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Boom Boom on the border

Tim Newton

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Boom Boom on the border | Thaiger

PHOTO: The attractions of Thailand’s southern border town usually become apparent after sunset

On one side of the Thai/Malaysian border is Sungai Golok, on the Malaysian side it’s the town of Rantau Panjang. The two towns are separated by the Golok River as well as decades of furious fighting between Muslim separatists who want to reclaim some of the southern areas in Thailand under the Malaysian flag.

The Thai Buddhists on the other side are happy for it to remain part of the Kingdom of Thailand. Enough of the politics…

The real story in Sungai Golok is the thriving little border town that attracts Malaysian men nightly to enjoy the ‘pleasures of the flesh’, loud music, karaoke, copious booze and ‘the ladies’. All the same ‘lifestyle items’ frowned upon just south of the river in Malaysia.

Although the border town’s most infamous days are in the past it still lures plenty of traffic across the river nightly.

Thai merchants, nowadays cross the major border checkpoint in Sungai Kolok to enter Kelantan, the Malaysian border city, to sell food and household goods as the neighbours now have more purchasing power than before.

Poised at the very south of Narithawat Province, Sungai Golok is ground zero for border boozing and debauchery. With a population of around 38,000 it’s hardly a thriving metropolis but when the sun goes down the men from south of the border flock across the river to enjoy entertainment unavailable to them in the strict Muslim province of Kelantan.

Boom Boom on the border | News by Thaiger

The death toll in the deep south is equivalent to the toll in the Gaza Strip

If it wasn’t for it’s strategic location on the main road heading south from Thailand you would never hear of Sungai Golok. But apart from its rising reputation as the southern red light district it’s also a strategic target for bombings and outrage from people south of the border who see the town as the epitome of everything wrong with ‘Thai and Western decadence’.

The death toll in the deep south is equivalent to the toll in the Gaza Strip conflict – around 7,000 since 2004. But the violence in the Deep South is rarely reported in international media.

Violent attacks happen almost daily in the southern provinces of Thailand – Pattani, Yala and Narithawat -with little sign of any drop in attacks from the insurgents.

Back in Sungai Golok it’s just part of the nightlife where the noise from the discos is occasionally interrupted by a bomb. Does it deter the men heading across the border for their nights of revelry or the Thai women working in the bars? Hell no.

Boom Boom on the border | News by Thaiger

The Golok River is very small and easy to cross without using the main bridge road – Malay Mail

The nightclubs and bars are regular targets for the indiscriminate home-made pipe bombs and car bombs, almost daily, but it does little to dampen the enthusiasm for a good night. In fact the reputation of Sungai Golok as the ‘place to go’ for a good time continues to rise – which just puts it higher up the target list for the insurgents who want to make their point.

The troubles in the town do little to dampen the enthusiasm for the men that visit and most of them will head home after their night of fun to the conservative Malaysian state over the river unhurt. But for the girls that work in Sungai Golok it’s a constant threat to their lives. The stakes are high.

The men are paying good money for the services provided in the town – the girls are eager to part the men from their money and are willing to take the risks of plying their trade in such a dangerous location.

With a single bridge across the Golok river you would think that police and army can control the flow of traffic across the river but many of the visitors slip across the small river by boat and cross the border undetected, usually without passports or any means of identification if the worst happens.

If you’re heading south from Thailand and wanting to cross the river border into Malaysia there’s only one official road, through Sungai Golok. So it seems the little towns future, and reputation, will continue to grow along with it the violence that sees no signs of abating.

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Tim Newton has lived in Thailand since 2012. An Australian, he has worked in the media, principally radio and TV, for nearly 40 years. He has won the Deutsche Welle Award for best radio talk program, presented 3,900 radio news bulletins in Thailand alone, hosted 450 daily TV news programs, produced 1,800 videos, TV commercials and documentaries and is now the General Manager and writer for The Thaiger. He's reported for CNN, Deutsche Welle TV, CBC, Australia's ABC TV and Australian radio during the 2018 Cave Rescue.

