One of those things I enjoyed was exploring Hatyai on my own, on the final day.
This was after the morning market adventure. I am not a big shopper so my idea was to check things out and buy only if it caught my fancy. It was blazing hot as I walked down tiny streets, far less busy than the main thoroughfare, and I thought, really far from the Malaysian tourists.
As this was the last day, I wanted to see things at my own pace. Our bus was leaving at 5pm so I had a few more hours. Our bags were already packed so the only thing was to return to the hotel and return the keycard to the reception. So I wasn’t really in a hurry at all. Plus I had a little bit more Thai baht left and wanted to spend it all. It wasn’t worth carting home and exchanging it at the money changer.
The hotel breakfast wasn’t anything to shout about so I was quite hungry when I left Lee Gardens Plaza. I decided to see what the locals were eating. I read that if you are alone and undecided on the food of choice, just follow the locals and eat what they eat. You can’t go wrong. Local food can be very appetizing.
Down a narrow and quiet street I walked. This was definitely not a tourist street as it looked, smelled and sounded like a working class neighbourhood. Quaint shops with dark interiors beckoned as I ambled past. I had no itinerary. I was in no rush. It was about noon so a number of locals were shuffling into these shops for their lunch. Unlike Penang, it wasn’t about variety. Each shop sold one type of food – either rice with roast chicken or braised pork with salted vegetables. Each shop looked very family-run with everyone from young to old helping out. But the shops were clean with cool, dark interiors and mostly Chinese appearance.
A plate of white rice with braised pork sounded like a good lunch so I entered one of the shops and sat down. The stool was tiny, so was the wooden table. Anyway, it was only 40 Baht or RM4. They served me quickly and to my delight, the rice came with a small plastic bowl of pepper soup and some salted vegetable by the side. My lunch tasted very good indeed that day.
There’s something inherently wanton and liberating about a foreign town, being on one’s own and taking time to really enjoy one’s simple meal. Other customers were chattering away in Thai but I was lost in my own reverie. For a moment, I thought that bliss was really this – a meal made with heart, in a town I could get indelibly lost in.
After a leisurely lunch, I was eager to traipse and see more of working Hatyai. No one called out to me and asked me to buy things (you get this in the more touristy areas).
Along the way, I saw a man sitting at the kerb, selling peanuts. I didn’t really want any, not after the meal I had but he was so endearing – he actually offered me peanuts to try. I smiled, took some and went my way but not before snapping a photo of him. His toothless grin told me he was happy that I made him a ‘star’ in some way.
I continued to explore, not knowing where I was going. I hoped I wouldn’t get lost but even if I did, I knew that all I had to do was jump into a tuk-tuk and tell him to go to Lee Gardens Plaza.
My brains were almost fried because the noon-day heat beat down without mercy. Yet the lure of the smelly market was too strong. I didn’t know which street I went into but it had stalls selling salted fish of all types. Hatyai is dirty and worn but it also charmed me in a way.
When I finally found my way back to the hotel, I met up with Cecilia and her family. We decided to spend our last baht in Swensen’s while waiting for our bus to arrive.
I like meandering down musty, working-class neighbourhoods and watching the locals work and go about their daily lives. What about you? Do you like this part of travelling too?