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Peaceful Pattani – the other side of the southern province

The Thaiger & The Nation

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Peaceful Pattani – the other side of the southern province | The Thaiger

By Pattarawadee Saengmanee, The Nation Weekend

The former capital of the ancient Langkasuka Kingdom, Pattani province in Thailand’s far south has traditionally been feted for its multiculturalism, though sadly the ongoing violence has kept it well off the tourist map for more than a decade.

But his southern province bordered by Narathiwat, Yala, and Songkhla has plenty to offer the visitor.

Not all the residents have given up on drawing visitors to their home. On a recent visit that saw a group of journalists wrap up a tour of all three southernmost provinces, we were taken around China Town by Melayu Living, a club of innovative artists who are hoping to bring tourists back to this thriving trading hub on the bank of the Pattani River and the border of Thailand and Malaysia.

Pattani’s China Town is located on Anoru Road and lined with old Chinesestyle houses built in the reign of King Rama III

The group has also collaborated with the Association of Siamese Architects under Royal Patronage to create maps and guidebooks to illustrate the city layout and indicate the locations of tourist attractions.

Along the 1.4-kilometre walking route, visitors can learn about history, enjoy some local delicacies and get a feel for the simple way of Southern life. Contrary to the negative pictures painted by the media, it’s normal to see Muslims sitting alongside Chinese-Buddhists eating roti and drinking coffee or tea and sharing space in an art gallery.

Sulaiman “Lee” Chemae is our tour guide for the walk and one of my travel companions greets him not with “hello” but a question – “It is safe to roam on foot?”

Lee doesn’t appear put out. “This area is like the yolk of an egg, protected by checkpoints controlled by armed soldiers. So, yes, tourists can feel safe. I admit we can’t guarantee 100% safety but we can recommend places to which visitors can go as well as those best avoided,” he says.

Peaceful Pattani - the other side of the southern province | News by The Thaiger

China Town is populated by Hokkian Chinese, whose ancestors migrated from Fujian and set up shop on Anoru Road. Lined with old Chinese-style buildings mostly constructed during the reign of King Rama III, it’s home to the Lim Ko Nieo Shrine, worshipped by local residents and seafarers alike to ask for fortune, success, good health and protection. Built in 1634, it was originally called Leng Chu Kiang Shrine.

Legend has it that Lim Ko Niao crossed the South China Sea from China to Pattani to bring her brother back home to be with their dying mother. The young man, Lim To Kiam, declined her request, preferring to stay in Pattani because he had married a daughter of Phraya Tani and converted to Islam. Lim Ko Niao was frustrated by her brother’s refusal and ended up hanging herself from a cashew nut tree. The villagers later carved a wooden statue to her memory.

Lim Ko Nieo Shrine is always packed with pilgrims and seafarers praying for protection and good fortune.

A short distance from the shrine is the former residence of taxman Luang Wichit Sulkakorn. Made from wood and cement, the main structure has been maintained to celebrate its long history.

When Wichit and his family moved out, the house was turned into a Thai dessert shop by Xuan Lui Kowittaya and became the first grocery on Anoru Road. Today, it’s under the care of the Kamolwittaya family.

“In the past, the Chinese residents traded with sea merchants from Singapore, Malacca and the Malay Peninsula, while the Muslims made their living from fishing. King Rama III recognised the potential for border trade, so he sent a tax collector to Pattani, making our community stronger,” Lee explains.

Peaceful Pattani - the other side of the southern province | News by The Thaiger

Next door is the White Building, which was constructed in 1883 by Luang Cheen Kananurak. Anan, the third generation of the Kananurak family, recently had it completely refurbished and gave it a more modern look.

The building is divided into three zones linked by walkways from the front building to an old wooden house in the middle. There is a kitchen and a lush courtyard at the back, where the air-raid shelter hastily constructed during World War II, has been turned into a fish and lotus pond.

Commonly known as Baan Kongsee, the bright blue, 150-year-old house was constructed by another tax collector, Luang Samret Kitjakorn Jangwang – an ancestor of the Kanaurak family, during the reign of King Rama III.

The roof has a perforated design that resembles ancient currency, symbolic of fortune, while the front of house features two windows to protect against inauspicious happenings in line with feng shui beliefs.

The structure is built with glazed bricks coated with white honey-mixed lime and oversize earthenware tiles cover the floor. The living room has a huge stand to accommodate the many statues of Chinese deities.

