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Hat Yai and the road to Yala and Betong


There a few options from Hat Yai Thailand to Malaysia for cyclists and travelers alike.

The first is the easiest and most used: the train connecting to Padang Besar, Alor Setar (for Langkawi) and Butterworth/Penang. There are also buses running the whole day.

A pretty shapshot of the artificial lake on the road to Betong

A pretty snapshot of the artificial lake on the road to Betong

WARNING

South Thailand, or better, east of Hat Yai is not 100% safe. Over the years Muslim extremist have been occasionally explode bombs in cities as Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat.

Check the people and police in Hat Yai if you decide to cycle to one of these cities.

That said, I have cycled this area more than a dozen times in the last 13 years and found never any problem.

A much nicer option is to cycle into Malaysia. This page tells you about a nice road that leads you from the beaten path to the far south of Thailand to Betong and gives you options from there to continue cycling.

Hat Yai

Hat Yai Thailand is a typical border town, with everything available including a few decent bicycle shops, should you need it.

It is a fairly big city but in the town center there are many cheap hotels especially within 10-15 minutes walk from the railway station, no need to stay expensive here.

Maps

There is an excellent map of the Hat Yai region available in the bookstore at 2nd floor of the main shopping center in Hat Yai downtown. This map, contrary to other maps, show many little roads which are excellent for cycling. The Hat Yai map cost B125 but you can always use Google Maps too.

Hat Yai to Yala

Hat Yai is the starting point of this journey. There are three options to cycle to Yala.

The road from Yala to bannang Sata
The road from Yala to Betong, here Bannang Sata

Hat Yai-Songkhla-Patani-Yala

The first is to have a stop over in Songkhla, just 30 km north east from Hat Yai. It's not a particular interesting (partly very busy) road although Songkhla is quite nice for an overnight stop. The town has its own accommodation facilities so there's no need to stay in Hat Yai.

Follow the coastline to Patani and from there south, another 45 km to Yala where you find some hotels in the city center. This ongoing road to Narathiwat is for the most quiet and pleasant cycling.

Yala
Yala

No interest in following the highway, regardless it's quiet or not? You have alternatives.

Songkhla - Chana - Na Thawi - Kok Pho - Yala

You still have to cycle a bit on the coastal highway to Chana, about 30km, but you can take the junction to Na Thawi and from there either go south to Durian Burung, an international border crossing with Malaysia (the problem will be that you might have to camp on the way as there is no accommodation available until Kuala Nerang (homestay).

25 km south of Yala
The first (or last) karst mountains in between Betong and Yala

Or take the road to Yala (rd 42) to Kok Pho and decide you want to take the junction via Patani or via the direction Yaha (no accommodation here too as far as I could see).

The last option goes south out of Hat Yai in the direction of Sadao. It's about 25 km or so to Khlong Nga where you find a road sign for road 42 to Yala. Kok Pho, at the end of this road is 66km away.

Hat Yai - Khlong Ngae - Na Thawi - Ban Lam Pai - Saba Yoi - Yaha - Yala

This is an interesting variation. The only setback is the first 28km from Hat Yai to Khlong Ngae. This is the main road connecting Hat Yai with Sadao and Malaysia. However, at Khlong Ngae you can take the road to Yala (#42).

On the road from Yaha to Yala
On the road from Saba Yoy to Yaha and Yala

This is a quiet road with a few hills and a lot of rice fields and several villages on the way. Although you can take this road all the way to Kok Pho, I recommend to take the junction to Saba Yoi, an even more quiet road. Just follow this road to Yaha and from there to Yala.

You may want to choose the road to Betong in Yaha, but only if you have camping gear with you. This is my preferred route from Hat Yai to Yala.

Durian Burung border between Thailand and Malaysia
Brand new building, I could still smell the paint! Durian Burung

Ban Prakop/Durian Burung border

Should you want to go to Malaysia but do not want to use the Padang Besar border, you can take this road to Saba Yoi and continue to Ban Prakop, which is the last Thai town. What rest is 5 km really bad road, slightly uphill to the border.

Durian Burung is an international border post. I cycled here in December 2012. At the moment of writing, you can cross the border despite the Thai building is not yet finished. The Malaysian border post is brand new plus on the Malaysian side, the road to the next town with a hotel, Kuala Nerang (around 30km, hotel Terap) is excellent.

Accommodation on the road from Hat Yai to Yala

I didn't find any accommodation in between Hat Yai and Yala except some resorts at the Gulf of Thailand on the highway and Patani.

Resting on the way from Betong to Yala
Resting on the way from Betong to Yala near the lake side

Yala - Betong

Yala has several hotels, cheap too. Almost no travelers make it to either Patani or Yala due to the troubles in south Thailand. Still, I have been here at least a dozen times and I have had never any problem. It is certainly not an exciting city but it's OK for an overnight stop.

The first (or last) karst mountains in between Betong and Yala

25 km south of Yala

It is however very nice to cycle Yala to Betong. Having done it both ways, I admit it is easier to cycle Betong to Yala then Yala to Betong. The 140 km from Yala starts with cycling out of Yala on the south side.

Just out of town there is a large junction with signs for Narathiwat (left) and Yaha (right). Just continue straight, this road continues a few km and end on the main road to Betong.

View over Betong, Thailand
View over Betong from Pha Mahathat temple

It's a pleasant and especially closer to Betong a scenic road where you pass little villages and find amazingly friendly people. The close you come to Betong, the more hills you get. They're never steep but after 100km any hill can be killing.

If you have started in Betong, you will find these climbs not too difficult as you are still fresh but after 100 km cycled it can feel different.

Close to Betong you pass the junction for the Hot Springs (it's possible to stay here) and the Piyamit Tunnels, more about that on the Betong page).

The Mountain Bike Betong staff and me
Mountain bike shop in Betong

I would recommend to stay a night in Betong before traveling further into Thailand. That said, if you are in visa troubles, the border crossing is 7km away and Pengkalan Hulu on the Malaysian site has some hotels of which Hill Towne seems the best. You can change money at the border but it's just as easy to change either in Betong or in Pengkalan Hulu. In Betong you can also use your Malaysian ringgit, should you have them.

Betong to Malaysia

The border is 7 kilometers uphill out of town. If you start in Betong, it's an easy climb to the border. They see few westerners and the approach to cyclists is always nice.

Pass the border and you're in Malaysia. There are two options: Penang or Gerik and Kuala Kangsar, check the box below for your prefered direction.

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Thailand - Malaysia
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