LIM WAN PHING’S TRAVEL BLACK BOOK

Hatyai jaunt

The southern Thai city has great food, night markets and massages

Who: Malaysian Lim Wan Phing, 30, editor of Asian Geographic Magazine

Favourite destination: Hatyai, Thailand

Why: Hatyai is to Malaysians what Johor Baru is to Singaporeans. It is historically well known as a bustling city that many northern Malaysians go to for great food, shopping at night markets and wonderful massages. When I was a child, my family and I used to go to Hatyai during the school holidays and as adults now, we still love going there on family vacations.

Favourite hotel

Centara Hotel Hat Yai (www.centarahotelsresorts.com/centara/chy/), where rooms start at 1,560 baht (S$60). It is located at 3 Sanehanusorn Road and at its doorstep are Kim Yong and Santisuk markets, where one can buy clothes, dried fruit, snacks, accessories and electronics.

At night, the streets are turned into night markets with stalls selling pad thai (stirfried noodles), mango sticky rice, bird's nest soup, grilled cuttlefish and other Thai goodies.

Favourite restaurant

Pee Lek 59 (273/1-2 Niphat Uthit 3 Road; tel: +66-7423-1923; www.facebook.com/PEELEK59#_=_) is an awesome Cantonese-Thai restaurant which has been around for more than 30 years and serves delicious and affordable meals. Don't miss the steamed fish (grouper or seabass), pork ribs, glass noodles with crab and fried tofu. Order the fresh sugarcane juice. A meal for six people with about five dishes and rice costs about 1,500 baht.

Must try

Khao kha moo is pork leg rice and a quintessentially Thai dish. It is made by braising the hock in a thick soya sauce and spices such as cinnamon and star anise and then garnished with coriander. It is served with white rice, boiled eggs, fried bean curd and a side dish of kai lan. The best place to eat this is at Odean Shopping Centre (Niphat Uthit 3 Road)at the fifth floor food court. A plate costs 80 baht.

Favourite cultural site

Phra Maha Chedi Tripob Trimongkol, or Stainless Steel Pagoda, at the top of Kohong Hill in Punnakan Road, is the only one of its kind in Thailand.

The temple is made of stainless-steel tubing that sits atop circular golden rooms that are interconnected by circular passageways. The two-storey pagoda is magical. When lit up at night, it looks like it is made of crystal and can be seen from the road below the hill.

How to experience local culture

Eating at street stalls is one of the best ways to meet the locals. There is a trend among the young in Hatyai to have kaya and milk for supper. These stalls open only at night; try the one next to the Hakka Chinese Association in She-Utit Road.

Best massage

I recommend Oliver Ancient Massage House (64 Raj Uthit Road; tel: +66-7425-3425), the first traditional Thai massage place in Hatyai. It costs about 400 baht for a two-hour full-body massage.

Best hidden find

I love Greenway Night Market, located off Kanjanavanit Road next to the Magic Eye 3D Museum.

It is about a 10-minute tuk-tuk ride from Centara Hotel and it is a bustling night market famous for trendy clothing. I buy most of my dresses there.

It is a place where local youngsters go, so you can be sure it is as authentic as it gets.

Day trip

Visit the famous Mermaid Statue on Samila Beach in Songkhla, a town on the coast, about an hour's drive from Hatyai. The popular bronze statue is based on a Thai legend about a young mermaid who, while combing her hair on the beach, was frightened away by a young fisherman and dropped her comb. The fisherman picked it up and waited in vain for her return.

Traveller's advice

Unlike Bangkok, southern Thailand is a region with a sizeable Muslim population, so do be mindful of local customs and religious beliefs.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 22, 2016, with the headline 'Hatyai jaunt'. Print Edition | Subscribe