Hatyai With Dancing Ladies, Part 3

After a tiring day (we did wake up at 5am in order to get onto the bus for our Hatyai trip), it seemed that everyone would be tired, right?

And this was after an afternoon of wandering about the pseudo floating market in Hatyai.

But the Uncle who was our tour guide decided that we should take in another form of entertainment before we adjourned for dinner near our Lee Gardens Plaza hotel. It was still early and we surely needed something exciting to tell our families about.

He thought we would like the Ice Dome which was really about going into a hall full of ice sculptures. Personally, I don’t like the cold (look, I couldn’t even stand the spring weather of 15C in Hong Kong, ok, what more minus zero!) and secondly, I don’t like wearing jackets which the whole Hatyai town has been wearing.

You see, to bear the cold, you had to wear a loaned jacket from the Ice Dome people.

A few of us declined going into the ice sculpture exhibition and Uncle tour guide thought we were too stingy with our baht.

Pfft! I’d rather spend it on a good foot massage in town that night so Cecilia, me and a few others just sat around the public park when the whole group went into the freezing dome. Give me a museum and I’d be more than happy but an ice dome full of cold sculptures? No way.

Luckily that little detour at the ice dome lasted less than 2 hours and in no time, we were on our way back to town and dinner! I was ravenous and kept thinking about the little shopping adventure I’d have once dinner was done.

Image of roast suckling pig, Thai style

We took up 2 tables at this Chinese restaurant just a few steps away from our hotel. My travel companions took this as a chance to really eat and let their hair down. With Thai beers and some suckling pig (of course with other dishes as well), the ladies literally toasted the town. The 2 male tour guides (one was our Malaysian Uncle and the other was Thai-Chinese tour guide, his counterpart) probably thought we were the best group ever. We didn’t need to be guided. The ladies as I mentioned are old hands in finding their way in Hatyai. They knew this town like the back of their hand!

shopping in hatyai town

Hatyai town is full of cheap, kitschy stuff – the kind we all like once in a while. I’m horrible at bargaining because I always think, “Never mind lah, let the vendor earn a little more.” That’s why I am such a supermarket shopper. Even when I am not shopping at the supermarket!

Huge prawns and chicken pieces - this was a halal stall

Anyway, after dinner, everyone dispersed to do their own thing which was really one thing – SHOPPING! The streets were bursting with people and smells of food and honking tuk-tuks and cars. I decided to go off on my own to check out the night bazaar. We agreed to meet up again for foot reflexology in a few hours’ time.

I’m not crazy about shopping in the regular way so I was just browsing and looking around. If an item caught my eye, I’d look at it closer but here’s the problem with shopping in Hatyai (especially the night bazaars), you cannot try the outfit! You go for a hit or a miss so you better know your size. If you shop in the shopping malls, it’s OK – you can go to the fitting room.

Can you believe the size of these prawns?

Thai clothes vendors on the street are smart. When you sigh about not being able to try the blouse/skirt, they whip out their measuring tape and measure you and pick out the size for you. If it does not fit, they say in Thai-accented English, bring it back the next day (they KNOW you are visiting Hatyai for the weekend). With such low prices, you hem and haw a bit but you know even if it doesn’t fit, it’s OK, you won’t be losing much. It’s just a piece you buy for the heck of it!

shopping and night bazaar in Hatyai

My travel companions shared a tip – when you come to Hatyai, come with an empty bag. You don’t need a change of clothes because you can buy your clothes and wear them immediately. Your bag is going to be full of your shopping items later so save yourself the trouble of bringing clothes! Isn’t it cool or what?

It was almost 11pm when I got back to our hotel room. After a lovely cool shower, I heard a knock on my door. The ladies invited me to go out to get a foot massage. Two of them were already in their PJs but we thought, heck, it’s still early. Getting a Thai foot massage was definitely on my list. In fact I had wanted to engage a masseur to come to my room and give me a body massage.

So 8 of us women literally swamped a tiny reflexology shop (which doubled as a hair salon – don’t ask me why but Thais are damn enterprising) for an hour’s worth of reflexology. After a day of shopping and walking and eating, this was my personal piece of heaven. I’m a veteran at this – wherever I go, I must sample the local massage. It turned out rather good or maybe I was buoyed by my happiness at having bought a beautiful white cotton blouse.

