Author Archives: Stilee

BETONG TO HADYAI BY MALAYSIAN ROUTE

Pass by Baling Hill, the limestone outcrops in Baling Town, a little town famous for the 1955 peace talks between Malayan Communist Party and the Government

After the tragedy of the van ambush, more and more Betong folks are going to Hadyai via Malaysia. Currently there is a shuttle bus traveling from Betong to Hadyai every day which costs 260 baht per trip. It is usually full and one has to make early reservation to get a seat.

I travel to Bangkok quite frequently, either for work or to catch an international flight from Bangkok to other places. As it takes only 1 ½ hour’s drive to Penang International Airport, I used to fly Air Asia from Penang to Bangkok. However, a few delay experiences have caused me to reroute by taking a flight from Hadyai International Airport. Nevertheless I hardly took the Yala route to Hadyai, but used the Malaysian route instead. Firstly being a security reason and secondly, to avoid the notorious winding road from Betong to Yala, which made me very sick every time.

It takes about 3 to 3 ½ hours driving from Betong to Hadyai Airport. Presently there is a new road under construction and once completed, it is expected to shorten the journey by at least 30 minutes.

As a frequent traveler, staying in the car for three to four hours is usual for me and it is the time for me to look at the view, to meditate, to rest and to sleep. Usually half of the journey I’d just be lying down on the back seat and zzzzz…. 

The route to Hadyai passes some small towns, villages, industrial zone and paddy fields. As Betong is a small valley town surrounded by mountains, one can only have short distance views and a slow drive. Therefore, speeding along the expressway with beautiful scenery passing by and viewing the vast paddy fields becomes a pleasurable experience. I really like the view of vast paddy fields alongside the expressway. Though they are not boundless like those in Cambodia, it is nevertheless the view one will long for when living in Betong town for too long!

Half way/The North-South Express Way

Paddy fields alongside expressway/The Malaysian Immigration Checkpoint

Leaving Malaysia and entering Thailand

BETONG IS ROARING

Sadly to say that living in Betong for years, I have become inured to the insurgency in Southern Thailand. They are considered as “accidents” instead of real threats. The riots in the Southern provinces seem to have little influence on Betong. Betong, known as the “Town of Sparrows” and “City of Midst-Beautiful Flower”, is always praised for its cool weather, its greeneries, its harmonious multi-racial and multi-cultural society and its peacefulness.

In the midst of the insurgency in the area, Betong is developing well in its own pace and attracted tourists from all walks of life. Visitors came to Betong not only for the entertainment, but also for its historical and cultural attractions. In the past three years, the Chinese International Education Center project alone had attracted thousands of visitors from various Chinese clan associations, educational organizations and press media from the neighbouring area and other countries.

Two weeks ago, there was an anniversary procession of temple sculptures organized by the highest Chinese Authority in Betong – the Chong Fa Foudation. It was filled with sound of crackers, joy and hope for a prosperous Chinese lunar year.

Today, there was a procession too. A procession filled with sadness, anger and roaring.

The tragedy of insurgent ambush on a shuttle bus (from Betong heading to Hadyai) in Yaha district had shaken the peacefulness in this town. Eight innocent civilians had been killed, including three students accompanied by parents on their way to take their examination in Hadyai.

The tragedy indicates that the unsafe zone in Southern provinces is slowly expanding and its effects and threats are spreading, should the situation not be controlled. It is not only the problem of Southern provinces, it is the concern of everybody who lives in this land, who loves and find hope in this land.

(What did the students do wrong? Why did they have to be murdered?)

Betong is a small town, news and word spread fast, be it good or bad, true or fake. These last two days, the basically tolerant and submissive Thai started to speak out…

Why don’t the government focus on current problems instead of digging mistakes of the past? Why was the government spending time and effort in finding faults of the ousted PM instead of channeling the manpower and resources to help solve the many problems in this country?

Why don’t the government come out with solid plans to help the 500 redundancies caused by the rubber factory burning down in Yala district? Someone from Chiang Mai was also saying that people in the North were suffering as their OTOP products have no more market. They will soon rush to the big city to find a living… These are all sources of potential social problems…

I hope that their voices were loud enough to be heard and strong enough to move the relevant parties to take appropriate actions.

Left (How can we live together? We can’t go on with our daily life.)
Right (What is the government doing? What is more important than preserving our homeland?)

Left (What is the government doing – the land will be depleted.
Right (These bastards kill even children and women.)

Trip to Pattani


After the Chinese New Year bomb blast, despite all the negative response and advice, I decided to go with a “long time no see” hometown friend Phil, to visit Pattani, the Muslim centre of the South.

The night before leaving for Pattani, we were briefed and cautioned by a friend who is a high ranking government official based in Pattani. Having such a lovely moment with his family around the beautiful beach of Songkhla, our two hours of conversation was mostly centered around the situation in Pattani. The description was saddening but interesting and provided us with new insights. It was like listening to the life of someone from another planet!

After all the discouraging remarks of our planned trip to Pattani the next day, I decided to take the risk as Phil promised to take care of me should anything happen . 

I was getting excited and a little uneasy as our car was approaching Pattani. We stopped by a road side stall selling sea coconut. Asking about the situation in Pattani, the trader seemed reserved and reluctant to answer our questions. It was the first time I took the fresh sea coconut and the sea coconut juice, right here in Pattani.

Equipped with a borrowed bullet proof jacket, I left Phil in the car to have a quick tour and take snapshots of the tourist attractions- The beautiful Pattani Central Mosque, The ruined Kru Se Mosque, the Shrine of Chao Mae Lim Ko Nieo.

