Thai Academy 1PLs - 3 month loans learn speaking thai language Education for Development Foundation, Thailand international schools bangkok thailand student exchange
Thailand customs and culture
grey line
 Homepage    Culture & Customs    Thai 'Dos and Don'ts'    Understanding Thai Culture    Links
grey line



Map of Thailand

Northern Mountains

Northern Plains

The Rice Bowl

Central Plain

Isaan Heartland

Isaan West

Isaan North, East

Isaan South

Eastern Thailand

Western Thailand


Andaman Sea Coast

Golden Chersonese
Peninsular river basins and gulf coast


From: Thailand: Traits and Treasures, National Identity Board, ©2005 by Office of The Permanent Secretary, The Prime Minister’s Office, ISBN 974-9771-52-4



Where the land base [ chersos in Greek ] projects into the seas and is lined, along its northern half, by islands [ nesos in Greek], the east coast of the Thai and Malay peninsula forms part of a rounded, virtual enclosure of a vast sea expanse. Historically, seafaring facilitated direct links. This waterborne communication and transportation evolved through a network of hubs and nodes along the surrounding coasts. In this historic scenario, the peninsula [laem in Thai] offered golden [thong in Thai] opportunities, as reflected in the eponyms of Laem Thong or, in historical accounts, Golden Chersonese.

By official definition of the Southern Region, its eastern flank oriented towards and facing the Gulf of Thailand extends from 5o37’ N to 11o02’ N latitudes. Its length of 600 kilometres exceeds that of the western flank of Thailand’s territory on the peninsula by 200 kilometres. The mountain ranges dividing the peninsula lengthwise include the Phuket, Nakhon Si Thammarat (also called Nakhon) and Kalakhiri ranges. Salient features are presented in accordance with the numerical sequence of latitudes from south to north. This happens to match the expansion of trading posts in historical time, as they evolved and developed into regional centres, and ultimately served the foreign trade of Thai kingdoms of the Sukhothai, Ayutthaya and Rattanakosin periods.

Following the variation in overall characteristics of the eastern flank of the peninsula, by major physical criteria, within Thailand’s territory, which covers 50.600 sq km and is much larger than Denmark, three sections are distinguished. These are, by sequential latitudes, the lower, middle, and upper sections. The lower section comprises the provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani. Their combined area is 10.937 sq km, which is larger than the country of Lebanon. The middle section covers the provinces of Songkhla and Phatthalung. Their combined area is 10.818 sq km, which likewise exceeds that of the country of Lebanon. The upper section encompasses the provinces of Nakhon Si Thammarat, Surat Thani and Chumphon. Their combined area is 28.845 sq km, which is larger than that of Israel.


There are a great many small rivers, few of medium length, and two large ones, Tapi and Pattani. Their extensive deltas are proof of the large amounts of silt which these rivers have carried from their headwater areas. The basin of the Pattani River covers 3,296 sq km. The by far larger basin of the Tapi River has a catchment area of 19,134 sq km. The Tapi River together with its tributary Phum Duang and the latter’s tributaries Tha Chang and Phanom formed the longer part of the transportation link across the peninsula together with the Pak Lao River which empties into the Andaman Sea. This historical “landbridge” is known as the Pak Ph anom route, the “mountain orifice” or “mountain gateway”.

Characteristic of the peninsula, most impressive on the eastern coastal plains, are the solitaire and towering mountains, as well as small, isolated clusters of mountains. Prominent examples are Khao Chia Buri and Khao Ok Thalu, both in Phatthalung Province.

In the coastal plain and along the shore, three peculiar features stand out. One feature is the narrow, lowlying tongue of sand and shingle geographically known as ‘spit’. Another feature is the ‘triple’ lagoon north of Songkhla Town. Also, there are eight major bights. The ‘spits’ are formed by narrow land strips protruding into the sea yet bent approximately in parallel to the facing, inner coastline. Examples of long ‘spits’ are Laem Talumphuk in Nakhon Si Thammarat Province, Laem Pho with its cape jutting out into the sea named Laem Tachi in Pattani Province, and Dan Taba as well as Hat Narathat in Narathiwat Province. The lagoon can be likened to a string of three connected lakes, including the small Thale Noi, the large Thale Luang and the Thale Sap Songkhla which is linked to the open sea by a natural channel.


Findings that attest to human habitat are dated as of 8,000 to 5,000 years ago. Corresponding artefacts were discovered at the archaeological site of Ban Mokhlan in Nakhon Si Thammarat Province. Testimonials of earliest contacts point to the Red River Delta and to Champa, both in present-day Vietnam, and to China. A ceremonial kettledrum, excavated at the site known as Khao Sam Kaeo in Chumphon Province, stuffed with assorted beads is deemed to be some 2000 years old.

During the 1st and 2nd centuries1, ports for sea-trade came into existence. Examples are Taluban, now named Sai Buri in Pattani Province, Ketkai, Sichon and Khanom in Nakhon Si Thammarat Province, Tha Thon and Chaiya in Surat Thani Province, and Khao Sam Kaeo in Chumphon Province. In the immediate surroundings of these ports small maritime states developed. In the 2nd century Chinese visitors reported on their trade potential. Objects such as glassware from the Roman Empire as well as from the Indian Subcontinent, notably a religious statue bearing an inscription in Tamil language, and pottery from China shed light on the far-flung network in which the peninsular maritime states were nodes of trade and exchange. Traces of extensive trade during the 4th to 7th centuries include fragments of bluish-green Persian pottery and pieces of celadon pottery as well as ceramics of Chinese origin.