Coronavirus (Covid-19)

100+ Covid-19 infections cancels all prison visits

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100+ Covid-19 infections cancels all prison visits | Thaiger
PHOTO: Close quarters in prisons make dangerous conditions for Covid-19 spread

After a small Covid-19 outbreak reported yesterday, the Corrections Department has now cancelled all prison visits from tomorrow through May 5, after testing revealed more than 100 people infected within the prison systems in Narathiwat, a border province in the south of Thailand, and Surat Thani. Originally 2 prisoners in Narathiwat Central Prison were confirmed to have Covid-19 Friday, with contract tracing and testing revealing 5 inmates and a prison staffer who travelled to Surat Thani also have the virus. Now, further testing revealed that 112 infections have been identified in Narathiwat’s prison.

In order to prevent the spread in the confined spaces of a prison, several actions have been implemented. Aside from suspending all visitors, inmates will not be allowed to participate in any off-site work programs, and incoming prisoners will be tested twice and be isolated for 2 to 3 weeks before being assimilated into the common prison population. With visitations cancelled, the Corrections Department confirmed they will allow “virtual visits” through the Line app. Plans are being worked out to handle problems like court appearances remotely for any detainees or prisoners affected.

In Surat Thani, after the 5 prisoners and 1 prison official contracted Covid-19, testing was done on 135 inmates who were considered high risk. The preliminary results seem to be all negative. In the far south, the Deputy Governor of Narathiwat reported that medical officials had administered Coronavirus tests to 791 prisoners and prison staff thought to be high risk. Narathiwat Central Prison has a total population of 2,334 inmates and 97 staff members.

Of the 112 positive Covid-19 test results at Narathiwat Central Prison, 87 are male inmates, 23 are prison officials. Also afflicted are 1 female prisoner and 1 nurse. Prisons present some unique challenges and controversies when dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic. For example, last week arrested protestors complained of human rights violations when prison guards claimed to be attempting to administer Covid-19 tests at unusual hours.

SOURCE: Thai PBS World

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Economy

Southern Thai people turn from tourism to gold panning

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Southern Thai people turn from tourism to gold panning | Thaiger
PHOTO: Traditional panning for gold replaces tourism for income in Southern Thailand

Thars gold in dem hills!

With tourism in Thailand struggling due to Covid-19, and an economy needing some help, some people in the southern Thai region of the country have found income in an unusual source: panning for gold. The Sukhirin region close to the Malaysian border is known for gold deposits in the Sai Buri River and surrounding mountains. Villagers who made money before with tourism have now returned to panning for gold using old-fashioned manual techniques their ancestors used, without the aid of any machinery. Well, just an old pan.

Locals had previously made money selling food to passing tourists or acting as a tour guide to take people around the area, where travellers seeking to get away from the crowded and overdeveloped tourist areas that attract the most foreigners find many unique activities. Kayaking was a popular local activity with up to 150 people a day sailing down the rivers that are now filled with locals panning for gold. The prospectors are now making their income from the gold they collect which sells for 1,500 baht per gram. Families that work together can often collect at least one gram a day.

Thai Gold prices have reached record highs over the last 2 years and many Thai people have traditionally used gold and gold jewellery as a form of savings and investment, pawning their gold rings and bracelets in times of financial emergencies. The gold collected from these Southern villages will be used to make jewellery in Bangkok.

The region had invested in expanding into ecotourism but the pandemic put all their construction plans on hold. A cable car was being built to transport people up to the tops of the mountains to beautiful temples. The area’s unique history attracted people to their annual Rocket Festival, typically a north-eastern celebration.

In 1932, France was granted a 25 year mining contract in the jungles. They extracted almost 2000 kg of gold before World War II forced closure. The mining tunnels still exist and sometimes attracted adventurous tourists, but now sit vacant aside from snakes. In the 1960s the Thai government incentivised northerners with 18 rai of land each to move to the region. As a result, the area stands out in the Muslim region with 90% of the population being Buddhist, and most still speaking Isan dialects.

SOURCE: France 24

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Thailand

Boy killed by lightning strike in Surat Thani, 5 others injured

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Stock photo by Philippe Donn for Pexels

A 12 year old boy was killed by a lightning strike while he was playing football at a field in Southern Thailand’s Surat Thani. 5 other children were also injured from a bolt of lightning and were rushed to the Surat Thani Hospital.

Heavy rain had just cleared up and the boys were playing football when lightning struck the middle of the field in the Khian Sa district.

The 12 year old Mathayom 1 student (grade 7) was pronounced dead at the hospital. Reports do not go into detail about the conditions of the other boys, ages 13 to 16, who were injured from the lightning strike.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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