“A strong army, a stable country” is what I read in the first check point I found in Nakhon Si Thamarat: militars armed with big assault weapons and bullet-proof vests made me noticed that I was entering to another Thailand. I was getting into the south east thailand muslim provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat, what back in the days used to be the Sultanate of Patani.
The founding of the Islamic kingdom of Patani or Sultanate of Patani is thought to be around the 13th century. However the golden age was at the 16th century, during which their economic and military strength was increased to a point to be able to face some major Siameses invasions. Until 1785, after loosing the Siam capital of Ayutthaya by the Brunese, a resurgent Siam sent an army to seek the submission of Patani. Patani was easily defeated and became under control of the new capital of Siam, Bangkok. It was in 1909 when Britain recognised the ownership of Patani by treaty. Until then, the government in Bangkok had interfered little in the politics of Patani letting them have their own islamic laws instad of the Thai Civil Law. However, after the treaty a process of Thaification began with the aim of cultural asimilation of the Patani people. The school curriculum was changed to be Thai-centric with all lessons in Thai language instead of the local Jawi language, Muslim courts where replaced by civil courts approved by Bangkok, and thai-Buddhist cultural practices where imposed over muslim local traditions.
In the late 1940s some movementts appeared demanding more autonomy for Pattani Reggion and the Thai goverment denied any type of differentiation. After some years some insurgent groups started to appear with the aim of the independence of the Patani region from Thailand. In the 21st century the violence escalated dramatically: shooting to police men, bombs to check points or temples and killing teachers of Thai schools…a spiral of violence that brought more and more militars to the region, declaring even the martial law in Pattani , Yala and Narathiwat.
In this scenario I was getting in with my bicycle and I felt that I was the only tourist in this region. On the roads there was a check-point every 10 km. Sometimes from far away I could feel how the militars hidden inside the hut where wondering what was this thing pedaling towards them. Sometimes I remembered that these check-points are a target. Then I was wanting them to recognise me as soon as possible and let their hands stay away from the trigger of their weapons. Once they recognized me I felt some relaxation and some even smiled at me. In some occasions I had the chance to take some pictures of them.
Finally I arrived to the old capital of Patani. I met Hasan (below) after the fifth check-point after entering the city. Hasan hosted me and invited me for diner with his family. Hasan is an English teacher of a guvernamental school and he is very interested in travellers. It was ramadan time so we waited the dawn before breaking the fasting. We ate fantastic food that Hasan cooked.
The day after he showed me around. We went to the 400 years old Krue Se Mosque. There, he explained me some of the recent history: Arround ten years ago a group of insurgents retreated into the holy mosque after attacking several militar outposts. After some hours of failed negotiations, the Thai general Pallop ordered an all-out assault resulting in all of the 32 insurgents killed. The bullet holes on the doors and the facade where still visible.
After we went to the sea, where we saw the beautifully painted fishing boats traditional of this region.
Then we went to the main mosque of Patani, what the locals called the Patani Taj Mahal.
Finally we went to his parents place and they offered me some water, rambutan and jackfruit.
Hasan drove me to my hotel, he would spend the night in the mosque. I thank him for the wonderful time together and we said goodbye.