Around the turn of the 8th century, four major territorial powers had emerged. They were Langkasuka with its centre in Taluban, the present-day Sai Buri in what later became known as the Patani Kingdom; Sathing Phra with its centre of the same name, situated in the area which now is situated partly in Songkhla, partly in Phatthalung provinces; Tambralinga with its centre named Ligor, now called Nakhon Si Thammarat; and Chaiya with its centre of the same name covering the Bight of Ban Don and the downstream Tapi River Basin.


In the southeast of the island of Sumatra, a powerful Hindu kingdom emerged in the 7th century, with Palembang as its capital. Until early in the 11th century, the Sivichaya Empire evolved which, at its peak, was “a confederated state of shared cultures”. Evidence on the peninsula includes Sivijayan inscriptions dated as of the year 683, remains of buildings, and artefacts. The sphere of dominant influence encompassed some former, small principalities on the upper peninsula which had been Khmer dependencies and the area of the ancient Chaiya; the principalities located in the central section of the peninsula such as Tambralinga and Sathing Phra, covering the southern part of the present-day province of Surat Thani and the areas of Nakhon Si Thammarat, Phatthalung and Songkhla provinces; and the lower peninsula with the historical principalities of Patani and Malayu. All these territories together with some on the islands of Sumatra and Java shared the Sivichaya Art, Brahmanism, and Mahayana Buddhism.

History of the upper section of the peninsular dates back almost 2,000 years, as evident from the “Milindapanha”2, in which reference is made to Tambralinga and one of its centres, Chaiya. From Chaiya, Brahmanism spread during the 6th to 8th centuries. From the 9th to 10th centuries, under the suzerainty of the Sivichaya Empire, “Mueang Kharahi Chaiya” was the centre from which Buddhism of the Mahayana Tenet spread.

Also known by the name of its capital city, Ligor, the state of Tambralinga had under its tutelage some twelve small, adjacent states in the middle reach of the peninsula, while itself being under changing suzerainty, notably as a tributary state of the Sivichaya Empire, in the 11th to 12th centuries. The epithet “Mueang Phra”, ‘city of priests’, has been a designation of Ligor as well as Nakhon Si Thammarat since historical time. It refers to the period when it was a centre of Brahmanism. In the period of Sivichayan suzerainty, the regional centre and port named Singha Nakhon or Sing Khon, also referred to as Singhora, grew into prominence. It was situated on the northern bank of the channel that forms the mouth through which the Songkhla Lake empties into the Gulf of Thailand. King U Thong of Ayutthaya defeated Ligor. Henceforth called Nakhon Si Thammarat, it became the regional centre of the Ayutthaya Kingdom.


Artefacts of the Dvaravati period were discovered at the site of the ancient town of Yarang in Pattani Province. Within the trapezoid-shaped earthen bulwark and moat with a fort at each corner, a terra-cotta Buddha stupa with bas-reliefs and terra-cotta Buddha votive tablets were found. Similar finds from sites in the provinces of Songkhla, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Surat Thani and Chumphon are displayed in local museums such as plinths from the 7th to 9th centuries. In the town of Nakhon Si Thammarat, eminent examples of Dvaravati art are the standing Buddha image of Wat Mahathat, which was built, first, in 555 as evident from its Boromathat Chedi, and the remnants of 6th- century walls.

During the 6th to 13th centuries, the coastal area was part of the farflung sphere of influence wielded by the Sivichaya Empire. The eastern flank of the peninsula is dotted with settlements, edifices, statues, sculptures and artefacts identified as Sivichayan in style. Examples of Sivichaya settlements are Sathing Phra, once a safe haven on the shore of the lagoon known as Songkhla Thale Sap and an important port, as well as Sing Khon or Singhora, the “Lion City”, both located in Songkhla Province. Of eminent significance was Ligor, once the capital of the tributary principality of Tambralinga within the orbit of the Sivichaya Empire and a major center on the Asian ocean trade route. Of greater historical importance is Chaiya, one of the oldest cities in Thailand. Its glorious past as a regional capital within the Sivichaya Empire was as its peak from the 8th to 10th centuries.

Examples of edifices are monasteries in Songkhla Province, there Wat Sathing Phra with the Phra Chedi Phrathan, an eminent example of authentic Sivichayan style. Of similar significance are pagodas or chedi in monasteries of the vicinity including What Khao Phra Ko, Wat Chedi Ngam and What Khao Noi. It is assumed that Wat Khian Bang Kaeo of Phatthalung Province was built, first, in the year 939, and one chedi there is dated as of the year 999. Probably older are the foundation of the most important Buddhist temple on the peninsula, Wat Mahathat, and the ruins of a town near Sichon, both in Nakhon Si Thammarat Province.

Two monasteries in Chaiya, namely, Wat Phra Boromathat and Wat Kaeo have preserved one stupa each originally built in the Sivichayan style. They are the famous and well restored Borom That Chaiya Chedi at Wat Phra Boromathat, and a ruined stupa at nearby Wat Kaeo, also known as Wat Long, which is a blend of Sivichayan, Central Javanese and Cham architectural features dating from the 9th century. Examples of statues are found across the entire length of the eastern flank of the peninsula. In the precinct of Wat Khuha Phimuk of Yala Province, an archaeological site with remnants of the Sivichaya period, two statues are preserved, that of a Hindu deity dated as of the 8th century and a standing Buddha image in the Southern Indian style dated as of the 9th century. Stone Buddha images inscribed in the Pali language were found at the site of the ancient town of Yarang in Pattani Province. Among the precious statues of Wat Mahathat in the city of Nakhon Si Thammarat is that in the Sivichayan style of the Buddha seated beneath a canopy of serpent heads. The most famous such statue is the Avalokitesvara Bodhisatva, cast of bronze and found in Chaiya Town. It has been preserved in the Bangkok National Museum.

