After over a decade of unrest in the Deep South, violence occurs less often and authorities hope to attract tourists to some areas where the situation is under control. One of several routes being promoted by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is the Narathiwat-Betong-Pattani route, along which tourists can appreciate beautiful nature and diverse cultures, learn about royal projects and enjoy shopping.
Tambon Sai Khao in Khok Pho district is an award-winning community for tourism promotion and management. Local villagers join hands to offer a variety of tourism activities, such as trekking, climbing Sankalakhiri Mountain Range, touring fruit orchards, Jeep riding and observing the local way of life, the hand-weaving of unique fabrics called pha juan tani and the processing of bananas and garcinia (som khaek). Call the Tambon Sai Khao Administration Organisation at 073-358-554. Photos by Jetjaras Na Ranong
Today, it is more convenient to travel to the Deep South since tourists can fly from Bangkok to Narathiwat Airport while Betong Airport in Yala is due to open next year. It is not difficult for anyone to travel to Pattani by car, bus or train. Although there is no Bangkok-Pattani flight, tourists can travel by plane to Hat Yai International Airport and then by taxi from Songkhla’s Hat Yai to Pattani for another 104km, or approximately 90 minutes.
Among Pattani’s recommended cultural and natural attractions are Pattani Old Town, Chao Mae Lim Ko Nieo Shrine, Pattani Central Mosque, the Skywalk, Sai Khao, a multicultural tambon in Khok Pho district well-known for community-based tourism, and Wat Chang Hai, with the statue of the late, highly revered monk Luang Pu Thuad, who lived in the South during the Ayutthaya Period centuries ago.
Covering an area of 1,940 square kilometres, Pattani is situated on the eastern coast of the South of Thailand. It is adjacent to Songkhla province to the north, Narathiwat and Yala provinces to the south, the Gulf of Thailand to the east, and Yala and Songkhla provinces to the west. Two rivers – Pattani and Sai Buri – run through this province.
Video by Jetjaras Na Ranong and Pichaya Svasti
Pattani has its past glory as the capital of Langkasuka, an independent kingdom in the 2nd century covering present-day Songkhla, Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat of Thailand and the Terengganu state of Malaysia. Ruins of the old city remain in Yarang district.
Due to its 135km shoreline, Pattani was an important port city and hub of administration, trade and culture in the past. It has many natural resources, historic sites, rich cultures, various traditions and a long history. It consists of 12 districts — Muang, Yarang, Nong Chik, Khok Pho, Yaring, Panarae, Mayo, Sai Buri, Kapho, Mai Kaen, Thung Yang Daeng and Mae Lan. Its slogan is “A beautiful city with three cultures, an excellent Halal centre, faithful people, splendid nature and peace in the South of Thailand”.
Noppadon Pakprot, deputy TAT governor for Domestic Marketing, said: “The TAT would like to offer good things for anyone visiting Pattani. People may be worried about safety, but deputy Pattani governor Pongthep’s guarantee wording can make tourists more confident about safety. This year and in 2019, the TAT has a policy to diminish the unequal distribution of incomes to communities in terms of tourism. That’s why we include the Deep South in the project to offer everyone the new perspectives, wonders and charm of this area.”
Chao Mae Lim Ko Nieo Shrine, or Leng Ju Kiang Shrine, stands along Anohru Road in downtown Pattani. It enshrines the statue of Chao Mae Lim Ko Nieo — the spirit of a Chinese woman revered by Thai-Chinese people for her sacred words. The statue was carved from mango wood centuries ago. Every year on the Full Moon of the third lunar month, the statue is paraded through the streets of Muang Pattani for the public to worship, while the fire-walking ritual is performed in front of the shrine and the water-wading ritual is held in the Tani River near Dechanuchit Bridge. Adjacent to the shrine is the museum by the same name. The shrine is open daily, 6am-5pm.
Wat Chang Hai is located in Ban Pa Rai, tambon Thung Phla, Khok Pho district, 31km from Muang Pattani and near the Hat Yai-Sungai Kolok railway. It is over three centuries old. Its prayer hall enshrines a lifesize statue of Luang Pu Thuad. Legend has it that Luang Pu Thuad set his foot on Nui Island in the present-day Khanom district, Nakhon Si Thammarat. He turned seawater into spring water during his junk-ship journey from Songkhla to Ayutthaya during the Ayutthaya period. The ship had to stop in front of the island during a rainstorm and finally ran out of fresh water for drinking. Hence, the monk incredibly turned seawater into freshwater for all crewmen and passengers to drink. Local people had a big statue of Luang Pu Thuad built on the island for anyone to worship.
