they can create such a thick slab of evenly cooked eggs. Not as good as the one from Krua Apsorn (in Bangkok) but good nonetheless.
Green curry – not as creamy as the ones often served outside of Thailand. Quite spicy.

Blue Tea Room

We came here in search of the three-tier afternoon tea, which they offer for 499 Baht, weekends only. Well, we came on a Friday and we missed it. The food was pretty good nevertheless. When it comes to afternoon tea, this is probably one of the few places in Hat Yai that delivers.

The Blue Tea Room on the left, with just 4 tables inside.
Apple and pear pie
Creme Brulee. Very creamy, much better than the jelly-like mass produced ones at Hotel buffets
Thick toast
Omelette from the menu of Maison de Monet next door. Just can’t stop ordering omelette every single meal.

Khlong Hae Floating Market

Khlong Hae is probably in the itinerary of all visitors who are in Hat Yai over the weekend. The heavy rainfall ruined the “floating market”, but the bulk of the market was on dry ground anyway.

Some boats were ruined, and seating places flooded
Plenty of visitors, and it probably gets more crowded into the night
Flimsy as they look, the sheds are strong and functional
A weird combination, Latte with steamed sweet potatoes
Grilled bananas and Tapioca, draped in coconut sauce

Black Canyon Coffee

We don’t normally visit chain restaurants, but we did so at Central Festival, because the smaller cafes don’t offer hot food (e.g. Omelette) that we want for breakfast. Black Canyon Coffee serves up good quality food.

American fried rice set. Quite satisfying.
The Shibuya toast was quite nice too
Original coffee, strong and fragrant

Everyone who comes to Hat Yai will surely make a day trip to Songkhla, as did we. Tangkuan Hill is worth a look, and maybe Samila beach too.

We arrived at Sujinda past 2pm, and that was not a problem. They seem to operate all day, and local diners don’t seem to have a specific meal time. For some reason, though the area was lined with seafood restaurants, all of them were empty, save for Sujinda. Locals come to Sujinda as well.

Sujinda
You can walk right onto the beach from the restaurant
Too much choices
The oyster was fresh enough to be eaten raw, and i think they took care to ensure the food was safe for consumption. Lots of ice.
Fried cray fish is so worthwhile
Sambal Lala. Tastes good, but a lot of the shells did not open up.
The asparagus was so tender
Omelette for every meal
Black striped fish with super fine texture, cooked in Assam curry

All in, the meal cost only 1120 Baht (S$46). They do accept credit card payment as well.

We headed up Tangkuan Hill for a quick look. I’m reminded of Mount Hakodate.

The twin towers of Tangkuan Hill
The sea view. A good thing they kept the tip of the peninsula undeveloped.
The city view

The drive to Nakhon si Thammarat would take 3 hours, and the ferry crossing saves half an hour of driving.

Ten minutes ferry crossing

We started seeing flood waters as we drove up. It’s evident that this was a lower lying region than Hat Yai, and i reckon that the age old city of Nakhon Si Thammarat may become submerged in water some centuries into the future.

We arrived at Chao Rua just when it started pouring, so we had to wait in the car for a while. In fact, the rain continued throughout the night and caused serious flooding in the city and beyond, which disrupted our travel plans to Ko Samui.

I loved the ambiance at Chao Rua. It felt like dining in a tree house. The rain made it feel chilly in the open air environment. There was English menu here, understandably since they are featured on TripAdvisor. One of the waitresses actually spoke Cantonese, so that worked for me, though there were still some miscommunication. The service was good, and they were very accommodating.

Very nice setting
Fried rice with crab meat, and it was supposed to be fried rice with prawns.
Curry crab meat, our favourite dish in Thailand. This was not as good as the one from Krua Apsorn, but satisfying nevertheless
Fried black striped fish. Perfectly fried. Highly recommend trying this.

As we were prevented from going to Ko Samui, we went to Kiriwong village instead, which was supposed to be part of my itinerary for the next day. Kiriwong is a picture perfect Thai riverine village, and it does look picturesque. There’s not a lot to do here, except to just take it slow.