Baan Kongsee boasts traditional Chinese architecture and is based on feng shui philosophy.

Khun Phitak Raya, the two-storey house in the corner of the compound now belongs to Senator Anusat Suwanmongkol, who runs the Pattani’s CS Hotel. He has poured some 8 million baht into restoring the old structure, working with skilled craftsmen from the Fine Arts Department.

Lee leads us to Pattani Phirom Road, once home to a theatre, a smattering of opium dens, Chinese-style taverns, a foundry and gold shops. Surrounded by European-style buildings, the Melayu Living club has set up its own ‘In_t_af Cafe & Gallery’ (that’s not a typo, that’s the actual name) and this has become a hip hangout for Pattani’s younger generation.

Peaceful Pattani - the other side of the southern province | News by The Thaiger

“It’s not easy to teach other local residents what this art space is all about, which is setting aside fear of violence and bringing tourists to Pattani. Even with the support of the provincial officials, it took us a few years to persuade the Chinese residents to open their houses and welcome visitors,” Lee says.

Our sightseeing tour ends at the present-day shopping district on Ruedee Road, home to a block of colonial buildings influenced by British construction designs with a gap between them to prevent fire from spreading. This street once housed a big market that sold fabrics and spices and was operated by Indian entrepreneurs.

The newly opened Sky Walk offers a panoramic view of the Gulf of Thailand and the swamp forest.

“Before the violence, this area was really colourful. It was lined with restaurants and always packed with foreign labourers and local fishermen. Because of its proximity to the huge fish market and pier, some 100 million baht changed hands every night,” Lee says.

Peaceful Pattani - the other side of the southern province | News by The Thaiger

“We want to promote other tourist routes that take in artisan villages and encourage people to take a cruise to a swamp forest in Yaring district so that visitors can experience our culture.”

Just a 15-minute drive away from downtown Pattani next to Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana Garden is the recently opened Pattani Adventure Park, which is billing itself as the best vantage point for admiring Tachee Cape and azure waters of the Gulf of Thailand.

The 400 metre skywalk stands as high as a three-storey building and can hold up to 400 kilogram per square metre, thus ensuring safety for all visitors. It’s also connected to a long nature trail on the ground, home to a lush massive swamp forest.

A mere 35 kilometres from town is Sai Khao, which won the Most Outstanding Community-based Tourism Award back in 2007 for its eco-cultural tours and homestay services. Local residents have modified their vintage Jeep trucks to transport visitors to the Namtok Sai Khao National Park, where a golden statue of the Buddha looks down at visitors from the top of the mountain.

Peaceful Pattani - the other side of the southern province | News by The Thaiger

“The province invested 32 million baht to construct the Buddha statue and it took 41 years to complete. It is a great viewpoint to look out over the verdant landscapes of Sai Khao district,” says Uncle Chanin Siannin, the head of Baan Sai Khao community.

The mountain is also home to a sacred pond, which the monk Luang Pu Tuad discovered during a pilgrimage in the jungle, a huge snake-like rock attached to the steep cliff and the Sai Khao waterfall, which is a popular picnic spot for local families.

Our day out ends with a visit to the massive rubber plantations and orchards, where we’re allowed to pick durian, bananas and rambutan straight from the tree and stock up on such snacks as preserved garcinia and miang kham made from banana to remind us of our visit.

• Tourists can arrange a walking tour with Melayu Living by visiting its Facebook page.

• The eco-cultural tour organised by the Baan Sai Khao community costs 500 baht per person.

• For a private tour by jeep, you pay an additional 1,000 baht.

• For more information, call (089) 737 9553.

Peaceful Pattani - the other side of the southern province | News by The Thaiger

STORY: The Nation

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Hua Hin

Southern Thailand braces for rough weather and rain

May Taylor

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Southern Thailand braces for rough weather and rain | The Thaiger

The Thailand Meteorological Department issued a weather warning for southern Thailand with torrential rain forecast to hit the region throughout the weekend. The heavy monsoon over the Gulf of Thailand and south of the country is being blamed for the rough weather, with the TMD predicting flash flooding in many areas.

(Phuket, Hat Yai and Hua Hin’s forecast below)

“Waves are expected to reach 2 metres in height in the lower Gulf of Thailand and possibly higher at the height of the storm. Ships are advised to proceed with caution.”