It was almost 1am when we got back to our hotel rooms. Sleeping after a good foot workout was simply divine!

More shopping to come!

Hatyai With Dancing Ladies, Part 2

If you read Part 1, Part 2 is where it gets interesting.

View of Hatyai town from Lee Gardens Plaza Hotel
View of Hatyai town from Lee Gardens Plaza Hotel

We were spending a two-day, one-night weekend in the Lee Gardens Plaza Hotel in the heart of Hatyai town.

It was a clever idea to get this hotel as it was smack dab in the midst of all the activity of the town and surrounded on all sides by malls, shops, restaurants, Western cafes and roadside stalls.

With such a great location, it’s just minutes away from all the shopping and eating we could all indulge in. (Later I found out that these ladies wrangled this hotel at the last minute due to knowing one of the directors of this hotel, who was an ex-student of Han Chiang High School. Normally this hotel is fully booked and packed to the gills with Malaysians.)

In fact, it’s built right on top of a shopping mall. I had a good view of the town from the hotel lobby.

I decided to take a quick nap after we checked in although the ladies decided to succumb to the shopping bug downstairs. I think a bit of shut-eye would make me more alert as I knew we would be staying up late (at least I knew I’d be!).

Around 4.30pm, we were again in our tour bus, shuttled to the Hatyai Floating Market.

A long row of floating sampans
A long row of floating sampans

Now I know and you know that this is really a tourist gimmick. Trust the enterprising Thais to create a way to give tourists something to do and something to eat and something to see. After all, if you really think about it, Hatyai isn’t exactly Disneyland. Spend more than 2 days here and you’d be bored to tears. It’s great for a weekend but anything more is overkill.

Hatyai - straight ahead
Hatyai - straight ahead

It was a bit of a let down because the market vendors had lined up sampans along the embankment of a river and seated all the food business folks into these sampans. It wasn’t as if these sampans were cruising the river and you could stop one to get your food.

Floating market in Hatyai
Floating market in Hatyai

Ah well. Maybe it was just jaded old me.

Colours and smells of the floating market
Colours and smells of the floating market

In typical Thai style, the food was enticing and presented well. Even drinks were sold in cute clay Doraemon mugs you could take home! But like Cecilia noted, who knows if the unglazed clay mugs were washed? They could be dusty and dirty. True.

Your takeaway mug
Your takeaway mug

We decided to just browse around. The rest of the market showed just how creative and enterprising the Thai people really are.

One stall had items such as handbags and cowboy hats made from aluminium or beer cans.

Handmade hats from beer cans
Handmade hats from beer cans

This lady was deftly putting together a cowboy hat made with flattened pieces of aluminium beer cans.

Beer can cowboy hat
Beer can cowboy hat

I also chanced upon fresh tamarind fruits. Tamarind is high in Vitamin C and the fruit is encased in a brown shell which breaks easily. Unlike the tamarind used for cooking, fresh tamarind is sweet and sticky, much like a fresh date.

Fresh tamarind fruit
Fresh tamarind fruit

It was a warm afternoon with the last rays of the sun beating down on us. I decided to quickly walk across a bridge where I soon came upon a stall selling fried bugs and fried worms.

Fried worms and fried grasshoppers as snacks
Fried worms and fried grasshoppers as snacks

Now I’ve seen enough of this on TV and was eager to bite into one. I had to know what the texture of a fried bug would be.

Fried roaches about 2 inches long
Fried roaches about 2 inches long

A number of people gawked at the bugs on the trays, stopping to snap photos but none were buying.

I decided to buy a packet (it was only 20 Baht or RM2). I asked the seller if I could mix 2 types of bugs into my one order. He was too happy to do so. I chose fried worms (looked a bit like the worms you get in pet shops to feed birds) and fried grasshoppers. I figured at least the grasshoppers ate proper green stuff unlike cockroaches, which was also for sale but the cockroach was huge and I didn’t know if I could bite it in half!

To make the bugs more palatable, the seller sprinkled some seasoning with a squirt of soy sauce.

Everyone looked at me, even strangers who were milling about and snapping photos of the bugs. I just speared one with a toothpick and popped one into my mouth. The fried worm tasted like dried prawn or “hae bee” albeit with a softer texture. It wasn’t bad at all.