The unique landscape of Kiriwong
The only river crossing upstream. The water level is very high due to heavy rain.
Take a closer look and you will notice the sheds built next to the river. They look extremely comfortable for lazing around.
Motorcycles are more flood-proof than cars

We were looking for a place to do lunch, and thankfully we stumbled upon Kiriwong Riverview. It turned out to be the best meal of the trip. They are actually a resort, with ferns and the river as their theme.

The river view
A very interesting fern plant
We were offered complimentary bananas, and these tasted really good
Fried fern, how interesting
Fried fish. One of the best we’ve had so far.
Huge prawns

As there was no way we could make it to Ko Samui, we decided to get out of the rather depressing flood zone around Nakhon Si Thammarat and head back to Hat Yai instead. Patthalung was the logical place to spend the night.

Patthalung was extremely quiet at night, and dining options were limited. We went with the recommendation of the hotel staff, Larn Ta Chu, which happens to be the top rated restaurant on TripAdvisor. Not much choice anyway. Larn Ta Chu is a steakhouse, but they do offer much more.

Nice ambiance
The beer mug impressed me. There was a huge ball of ice enclosed, and it kept the beer icy cold throughout.
The Pad Thai was really good
You don’t get to choose the doneness of the steak, and it’s more like well done. Not exactly how i like my steak, but it was passable.
The star of the night – fried pork knuckles. The staff warned us it was a huge dish, and indeed it was. We managed to finish it nevertheless. Thais are second to none when it comes to executing fried food.

Overall, the meal was cheap and good, and i do recommend coming here if you happen to be around.

On our way to Patthalung, i noticed there were quite a few themed restaurants along the AH2, the trunk road linking the major southern Thai cities, and so i decided to try one of them for breakfast. I settled for Route 41, which is cowboy themed.

Quite a detailed setup
Latte with extremely fine foam
The place accommodates trickle of customers, which is what they get
Breakfast is not breakfast without omelette
The fried Kway Teow (glass noodles) with fried egg droplets was so well put together
There’s even a pony to convince you you’re in cowboy land
The friendly owner offered to help us take a family portrait (for obvious reasons). She was friendly indeed. We were told this was the first time she could dry her laundry under the sun in ten days!

I tried really hard to find places of attractions to visit for the day, and i settled for Tai Nod market and Phraiwan waterfall. On hindsight, Thale Noi waterbird park may have been a better option than Phraiwan waterfall, but i was hesitant on going there because it might cost a boat trip to see anything interesting at all, and i didn’t want to spend that much time there, especially with the risk of rainfall.

Tai Nod market is a hippy place that comes alive on weekends
It amazes me that the Southern Thai people manage to integrate pools of water naturally into their everyday lives without having to worry about stinky water or mosquito breeding, like we have to further south. The environment was actually rather pleasant.
We were the only customers at the coffee place. The owner was extremely friendly.
We were served this special southern Thai Mango
A different species of bananas, and very nice too
“Real” coffee, as the cafe owner puts it

It’s unfortunate that the market was not open when we were there (strictly weekends only). We made our way to Phraiwan waterfall thereafter, and as expected, not a single soul there.

Phraiwan is a sizeable waterfall
The landscape around the waterfalls of Southern Thailand are quite impressive
Downstream

As i conclude this posting, i would like to leave your with some tips about Thai massage in Hat Yai. We try to get room service Thai massage when we are in Thailand as much as possible, due to the difficulty of having kids around, and it is quite possible to get room service Thai massage in Hat Yai. The hotel staff is more than happy to help you engage the masseurs. We were quoted 300 Baht for a two hours massage, which sounded very reasonable.

Here are some things you could expect to happen – the masseurs will try to upsell you the “oil massage” for twice the money. They also try to upsell “womb massage” for ladies. The two hours massage was more like an hour and fifteen minutes. They will try to ask for tips. I felt it is quite alright to give tips, because the massage was actually quite fantastic. If you’re not keen on taking up those “packages” they try to upsell you, maybe you can tell them upfront that you will tip them 100 Baht (which is what they suggest), so they will feel better about rendering the service, which is quite cheap anyway.

Some random sightings around Hat Yai:

Lots of old wooden houses still around
Another one, and it looks well preserved too
The pomegranate is real while the flowers behind are not. I’m surprised it is so easy to grow this.
Tangled web of wires that is common throughout Thailand
Hawker stalls right in front of Lee Gardens Plaza
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