Saturday, 18 June 2011

A day in Yala.

The province of Yala is one more of the three ‘deep’ south provinces of Thailand, also suffering from terrorism as is Pattani. I decided to visit the capital city of this province, also named Yala (every Thai province shares its name with its capital city—it is one of the few exceptions to the rule that every rule of Thai administration has an exception), to see what I could see. 
On the buses.
A mix of culture ?

Heading to the city.

One of many checkpoints.
These are
difficult to photograph
from the bus.

A poor area, many folk
live in simple wooden shacks.

Rather than move myself and my gear to the landlocked Yala province, I decided to keep my base in Pattani, at the comfortable CS Pattani Hotel, and take a local bus to Yala city for the day. This consumes an hour plus in time, 25 baht in coin, and 40kms of space travelled southwards from Pattani town. 

Always soldiers.
In my previous blog post about Pattani I made the point that there was little evidence of a police and military presence in the city. That is true, however, I can now say that this gives an inaccurate indication of the situation. Along the highway between Pattani and Yala there were few kilometres of road without a soldier visible. 

I will confess to feeling a certain amount of sympathy for these chaps. These soldiers come from other parts of Thailand, are paid a relative pittance, stand (or sit) in the hot sun all day (ok, they are usually in the shade), and have a remote chance of being killed. Not the best way to spend one's youth.

Soldiers along the highway

Soldiers at entrance to Yala.
There were checkpoints, parked military vehicles, or small groups of soldiers along the entire trip. I did not count, but there were lots of soldiers. Other than the military, the trip from Pattani to Yala wove through many small towns and villages, and through the lush southern Thai country side, farms, banana trees, and people.

The streets of the city.

Town clock.
There are four
public clocks in Yala!

Old wooden building.
From the Portuguese
trading era. 

The Central Mosque
of Yala.

Some local chaps sitting
outside the Mosque, in
the "man's area".

A Muslim dressed man
at the train station. It was
mostly the women who wore
Muslim garb.

With the mod cons.
A 7 Eleven.
A mainstay of Thai life.
The economy of the region is largely agricultural, rice and a few other crops. There is not the prevalence of rubber trees as there is further north. The demographics of the province reflect this. There are approximately 400,000 people in Yala, but only 60,000 or so in the city. Thus 85% of the population live in the small towns and villages of the province, close to the land. You will notice this as you drive through the province, at least along the main roads. There are always people to be seen.

The local economy is also boosted by remittances of locals who live and work in neighbouring Malaysia. There is also, I am told, a number of informal cross border activities such as the sale of cheaper petrol, and other products, from Malaysia, which also aids with the local cash flow. A difference between the south of Thailand and the Isan region is the lack of ‘factories’. Factories—assembly plants where everything from hard drives to t-shirts are manufactured and exported. No idea why there but not here.

A local cat.

Yala is also one of the four provinces of Thailand, which has a Muslim majority. Approximately 70% of the population are Muslims. As you wander through the city you will see lots of headscarves and women in Muslim dress. The men wear, mostly, the same casual shirt and pants as do most men in Thailand.
Street cleaner.

The motorbike ('cyc')

People everywhere.

When I arrived in the small city I alighted at the town train station. When in doubt get off at a train station, it is always a transport nexus. Needless to say the locals were surprised to see me wandering around the town taking pictures, but were generally happy at my presence. Many waved and smiled at me, and when I used my minimal knowledge of the Thai language, they smiled even more (in a nice way). I suspect that tourism is appreciated for the boost it could provide to the local economy. And, as always, tourists provide a constant source of amusement in these small and isolated towns.
My badge to
enter the provincial
hall grounds.

The Pillar of the City
Pillar Shrine.

The Shrine itself.

Have you been?

The Yala province
Provincial Hall.

To assist me in covering territory and to get to see what I wanted to see, I engaged the services of a tuk tuk driver 'A-fin' by name. After a few minutes of negotiation we decided on a fee of 150 baht (~$5) per hour for himself and his small tuk tuk. I spent a total of three hours with him, he was a good local advisor, hampered somewhat by a lack of more than a few words of English. 
If you find yourself here, be aware that there is little English in the far, far south. Many locals speak enough to communicate the basics, but that is it. There is also not a great deal of information about Yala on the usual tourist websites. It is not a tourist destination, partly because of the troubles, also partly because, as even the most ardent local patriot would admit, there is little of note in the province. 
The City of Yala follows the basic design of most Thai provincial capitals. It has a central government precinct, replete with government buildings, ranging from provincial admin, to court buildings, land offices, tax, and so forth—all of the impedimenta of civilisation. The main difference is that there was a heightened air of security. For example, the entrance to the provincial hall was lightly fortified and had soldiers on duty examining cars for bombs.

Signs everywhere.

Election time.

More election signs.

Sights? Not a great deal. There is a primary Mosque in the city, the ‘Central Mosque’, but it is not overly large. There is also a major Buddhist wat in the city, Wat Put-a-Phum, but again, I have seen larger. I did not see evidence of one really nice cafe. It has been my experience that at least one enterprising local creates at least one pleasantly nice cafe for the local big wigs and the odd tourist to relax in, while enjoying a capuccino, but not apparently in Yala—or perhaps I missed, in my speedy day trip. 

The province bus station.
On the outskirts of the town.

The interior of the
Yala train stataion.
The streets of the city, outside the government area, seemed very much alike. Lines of old and worn  two or three story buildings, usually shops of one sort or another. There is little new construction. What I did not notice was the ‘bird contest’, which I saw in Pattani. Men gambling on bird chirping. As I spent only a day or so in town perhaps I simply missed this. I cannot say that I noticed any real centre to the city. The government precinct was just too far from the commercial areas to act as a local focus. To me the city seemed to be a series of near identical streets. This description paints a somewhat grim image of the city, but the people were happy and busy. Also the dress of the locals, particularly the women, gave the city some colour. 
Heading back. A local bus.
A bit bumpy, lots of stops
but it gets you there.

On the buses.
The town and province does have a university. A Rajabhat university. I visited and was told there were 9,000 students in attendance, and was given a comprehensive English language handbook about the uni. There were also a few buildings under construction. There were no native language English teachers at the uni. 
I spent my time in the city taking photographs and seeing what I could see. I will say that I did not feel in any danger from terrorists. In reality, the ‘troubles’ seem to interest only a tiny minority of the population. The Muslims of these three southern provinces are treated no better, or worse, than other rural Thai people, by the Thai authorities. As for being better off under the rule of the Malaysian government? Most people I have seen simply want to get on with their lives. 

Interesting to visit once, but I suspect I will not be returning.

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