Thailand Reopening! Hat Yai & Koh Lipe Excursion
Hey everyone, we are back in Thailand! Mrs. RB40’s sabbatical continues. We had a short rest after our California road trip, then flew to Thailand. There are so many flight problems in the US and Europe, but Asia is still functioning pretty well. Our flight to Thailand was trouble-free. It was a really long travel day, though. We spent over 24 hours on the road and in the air that day.
The good news is Thailand reopened in July. Visitors can enter without any special pass or Covid test result. We breezed through immigration and they didn’t even ask about our vaccination status. It feels just like in the pre-Covid days. It was much more difficult to enter Thailand over the past two years.
- In 2021 – I had to quarantine for two weeks inside a hotel room and took 3 covid tests to enter Thailand. That’s two at the hotel and one before boarding the flight to Thailand.
- Early 2022 – I only had to quarantine for one night while I waited for the covid test result. On that trip, I took 2 Covid tests to enter Thailand.
- After July 1, 2022 – No Covid test unless you have symptoms. Thailand is welcoming tourists back.
This trip is a relaxing vacation for us. We are going to the beach and seeing the sights. On the last two trips, I came just to help my parents. This time, we spent a few days in Bangkok to get over jet lag, then flew to enjoy a week in southern Thailand. I grew up in northern Thailand and haven’t spent much time in the south. Mrs. RB40 traveled through southern Thailand when she was young but didn’t really know where to go back then. This time, I did my homework and found some interesting places to visit.
Hat Yai is the largest metropolitan area in Southern Thailand. There are many businesses there and it’s a popular tourist destination for Malaysians, Singaporeans, and other people south of Thailand. They come to eat cheap delicious food, shop, and visit the beach. I think this area isn’t as popular for westerners. Phuket and Krabi are more famous. If you have only a couple of weeks, you won’t have time to visit both.
Anyway, let’s see what we did in Hat Yai.
Cheap delicious food!
Hat Yai is famous for its fried chickens. These days, you can find “Hat Yai fried chicken” all over Thailand. But in Hat Yai, they are just fried chicken. The best ones are from various stalls around town. The one we liked best was Sofeeya Fried Chicken. They open at 4 pm and run out of food very quickly. We visited at 6 pm and they already ran out of legs, thighs, and wings. The only things left were breasts and claws. We got a couple of breasts. They were great! In Hat Yai, they serve fried chicken with sticky rice and fried shallots. It was the perfect combo. We loved it.
They had a few legs left when we got there, but they were gone by the time we get to the front of the line. They also had some Gai Kolay left, grilled chicken on sticks. I tried one and it was pretty good. Their signature fried chicken was way better, though.
Chinese food and dim sum
We also tried a Thai/Chinese and a dim sum restaurant. They were great too. There are a ton of Chinese restaurants in Hat Yai. Many Chinese immigrated here in the old days when Songkla was a big port city. Then the railway was built through Hat Yai and Hat Yai grew much more than Songkla. That’s why there are so many Chinese restaurants in Hat Yai. They also cater to Chinese descendants from other SE Asian countries. Many places sell shark fin and bird nest soups. They are still very popular with people with Chinese ancestries. RB40Jr didn’t want to try so we skipped them.
Hat Yai Municipal Park
Wow, the Hat Yai Municipal Park is huge. It’s a bit out of town so we needed to hire a taxi to get there. We paid 500 baht for the taxi to take us to the three main temples and return to town. They don’t want to take you if you only go one way. Anyway, it was worth it because this park is on a huge hill. We’d have a tough time hiking it in the heat. Alternatively, you could take a Grab, the Asian version of Uber. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get Grab to work on my phone so we paid for the taxi.
The three main temples are a Hindu temple to Brahma (the god of creation), a Thai temple with a big standing Buddha, and a Chinese temple dedicated to Guanyin. The view was great from the park. You can see the sprawling city of Hat Yai all the way to Songkla and the ocean. Between these two cities, you can also see the grand mosque of Songkla. Hat Yai is a melting pot and these cultures live along each other mostly harmoniously.
Songkla old town
From Hat Yai, we took a day trip to visit the Songkla old town. The easiest way to get there is to hire a taxi for the day. They’ll take you to see the sights around Songkla and various places on the way. However, I wanted to take the local transportation. It’s much cheaper and we want to experience the local lifestyle.
Here is how you can do it too.