Pattani has everything ranging from forests and mountains to the sea. The Aromdee walking-street area in downtown is the home of Thai Muslims and the Thai-Chinese and southern Thai people. It is where visitors like to learn how the locals can live together peacefully and happily, he added.
“However, the key to success is collaboration from everyone. Tourism belongs to everyone. We hope that visitors not only spend money here but also come here to learn and take home good experiences and smiles,” the deputy TAT chief noted.
Deputy Pattani governor Pongthep Khaimuk added that Pattani is comparable to Taxila in the Deep South because it is a cradle of civilisation and cultures with the beauty of nature. The governor has included tourism on one of the province’s important agendas.
“People may worry about safety, but I would like to ensure safety for tourists. Currently, the situation is better. Tourists can visit the three southernmost provinces on the same trip. Each province has good things. Visitors can focus on community-based tourism,” he said. “Tourism can help local people in terms of economy, development and occupations.”
The Aromdee area was named by combining the prefixes and suffixes of three major streets: Anohru Street, Pattani Phirom Street and Ruedee Street in Hua Talat riverside community in Muang district, Pattani. Visitors are encouraged to stroll the three streets to see the province’s first commercial district. The roads are lined with many old buildings dating to the early Rattanakosin period until the reign of King Rama VIII. Muslims and Buddhists have long been living in the area peacefully. The area was the first to welcome modern technology to Pattani, including the first electric generator from England and the first TV. However, the atmosphere here has become less lively since more roads were built and the goods-transporting route was shifted to other roads near the mouth of the Pattani River in the 1960s. Many old buildings in the Thai, Chinese, Malay or European style were deserted and several of them were turned into places for swallows to live and build nests for people to collect for sale. The violence in the Deep South which began in 2004 made the area quieter. Today, the situation has improved and the community welcomes tourists back by highlighting the charm of old houses and shops, an old market, pier, printing house, hotel and cinema.
The Pattani Central Mosque is situated on Yarang Road in Muang Municipality. The construction was started in 1954 and completed in 1963. The construction cost was over 3 million baht and the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej gave 200,000 baht of his personal money to the project. The mosque serves as a centre for Thai Muslims to perform religious ceremonies. It resembles the Taj Mahal, a monument of love in India. It has a big dome in the middle, along with four smaller domes and two towers on both sides. Inside the mosque are halls with balconies, including the left hall for women. In the middle of the main hall stands an elevated seat for a spiritual leader to lead in prayers.
Skywalk, or Pattani Adventure Park, is a new landmark for tourists. It stands tall in the compound of the HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana Memorial Park in Muang district. At the same height of a five-storey building, the 12m-tall skywalk is made of iron. The floor was built of iron nets and allows visitors to see the land below clearly. From the skywalk, visitors can see Pattani Bay and Tachi Cape and enjoy the panoramic view of Pattani.
Sai Khao Waterfall is stunning, with the water descending from a 40mtall cliff in tambon Sai Khao, Khok Pho district. The water flows through a multi-tiered stream into a large pond where many people enjoy swimming. The waterfall is part of the Sai Khao Waterfall National Park covering a forested area of 68km² in Pattani’s Khok Pho and Muang districts and Yala’s Yaha district. Another attraction near the waterfall is Phaya Ngu Cliff, which is as tall as a four-storey building and in the shape of the head of a large snake rising from a rock. Locals believe the spirit of a kind-hearted snake protects them and tourists from all kinds of danger. Jeep-riding is popular among tourists wishing to explore Sai Khao.
Pattani is also a food paradise with tasty local food. Tourists should try khao yam (rice with assorted vegetables and spicy sauce), beef and chicken satay, cha chak (milk tea) and roti, as well as a variety of fruits, such as durian, mangosteen and garcinia.
- Pattani is located 1,055km from Bangkok. It is accessible by car, train and bus.
- By car: Take Phetkasem Highway past Phetchaburi, Prachuap Khiri Khan and Chumphon provinces and continue on Highway past Nakhon Si Thammarat’s Thung Song, Patthalung and Songkhla’s Hat Yai.
- By train: Take southern-bound trains which travel to Pattani (Khok Pho) daily. Call the State Railway of Thailand Call Centre 1690 or visit www.railway.co.th.
- By bus: The Transport Company and a private bus company operate buses from the Southern Bus Terminal to Pattani daily. Visit www.transport.co.th or call 02-894-6122.