For the north and northeast of Thailand, the TMD forecasts strong winds and cooler mornings as the arrival of the “winter” season, coupled with a moderate high-pressure system, causes temperatures to dip.

Hua Hin’s five day forecast

Southern Thailand braces for rough weather and rain | News by The Thaiger

Phuket’s five day forecast

Southern Thailand braces for rough weather and rain | News by The Thaiger

Hat Yai’s five day forecast

Southern Thailand braces for rough weather and rain | News by The Thaiger

SOURCE: The Nation | weather.com

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Insurgency

Judge Kanakorn Pianchana, another victim of the southern insurgency

The Thaiger

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Judge Kanakorn Pianchana, another victim of the southern insurgency | The Thaiger

Five men were awaiting the judge to hand down his verdict. Charged with murder and facing either life imprisonment or a death penalty, or being acquitted. On October 4 Judge Kanakorn Pianchana, at the Yala Provincial Court, announced the five men were acquitted, in a 25 page document. What was to follow was both profound and tragic.

The judge claimed, as he wound up his reading of the acquittal, that there wasn’t enough evidence to convict the five Muslim defendants with the murder charges, claiming that his ‘superiors’ had pressured him to convict them and impose capital punishment.

Then he reached into the pocket of his black judge’s gown, drew a pistol and shot himself in front of a startled court room.

“My words might be as light as a bird’s feather but my heart is as heavy as a mountain.”

“Return the verdicts to the judges. Return the justice to the people.”

His final words before shooting himself have been ringing around Thai social media and judicial circles ever since as Thais ponder what in earth is going on in the courtrooms of the insurgency-plagued southern provinces, indeed any court in Thailand.

Kanakorn Pianchana luckily survived the shooting, was rushed to the provincial hospital and was released last week after visits from officials and the obligatory staged photo opportunities during the presentation of flowers to the patient.

Judge Kanakorn Pianchana, another victim of the southern insurgency | News by The Thaiger

The incident, apart from the immediate impact on the judge’s health and his family, draws broad attention to the two decades of civil strife in the south, ironically described by Thai officials as the ‘restive South’. Buddhists and Muslims are in a real-life battle for real estate in the disputed southern-most provinces of Narithawat, Pattani and Yala. Once a Malay Muslim sultanate, the three provinces were annexed by the Thai kingdom in the early 20th century. But the earlier passive resistance has given way to a bloody insurgency since 2004.

Some 6,000-7,000 people have been killed by militants since the early 2000s, with heavy-handed military law being imposed on the hapless residents for at least 15 years. The scale of the dramatic violence is comparable with deaths in the Gaza Strip conflict, but far less known or understood by foreign media.

The targets are teachers, judges, academics, soldiers and religious leaders – from both faiths. Framing the conflict merely as a land dispute belies the tetchy religious friction between the Malay Muslims and the southern Buddhist Thais.

In many parts of Thailand’s south, even the tourist island of Phuket, there is a mixture of Buddhists and Muslims living peacefully together in a tolerant version of ‘Thai’ Islam with Thai Buddhists whose religious principals generally embrace freedom of worship.

Not so in the deep south where Muslim insurgents, many who travel over the open borders into Thailand, have waged a violent civil war against mostly completely innocent southern residents. The border, whilst patrolled with checkpoints, is an easy swim across a small stream in some locations, or a trek across the hills in others.

Judge Kanakorn Pianchana, another victim of the southern insurgency | News by The Thaiger

A few hundred kilometres to the north are the tourist-magnet beaches of Krabi and Phuket, some of the most popular tourist destinations in south east Asia. Yet a few hours drive south the situation changes dramatically with armed militia at checkpoints, barbed wire, sandbags and lots of questions. Successive governments have tried to downplay the problems whilst quietly trying to engage in unproductive peace-talks.

Both sides have drawn lines in the sand that prevent any beneficial progress towards lasting peace. On the part of the Muslim insurgents, the actual key figures and ‘money’ behind the two decades of attacks, is particularly hard to identify, making contact and plans for productive talks complex or impossible.

Both the seats of the Malaysian and Thai governments are a long distance from the troubled region – in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. The Malay government, whilst politely sending along various ‘government’ negotiators over the years, have been less than forthcoming in engaging with the Thai government for a solution.

So, the ‘ Deep South’, the ‘Restive South’, or just southern Thailand, remains a potentially dangerous zone with little support and a ‘law unto itself’ attitude where corruption can thrive.

