Rich Culture in Rustic South

Rich Culture in Rustic South

By Christine Lai

Pattani, a province in southern Thailand, is not your regular go-to place when you plan to visit Thailand. Yet in this rustic south is found a thriving rich culture that is colourful and intensely spiritual that may rival the popular options found in Bangkok, Hatyai or Chiang Mai.

I was invited to Pattani to experience the Lim Ko Niao Goddess celebration by the Tourism Authority of Thailand. Without knowing what it was and what to expect, I went with an open mind.

The first-hand experience of a Thai Chinese community worshipping the deity with elaborate rituals and a sea send-off was enthralling; particularly as I was not only an observer but a participant.

I helped with beating the cymbal / gong as the procession of devotees inched forward towards the waterfront. Here’s my story to share.

My trip started from Penang by land and our first stop was for lunch by the Gulf of Thailand beach.

Leaving for Pattani, Thailand by land.

It is here where I tried my first horse shoe crab (or widely known as a misnomer) papaya salad. The eggs of the horseshoe crab are mixed with the papaya salad and is generously garnished with slices of chilli and cashew nuts. It was served in the shell of the horse shoe crab itself. The taste was exquisite. You have to give it a try to be able to explain how it tasted like.

First meal in Thailand. We had sour and spicy squid, Fried shrimp with sweet and sour sauce and seafood tom yum.
Horse Shoe Crab Salad

We then visited the Wat Chang Hai Rat Buranaram temple. This temple was built more than 300 years ago. Luang Pu Thuat, a renowned Thai Buddhist monk, died in Malaysia and his body was brought back to this temple to be cremated. His bones and ashes are kept in this monastery. People from around the world come here to pay their annual respects to this revered monk.

We then visited the Wat Chang Hai Rat Buranaram temple. This temple was built more than 300 years ago. Luang Pu Thuat, a renowned Thai Buddhist monk, died in Malaysia and his body was brought back to this temple to be cremated. His bones and ashes are kept in this monastery. People from around the world come here to pay their annual respects to this revered monk.

Wat Chang Hai Rat Buranaram temple.

Next, we headed to the Chao Mae Lim Ko Niao tomb. Many people visit the tomb to make offerings such as pearl necklaces, marigold, flowers and powder to pay their respect to the Goddess. Legend says that Lim Ko Niao, a Chinese girl, who came to Pattani in search of her brother, Lim To Khiam. Her brother had then married the daughter of the Pattani governor and converted to Islam. 

Disappointed at failing in her mission to bring her brother back, she hung herself from a cashew nut tree. Upon knowing of her death, her brother buried her at the site which Pattani people later built a shrine there. Her statue was carved using the wood of the cashew nut tree. 

She was highly worshipped by the local Chinese for her great devotion and loyalty to her family. Locals believe the Goddess protects people during hardships and those going to the sea and is believed to bring good fortune to their businesses.

The signage at the Lim Ko Niao tomb.
Thrilled listening to our guide on the history of the tomb.

The Kruese Mosque sits right next to the tomb. The main attraction of this mosque is its incomplete domed roof. History says that the roof of the mosque was never completed due to the power struggle between the Sultan of Pattani and his brother at the time of the construction and the onset of the world wars.

The Kruese mosque has a similar history like our local Kellie’s castle in Batu Gajah, Ipoh. Kellie’s castle was built by William Kellie Smith, a Scottish engineer that arrived in Malaya back around 1890. After his death due to pneumonia in 1926, his devastated wife moved back to Scotland and the construction of the castle was never completed. Both the Kruese mosque and Kellie’s castle has now become a local tourist attraction.

Front view of Kruese Mosque with the incomplete domed roof.
Group picture in front of the mosque.

We then checked into CS Pattani Hotel to freshen up before we headed to the pre-celebration of Lim Ko Niao Goddess celebration. It is celebrated on the first day of the third lunar month every year. 

Upon arrival at the Lim Ko Niao shrine, we were greeted with colourful lion and dragon dance. The energetic lion dancers moved in the crowd and everyone tried to touch the lion’s head for it is said it could bring good fortune. There was also a vibrant cultural dance being performed at the centre stage of the event. 

