Category Archives: Yala

Army in Betong-Yindee!

Due to the unrest situation in Southern Thailand,the Southern Border Provinces Peace-Building Command (SBPPC) was set up in October 2004 and the Fourth Army sent out security forces combating the insurgency and safeguard the security of the region. The army units were dispersed throughout various provincial districts of Southern Thailand.

The army, stationed in Southern Thailand, is from the oldest and largest of the military services, the Royal Thai Army, with its headquarters in Bangkok. The army operated through four regional army commands. The First Army, headquartered in Bangkok, is responsible for the country’s western and central provinces and the capital city. The northeastern quadrant is the territorial home of the Second Army, and its regional headquarter is in Nakhon Ratchasima. The Third Army, with headquarter in Phitsanulok, is responsible for the northern and northwestern parts of the kingdom and the Fourth Army, with its headquarter in Nakhon Si Thammarat, is responsible for southern Thailand region.

Although the army’s primary mission was to defend the country against aggression by foreign ground forces, for many years invasion was considered an unlikely possibility by Thai civilian and military leaders and it is believed that such threats, if any, probably could be circumvented politically without need for a military response. Consequently, from the 1960s field action by army units concentrated mostly on dispelling insurgency and providing internal security.

Since the unrest situation in Thailand, the Forth army’s job has not been easy. Many army units were sent to the South to carry out their duties. One of their visible duties is checking or scrutinizing the passing vehicles and people. We can find many checkpoints along the main highways connecting the various towns, for example highway from Betong town to Yala. There are also soldiers stationed in various parts of the different towns in Southern Thailand and Betong is no exception.

Checkpoint before entering Betong Town from Yala Road

Soldiers carry out their duties

Roadside surveillance security system/Soldiers on guard

As Betong is relatively safe as compared to other areas of Southern Thailand, we can often find soldiers wandering around in the town in a more relaxed manner. They are mixing around quite well with the local people here and their coming certainly bring some “liveliness” to the small business operators in Betong. Just imagine, there are more than 700 soldiers coming to station around this little town and the suburb areas. Each day their foods and daily consumables create income for the local people here. Every afternoon, we can see army cars parking in front of the market to buy foods.

For some of the tourists who enter Betong and the business operators who need to travel in and out, the soldiers may cause a little inconvenience to them. However, for the hawkers in town and food sellers in the market, the soldiers are very much “Yindeetonrup!” (welcome).

Buying lunch from the market

The Friday Blue Flag Market

With the increasing prices of consumables, due in part to rising oil prices,the Internal Trade Department under the Ministry of Commerce (MOC) has started the Blue Flag Saving Price (ธงฟ้าราคาประหยัด ) campaign. Under the project, prices of various products, mainly basic commodities such as eggs, vegetables, fruit, rice, canned foods, chicken and other meat products will be discounted for the consumers.

According to the Ministry, more than one million people who have registered their poverty with the government can avail themselves of cheap goods that will be set aside for them at a special corner under the designated blue flag at participating stores.

Other than this, the Ministry also held series of Friday Blue Flag Market in various provincial districts in Southern Thailand. The objective of setting up such Friday markets in the deep South is to boost public confidence after the lately leaflet campaign by militants that scared many shop-owners into closing down on Fridays.

The Blue Flag market has been extended to Betong last Friday. The market featured various daily consumer products at prices lower than the prevailing market price. Many people from all around Betong come to grasp the opportunity of buying cheap. The market was filled with excitement, with a large number of people queuing up to buy the items, in which products such as rice, sugar, cooking oil and chicken eggs were sold out quickly. According to my survey, 5 KGs of rice sold at only 35Baht, 1KG of sugar at 12.50Baht and 30 eggs for 69Baht which were indeed very cheap!

The market was held at a school football field. A lot of soldiers were stationed surrounding the market to safeguard the security. Despite the recent case of the two killed armies, I felt no tension in the air…

The long queue under the bright sun

Goats at 200Baht per KG/Chat while waiting for wives

Fear of lag behind/Busy packing the sugar

Soldiers and the people

Betong – Town of Swallows

Betong is a small town located in a valley surrounded by forests and rubber plantations. From September onwards, the weather gets rainy and cool during night time.

Betong is also known as “ town of swallows” . In the evening from September to end of the year, visitors will be amazed with flocks of swallows flying around the clock tower, which is the city landmark and the city center. It has become one of the remarkable symbols of Betong.