(pic) The Pattani Central Mosque/The ruined and cursed Kru Se Mosque

(pic) The Shrine of Chao Mae Lim Ko Nieo at the road side/The closed candle shops

Pattani is popular for its annual Chao Mae Lim Ko Nieo Fair which was to be held from 1-7 March. The annual fair pays homage to the Goddess Cho Mae Lim Ko Nieo with a colourful procession, walking on fire and swimming across the river near Dechanuchit Bridge. According to the traders around here, in the past there would be at least 80 to 100 tour buses each day bringing thousands of worshippers to the fair each year. However, there were hardly any buses now.

We also drove around the town to have a feel of the atmosphere. Contrary to what I thought that there would be a lot of Islamic structural buildings, the town seems quite modern and well developed, though a little quiet. It even has more Chinese New Year decorations than in Betong.

(pic) The quite Chao Mae Lim Ko Nieo and the quite dried seafood stalls

(pic) Pattani town/One of the CNY decorations in the town

The next day before saying good bye to this town, we were attracted by a bird competition crowded with thousands of people with beautiful cages hanging in the big compound area. As usual, I get excited about new things and couldn’t help to join the crowd, asking questions and taking pictures until the driver rang and advised me not to stay too long. Phil told me that I was the only lady among the crowd.

Before coming, Phil assured me that it would be an exciting and unforgettable journey. Indeed it was, but no matter how normal it seems and how exciting the journey, we couldn’t help the feel of uneasiness and tension in our heart. I’d opt not to come again!

One of the bird competition sites

(Tomorrow: Betong is roaring!)

2nd Helicopter Tour of Betong

The other side of the road is Malaysia.
Betong town.
It’s so beautiful…

Lately, I had the opportunity to join an helicopter tour again. Though it was my second time, it didn’t keep me from being a little nervous while very excited at the same time.

This time, the tour was mainly for the Municipality photographers to take some nice pictures of Betong, to keep picture archive for brochures, development proposals and presentations.

The helicopter was a smaller “open air” helicopter. There were seven passengers, i.e. two pilots, one flight assistant, two photographers, the Mayor and me. As the helicopter was “open air” type with two side doors opened, safety was very important and thus the flight assistant had to make sure that we were properly seated and belt tightened properly.

As soon as we were safely buckled into our seats and the assistant satisfied with the safety precautions, he gave the pilots the thumbs up. The pilots deftly lifted the helicopter and we were off on a magical flight. Both sides of the doors were left open and therefore we could experience and feel the air and had a completely unobstructed view of the beautiful Betong.

The two photographers were busy taking the pictures of the various buildings, construction sites, schools and so on. The helicopter soared in a way to give convenience to the photographers to take pictures of the town. As I was sitting on the other side, most of the time what I saw was the lush greenery.

The weather was fresh after raining. The first ten minutes of our flight was clear and gorgeous, after that it was drizzling and get pretty cooling in the air, with the open doors. It was a diverse feeling on top of the mountains in the drizzle.

The view was amazing, with tropical forest, waterfalls, vast area of rubber plantations surrounding Betong town. The layers and layers of mountains were particularly beautiful! I wish I was a poem or if I could write this in Chinese, then I could better describe the view and express my feeling!

The helicopter/The highest building in Betong-the 25 storey Merlin Hotel, expected to be completed end of this year

A Malay Village/View from top

Layers of Mountains/Hey, Mr. Mayor, it is dangerous!

Elephant in Betong

I watched the elephant for some time, he was dancing happily!

In Betong, once in a while we will find mahouts bringing their elephants to the town and try to make money from tourists by selling food for the elephant. The last time an elephant came to this town was about half a year ago. I still remember that I was shocked when I saw the elephant and mahout walking along the road on my way to Yala. I was told that they can walk extremely long distance from and back to their original home to make a living. I also learned that an elephant can walk an average of 30km per day!

Lately, we can find an elephant strolling around the streets, brought here by truck by the mahout family of four. They came far away from Surin Province, stopped and stayed in some towns as they moved down South. According to the family, the transportation cost from Surim to Betong was about 30,000Baht. Normally they stayed in each place for about one month. After the excitement about elephant in that town was over, they moved on to another town.

The mahout family and the elephant have been in Betong for about two weeks, working from around five o’clock in the evening when most of the tourists start their night life, till around nine o’clock at night. According to the mahout family, the elephant is inherited from their parents and is already 20 years old. This is the best youth life of an elephant because like human, in both the wild and captivity an elephant is considered old at 60 years old.

During day time, the mahout family prepares the favourite food for the elephant-sugarcane or banana, in their simple and crude rented house. The elephant will be kept in the wide land, not far from the main road. According to them, though they can sell more than 1000bahts of food per day, it is still not enough to satisfy the elephant. However, they are quite easy as the elephant can have free food provided by the wild land.

The mahout family/Food for sale

Few months ago in Betong, there was a tragedy. An elephant while hauling logs, suddenly went out of control and killed a man and then escaped. Some of the roads were closed and people were warned to be alert with the elephant.

Though the elephant is friendly and lovely, I still think it is very dangerous for an elephant to stroll around the town. What if the elephant become emotional, being in an unfamiliar surroundings with people and cars?! Besides, the fact that an elephant produces 50kg of dung a day anywhere is really not hygienic!

Feeding fun/Honey, let’s try!

Kissing my car/The relaxing elephant