Sunday, 12 June 2011

Pattani — the ‘deep’ south of Thailand

First, some advisories:
A. ADVISORY: For the last few years and decades there has been an ongoing insurgency in the provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat (the 'deep south' of Thailand). An average of 600 people have been killed per year between 2004-9. The Australian government strongly urges its citizens not to visit these provinces: "do not travel". Having said this there is no blood on the streets, and life goes on normally for the vast majority of people. In comparison approximately 400 people die every year from traffic accidents in the same region. You have been advised.
B. Getting there. There seems to be a scam carried out by the local tour operators to persuade travellers to take mini-buses on journeys between the towns in southern Thailand. These mini-buses cost several times as much as a normal bus. For example, I was quoted 1000 baht (~$35) between Trang and Pattani ~250kms, as compared to 200 baht for a VIP bus. A clear difference. Take the local bus.
C. I did not know this until I arrived, but Thai sim cards, which work without restriction in other areas of Thailand, require re-activation before they can be used in Pattani. This cost me half an hour and 50 baht. Of course, no one tells anyone this. You find out after your arrive, when your phone does not work. Great.

Clock tower on the
western approach to the city.
Public clocks are always
useful navigation aids.

Pattani City Pillar Shrine.
The streets of the city.
The son and heir
to the King of Thailand.
First, Pattani city and province lies ~1000kms south of Bangkok, on the eastern shore of the long Malay peninsular. The city itself is on the coast, on the Pattani River, with its hinterlands stretching westwards. The two other 'deep' south provinces are further south from Pattani.

Pattani, I had read a great deal about the ‘deep south’ of Thailand. What struck me was the lack of obvious signs of the conflict. I am not sure just what I was expecting, but certainly a greater military and police presence than were visible. My first encounter occurred a few minutes after my bus crossed the provincial border. Here the bus stopped, a soldier entered and checked the locals’ (not mine) ID cards. As we continued the bus passed through several checkpoints. 

Town post office.

Provincial seal, from the
provincial hall.
City seal. Similar (canon)
to the provincial seal.
In the city itself there were few signs of police or soldiers. I did come across a few areas around town where police were standing about, and one spot where there were a few soldiers with military vehicles, but that was it. If asked I would have answered that I expected far more. I have seen the same in other parts of Thailand, largely directed against drug traffic. If you were not told prior to arrival of the troubles here, one would most likely not suspect.
City seal ?
Common in Thailand.
Distinctive local feature on
road signs.

The history of the conflict stretches back quiet a ways. The kingdom of Pattani was always a dependency of the Thai people. This began with the Ayutthaya kingdom (14th century) and continues with modern Thailand. For a few years here and there the largely Malay culture Pattani was independent, but was always brought back into the Thai fold. The current troubles began, or began again in 2004. Since then every year the Thai government has claimed that it has the situation under control—a light at the end of the tunnel. A light which so far needs relighting.
"Muslim" school children.
What would Richard Dawkins say?

For  presentation of the Pattani political history:

The bird game.

Men and their birds.


These guys were playing
birds, and asked me
to take their pic, which
I did.

Apparently, this town was one of the first areas of Thailand to regularly trade with foreigners. In the old part of town there are still Portuguese looking buildings. The ‘busy’ part of town is opposite the government precinct, about two kilometres south of the river mouth. 

As you walk around the town you will see that the town and people are clearly of a Muslim majority—80% I have read. There are lots of head scarves, people in Malay/Muslim dress, and a fair amount (though a small minority) of Arabic script visible in the town. One difference, the local university, the Pattani campus of the Prince of Songkhla university did not have a Buddhist temple or shrine in its campus, something which every other Thai university I have visited has.
Soldiers walking through the streets.

Soldiers, barbed wire, and the city shrine.
Ayutthaya Bank.
Sandbagged and guarded.

Town uni.
Having said this, there are the usual Thai public images: The Thai king and monarchy is highly visible on signs and placards, and the usual list of iconography—King Chulalongkorn and a City Pillar Shrine—and the standard public buildings. Interestingly, the City Pillar Shrine (Lak Mueang) has been extensively refurbished. According to the shrine was originally constructed in 1951, however, when I visited in June 2011 the shrine was clearly new. I was told at the Prince of Songhkla university that the shrine had undergone a three year renovation, which had only just been completed. Also that the son of the Thai King had officiated at the re-dedication ceremony, which took place only a few months previously. However, due to language limitations I am not certain that this account of events is entirely ungarbled, but, the shrine does look new. It has clearly been recently refurbished.
The Pattani River runs through the middle of the city, surprisingly, I did not see signs of ferries, however, there are a large number of fishing boats docked ready to sail out into the Gulf of Thailand. The inland areas of the province are given over to agriculture, largely rice and cattle. There are apparently not the large number of rubber trees here as they are in the rest of southern Thailand.

army trucks.

Campaign time.
For a tourist there is not much in the town. There is one good hotel in the three province region, the CS Pattani Hotel in Pattani town, which is rather low cost for what it is. Recommended if you find yourself here—bargain, big discounts are on offer. I suspect that if the province did not have the reputation that it does, more tourists would visit the beaches and the islands of the region, as they do for the provinces to the immediate north.

CS Pattani Hotel
One thing which I noticed as I wandered around the town is a contest which a group of men were watching at a small stadium opposite a shrine, the Chao Mae Lim Ko Niew Shrine, near the city centre. This contest involved birds in cages, the birds were not fighting, but there was some contest between the birds. It was pursued assiduously and in good humour by the men present. Later, at my hotel I asked the staff about this—linguistically hampered as we were—but I managed to understand that the contest involved a singing contest between the birds, in which the first to chirp a certain number of times wins. Big prizes were on offer. I am fairly certain that I am missing something.
The fishing fleet.

More ships.

Again, in family guise.
If you do find yourself in Pattani, be assured that the town does have the basic amenities. There is a Big C (a supermarket chain) to the west of the town, ~200m west of the CS Pattani Hotel. There are a number of less grandiose hotels in the city centre, but nothing stands out. So far I have not come across any really good coffee shops or restaurants. The ‘naughty’, such as it is, part of town, is directly in front of the CS Hotel (are you getting an idea here). Here, there are several small pubs and restaurants. 
Getting to Pattani is simple enough, there is no train or air link, so “The Road”. There are lots of buses from the nearby provinces, and buses from Bangkok. Just avoid the mini-buses! The bus station is a few kilometres to the east of the town, this is largely for long distance travel. For travel between these three deep south provinces mini-buses and shared taxis leave from the town centre.

Signs, signs. Muslims
Oh, yes, expect to see zero other tourists. I met a guy who worked at the local uni, he told me there were only ten full time westerners in Pattani.


Andy said...

A small correction - the seal you posted is the one of the town of Pattani, it says "Thesaban Mueang Pattani" at top. But seems like both the province and the town use the same symbol, the cannon now located in front of the Defense Ministry in Bangkok, right next to the Grand Palace.

Anonymous said...

back from pattani last monday, 26 dec 2011.
also stayed in cs pattani hotel.
there's another one near the clock tower (my gardens);
the big c closes early; except for the supermarket, other stalls start closing before 7:30pm.
the orang islam area which is where those fishing boats are; tried their local kopi panas and goreng pisang; had a short chat with the locals in broken malay.

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