Examples of sculptures created in the Sivichayan style are kept in the precincts of monasteries. A sculpture of the Hindu deity Narai has been preserved at Wat Chonlathara Singhe, Narathiwat Province. Wat Khuha Phimuk in Yala Province holds votive stupas of the Sivichaya period identified as from Northeastern India. Votive tablets dated as of the 8th to 11th centuries have been kept at Wat Kuha Sawan, Phatthalung Province. A sculpture of the Hindu deity Ganesh from the 6th century is preserved in the Patsi Museum and various statuettes are kept at the ancient site of Tham Khao Pi, both in Songkhla Province.

The likely greatest concentration of Sivichayan-style sculptures, including those of the Buddha Sihing and of Hindu deities in their incarnations as Vishnu, Narai, Shiva and Ganesh, is preserved in edifices of worship (ho phra) of Nakhon Si Thammarat City. Sculptures of Hindu deities in the Sivichayan style as well as Buddha images adorn the courtyard with the Borom That Chaiya Chedi in its centre, situated in the compound of the monastery named Wat Phra Boromathat, located in Chaiya Town. Artefacts in the Sivichayan style are numerous. Fine examples are those found and preserved in Songkhla Province. There are the ancient kilns of Khlong Pa O, where bronze statuettes were discovered, and the ancient site of Khao Ku Ha – Chomare with ritual stone relics. Mounts excavated near Wat Si Ku Yang and Wat Phra Chaidi Ngam contained pottery and bronze artefacts from an ancient site named Si Yang Chedi Ngam.

A bell-shaped pagoda in the precinct of Wat Chonlathara Singhe, Narathiwat Province, reminds of the strong influence of Sinhalese architecture manifest in Buddhist edifices. Other, rare such examples exist in Songkhla and Nakhon Si Thammarat. Atop Khao Tang Kuan, a hill near Songkhla Town a Sinhalesestyle stupa or chedi rises. The towering, bell-shaped chedi in the centre of the ancient monastery named Wat Mahathat, also known as Wat Phra That Mueang Khon, was originally built in the Sinhalese style, as also reflected in the Sinhalese sculptures of elephant heads that adorn the cloister. This sanctuary in the ancient city of Ligor, capital of the Tambralinga Kingdom, turned a Siamese stronghold and named Nakhon Si Thammarat, has continually attracted worshippers from near and far.


Based on archaeological evidence, the founding of the ancient town of Uthumphon, near the present-day town of Chumphon, as capital of a principality is dated as of the year 555. Its location was of strategic importance in regard of all directions. Three of the twelve vital, overland transportation routes between ports on the east and west coasts crossed the peninsula in the presentday provinces of Chumphon and Ranong. The other overland transportation routes further south were, in southward direction and likewise looking from east to west, the trade route linking the Ban Don Bight in Surat Thani Province with Takua Pa in present-day Phang Nga Province and, of great importance, the socalled Pak Phanom linking the Ban Don Bight with the Phang Nga Bay; the cart trails linking Ligor, presentday Nakhon Si Thammarat Town, with ports in the contemporary provinces of Krabi and Trang as well as in the Sultanate of Kedah, Malaysia; the trade route between the historical Tha Lung, present-day Phatthalung, and Trang; the routes linking Songkhla with La-ngu in Satun Province and with the port of Kuala Kedah; and the route linking presentday Sai Buri in Pattani Province with ports in Kedah.

Buildings of Chinese architecture as well as those blending Chinese with other styles attest to early contacts and the presence of descendants of traders who had established themselves in towns such as Yala and Songkhla. From among them, some families rose to local prominence, and members were ultimately appointed governors by the monarchs of Siam. The continuity of trading with Chinese ports is evident from finds of pottery fragments believed to be of the Sung Dynasty period (960-1279) in the precinct of Wat Chon-lathara Singhe, Narathiwat Province. In the ruins of Sathing Phra, Songkhla Province, pieces of Chinese pottery identified as of the T’ang Dynasty (618-908) and the Yuean Dynasty (1280-1368) periods were excavated.


In historical perspective from the standpoint of successive principalities in the heart of Mainland Southeast Asia over which Thai rulers reigned, prior to the formation of the Sukhothai Kingdom, the peninsula was a land at the periphery. At times, it was contested by regional powers, and at times it existed as a buffer zone between spheres of influence. Owing to these oscillating constellations, for more than one thousand years Malay kingdoms existed. Evidently earliest was Langkasuka from the 6th to 13th centuries, with its centre in the valley of the Pattani River. It is known as Mueang Boran Yarang, the oldest and largest historical site in Southern Thailand. In this area, the kingdom of Patani emerged. The town of Patani, founded early in the 15th century, eclipsed the ancient centre of Yarang, became the seat of local rulers, and developed into the leading entrepot between China and Southeast Asia. It attracted seafaring merchants from other parts of Asia as well, especially Arabia. By the end of the 17th century, Patani City was a centre of Islamic studies for all of Southeast Asia.

In alliance with the Sultanate of Melaka, Patani prospered, while both sultanates were under the tutelage of the Ayutthaya Kingdom. Upon the conquest of Melaka by the Portuguese in 1511, Patani grew to its greatest power until in the 17th century. In decades of rivalry among the territories of Patani, Songkhla and Nakhon Si Thammarat, interventions by overseas powers, and fierce trading competition, Patani was weakened by four Siamese invasions in the first half of the 17th century. Patani was finally defeated in 1784, when it succumbed to another Siamese onslaught. From 1785 onward, Patani was a territory under Siamese suzerainty, corroborating its submission by paying tributes to the kings of Siam. The Siamese domination was not fully implemented until 1902, when administrative reform was introduced. In 1906, the Monthon Pattani was established. Thereafter, it was subdivided into four changwat, provinces, named Pattani, Banganara, now called Narathiwat, Sai Buri, now a District of Pattani Province, and Yala. In 1909, Siam signed the Anglo-Siamese Treaty, which resulted in the transfer of Siam’s sovereignty over the territories of Kedah, Kalantan, Trangganu and Perlis as well as the Langkawi Islands to Great Britain, with the core territory of Patani remaining in Siam.


