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Straight from KL to Thailand: Budget-conscious Malaysians flock to Hat Yai for holiday as prices rise at home

HAT YAI — When Norfareha Abu Bakar vacationed in Hat Yai in February 2024 for the first time, she had so much fun that she returned to the southern Thai city in May.

"I like the food, the nature and their culture. There are lots of things to explore in Hat Yai and around Songkhla," she told The Straits Times. Hat Yai is in Songkhla province.

Norfareha also went to neighbouring Phatthalung province to visit the Thale Noi wetlands and Phraiwan waterfall.

"It is a bit cheaper than Malaysia, for now," added the 34-year-old chemist who spent three days there from May 31 to June 2 with friends.

Hat Yai, Songkhla province's biggest city, is fast becoming one of the top travel hot spots for budget-conscious Malaysians as the weak ringgit makes the city attractive to those seeking a non-domestic getaway.

The ringgit was among the worst-performing regional currencies in 2023, but has slowly edged higher in recent months.

Hat Yai is also easy to get to without taking a flight, Norfareha pointed out. "For other countries, such as Indonesia or Vietnam, you have to book a flight ticket. I don't want to keep checking for cheap flights. For Hat Yai, I can go any time."

The jaunts — just across the border from Malaysia's northern Perlis state — are made easier with the April 2024 reintroduction of a Kuala Lumpur-Hat Yai train service.

An added boost to the city's popularity among Malaysia's ethnic Malays is the wide availability of halal food, as 95 per cent of Songkhla's population are Malay-Muslims who speak a dialect of Malay.

While Hat Yai has always been a favoured weekend escapade for Malaysians living in the north, it is now pulling more visitors from the south.

The city is around 50km from the Perlis border town of Padang Besar,