In Hat Yai, go to the clock tower. It sounds impressive, but it’s just a small clock tower. You can find it easily on Google Maps. This is where you can queue up for the passenger van to Songkla. It cost 34 baht per person, just about $1. I told them I want to go to Samila beach and the driver dropped us off right there. It was great and super cheap. The ride was very good and took about an hour. A songtaew is not as comfortable and way more stinky (from the exhaust.)
Samila beach is quite nice! I never visited before this trip. But Mrs. RB40 suddenly announced that she had been there before. On her previous trip, she got to Samila beach somehow and just hung out at the beach. This time, it’s a lot more fun. The beach has more activities for tourists than 30 years ago. We took a picture with the popular mermaid statue. RB40Jr got a pony ride. We sat at the swing and relaxed. And you can buy many things to snack on. It was a fun relaxing beach.
After that, we walked around the old city of Songkla. There are many historical buildings that are still in use. It’s fascinating to see buildings from various ages standing together. Unfortunately, we got to the old city a bit late (2 pm) and many restaurants were closing up. I guess they cater to the early crowd.
We found a Pad Thai shop that was still open and had a small meal there. After that, we looked for a tuk-tuk and told the driver to take us to the van queue to get back to Hat Yai. The passenger van took us back to the Hat Yai clock tower and that was it. It was a fun day at Songkla. Next time, we’ll have to get there earlier so we can try more Songkla signature dishes. I wanted to try their beef stew, but the shop closed before we got there.
After 3 nights in Hat Yai, we were off to Koh Lipe. This is a dream destination for many Thai people. However, it’s a bit difficult to get there if you take just a few days off. Most Thai people seem to go on vacation for just 2-3 days. Anyway, we booked a transfer to the island from a tour company. The van picked us up from our hotel at 8 am and then drove to the airport to pick up more passengers. After that, it took about 2 hours to get to Pak Bara pier in Satun province. We had a quick lunch and then boarded the speed boat to Koh Lipe at 11:30 am. A mistake that will come back to haunt us later…
Unfortunately, it was rainy and the sea was a bit rough that day. The boat ride was pretty bouncy and many passengers got seasick. RB40Jr was one of them. He threw up and felt really bad the whole way. We shouldn’t have eaten anything before the boat ride. The ride was 90 minutes of jerking up and down. My back was in pain for a few days after that. Anyway, we got to Koh Lipe and checked into our hotel.
*Koh means island. So Koh Lipe translates to Lipe island.
On Koh Lipe, I splurged a bit and booked us a nice room at Serenity, a small resort by the sunrise beach. We were very impressed by the room. There is a private balcony with a great view and our room is a pretty good size. It was built in the old style – wood lap siding with no insulation. The AC had to work pretty hard to cool the space down, but we liked it. Mrs. RB40 never stayed in a wooden house before and she loved the atmosphere. The decorations were pretty nice too. We were afraid the mosquitoes would sneak in, but we didn’t see any while we were inside the hut. We all got bit a lot while we were out and about, though. And we put on plenty of mosquito repellant. Don’t forget to pick some up from 7-Eleven before you go pretty much anywhere in Thailand. Oh, they also have motion sickness pills if you need them…
We spent 3 nights in our first room and really didn’t do much. We played at the beach, kayaked around, tried standup paddle board, and explored the Koh Lipe walking street. It was great. We had a relaxing time. For our last night, I upgraded us to the pool villa. The room was just a little bigger, but you get a little private pool. This was our first experience with a private pool and we really enjoyed it. It’s nice to have your own little pool to dip in after getting out of the ocean. Ahh, luxurious… And it didn’t cost much more than what we paid for a motel room in Santa Barbara, about $190.
Oh, the included breakfasts were awesome too. They gave us a ton of delicious food. After breakfast, we were good until dinner time so we only ate two full meals daily. All in all, we had a fantastic time at Koh Lipe. It took a lot of effort to get there, but it was worth it. It was one of the most beautiful islands I ever visited. We were there during the low season so many stores were closed. But we liked the calm and peaceful atmosphere. It’s more authentic than visiting an island full of tourists.
After 4 nights, we were ready to get back to the mainland. Fortunately, the sea was calm that day. We also returned in a speed boat that was a little larger. The ride back was very smooth and nobody had any issue with motion sickness. Whew! The van dropped us off at the Hat Yai airport and we flew to Chiang Mai.
That’s all for today. Tune in next time to see where we are traveling next. I shot a bunch of videos, but haven’t had a chance to edit them yet. I’ll try to get them up on YouTube, but it’s really hard to do any kind of work while we’re traveling around. I’m just having too much fun. 🙂
Subscribe to my YouTube channel to follow along with our travel. We’ll visit Northern Thailand next, then Eastern Thailand.
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