In quick succession, Portuguese intruders established trading posts in the region, first on Sumatra in 1509, then in the Patani Kingdom whose ruler granted permission to Portuguese merchants, in 1510, to establish their trading post in the already well established and flourishing port of its capital city. In 1511, the Portuguese seized the town of Melaka (Malacca). Authorized by King Ramathibodi II (1491-1529) of Siam, Portuguese merchants from Melaka (Malacca) started operating their trading post in the city of Ligor, present-day Nakhon Si Thammarat, in the year 1516. About one hundred years after the establishment of a Portuguese trading post in Patani, the rulers of the ancient kingdom granted licenses and concessions for the setting-up of trading posts in Patani to Japanese merchants in 1605, to Dutch merchants in 1609, and to English merchants in 1612.

Any such foreign powers’ designs on ports along the east coast of the peninsula to the north of the Patani Kingdom were initially frustrated by Siam, indeed, owing to fortifications such as Wat Phra Rachapraditsathan, also known as Wat Pako, at Sathing Phra, built 1548-1568, as well as Khao Hua Daeng and Pom Pak Nam Laem Sai. The ruins of Singha Nakhon, built early in the Ayutthaya Period, give testimony of Siamese suzerainty. All these sites are located in present-day Songkhla Province. Yet Songkhla remained another port deemed attractive by European seafaring merchants. Trading licenses and privileges were granted the Dutch, who established their trading post in Songkhla, then under the rule of Nakhon Si Thammarat, in 1612, followed by the French, in 1615.


Upon the founding of the Sukhothai Kingdom, in the 13th century, its sphere of influence extended onto the peninsula. For centuries the ports on the east coast of the peninsula have served as gateways of exchange. This trading network had been firmly established by the time when the Sukhothai Kingdom made the transition from a landlocked territory to a maritime country by forging links with the Tambralinga Kingdom on the peninsula. Its flourishing ports eventually became gateways for Siam to the world, as well as for the world to Siam. By the year 1292, the town and area of Nakhon Si Thammarat, also known as Ligor, had been incorporated into the Sukhothai Kingdom. Ancient monasteries such as Wat Phra Mahathat were preserved and expanded by adding shrines built, over the centuries, in the Sukhothai, Ayutthaya or Rattanakosinsok styles. In the Ayutthaya Period (1350- 1767), the monasteries named Wat Mokhlan and Wat Nantharam, the latter also known as Wat Tai, were built at the sites of ancient Hindu sanctuaries in Nakhon Si Thammarat Province. Wat Nantharam has been very well preserved and is deemed the most magnificent of its kind in the South. The decoration of the facade of the monastery named Wat Khao Khun Phanom, located in the said province’s Phrom Khiri District, with Chinese ceramics reflects the cultural heritage of immigrants’ descendants. It represents the recentmost layer of artisanship on a monument that had been founded under Khmer rule as a Brahman sanctuary, was transformed to a Mahayana Buddhist temple, and has been preserved as a Theravada Buddhist Thai monastery. In continuation of the city’s history as a regional economic hub, Muslim goldsmiths and silversmiths from the present-day Sultanate of Kedah in Malaysia were settled in Nakhon Si Thammarat, in 1804. Thereupon, the elegant edifice of the Yamia Mosque was built.

The port preferred by Indian, Persian and Arab merchants and known to them as Sing La, changed names and became known as Singha Nakhon, Sing Khon, Singhora, or Sathing. In the period of Sivichayan suzerainty, the capital of one principality as well as port named Sing Khon had grown into prominence, by the 13th century. Situated on the northern bank of the channel through which the Songkhla Lake empties into the Gulf of Thailand, at the site named Hua Khao Daeng, it was the early precursor of the present-day town of Songkhla. The ancient town, also known as Singhora, was captured by troops of the Ayutthaya Kingdom, in 1678. Thereupon, the community was relocated across the channel, and the new city has served as Siam’s southern administrative centre, from 1790 onward. The 400-year old monastery named Wat Machanimawat, also known as Wat Klang, originally called Wat Yai Si Chan, which was restored and renamed in 1888, render testimony of Siamese suzerainty, as does Wat Suwan Khiri with its murals painted during the reign of King Rama II (1809-1824). The Thaksin Cultural Study Centre in Songkhla Province exhibits handicrafts that represent the fusion of Malay and Thai artisanship. Examples are kris, Malay daggers with ridged serpentine blades attached to elaborately shaped and decorated handles. There also are textiles handwoven in the Malay tradition, especially fabric patterned like the shape of a local fruit called phum riang. Other examples include coconutflesh graters shaped like rabbits, shadow-play puppets, costumes characteristic of traditional theater performances, especially elaborately choreographed nora episodes about a fabulous nymph of the forest, presented through tales, songs and dances, also known as manora, as well as costumes worn in traditional burlesque shows which are presented extemporaneously and known in Thai as like pa.

