Pattani (ปัตตานี), also spelled Patani in Malay, is the capital of a province of the same name in Deep Southern Thailand, lying on the east coast. The population of the city is a little over 40,000 and is a mix of Malay, Thai, and Chinese ethnic groups and Muslim and Buddhist religions. The majority of the population are Malay-Muslim with Thai-Buddhists and Chinese forming large minority groups.
For several years the entire Deep South region has been experiencing violence linked to a complex and long-running conflict. Foreign governments frequently issue travel warnings for the region, and parts of the area can indeed be quite unsafe. Independent research into the situation is therefore an absolute necessity before heading to the region.
This said, Pattani is provides a wonderful example of how people can continue to live their lives under difficult conditions. If only because of this, Pattani would be well worth a visit. But of course seeing life under conflict is not the only reason to visit. The city has a unique and vibrant culture, and the wider region has beautiful and interesting nature spots (including the beaches of Pattani Bay, which are sadly not safe to visit at the moment). If not for the on-going violence, the entire region could be quite attractive for tourists. But the conflict is there, and so the tourists aren't. This means that you will get a lot of attention, especially if you don't look southeast Asian. Children are likely to stare and point, adults will smile to you and even greet you on the street. It's possible to get tired of this, but take it as it is: people are simply happy to have you there.
If you stay safe from attacks, the way are most likely to notice the security situation is the heavy military and police presence. Sandbag bunkers (often "disguised" to look like wooden sheds) are located at sensative points in the city, as are security cameras. Military vehicles tour the city constantly, including Humvees. This is not likely to affect you in any significant way while you're in the city, but when travelling between towns there are checkpoints at regular intervals. It's quite possible that you will be asked for identification, so carrying your passport at all times is recommended.
Pattani has its origins in the ancient Hindu Malay kingdom of Langkasuka. Later it became the center of an epynomous kingdom, the Kingdom of Patani. This kingdom was for long a protectorate of Siam, but since 1902 the entire region has been directly ruled from Bangkok.
Pattani was one of the first regions in southeast Asia to adopt Islam, starting in the 14th century. It later became a center for Islamic scholarship, and a center of worship for a much wider region.
The Pattani River runs through the city, crossed by several bridges, finding its way to Pattani Bay. The river itself is home to many colourful fishing boats, fishing being an important part of the economy of the city.
On the western side the most important roads are Makrut Rd and Nongjik Rd running east-west, and Charoenpradit Rd and Decha Rd which run south-north. Where Charoenpradit Rd and Nongjik Rd meet, there is a roundabout with a clock tower. On the eastern side Yarang Rd, Panare R,. and Pattani Pirhom Rd all run north-south, with several streets crossing between them.
The Prince of Songkla University is on the west side of town, by the northern section of Charoenpradit Rd. Most government buildings are found close to the west bank of the river. To the east of the river is the old commercial hub of the town, containing several markets and shopping streets. Pattani Central Mosque is also in the east part of town, by Yarang Rd.
Pattani is about 1,055 km from Bangkok. Visitors can use Hwy 35 (Thon buri-Pak Tho) for about 90 km, then turn left to Hwy 4 to Chumphon for about 460 km. After that, use Hwy 41 or 42 past Surat Thani, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Songkhla, Pak-nam Thepa to Pattani. The total distance is around 505 km.
There is no direct flight to Pattani. Visitors need to travel to Hat Yai airport which is served by Thai Airways, AirAsia, Nok Air and OrientThai from Bangkok. There are also flights from Singapore (Tiger Airways), Kuala Lumpur (AirAsia), Phuket (Happy Air) and Chiang Mai (AirAsia). Thai Airways provides a round-trip shuttle bus (Hat Yai-Pattani) twice daily free-of-charge for passengers who make the reservation in advance. It is also possible to first take the bus from the airport into downtown Hat Yai, find your way to Hat Yai bus station (a tuk-tuk should be able to get you there) and from there catch a minibus that will take you to the door of a hotel of your choice. This takes about an hour and a half. Flight information can be requested at Tel: 1566, 0 2280 0060, 0 2628 2000 or at Pattani Office Tel: 0 7333 5938.
It is also possible to get in by flying to Narathiwat with Air Asia and then taking a bus or taxi to Pattani.
There is no train station in the city of Pattani itself, but the Southern Line service of the Thai state Railways has two stops around 30 km from the city.
It's a long train ride from Bangkok to Pattani, and only served by overnight trains. Special Express trains leave Bangkok at 15:10 and 22:50, arriving in Pattani (Khok Pho) station at 08:56 and 14:03 respectively and Yala about half an hour later. On the way back trains leave Yala at 14:55 and 16:09. There are also various slower trains, leaving from either Bangkok or other (closer) train stations. For more information about times check with Thai State Railways .
To/from Bangkok: Air-con buses by The Transport Co. Ltd (บริษัท ขนส่ง จำกัด (บขส.), bor-kor-sor) run between Bangkok southern bus terminal (สายใต้, sai-tai) and Pattani bus terminal daily. The distance is ~1061 km and normally takes 14 hours.