Judge Kanakorn Pianchana, another victim of the southern insurgency | News by The Thaiger

Mr. Kanakorn, a judge a the Yala Provincial Court for 17 years, openly accused the Thai army of using forced confessions and torture to condemn Muslims and push through their sentences. He cited many times his verdicts were subverted by superiors who lacked a full understanding of the evidence in cases.

Regional chief justices are allowed to review verdicts before they are read out in court – a quaint Thai judicial tradition following the country’s patriarchal line of authority.

In the case at hand, Mr. Kanakorn claimed he carefully considered the cases of all five defendants, accused of killing five others in June 2018. He concluded there were insufficient grounds to convict them.

“But the regional chief justice of a part of southern Thailand sent a secret letter ordering me to punish the five defendants.”

He neglected to name names.

Mr. Kanakorn explained at a hearing in August, addressing the defendants and their families, that he wanted to acquit the men but was “being pressured from above to convict”. He delayed the reading of a verdict for another two months.

Relatives of the defendants, gathered to hear the verdict on their family members, have explained to the media they had no idea what was about to unfold after the reading of the verdict on October 4. At first, according to people in the court, he asked the court reporter and other provincial legal officials out of the court room. He then ordered a guard to lock the main door.

The judge then set up two mobile phones set to stream the verdict and then spent the next hour delivering his deliberations. People were knocking at the doors of the courtroom and the judge’s phones continued to ring, still streaming, as the judge handed down a verdict he clearly disagreed with, and was prepared to end his life as a consequence.

In amongst the deliberations, the judge spoke about the low wages for judges, about 75,000 baht per month, and the opportunities the low wages presented for judges to have their opinions and final verdicts swayed.

At the conclusion of the unfolding drama, as people outside the courtroom continued to bash on the locked doors, the judge simply said… “This is the end.”

One of the people in the court said that, at this stage, the judge “looked totally exhausted.”

Mr. Kanakorn stood up, turned and bowed to framed portraits of the Thai monarchy adorning the walls of the courtroom, casually reached into his black judicial robes, pulled out the gun and shot himself.

At this stage, given the acquittal of the five men, the five still languish in a Yala prison. The families have been told that the prosecution will appeal Mr. Kanakorn’s verdict of acquittal in the murder cases. Bail has been set at 500,000 baht for each man, an amount of money well beyond the reach of a poor southern family.

The story has drawn widespread sympathy for Judge Kanakorn Pianchana and put additional focus on Thai judicial corruption and, locally, justice ‘southern style’.

Judge Kanakorn Pianchana, another victim of the southern insurgency | News by The Thaiger

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Environment

Five days to move out – restaurant encroaches on Nakhon Si Thammarat creek

The Thaiger & The Nation

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Five days to move out – restaurant encroaches on Nakhon Si Thammarat creek | The Thaiger

PHOTO: Facebook/Strong Club – Sufficiency mind, anti-corruption

A restaurant in Nakhon Si Thammarat has been exposed for illegally encroaching on the Baan Kiriwong creek and constructing permanent foundations and infrastructure. They’ve been ordered by authorities to move out.

The Nation reports that a Facebook page titled “Strong Club – Sufficiency mind, anti-corruption” posted a photo with a caption on October 14, alluding to the illegal encroachment. The concrete platform runs for about 60 metres along one side of the stream.

The restaurant had allegedly created a cement platform in the creek and set up tables and chairs at Baan Kiriwong, which has become famous as an eco-attraction for tourists in the Nakhon Si Thammarat province, west of Krabi on the Gulf of Thailand.

The area also serves as a natural flood warning system, so, in the event of flash floods, the locals send emergency warnings to people in the town to prepare for approaching flood waters.

The Facebook page owners had asked the local government to inspect the area to ensure more damage wasn’t inflicted on the forest and the Baan Kiriwong creek.

On Tuesday, the Lansaka district governor and rangers went to the scene and questioned the owner of the restaurant. The restaurant owner was given an ultimatum to break up and remove the cement platform and move the restaurant out of the area within five days.

SOURCE: The Nation

Five days to move out - restaurant encroaches on Nakhon Si Thammarat creek | News by The Thaiger Five days to move out - restaurant encroaches on Nakhon Si Thammarat creek | News by The Thaiger Five days to move out - restaurant encroaches on Nakhon Si Thammarat creek | News by The Thaiger

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