On the bank of the Che He River, also known as Tak Bai River, construction of the Buddhist monastery named Wat Chonlathara Singhe began in the year 1860. Completed in 1873, it features a blend of various regional architectural styles. The Siamese King’s insistence on retaining this Buddhist monastery within the territory of Siam was the decisive factor which caused the British to relent their demand that the border be drawn farther north, along the Sai Buri River. It is for this reason that Wat Chonlathara Singhe is also known as Wat Phithak Phaen Din Thai, located in Thailand and situated on the bank of the Tak Bai River which demarcates the international boundary.

In contemporary Thailand, the Royal Family has periodically taken residence at Taksin Palace, located on the Tan Yong Mat Mountain overlooking the Manao Bay in Narathiwat Province, since completion of its construction in the 1970’s.


Natural resources in abundance, both terrestrial and aquatic, have sustained livelihood on the peninsula, since time immemorial. Indigenous ethnic groups have formed a resilient population, out of which distinctive languages, cultures, economies, and socio-political entities evolved, which eventually merged, resulting in a unique blend of population. Distinctive facets include ethnic affinity, cultural heritage, religious affiliation, social tradition, and characteristic habitat. The mixing of natives and people with ancestors from Mainland Southeast Asia as well as the East, South and West of Asia had occurred over many centuries, prior to the incremental incorporation of the area into the Sukhothai and Ayutthaya kingdoms, which has resulted in a variant of Thai population called Tamprue. They are concentrated in the provinces of Songkhla, Phatthalung and Nakhon Si Thammarat. In the 19th century, large groups of Malay from areas farther south and of Lao groups from areas beyond the Mekong River were settled in the upper section of the eastern peninsular flank, in the present-day provinces of Chumphon, Surat Thani and Nakhon Si Thammarat. Numerous landless people from Northern and Northeastern Thailand were also settled in the South, in the latter half of the 20th century. In Thailand’s southern-most provinces, the Malay have lived for over one millennium. There also are Malay communities in the middle and upper sections of the eastern flank of the peninsula. What all Malay have in common is their adherence to Islam. Hence, they are referred to as Muslim Malay, or Malay Muslim, or else Thai Muslim. The city of Nakhon Si Thammarat, the historical Ligor, and some towns in the province of the same name such as Ron Phibun are among the very few places outside Bangkok where Brahmins still reside. The inhabitants of Samui Island, administratively a district of Surat Thani Province, identify and refer to themselves as Chao Samui. They are the descendants of Hainanese fishermen and coconut as well as cotton traders who outnumber, by far, the indigenous Malay Muslim fishery communities.

The long-standing interaction among ethnic groups and, ultimately, their mingling are reflected in the southern variant of the Thai language, a patois spoken as the regional lingua franca. This is known as Tamprue (phasa pak tai). The language spoken by the majority of the Malay in the southern provinces of Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and Satun is entirely different from the Thai language, in both its official, standard version and in its many regional, highly varied vernaculars. The variant of the Malay language spoken by the native population is called Chawi, also transliterated Yawi. This Malay vernacular is germane to large parts of Java, Sumatra and the southern half of the entire peninsula. The Chawi or Yawi language is written using classic Arabic script. History and geography made for closer contact between the centres of power of successive Thai kingdoms and the upper section of the eastern flank of the peninsula. Virtually all people are Thai speakers, though colloquially they may talk in the Tamprue vernacular or in their non-Thai mother tongue such as Malay.


The Malay have been Muslims since their rulers embraced Islam, beginning in the 13th century. It is particularly at the local level where the Muslim faithful feel the need to adhere to the tenets of Islam and to ensure that they will be upheld by future generations. The majority of the people in the middle and upper sections, particularly the Tamprue who identify themselves as Thai, live in communities, both rural and urban, with Buddhist monasteries as their religious and cultural centres. On approaching Southern Thailand from the north, the sight of mosques intensifies, indeed, as the distance travelled increases. The impression is one of peaceful co-existence of communities of the Buddhist and Islamic faiths.


In the lower part of Southern Thailand, where the ancient kingdom of Patani was once the centre of culture, the blending of the ancient Javanese culture with Hinduism left a lasting imprint on folkways. Examples of these traits are the manufacturing of batik cloth, the building of ko lae boats, and the shadow play performances of Javanese origin. Batik fabric is manufactured mainly by Muslim Malay artisans in colourful chud chad patterns which are characteristic of markets such as Pa Las in Panare District of Pattani Province.

Another example of using patterns for ease of recognition is the building and use of the fishing boats called ko lae. Although the numbers of traditional boats and crews have been on the decline, ko lae boats are still in use, and new ones are being built. Just south of the estuary of the Sai Buri River, Muslim Malay boat-builders have upheld the traditional craft. Owing to the design and colourful decoration of these traditional fishing boats, the ko lae boat racing near Narathiwat Town is a spectacular event. Another unique event is a singing dove contest. Such singing competitions are held in several locations of the lower section and in neighbouring Songkhla Province. In its Chana District, a well-known such venue, countless cages with one male bird each are suspended from eight-meter high, metallic poles that look like giant shepherd’s crooks. Phatthalung Province has the reputation of keeping alive classical performances of the Nora or Manora, a Thai adaptation of an epic that originated in South India and is presented through intertwined tales, songs and dance.