Look at the picture carefully, the dark shadows in the sky are the flocks of swallows flying around.

Like other birds, the swallows migrate to the warmer South during winter. Hundreds of thousands of swallows from Siberia migrate here every year to perch on the city’s rooftops and weigh down the electricity cables. Years ago, Japanese bird specialists were stationed here for several consecutive years to do research on the swallows. They confirmed that the swallows were coming from as far away as Siberia.

I didn’t quite like the migratory birds initially in Betong because I had had a few “shit” experiences. Later as I found out from the books about the birds, I started to admire and tolerate with them.

According to a study, some of the Europe’s swallows head for southern Africa to escape the harsh winters of the northern hemisphere, covering about 11,000 km. The journey is particularly dangerous because they have to cross the vast Sahara Desert to reach their destination. The chances of both the members of a pair getting there and coming back safely are only about 20 per cent. By desert crossing these birds become so highly exhausted that they do not even try to fly away when anybody picks them up.

The swallows in Betong too have gone through a lot of hardship to arrive here. Just like myself, who crossed over the ocean and national boundary to pursue my life ambitions here too… :)!

Every morning, there will be lots of shits on the ground around the tower roundabout, and those parking spaces under the electricity cables, which are in fact very unhygienic. However, thanks to the municipality for washing the roads every day!

For the Malaysian tourists who come here to enjoy night life and women, the next morning when they go to get their cars parked under the electricity cables, it is not surprising to hear “oh shits” here and “oh shits” there! :)!

Swallows perching on the electricity cables.

The swallow nests.

Thai Fruit Harvest

For you!

Thailand is home to a large variety of delicious fruits, seasonal such as durian, rambutan, mangosteen, longan, lychee etc. and all-year-round, such as papaya, guava, coconut, orange, banana, pineapple etc. In Betong, among the popular native fruits are orange, durian, rambutan, mangosteen and longkong.

Due to too many orchards and the overwhelming supply of fruits like durian, rambutan, longkong and mangosteen, the price has gone down tremendously. Furthermore, the safety concerns in Southern Thailand had caused a big slide in sales. To help the farmers in Southern Thailand, the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry had decided to buy the fruits like longkong, at certain guaranteed prices, depending on its quality.

The municipality of Betong had also arranged a meeting between the local orchard owners and a cooperative under the Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority of Malaysia, hoping to learn from their experience and to open the door for fruits export and re-export. Though nothing solid had been arrived, the meeting was a fruitful start to exchange information and ideas.

The meeting

Last year I was too busy to “enjoy” the fruits seasons, so this year I decided to have a suburb drive. I was so excited to see so many different kinds of fruits so near to me, along both sides of roads. A lot of fruits were already ripen but the owners just let them be because cost of labor collecting out weighted the sales value. I wished I could fill up my car with fruits and drive back to Kuala Lumpur for my friends!

The fruits

I also visited one of the former communist leaders in the communist village. Though it was the first time I visited them, his son and grandchildren were so friendly and eager to show me their orchard just behind their house. There were durian, mangosteen, longkong and rambutan. The kids were so excited to show me around the different kinds of fruits. We just pluck and enjoyed the fruits right there.

Their simplicity and happiness impressed me and their smiles have infected and warmed my heart… Look at the pictures, hope it does the same to you too! 🙂

This article is written for them!

The Temporary Bazaar

The Temporary Bazaar
(Written 31 August 2005, National Day of Malaysia)

Due to the “isolated” location of Betong and thus higher cost of transportation, goods sold in Betong are generally more expensive (and limited variety too) than other places in the Southern provinces, Hat Yai or even Bangkok. For example, items like garments, furniture, computer wares etc.

As there is no proper shopping centre in this town, occasionally, the district office will set up temporary bazaar in Betong town which lasts from one to two weeks, with hawkers coming from various parts of the nation. The bazaar normally gets going from around 10:00am and continues until 9:00pm at night.

Currently there is an “OTOP Expo”bazaar started on 25 August and will end on 2 September. As usual, the range of products includes household accessories, handicrafts, clothes, tapes and CDs, furniture, foods, games etc. Most of the prices are fixed and no bargaining is expected.

The Bazaar

Though the bazaar are almost the same each time , regardless of whatever theme they have, they still draw reasonable crowds as there are no better places to go, especially after sunset. However, today the crowd is obviously less…because a bomb was discovered in front of a gas store adjoining the petrol station this morning…

Some of the boothes

The Popular food-grasshoppers, cicada and …?!