The Deep South of Thailand

by : Moonoi



The frontier between Thailand and Malaysia carves across the peninsula six degrees north of the equator, but the cultures of the two countries shade into each other much further north. According to official divisions, the southern Thais - the thai pak tai - begin around Chumphon, and as you move further down the peninsula you see ever more sarongs, yashmaks and towering mosques, and hear with increasing frequency a staccato dialect that baffles many Thais. In Trang, Phatthalung and Songkhla provinces, the Muslim population is generally accepted as being Thai, but the inhabitants of the four southernmost provinces _ Satun, Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat - are ethnically more akin to the Malays: most of the 1,500,00 followers of Islam here speak Yawi, an old Malay dialect. To add to the ethnic confusion, the deep south has a large urban population of Chinese, whose comparative wealth makes them stand out sharply form the Muslim farmers and fishermen.

On a journey south, the first thing you might be tempted by is an atmospheric boat trip through the Thale Noi Waterbird Park near Phatthalung. The easiest route after that is to hop across to the great natural beauty of the west coast, with its sheer limestone outcrops, pristine sands and fish-laden coral stretching down to the Malaysian border. The spread of tourism outwards form Phuket is slowly inching its way south to the idyllic islands around Trang, but for the time being at least these remain more or less unscathed, and further south in the spectacular Ko Tarutao National Park, you'll usually still have the beaches all to yourself.

On the less attractive east side of the peninsula, you'll probably pass through the ugly, modern city of Hat Yai at some stage, as it's the transport capital for the south and for connections to Malaysia, but a far more sympathetic place to stay is the old town of Songkla, half an hour away on the seashore. The region southeast of here is where you'll experience Malay Muslim culture at its purest, through with the exception of Narathiwat, a pleasant stopover on the journey south to the border, it has little to offer the visitor.

As well as the usual bus services and the rail line, which forks at Hat Yai to Butterworth and Kuala Lumpur on the Malasian west coast and Sungai Kolok on the eastern border, the deep south is the territory of share-taxis - some times grand old 1950s Mercs, which connect all the major towns for about twice the fare of ordinary buses. The cars leave when they're full, which usually means six passengers, with, quite possibly, babes - in arms and livestock. They are a quick way of getting around and you should get dropped off at the door of your journey's end. A more recent phenomenon, run on almost exactly the same principles at similar prices, is air-conditioned minibuses; on these you'll be more comfortable, with a seat to yourself, and most of the various ranks publish a rough timetable - though the minibuses also tend to leave as soon as they're full.

Highlights
Ko Mook - best of the Trang islands, with laid-back beach resorts and the stunning Emerald Cave. more ...
Ko Tarutao National Marine Park - a largely undisturbed haven of beautiful land - and seascapes. more ...

reference info. by The Rough Guide