Next I tried the fried grasshopper, about an inch long. This offered a crunch and it was also rather tasty. No icky taste at all. This could be the start of my love affair with bugs!

As I was happily munching on my bug snacks, Noel and BL were watching me. It looks horrible if you’re not eating it – your imagination powers up your innate fears about worms and creepy crawlies. It’s like Fear Factor – voyeurs tend to be more emotional than the people who eat those taboo things.

I offered Noel and BL some and they sportingly took some, though Noel wanted to have some water ready before he swallowed his fried worm. I told him that it was not fair to swallow it – he had to chew it and taste it.

Noel took up my challenge - to eat a fried worm!
Noel took up my challenge - to eat a fried worm!

It was a novelty all right but it was something exciting and fun and it capped the day for me. It was far more exciting than any pseudo floating market.

More to come… shopping on my own in Hatyai’s night market and a late night surprise!

Hatyai With Dancing Ladies, Part 1

It was one of those spontaneous things – I got invited to join a group of line dancing ladies from Han Chiang for a weekend in Hatyai in January (yes this is a very late post but better late than never ya!). Nic was visiting Kuching for the week and I had nothing planned so I thought, what a great idea.

Thailand immigration checkpoint at border before entering Hatyai town
Thailand immigration checkpoint

I was amazed I could wake up that early for our bus ride into Thailand. I hadn’t been to Hatyai in years – not since the last time my uncle and aunt drove us there. I know Hatyai may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I know it’s a fun, kitschy place. It’s all things weird and funky. And did it get funkier as the day went!

thailand border with malaysia
Sawadee kap!

Once we reached the border, it was quite a chaotic jam. As it was a Saturday, lots of cars and tour buses were making their way into Thailand too. Our bus took more than an hour to inch its way toward the border which separates Malaysia from Thailand. Technically, it was just a long gate. Once we passed the gate, everyone got down to clear immigration. We had to get our passports stamped.

Now I don’t know if you know this but apparently, our tour leader had to “visit” the Thai immigration office while we patiently lined up. He was “doing the necessary”. If he did not do the necessary, then the immigration officers might give us hell and slowly take their time. Can anyone confirm this? Apparently it’s an open secret. People just pay and move on. After all, they just want a weekend in Hatyai – so a few ringgit here and there won’t kill anyone.

Braised pork leg Thailand
Star of the meal - braised pork leg Thai style

Our first stop was for lunch (a very early one for Hatyai standards) just a few kilometres after we cleared the Thai immigration. Everyone who visits Thailand has 2 things in mind – food and shopping. Presumably, there’s nothing more delicious than real tongue-searing tomyam soup in Thailand.

Thai people are also big on “muu” or pork dishes so besides the ubiquitous tomyam, we had to order the braised pork leg with its gelatinous skin. The tomyam worked well in creating an appetite and a contrast to the richness of the simmered pork leg, tender in each mouthful.

Once our lunch was done, we trooped into a traditional style biscuit shop a few doors away.

Apparently these travelling companions of mine were old hands at this.

They knew which shop to buy from, which restaurant to eat at.

I marvelled at the way these ladies descended upon the biscuit shop. (It’s a wonderful change for me. Usually I am the holiday planner when Nic and I go travelling. This trip really allowed me to sit back and let others make decisions for a change.)

The biscuit shop had very good business that day!
The biscuit shop had very good business that day!

It wasn’t asking about the biscuits – boy, these ladies knew what they were after.

Crunchy savoury meat floss crackers
Crunchy savoury meat floss crackers

It was just a matter of deciding how much to order!

This was selling for 35 baht (around RM3.50)
This was selling for 35 baht (around RM3.50)

This shop sold kuih kapit with floss filling besides “thnee kuih” and all types of Thai biscuits and delicacies with a crunch.

More crispy and crunchy stuff to tempt
More crispy and crunchy stuff to tempt

In the end the ladies ordered tins of kuih kapit. Luckily, our bus was only half full so they could really shop to their hearts’ desire.

Kuih kapit in tins
Kuih kapit in tins

And this was only the first 2 hours outside Hatyai – we hadn’t even reached our hotel yet.

To be continued…. (where I get to the pseudo-floating market and eat a bunch of bugs, much to my friends’ disgust!)