Unexpectedly, I had to take the Betong-Yala highway to visit a new friend Ju, Mayor of Khok Chang, a small township 60 km away from Betong, half way to Yala.
Just after I got into the car, I was told that there were two gun shootings in a place in the same district, Than To. My other three friends in the car were equipped with either bullet proof jacket or a gun and I had only an umbrella! Did I feel the tension?! Well, thanks to the road condition which is very winding for almost in its entire stretch, I could only feel car sick.
Ju is beautiful and gentle, a little younger and smaller than me. The others address her as “Than” but she said I could call her by her nickname. I was a little shocked when I was first told that she was a Mayor. She seemed so young, gentle and friendly. Ju finished her tertiary education in Hadyai and was helping in her family’s grocery store before running for election. She still helps in the grocery store after work and during weekends if not on duty.
I was even surprised when she told me that her municipality had 16 councilors, but only 1500 voters and about 2000 population, almost all are Thai Buddhist. In fact, Khok Chang is a Thesaban tambon, the lowest municipality level. To qualify as a village municipality, an area needs a gross income of at least 5 million baht, a population of 5000, a population density of 1,500 per km², and the consensus of themajority of the population of the area. However, Khokchang is among those many places which were converted into township municipalities in May 1999, even though they did actually not meet the above qualifications.
After a sumptuous lunch treat in a hut restaurant, which is the best in the town, Ju brought us to visit the township, made up of only a few rows of shop houses. In the past, I have passed this town several times but never knew that there was also a beautiful waterfall surrounded by lush green forests and a big lake with hills in the distance, which is part of the well known beautiful Bang Lang Dam in Southern Thailand. If not for the unfavourable situation in Southern Thailand, I am sure these two attractions would draw a lot of visitors.
While the others were discussing about the potential tourism plan, I couldn’t help to ask one of the boat owners to take me for a short boat tour. I was told that he lived in a village called Nasai, about 30 minutes boat ride from Khokchang and came to Khokchang only once a week to buy some necessities.
The short boat ride reminded me of my birth place, a small river town in Sarawak (East Malaysia, Borneo Island) where my family lived till we moved to Sabah, before I went to school. Our orchard and house were along a very big river where boat was one of the means of transport. There were a lot of logs floating from upstream and my mum used to wash clothes on one of those logs. My brothers and sisters with other neighborhood kids liked jumping into the river and having fun. As a little girl, I could only watch them…