Valentines from Deep South – Day One

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Day One. Friday, 13 February 2015

Yes, it is Friday the 13th. But due to my appointment with the hospital, I had missed the trip to Naypyitaw to witness the peace talks in Naypyitaw held yesterday. Should I let go off my once in a lifetime chance to visit the Deep South, Thailand’s Wild West?

I said No to myself, accepted the invitation from People’s College. I’m now flying there with Air Asia, a two-hour flight, which I’m trying to kill time by reading “Monsoon” by Dr Robert D Kaplan that I yet to finish.
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A young man, Indian looking like most of the residents, picks me up at Hatyai and drives me to Pattani, 117 km away, along Route 43. And it is love at first sight.

The place is a narrow strip between the two oceans: Indian and Pacific. Pleasantly cool at this time of the year: 21°C-25°C, unlike Chiangmai where I’m coming from, 14°C in the morning and 32°C at noon. With palm trees lining the road, it somehow brings to mind Hawaii, which I have only seen in the movies, especially Blue Hawaii (1962) played of course by “The King” Elvis Presley.

The scenery is marred by three military checkpoints on the way and road barriers inside the city. I also notice people driving motorbikes without wearing helmets. Clearly this is the only place in Thailand when you might be stopped and questioned by the police for wearing them.

The CS Hotel where I’m located is a fine one. My room, # 520, is adequate with 4 bottles of water to see that I don’t go thirsty (Most give you only two.) But just for ‘just in case’, I buy two tamarind juices and two soya milks from a 7 Eleven nearby.

I’m treated to a southern dinner in the evening by my hosts. Unfortunately I only drink (both hard and soft) after 15:00. However, they being good Muslims, I get only a soft one.

The next thing I know, I’m being introduced to the Deep South’s underground activities and the latest development.

“It is getting harder for the militants to carry out their work,” says one of the hosts. “The government is arming the Buddhist residents. It may take some time before the militants can adapt to it.”

They ask me where I want to go. I reply without hesitation: the Central Mosque and the Krue Sae Mosque. But it is already late so I end up returning to my room.

With luck I’ll be getting away without any mishap. The last thing I want to get myself known by is through a headline like “Old Shan busybody feared among lost’.

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