Sunday, April 3, 2016


By Mansor Puteh

Betong is the name of the border town in South Thailand which has a Melayu name for a type of bamboo tree. It was formerly a Melayu district of an ancient Melayu Kingdom, together with the few others which are still being disputed, which often causes fiction and sometimes armed conflicts by the Melayu rebels.

It is not a place where many Malaysians would not want to go to for anything. So few ever venture to cross the border every day and even on weekends of public holidays. There is not much for them to see or do there.

In fact the tourism industry in Betong is also not active. It is not an entertainment center. For that, Hatyai is a better alternative where most Malaysians would go to for the food and some shopping.

Because of that Betong is a good place for me to be alone. The place is quiet and peaceful; and it is also very clean and safe.

I have been there three times and I will definitely want to go there again, if I have the time.

It is the capital of the Betong District in the Yala Province and this city has a population of about twenty-five thousand persons.

And Betong today has a Chinese majority with a large Melayu population, with so few local Thais; but it is distinctly Thai in all ways with even the Chinese speaking amongst themselves in the national language. Even the Islamic religious programs on television conducted by the Melayu-Muslims are conducted in Thai with many of the Chinese and also Siamese able to speak in Melayu.

One, however, can see the Chinesenes of the local Chinese especially during the Chinese Lunar New Year when the dragons are out and red paper lanterns hung across the streets and in front of shops and houses which happened last Thursday when I was there.

One thing that many Malaysians can see clearly is how spotless clean this city is.

So it is a place where I would go to if I want to go to a place where there is relative peace where I can walk about and do my own thing.

But there are some Malaysian men who come to Betong to seek personal enjoyment where they can see how well-respected they are with the kind of money they can afford to splurge.

My personal interests lay in writing, video recording and photo-taking and note-jotting other than to browse the shops to see what they are selling and buying things I need.

Food is cheap and there are many restaurants and stalls offering halal food operated by the Melayu-Muslims.

There is also a large and old masjid near the hotel where I like to stay at in the center of the city from where the azan is called five times a day that did not bother the local population who are non-Muslims.

I was unfortunate, however, on my last trip I did not bother to bring along my camcorder; as I would discover when I saw the parades and dragon dances being stages in the streets on Thursday, 26 February to mark the end of the Chinese Lunar New Year which in Malaysia had ended a week earlier.

I had earlier made two trips in September and November, 2014, where I also made a side trip to Piyamit where there is a memorial for the communist party, which was not that exceptional except that it was where the Chinese members of the former Malayan Communist Party (MCP) had their camp.

It was then an isolated place but today with a road linking it to the city, the place now has the look and feel of a tourist resort, and where the former members of the MCP could now talk about their experiences in peace and sometimes in jest.

They were all very young and virile then when they were plucked from the Chinese new villages in Malaysia or Malaya then to join the MCP as cadres.

I did not venture that place on my third trip to Betong as I thought I had seen it twice and recorded photos and also video of it.

But the best thing I like the most about Betong is that it is not an alien city in an alien country to me. There is a lot of food I am familiar with and I can do pretty much whatever I like as long as I am allowed to do so without anyone bothering me.

And it is such a peaceful city, and this is not something usual for a border town. It is also clean, I mean, very clean and tidy.

The traffic is not heavy and one can easily cross the road without being knocked down by motorcyclists and motorists who do not drive indiscriminately or at a fast speed.

Every now and then there is the azan being called. There is no issue with anyone who is not Muslim on this here. But there was an attack on an entertainment club once which partly destroyed it causing two to die.

On my last or third trip to the city there were dragon dance performances and even a parade to mark the Chinese Lunar New Year which happened very early in the morning till noon which I managed to watch.

Betong is a special town for me; but to many Malaysians especially who would slip out of the country especially during weekends and public holidays, they know of this city as a place for entertainment.

Betong 1.0; Betong 2.0 and Betong 3.0.

I have been to this wonderful city three times. I am sure I can go there on my own now and driving now that I am more familiar with the procedures at the border immigration counters on the Malaysian and Thai side and can maneuver my way from there to the Sri Betong Hotel in the city center and go anywhere I want to with so much ease. 

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