Khao Nam Khang Communist Tunnel

The network of tunnels that can be found in Vietnam are quite well-known. What many people don’t realize is that Thailand has its own set of tunnels deep in the jungles of Khao Nam Khang National Park on the Malaysian border. These were built by Chinese Communist Fighters during a six year period from 1972 to 1978. They had been fighting on different fronts since the Second World War. First with the British and then later with the Thai. On March 19th, 1987, a contingent of 400 men and women walked out of the jungle and surrendered to the Thai army. Exactly ten years later, the tunnels had been renovated and opened to the general public as a tourist attraction. Former communist soldiers, like Mr. Leong Yee Sing in the above picture, now run the historical attraction. He told me that after they had surrendered they had a choice to stay or go back to Malaysia. They decided to stay. After all these years he said that he had only just received his Thai national identity card.

Khao Nam Khang Historical Tunnel is in Natawee District of Songkhla Province. It was once called Piyamit Village 5. At 1,000 meters, it is the largest and longest man-made tunnel in Thailand. It has three separate corridors and three levels. The tunnel itself could accommodate about 200 persons with several rooms such as conference room, sick bay, radio transmission room, kitchen, firing range, etc. The echo from firing guns here must have been extremely loud. Originally it had only three entrances but this was later extended to sixteen. The picture above shows the main entrance that we passed through. It is hard to believe that all of this was hand cut. When I first heard of these tunnels I thought everything would be underground. However, as soon as we entered the tunnel we in fact started climbing upwards. Most of the tunnels are inside a hill with some exits at the top.

Up top they had some small buildings which were camouflaged to prevent detection from the sky. Here they had a kitchen, wedding chapel and even a basketball court. You can walk around and explore the area by yourself. It is always interesting to visit historical places like this which haven’t changed much over the years. Although we were still in a jungle in the middle of no-where, people fought and died on these hills. We were able to see how they lived for so many years. If you closed your eyes you could almost imagine that you were walking among the insurgents. It must have been hard for them to survive. Up top there was a big bomb crater. So, they must have spent a lot of time in the tunnels. Even sleeping in them. Near the entrance there is a memorial for the fallen soldiers.

It is not easy to get to this area by public transport. The armed soldiers were also a reminder that we were in the deep south. Although this area hasn’t been affected so much by the troubles in the neighbouring provinces, they have been hurt by tourists staying away. However, the entire time I was in Songkhla I never felt that my life was in danger. Most of the tourists visiting Khao Nam Khang Historical Tunnel are Thai or Malaysians who drive across the border for the weekend. You won’t see that many Westerners. I wish to thank the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) for showing us around Hat Yai and Songkhla. You can find more information on our online guidebook at ThailandGuidebook.com. I have also posted some more pictures and notes over at the ThailandQA Forums.

4 responses to “Khao Nam Khang Communist Tunnel

  1. Thank you so much for posting this. Perhaps you can consider going in depht into more details on this topic.

    Do these Thai Chinese speak Thai or can they only speak Chinese and Malay?

  2. Fascinating blog Richard.

    We are still feeling the reverberations from these years in Thai national politics.

    I have stayed with a guy who fought against the communist guerillas in the south but don’t have fluent enough Thai yet to talk with him about it. Maybe next trip.

  3. A lot of them speak Thai and English. A few were also Malays and Malayan Indians. They describe their original selves as poor industrial laborers from such cities as Penang, Ipoh and KL. So they tended to view their own richer Chinese relatives as also exploitative.

  4. It is important to emphasize that they were Malayan Communist Party Members who sought shelter from the British/Malayan/Malaysian military and police in a fairly remote area just over the Thai border. Carl Rove says they suppressed some local bandit groups, and so were often almost encouraged by some local Thai businessmen and officials. This probably partly accounts for the fact that they weren’t exactly defeated by any of the rather intermittent Thai military attacks. Soldiers were often deeply reluctant to face their mines. Especially since they booby-trapped any dwellings they vacated during attacks.

    They tended to view the Thai Communist struggle as not exactly their business. (This probably also helped them to survive here for quite a long time.) But there was some cooperation, nonetheless. Mainly in the movement of cadres through Thailand from China.