Cultural diversity is likely most obvious in religious edifices as well as folk architecture. The oldest, existing Islamic edifice in the lower section is the Matsayit Krue Se, located in Mueang Pattani District. Its construction was begun in 1578 yet never finished. The Wadi Al Husen Mosque, also known as Matsayid Talo Mano or Matsayit Sam Roi Pi (literally translated the “300-Year Mosque”), was constructed of Malabar ironwood, in the year 1624. It is an ensemble of two connected edifices that were constructed using exclusively wooden bolts instead of nails. Its present appearance, upon restoration in 1769, is a blend of Malay architecture with Chinese-style features and some Thai-style details. This wellpreserved monument of the era of the Patani Kingdom is situated in Narathiwat Province. The central mosque of Narathiwat Town, Matsayit Klang, is an old wooden structure built in the architectural style that is characteristic of Southern Sumatra. Like the well-known Krue Se Mosque, the lesser known mosque in the Malay fishing community of Ban Dato on the peninsula, or spit rather, named Laem Pho in Pattani Province, had long served as a religious centre in the Patani Kingdom. This old mosque is named Matsayit Dato. It was registered as a national historical monument in 1935. The central mosque of Pattani Town, Matsayit Klang, was built during the years 1954 until 1963. It is a modern structure with elements of the contemporary Arabian style though also reminiscent of the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. The overall design with a central dome and four smaller domes pointing to the four quarters of the world exudes a traditional appearance, an embodiment of historical, cultural traits enveloped in a green hue. This impression is reinforced by the large water basin in front of the magnificent edifice. It is Thailand’s second-largest mosque and, against the background of the historical Patani Town as a regional Islamic centre, the most important mosque in the Lower South.

Residential houses in rural communities of the lower section of the eastern flank of Thailand’s half of the peninsula are characterized by their elevated structure. They rest on posts with their ends slightly bending toward each other, causing the walls of the house to curve outward at the bottom and inward at the top. This type of house is described as built in the “style of the elephant passing water”. Along the bottom line of the gable of such houses is an extension of the roof, in some instances a cantilevered roof, called “bird’s wing”. The most common roof shape, referred to as Middle Eastern design, features three conjoined, triangular roofs with gables. Holes left by design to regulate air currents between floors at different levels and between walls and roof are called “cat’s path” or “wind’s path”. The Lo Chut “Grassroots Museum” in Narathiwat Province is a repository of artefacts, none of which are less than 1,000 years old. They include ceramic as well as brass pots and bowls and Malay daggers known as kris.

The majority of people in the lower section, who identify themselves as Thai, live in communities with Buddhist monasteries as their religious and cultural centres. The likely most prominent Buddhist monastery is Wat Chonlathara Singhe, also known as Wat Phithak Phaendin, in Tak Bai District of Narathiwat Province. Built during the years from 1860 until 1873, this monastery is a unique ensemble of edifices, statues, and decorative features. Among the buildings in Sumatran, Chinese and local architectural styles are four distinctly different prayer halls, called vihara in Thai. One vihara, constructed of wood in the style typical of Southern Sumatra, resembles a mosque and likely is the oldest edifice. It houses a sculpture of the Hindu deity Vishnu. Another vihara is decorated with murals painted during the Fourth Reign (1851-1868). The construction of the vihara housing a reclining Buddha image, which is embellished with Chinese ceramics in the style of the Song Dynasty Period, was completed in 1873. The fourth vihara is a large building in the authentic Thai style.

Old urban Buddhist communities had emerged in the course of population growth due to immigration. This is evident from the Sino- Thai temple architecture in cities such as Songkhla. Examples are Wat Matchimawat and Wat Chaeng. Wat Matchimawat was originally built some 400 years ago, when the Ayutthaya Kingdom tightened control over the port of Songkhla, and named Wat Yai Si Chan in commemoration of the donor of construction funds. Its existing chapel, ubosot, was built in the Thai- Chinese style during the First Reign (1782-1809). In the Third Reign (1824-1851) and the Fourth Reign (1851-1868) restoration works were carried out. By then, the murals were created that depict 19th-century life in Songkhla and episodes from the Jataka, similar to those of Wat Phra Sri Rattana Satsadaram, widely known as Wat Phra Kaeo or Temple of the Emerald Buddha, in Bangkok. A common feature of cities, towns and markets are the Chinese shrines and association buildings. Examples of well-known shrines are San Chao Leng Chu Kiang, also known as San Chao Mae Lim Ko Liao, in Pattani Province and San Chao Mae To Mo in Narathiwat Province. Nakhon Si Thammarat has two well-known Chinese-style, religious edifices in Buddhist monasteries. One is situated in the compound of Wat Chaeng. Known as Keng Chin Wat Chaeng, it is a brick structure in the shape of a lotus bud. A similar edifice is known as Keng Chin Wat Pradu, owing to its location in the compound of the city’s monastery called Wat Pradu. Old enterprise premises and residences in the Sino-Portuguese style set elegantly contrasting accents in the historic centres of cities and towns. One of the finest examples of Sino-Portuguese architecture is the ensemble of buildings which houses the Songkhla National Museum.

As stated in a document published by the Office of the National Culture Commission, “all these ethnic groups are fully assimilated and consider themselves Thais.”


Examples of nature reserves and national parks in marine and littoral areas are the Yaring Mangrove Bioscience Study Centre and its nature trail in Pattani Province and the Manao Bay Forest Reserve in neighbouring Narathiwat Province, which protects a rare beach forest. In the same province, the To Daeng Peat Swamp Forest is a unique ecosystem, with the Sirindhorn (To Daeng) Peat Swamp Forest Research and Study Centre. Very well known, far beyond the middle section of the peninsula, is Thailand’s first no-hunting zone, established in 1975. Named the Thale Noi Waterfowl Sanctuary, it straddles parts of Phatthalung, Songkhla and Nakhon Si Thammarat provinces. Its terrestrial segment encompasses peat forests, grasslands and paddy lands that surround wetlands and the lake named Thale Noi. This lake is the northernmost and smallest of three lakes that form the inland lagoon. The others are known as Thale Luang and Thale Sap Songkhla. In the southwestern part of the largest lake, Thale Luang, another reserve was established. Named Khu Kut Waterfowl Non-hunting Zone, it straddles parts of Songkhla and Phatthalung provinces.

