The charm of the Deep South

Before sunrise, many tourists flock to view the sea of mist from the peak of Khao Microwave at the KM32 marker in tambon Aiyaweng, about 40km from downtown Betong, Yala. The mountain is approximately 609m above sea level. From its top, visitors can enjoy the panoramic views of Betong. To get there, travel on Highway 410 (Yala-Betong) for 32km, turn left onto a concrete road and continue for another 8km. Pichaya Svasti

A promised return to normalcy in the violence-torn Deep South brings hope for authorities and entrepreneurs to draw tourists back to certain areas. A royally-initiated project and unique occupations in Narathiwat, and numerous natural and cultural attractions in the peaceful Betong district of Yala, are among the highlights on the Narathiwat-Betong-Pattani route. This route is one of several being promoted by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).

Today, it is more convenient to travel there, since tourists can fly from Bangkok to Narathiwat airport while Betong airport in Yala is due to open next year. Noppadon Pakprot, deputy TAT governor for domestic marketing, said: “This year and in 2019, the TAT has a policy to diminish the unequal distribution of tourism incomes to communities. That’s why we include the Deep South in the [Amazing Thailand Go Local] campaign to offer everyone new perspectives, wonders and the charm of this area.”

Thailand’s largest post box stands near the clock tower in the middle of Betong town. Painted red, it was built in 1924 and embedded with a radio for disseminating information via sound all over town. It has served as a post box until today. It attracts many tourists who want to pose for photos with it. Pichaya Svasti

Yala and Narathiwat are among the 55 “secondary towns” included in the TAT’s Amazing Thailand Go Local Campaign. This campaign promotes community tourism in less popular provinces. The aim is to attract at least 10 million tourists to these towns and adjust the ratio of tourists in major cities and secondary towns, from 70:30 to 65:35 this year.

Located 1,149km from Bangkok, Narathiwat province has forests, mountains and plains, mostly next to the Gulf of Thailand, as well as four rivers: Sai Buri, Bang Nara, Tak Bai and Sungai Kolok. Narathiwat grew from a village called Manaror under the jurisdiction of Sai Buri town. In 1901, Manaror merged with Ra-ngae town when King Rama V established a new administration system called Monthon Thesaphiban, under which Monthon Pattani consisted of Pattani, Yala, Sai Buri and Ra-ngae towns. In 1907, Amphoe Bang Nara, to which Manaror village belonged, was made Bang Nara town. Eight years later, King Rama VI renamed Bang Nara as Narathiwat, meaning “a great abode of people”. Its tropical climate is dominated by rains, especially during November and December. The majority of its population are Muslims who speak and write the Yawi (Malay) language.

Meanwhile, Yala is Thailand’s southernmost province, covering an area of 4,521km², mostly mountains and forests. It is the South’s only landlocked province, and shares borders with Songkhla, Pattani, Narathiwat and Malaysia. It is situated 1,084km from Bangkok. The word Yala is derived from the local word yalor, meaning fishing net. It was previously part of Pattani town, which had been a colony of Siam since the Sukhothai period. Later, in 1808, King Rama I of the Chakri Dynasty ordered the division of Pattani into seven towns, including Yala, which has become a province in the years since 1933.

Nestled between Ban Pikun Thong and Ban Khok Saya in tambon Kaluwo Nua, Muang Narathiwat, Pikun Thong Development Education Centre is an agricultural learning and training centre for comprehensive land development and farming by local villagers. It was established on Jan 6, 1982, in line with the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s royal initiative to improve acidic peat soil. Narathiwat has about 300,000 rai of peat swamps. Visitors to the centre can learn about King Rama IX’s soil aggravation principle through an exhibition, models and experimental rice fields. Other things to learn about include a peat swamp, soil analyses, the new theory of farming, sufficiency-economy farming, biodiesel production, vetiver grass, herbal gardening, vegetable farming, fish farming and mushroom growing. Admission is free. Visit or call the centre at 073-631-033. Pichaya Svasti

Among must-sees in Narathiwat are the Pikun Thong royally-initiated project, which focuses on peat-soil treatment, and Ban Thon Village, which produces the rare korlae fishing boats and miniature boats in Muang district; Yao Island and the making of salted threadfin (Indian salmon), or pla kulao, and fish crackers in Tak Bai district.