The colourful lion and dragon dance.
Lim Ko Niao shrine.

The dancers dressed up in multi-coloured costumes and I was amazed at the details that were put into making these outfits. After some announcements from the mayor and community leaders, fireworks were released to mark the opening of the celebration.

Cultural dance being performed at centre stage in front of the shrine.
Non stop fireworks during the Lim Ko Niao celebration at the shrine.

The next day, we departed early to watch the swimming ceremony across the Pattani river near Dechanuchit bridge. The Chao Mae Lim Ko Niao and other statues were carried out on decks carried by the devotees for a swim. 

This celebration has attracted quite a good crowd; with devotees coming from neighbouring towns and even from countries like Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan.

Every inch of the place is flocked with locals and tourists with every passing minute.
Devotees carrying the enshrined statues into the river.
Swimming ceremony across the river.

The devotees come to make offerings and prayers and the crowd got bigger every passing minute. There was a huge parade on the streets before the water event took place. After witnessing the event, we followed the procession of the Lim Ko Niao statue. 

The parade on the streets.

I was given the opportunity to play the Chinese gong and followed the procession. It was definitely a first for me and I was entirely enjoying myself blending in with the locals there. 

After I completed the procession, I was rewarded with a red packet (angpao) by a shop owner and then a fire walking ceremony started. I walked up a three-story building just to get a better view of the entire event.

All smiles when I got my first Thai Angpao.
Group picture with the shop owners and the mayor after the procession.

We checked out and headed for Saiburi, another province in Southern Thailand. There, the procession continues for a second day. Most of the village folks here are fishermen. They carry the enshrined statues to the sea to worship for good blessings for the year. 

Local fisherman boats at Saiburi.

There were Thai dancers at the beach who were part of the crowd worshipping and giving offerings to the gods. I joined in the fun as well. I was also allowed to carry the statues on a deck into the sea. One thing is for sure, it may look easy to carry and parade the statues around but it really is heavy and a lot of hard work. 

Thai dancers performing by the beach. I joined in the fun and dance with them as well.
Devotees carrying the statues in and out of the sea.

After the procession at the beach, the statues are then carried and paraded in the boats to offer the fishermen blessings and good catch for the year.

After the fun with taking part in the celebration, we visited the Ban Sai Kao community riding on a jeep uphill. On our way there, we stopped for lunch prepared by the local village folk.

Our Jeep ride uphill.

I was introduced to the ‘pisang kaki’ salad. It is unlike your normal Thai Salad. It has a zesty and sour taste and is served as an appetiser before the meal. It opened up my appetite as I had three bowls of rice for lunch. There goes my promise to diet. 

The dishes prepared by the local villagers for our lunch.

The journey uphill was interesting as we indulged in a mini race riding on three jeeps. We saw the Pha Phaya serpent stone on our way up. 

Upon reaching the top of the hill, we were greeted to a panoramic view overlooking the whole of southern Thailand. The view was breathtaking. In the distance is a huge Golden Buddha statue sitting in quiet repose. 

The Pha Phaya serpent stone.
The huge Golden Buddha Statue at the top of the hill.
Temple buildings at the foot of Ban Sai Kao hill.

After descending the hill, we went to a local stop to get a taste of wild grown Thai durians. I would say that the taste of the durian is not as pungent as the ones in Malaysia but the fruit was at least three times bigger than the local ones you normally see here. 

Leaving Pattani, we moved on to Hatyai and checked into Mon Kham Village Hotel. There we were greeted by the hoteliers in Hatyai and got to mingle around with them chilling by the poolside cafe and later moving to a local bar to get a few drinks to mark the end of our memorable trip. 

Mon Kham Village Hotel for our last day stay in Thailand.

The last day was spent shopping for gifts and souvenirs at the local Hatyai Plaza.

Never would I have imagined that I would end up going alone on a trip filled with a group of strangers who are now friends. Having said that, I would not do it any other way than how I have experienced Southern Thailand.