Nature reserves and national parks in the marine and littoral areas of the upper section include both islands and shore stretches of the peninsula. The Khanom Archipelago National Park comprises of islets, reefs and shore as well as mountain areas in Nakhon Si Thammarat and Surat Thani provinces. Exclusively islands form the Ang Thong Archipelago National Park. Over a sea area of 250 sq km, 42 islands and islets are scattered with a combined land mass of 50 sq km. The northernmost protected area with islands and shores in the upper section is the Chumphon Archipelago National Park. To preserve one of few remaining swamp forest ecosystems in coastal and river plains, the Thung Thong Swamp Forest Nohunting Zone comprising mostly wetlands was demarcated in Surat Thani Province.

Most protected areas are located in the hills and mountains. These are the Pa Hala – Bala Wildlife Reserve and the Bu Do – Su Ngai Pa Di National Park in Yala and Narathiwat provinces; and the Sai Khao Waterfall National Park straddling parts of the provinces of Pattani, Yala and Songkhla. One of the largest nature reserves encompasses a big section of the Nakhon Range. It is named Pu – Ya Mountains National Park covering parts of the provinces of Phatthalung, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Trang. Eleven examples in the upper section include the Khao Luang, Khao Nan, and Yong or Yong Sai Yai Waterfall national parks in Nakhon Si Thammarat Province, as well as part of the Si Khi Waterfall National Park straddling the boundary with Surat Thani Province. Located in the latter are the Phanom River, Khao Sok and Tai Rom Yen national parks. The name of the latter seems to signify that virgin mountain forests and rainforests keep its area in “cooling shade” (rom yen). Its name is, however, a reminder of the recent past when the Communist Party of Thailand maintained a command base around Khao Chong Chang, until its cadres’ peaceful surrender under the Tai Rom Yen, the “Welcoming into the Cooling Shade” strategy successfully implemented by the Royal Thai Government.

In the same province, the Khao Tha Phed Forest Reserve encompasses the Khao Tha Phet Wildlife Preservation Centre. Neighbouring Chumphon Province has the Khao Phang and Kapo Waterfall forest reserves as well as the Khlong Phrao National Park.


A distinctive type of combined forestry and horticulture in the river plains, hills and mountains of the lower and middle sections is known as dusong in Malay and as sum rum in Thai. The traditional practice is based on indigenous knowledge and local wisdom, encapsulated in the principle of living in harmony with the forest. Naturally growing trees are interspersed with cultivated perennial trees. Some orchard trees are more than one hundred years old. Vegetables are grown in these mixed forests and orchards, which are ecologically well-balanced within themselves. Wild birds eradicate harmful insects. Foliage shed by forest trees cover the topsoil, maintain soil moisture, and by rotting become natural fertilizer. The sum rum or dusong, combined forests and orchards, produce year-round yields of vegetables and fruits. Local people’s indigenous knowledge is, likewise, exemplified by the community of fruit orchard farmers at Ban Plai Uan in Nakhon Si Thammarat Province. By adjusting to the natural forest vegetation and adopting a method of planting fruit trees mixed with naturally growing plants alongside a trail through the natural forest, they have practiced a distinctive type of combined forestry and horticulture similar to the traditional horticulture called sum rum in the middle and dusong in the lower sections of Southern Thailand.


Southern Thailand as a whole has been characterized as endowed with an “abundance of natural resources”, as follows : “Situated by the sea, the southern provinces are rich in natural resources. The soil is richer compared to the rest of the country, and the region is also wealthy in its forests. People can grow many crops and fruits which are impossible in other areas.” In the experience of a successful entrepreneur, who had moved from Nakhon Pathom in Western Thailand to Had Yai City, “minerals, rubber, fishery, and agriculture are better than in the central and northern parts of Thailand”.

In the marine and littoral areas fisheries and related activities have been a major source of livelihood. Owing to the lower section’s long coast with very few islands at distances that are navigable for the traditional fishing boats known as ko lae, by far most fishing communities have been engaged in coastal-water fishery. There is a saying in the fishing communities of Narathiwat, formerly named Bang Nara, that “for Bang Nara people not having ko lae boats would be like going fishing naked”. These attractively embellished ko lae boats are still being built in coastal villages. Especially on the shores of the three lakes of Thale Sap Songkhla, Thale Luang and Thale Noi, which form the Songkhla Inland Lagoon, fisheries and related products have been a major source of livelihood in the middle section. Owing to the upper section’s marine environment consisting of a long coast with a large number of islands, big and small, the fishing communities have been engaged in both coastal-water and deep-water fisheries. Aquaculture especially for the production of a great variety of shell fish has, since long, been practiced in the Bight of Ban Don, Surat Thani Province.

Processing their catches, members of the fishing communities produce a host of food stuff and condiments, including dried shrimp, fish sauce, fish paste, and biscuits made from rice mixed with either shrimp or fish. Bird’s nests (i.e. nests built by swiftlets [edible-nest swiftlet (Aerodramus fuciphagus), not swallows as commonly and erroneously perceived) are a highly valued commodity in great demand, which no longer are just collected but “grown” rather by building structures designed to attract the birds and entice them to build their nests.