From Narathiwat, tourists can head to Betong district, Yala, by stopping in Muang district to observe the making of a centuries-old kind of batik fabric called pala-nging at Sri Yala Batik Group. In Betong, you can pose for pictures with the country’s biggest post box, soak in warm spring water from the Betong Hot Spring and stroll the 1km-long Piyamitr Tunnel. Before dawn, you should wake up and rush to the top of a mountain in tambon Aiyaweng, 32km from the centre of Betong, to see the stunning sea of mist.

At the end of the trip, you will return home with a happy heart and a lot of shopping bags filled with salted fish and fish crackers from Tak Bai, rice, basketry and products from the Pikun Thong project, pala-nging batik clothing from Yala and fried bananas (kluay hin), noodles, soy sauce, furniture and marble products from Betong.

Food enthusiasts will surely love the local food in Yala and Narathiwat. To name a few, pan-fried salted threadfin fish, or pla kulao, and southern-style pork-rib stew, or bakutae, in Narathiwat, and watercress (phak nam), boiled chicken, dim sum and roti in Betong. Pichaya Svasti

Pala-nging fabric is a kind of batik. It is also called Batik Jumputan and inspired by batik in Malaysia’s Kelantan and Terengganu states. To make such fabrics, wooden moulds are soaked in colours and stamped on white silk or cotton textiles. After that, these textiles will be tie-dyed with additional motifs. Traditional pala-nging fabrics are 60cm wide and 90cm long. In Yala, pala-nging fabrics are made and sold at Sri Yala Batik Group in Muang district. Call 084-165-2312. Pichaya Svasti

Piyamitr Tunnel is a 1km-long and 15-to-18m-wide tunnel in Piyamitr 1 Village, tambon Tanohmaeroh, Betong district. Located in the village, which was the Communist Party of Malaya’s stronghold, the tunnel was dug for three months in 1976 into a rock mountain and used as an air-raid shelter and for supplies storage. It had several entrances and exits. Today, visitors can stroll the tunnel and watch an exhibition on the history of the village and tunnel from 8am-4.30pm. Pichaya Svasti

Koh Yao is a small island sandwiched by the Tak Bai River and the sea. Located not far from Tak Bai District Market, it has a brown sandy beach suitable for swimming. The majority of the population there are Thai Muslim fishermen and coconut farmers. To get there, people can ride motorcycles or bikes or walk on the “100 Years Of Waiting” Bridge across the river. The name of the 345m-long bridge refers jocularly to the long time villagers waited on the project. Pichaya Svasti

Chao Mae Tomo Shrine is located in Phuthon Alley on Charoen Khet Road, Sungai Kolok district of Narathiwat. The statue of Chao Mae Tomo (a Chinese goddess) was relocated from Ban Tomo in Sukhirin district and is highly revered by Thais of Chinese descent nationwide as well as many Malaysians and Singaporeans. On the 23rd day of the third Chinese lunar month every year around April and May, the statue will be paraded around the town in a procession of flower floats with lion and dragon dances. Celebrations will include Chinese opera performances and a fun fair. Pichaya Svasti

Ban Thon Village in tambon Khok Khian, Muang Narathiwat, is a fishing village where a type of traditional fishing boat called rua korlae is made to order by the province’s only remaining rua korlae builder, Mahama Suemae. Also, miniature boats are made and sold as souvenirs at a nearby centre. Rua korlae are small-sized wooden fishing boats used in the lower South. The head and tail of each boat is elevated and carved with various traditional Malay, Java and Thai motifs, especially kanok (flames), lotus, the head of the Naga, the flying Hanuman and the head of imaginary birds and lions. There is a saying: ‘People of the Bang Nara River without rua korlae and fishing are like naked people.’ Pichaya Svasti

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