There are regular and air-conditioned buses of Transport Co., Ltd. The buses leave from the Southern Bus Terminal to Pattani every day. Departure times from Bangkok for air-conditioned buses which varies in 3 types are as follows:
For more details, call Tel: 0 2435 1119 and 0 2434 5557-8.
The preferred way of getting around for locals is by motorcycle. The easiest way to get around, for tourists, is to do the same. Motorcycle taxis (mot-ter-sai) are available around the city. Just look out for the men in green vests, either driving around trying to find somebody to pick up or waiting at specific locations. For example, you can be pretty sure to find a driver or two outside most hotels, outside the hospital, by the market and so on. You can expect a ride to cost between 10 and 40 baht, depending on distance.
Tuk-tuks of the four-wheeled variety are also common. Taking a tuk-tuk is more expensive than taking a motorcycle taxi, but also more comfortable, especially if you have luggage.
Pattani is not a very large city, and most distances can easily be covered by foot. Walking right across town might take about 45 minutes. Indeed, walking may be the best way to orient yourself and understand the city. However, you must realize that walking is not a very common means of transportation in Pattani and the pavement is used for pretty much everything other than walking. You will be weaving your way between stalls, tables, motorcycles, and even people's potted plants, and you will regularly have to walk on the road.
When you arrive you will find that your Thai SIM card no longer works. This is due to the ongoing security situation. The SIM must be re-activated. To do this you must fill out a simple form, which includes your passport number, and it costs 50 baht (as of 2011). Most phone shops around town can do this. Foreign SIMs cannot be used, but it is easy to buy a prepaid number in the phone shops.
Pattani is definitely not a place that tourists flock to for its shopping potential. Souvenir shops are non-existent (not surprising, seeing as there are almost no tourists to shop in them anyway), and the town has very little in the way of shops selling either local handicrafts or fashion.
For your day-to-day needs while staying there, however, you should have no problems finding what you want. All sorts of shops line pretty much every major street in Pattani. 7-11s are ubiquitous and can be a good place to buy things like a bottle of water or toothpaste, but it will be slightly cheaper (and more fun) to buy these things from the many smaller convenience stores scattered around town (mainly Chinese-run). Fresh fruit can be found at stalls around town, with several of them on both Makrut Rd and Nongjik Rd.
The streets immediately to the east of the river are especially good for shopping. There are several bookstores, which generally stock either or both The Nation and Bangkok Post but relatively little else in English. Chinese stores, many selling a wide assortment of seemingly random stuff, line a section of Pattani Phirom Rd.
Several markets can be found around Pattani. The largest one is on Yarang Rd on the way out of town towards Yala.
There's a Big C on the outskirts of town to the west, on the road to Hat Yai.
As with most places in Thailand, food is very easy to find in Pattani. Although perhaps not known as a culinary destination, the region has an interesting blend of Thai and Malay cooking.
Small family-run restaurants are all over town, as are street vendors and food stalls, far too many to list here. Very few of these will have a menu in English or English-speaking staff, so it may be good to equip yourself with the names of some dishes (or at least the words for noddles or rice) in Thai or Malay/Yawi. They will, however, probably have staff who are delighted to receive foreign guests and willing to do their best to give you what you want. One sure method is to point at pictures that can often be found on menu's, or walk to the kitchen (which will be in open view by the street) and point at some dish that has already been prepared.
The CS Pattani Hotel and My Gardens Hotel both have hotel restaurants and the one in CS Pattani is known as one of the best in the city. The area outside CS Pattani also has several small restaurants and cafés worth a look. There is a night market (head east from the southernmost bridge, close to Santisuk Hotel), where you can get local types of fast food prepared before your eyes.
In 2010, the Halal Science Center at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok published a book called Unique Melayu-Thai Foods in Southern Border Cuisine. The book contains recipes of local food from the provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, Songkla and Satun, as well as information about the restaurants from which the recipes are gathered. Although most of the book is in Thai, recipes and locations of restaurants are translated into English. This book is well worth a buy for anybody interested in local food, and should be found in bookstores around town.
Pattani has a Muslim majority, and many restaurants and coffee shops will not sell alcohol. Thai- or Chinese-run restaurants usually will, but not those owned by Malay Muslims. The Muslim population is quite tolerant and people are not likely to react angrily if you ask for a glass of beer with your food, but being aware of the cultural setting can help avoid embarrassing situations. For example, if you see a sign in Chinese it's likely that the restaurant or café will serve alcohol, while if the place is decorated with Islamic art you should not expect it to.
There are a number of coffee- and tea shops in town. Coffee is usually not very good in Pattani and instant coffee seems to be the norm, although there are some exceptions. Tea can be more interesting, with Malay varieties available along with the types available elsewhere in the world. If you buy coffee, you will often also get a pot of very bland tea to drink when you've finished your coffee.
In 2004, long-simmering resentment in the southernmost Muslim-majority provinces burst into violence in Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala Provinces. Some rebel groups have threatened foreigners, and three foreigners were killed in bombings in Hat Yai (in neighbouring Songkhla Province) in September 2006, but while targets have included hotels, karaoke lounges and shopping malls, Westerners have not been singled out for attacks. Travellers are urged to research the situation themselves before heading to the area, and realize the risks involved and where they should stay to remain safe.