The four components of agriculture practiced in the lower section are field cropping, plantation crop production, livestock rearing, and horticulture. The common field crop is paddy, distinguished as rainyseason or first rice crop and offseason or second rice crop. In the middle and upper sections, peanuts and melons are grown, as well as pineapple in the upper section. Examples of plantation crops are rubber, coconut, areca nut, sugar palm, oil palm, coffee, cocoa, mangosteen, lime, mango, durian, rambutan, longkong, langsat, banana, oranges, sweet rakam, also known as sala, and cashew nut. Livestock include such species as buffalo, cattle, goat, sheep, pig, chicken, duck, quail, dove, horse, elephant, and freshwater as well as saltwater aquatic animals. Horticulture in combination with forestry, a traditional practice which is known as dusong in Malay and sum rum in Thai (see the detailed description under the heading of “conservation” above), is practiced to grow perennial trees interspersed with vegetables and produce longkong or duku, durian, rambutan, sato (Parkia sp.), pomelo, jackfruit, tamarind and kapok. In the middle section a fruit tree is grown called champada in the vernacular of Ko Yo; it is similar to jackfruit though smaller in size, with a thick peel and sweet, yellowish-red meat. The jaggery palm, also known as wine palm or toddy palm, is grown in the upper section. In a similar vein, the Chang Klang Agro-tourism Centre in Nakhon Si Thammarat Province demonstrates and promotes integrated farming. The five major components are rubber tree planting, vegetable growing, ornamental plant cultivation, mushroom production, and apiculture.

The prudent use of forest resources has several components, including the conservation of such vital vegetation as tropical evergreen dry as well as rain forests and swamp, beach and peat forests, and the sustainability of forestry. Among the non-timber forest products (NTFPs) extracted from forests are incense wood, firewood, rattan, resin or dammer, gamboge, guta-percha, tree oil and sap, bee wax, cardamom, jelutong, which is in high demand for the production of chewing gum, indigo, bamboo and thatch. Raw materials available in the lower section have been used for the manufacturing of a large assortment of handicrafts. In fishing communities, miniature ko lae fishing boats are made for sale as souvenirs to visitors. Bulrush, pandan tree leaves and screwpine fibres are worked into such items as spectacle holders and handbags. There are artisans specialized in producing trays decorated with scrollwork, as well as plates and assorted household utensils summarily known as khrueang thong kueang. Fibres of creepers or vines are split lengthwise to get strands that are worked into such objects as liphao handbags, hats, baskets, fans, and bangles. Popular hand-woven fabrics include the cloth known as pha pa te, which is the plain cloth used to create batik fabric and to make garments such as sarong, table cloths and handkerchiefs. Examples of handicrafts typical of the middle section are shadow play puppets made of cattle or goat hide and the cotton fabric called pha tho ko yo, literally translated cloth woven on Yo Island in the lake named Thale Sap Songkhla. Around the lake named Thale Noi, reed and bulrush in the wetlands are harvested and dried to manufacture handbags, hats and colourful mats.

In the upper section, the attractive phum riang silk fabric, especially the renowned gold and silver brocade, is woven by Muslim villagers. Pottery is practised using the old-fahioned technique of shaping vessels by hand. Nakhon nielloware, a regional specialty, is worked into such objects as rings, necklaces, bangles, bowls and trays.

Mineral deposits including metallic and non-metallic raw materials have been found throughout the eastern peninsular flank, both terrestrial and maritime. In history, the single most important metallic deposit was tin. In addition, there are fewer sites with metallic deposits of manganese, gold, antimony, barites, tungsten or wolfram, iron, chromite and lead. Likewise, there are non-metallic deposits of fluorite, graphite, lignite, kaolin, gypsum, silica sand, and semi-precious stones such as zircon. As of now, the economically most important resources are off-shore oil and natural gas in the seabed of the Gulf of Thailand.


There are strong indications that tourism has great potential and holds good promise to become an alternative pillar of the economic mainstay.

The sea off the coast of the lower peninsular section has very few islands. There is only one major island, Ko Losin, at great distance. The sea and reefs surrounding this rocky island form the habitat of more marine species than any other island in the Gulf of Thailand. Attractions include spectacular soft and hard corals and large pelagic fish. The peninsular coast is dotted with coves and beaches which are among the most pristine in Thailand. The long spit named Talo Kapo and its peninsula called Laem Tachi, also known as Laem Pho, are not only known for their beaches but also for their fishery harbours with colourful ko lae fishing boats. Islands off the coast of the eastern peninsular middle section are very few. Likewise, there are few beaches along the coast. The best known is Samila. A string of attractive beaches lines the coast of the upper section. More than one hundred islands are scattered in the upper Gulf of Thailand. Best known are the large islands of the Samui Archipelago, which comprises some 80 islands (in Thai called ko) and islets, of which seven are inhabited. They are Samui, Phangan, Tao, Ta Loi, Taen, Ma Ko and Ta Pao. Encompassed is the Ang Thong Archipelago National Park with 40 islands and islets. Lesser known are the many islands off the coast of the northernmost stretch of the upper section coast, which are part of Chumphon Province.

Attractions in the interior worth visting are varied. In the Lo Chut Local History Museum, Narathiwat Province, artefacts have been preserved which are 1,000 years old or older. Examples are bowls and pots, made from brass or earthenware, and a collection of kris, daggers with ridged serpentine blades, among many other items. From among the tribal population in the mountains, a group of Sakai has become sedentary in what is called the Sakai Tribal Village in Yala Province. The town of Phatthalung has been recognized as a centre of shadow-play (nang talung) performances. Phatthalung is also deemed the place from where the adoption of the Manora or Nora, of South Indian origin, spread throughout Southern Thailand and beyond.

Taken from: Thailand: Traits and Treasures. The National Identity Board, Royal Thai Government 2005.


Back to Introduction

Please note that we cannot take any responsibility for the correctness of the data shown on this Web site. We try our very best, but we depend on universities, their Web sites, and fellow students and lecturers, to get updates when ever programs, conditions, or tuition fees change.

Protected by Copyscape Unique Content Check

2023 ©