This sleepy little town has a post office, bank, police station, hospital and a market, along with a largely deserted stretch of beach but is best known for what became known as the Tak Bai Massacre on 25 October 2004.
On that day a largely peaceful protest in front of Tak Bai police station of some 1,500 people, demanding the release of six village defence volunteers, turned ugly, when, after the crowd refused (or was unable) to disperse, authorities fired into the crowd. This action killed seven protesters, including a 14 year old. The aftermath formed one of the most shameful episodes of the long-running troubles in far southern Thailand.
After allowing women and children to leave, police rounded up some 1,300 men and boys and laid them up to six deep in 28 trucks for transfer to an army base in Pattani. The ensuring trip, which would normally take no more the one and a half hours took an average of five hours as the trucks took varied routes and stopped or were delayed for long periods of time. During the transportation 78 protesters died, mostly of asphyxiation.
In response to the explosion of local and international outrage following this incident, ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra first reaction was to suggest that the deaths were the Muslims' own fault for fasting during Ramadan: "It's normal that their bodies could not handle it. It's not about someone attacking them". While he later back-pedalled somewhat, his comment well-illustrated his apparent lack of concern for the victims and lack of understanding of what actually happened.
The investigation into the massacre found some of the military officers at fault for the deaths and they were transferred to other posts. Meanwhile the families of the bereaved were offered 10,000B each in compensation.
Today, Tak Bai police station remains cordoned off, but, as with so many of the problems in the far south, there is otherwise no evidence that anything ever happened.
Ban Ta Ba
Three km to the south of Tak Bai, Ban Ta Ba is another sleepy little town at first glance. All the action goes down on the waterfront where the river separates Malaysia and Thailand. There is a very busy market selling all sorts of stuff and dozens of boats carrying people and goods to and fro. Apart from that, the village is a pretty plain affair and goats and sheep are wandering all over the place. Ban Ta Ba is located on the northern bank of the Kolok River, on the southern bank is Malaysia and this is the nearest crossing point to Narathiwat. This is also the closest crossing point for Kota Bharu.
We've been advised that the immigration office immediately to the east of the bus stop and market area is now closed. So now when you come off the passenger ferry you go out to the road, turn right and walk about 100 metres to where the road turns 90 degrees to the left. There is then an opening between the stalls just by this bend which you go through and the immigration office is to the right (but hidden by the building on the right) in a small hut on the river front. There are apparently no directional signs at all, so good luck!
By Stuart McDonald.