The small far southern Thai province of Pattani covers little more than 1,000 sq km and is situated to the north of Yala on the east coast of Thailand between Songkhla to the north and Narathiwat to the south. Predominantly flat and low lying, the provincial interior is intensely cultivated whilst the coast is virtually non-stop sandy beaches supporting a small fishing industry as well as the ubiquitous shrimp farms.
Rice is extensively cultivated on the low lying land as well as a variety of fruit and vegetable crops whilst large areas of scrub and grassland are given over to cattle raising, so the rural scenery, whilst lacking in topographic features can be more varied than the endless rubber plantations seen elsewhere in the far south. The population of the province is 80% Muslim/ethnic Malay, though Pattani town contains a large well established Chinese community.
Pattani province has borne the brunt of many of the attacks in the recent resurgence of violence in the far south of Thailand and visitors to the province should be prepared for a heightened security environment with frequent military and police check-points. Visitors should exercise caution and use their common sense when exploring Pattani province.
While none of the attacks in Pattani have specifically targeted western tourists, that isn't to say that things won't change. Keep up to date on current affairs, read the newspapers and keep an eye on Thai TV. Pattani has never been a high priority for western tourists so don't expect to meet too many other foreigners in the area (aside from the occasional resident).
In the past, Pattani has never been an overly willing member of Thailand. Its predominantly Muslim population tend to feel it has a lot more in common with their cousins south of the border in Malaysia than with the distant rulers in Bangkok, and visitors coming from Malaysia will probably agree.
This has resulted in a series of rebellions and wars as Pattani has constantly shifted sides and allegiances. This fierce independence is supported by a strong base and history as a trading town, firstly with the Chinese, but then later with the Arabs, Portuguese, Dutch and British, making it one of the first areas of Thailand to have regular contact with European traders.
Today little of the historic trading past can be seen aside from a handful of sino-Portuguese shopfronts in Pattani town. Sprawling out on either side of the Pattani River, it is now a modern city of over 40,000 people with little to interest the casual tourist. As in many southern Muslim towns sheep and particularly goats roam the streets.
The main commercial areas are along Yarang and Phipit Rds. The quietest and oldest part of the town is along the east bank of the Pattani River along Pattani Pirom and Rudee Rds, whilst the newer part of town, containing the municipal buildings, university and hospital are on the north side of the river.
By Stuart McDonald.