South East Thailand - Pattani-Narathiwat-Yala-Betong
South East Thailand sees few, if any tourists. This is because South East Thailand is considered to be dangerous. Especially Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala see every once in a while Muslim extremists exploding car bombs. The last explosion of a car bomb in South Thailand dates back more than a year ago. To be honest, New York City, Paris or London are far more dangerous than any place in South Thailand.
My first visit in this area dates back to 1991 when I took a train from Hat Yai to Sungai Kolok, the border post with Malaysia near Kota Bahru on the east coast. In 2001 I started to explore the western area of South Thailand. Frequently I have visited Hat Yai without seeing any sign of Muslim extremism.
In 2001 I cycled Hat Yai-Yala-Betong, a ride I have done since that first visit a dozen or more times. See my page about that journey here. And Betong became an easy border for me over the years as it was only 2 days cycling from my home in Sitiawan, Perak. Now, living in Penang, Betong is even easier, it takes only 1 day. See my reports about those bike rides:
Hat Yai/Songkhla to Pattani
Just over 30 km north east of Hat Yai you will find the city of Songkhla. If Hat Yai sees few travelers, Songkhla sees less despite a nice beach at the Gulf of Thailand. However, there's little to keep you long as beaches at other places are usually better. It is however a good starting point for the journey to Pattani.
In fact there are two good roads. One leads on the highway (which is for the most nice and quiet anyway). Highway 4 takes you more or less along the coast line to Pattani. It's almost everywhere flat although the first 30 or so km's you have to climb a few hills, never high, never difficult.
The other leads first south out of Hat Yai to Khlong Ngae and from there east to Kok Pho. In Kok Pho you have to continue north to reach Pattani. Going south leads to Niang and from there to Yala.
Pattani is a medium sized city at the Gulf of Thailand. The beach is not far from the city center but the city center itself has a very pleasant feel than other cities as for example Hat Yai, Yala or Narathiwat. There are some hotels in town, I stayed behind the Pakistan Mosque near the riverside (ThB 300, aircon) in walking distance of everything interesting including the bridges and night market.
A couple of kilometers east on the way to Narathiwat, there is the Krue Se Mosque. It's located at the roadside just before the junction to Yaring. The Mosque dating back to the 18th century although in the 16th century a Mosque was build here too by the Sultan of Pattani, though small, is worth a stop.
Narathiwat and the road to Yala
There is a nice coastal road to cycle from Panare to Sai Buri from where you have to go back to Highway 4. Fortunately, just a few km ahead you can take the junction to Mai Kaen and cycle all along the coast to Narathiwat (except near Mai Kaen, there is no beach).
I wasn't too impressed with Narathiwat. It lacks atmosphere like Pattani had. But it's an OK overnight stop for either Malaysia (40km or so to the Tak Bai border or 70 to Sungai Kolok). This time however I choose to cycle back to Yala. It became a memorable journey.
First I took the highway to Yingo, and from there it was all small country roads to Yala. Just after Yingo I was stopped by the military who told me this was a dangerous part of Thailand and offered me a lift to Yala. I refused but they gave me a few tincans with energy drinks. A few km further the same happened although this time I received not only a couple of tincans, they gave me some cakes too!
By the time I arrived in Rueso I needed extra water. The same military of the first stop offered me some more orange juice. 15 km before Kota Baru, I even got an escort of police car and motorbike. There wasn't much to protect me from and I guess these guys had little better things to do.
Just before Yala I made a little rest stop and immediately a man from a shop offered me a glass of water.
Dangerous? Nope, I just saw happy and friendly faces. By the time I checked in the Rama Yala Hotel in Yala, a reporter of a South Thailand TV channel interviewed me about my experiences. And I told her exactly what I told you here. South Thailand is perfectly safe, in fact, much safer than any city in Europe or the USA including New York, Paris or Amsterdam. If you intend to cycle Thailand to Malaysia, do not skip this part, it's great!
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