Betong: Thailand’s Southernmost Everything

Workers maintain Chinese lanterns inside of The Betong Mongkollit Tunnel (อุโมงค์เบตงมงคลฤทธิ์) on February 4, 2022.
Workers maintain Chinese lanterns inside The Betong Mongkollit Tunnel Tunnel (อุโมงค์เบตงมงคลฤทธิ์) on February 4, 2022.

Photographs + Story by: Matt Hunt

Ask around, and most Betong (เบตง) locals will proudly tell you that their city is the southernmost of many things in Thailand. Betong town is the capital of the Betong District and the southernmost town in Yala, the southernmost province in the Kingdom.

In early 2022, after years of issues with construction and contracts, the Betong International Airport (BTZ) opened, giving new attention to Betong as a domestic tourism option. Before the current spotlight in the Thai tourism market, Betong spent decades growing from being a just border town to a destination for Malaysian tourists and business people stopping over before continuing on Highway 410, the one road leading to the rest of Thailand.

The push to make Betong look more like a destination for western tourists is already underway, with murals made for Instagram popping up along the alleyways and a couple of options for “western” food being penciled into menus around the town.

However, daily life in Betong is barely affected by the impending development. The way of motor traffic depends on a lot of independent decision-making; business opens late and closes early; at any given time, you can overhear one of several Thai and Chinese language dialects being spoken interchangeably on the street without hesitation.

Traffic around the clock tower in downtown Betong.
A display showing a Microsoft Desktop is seen around the clock tower in downtown Betong.

The history of Malaysian tourism and the development of the deep south region of Thailand created a unique mix of Chinese, Malaysian, and Southern Thai cultures that are all on display together—but separately—at the same time.

Betong is a mix of people with vastly different cultural heritage that share a Thai national identity. Most people cooperate with the difference and practice tolerance in ways that demonstrate an understanding of each other as Thai people while maintaining a public, somewhat prideful display of individual identity, keeping their cultural heritage visible and intact.

Betong is ornate mosques on the same block as a Buddhist temple; vendors wearing hijabs making Halal food next to Chinese fried noodle stalls. It is a place where details of many different cultures are splashed throughout the city in blocks of color and food that stand next to each other but barely ever blend.

The following photographs were taken in February 2022, one month before Betong International Airport opened and the area began to be promoted as a tourist destination in domestic and international markets.


Aerial view of Tok Ku Chae Bridge during sunrise over the jungle in Betong.

Aerial view of Tok Ku Chae Bridge during sunrise over the jungle.

Multi-colored houses, often doubling as storefronts on the ground, paint the downtown area of Betong.

Multi-colored houses, often doubling as storefronts on the ground, paint the downtown area of Betong.

A maintenance worker cleans the sidewalks outside of The Betong Mongkhonrit Tunnel (อุโมงค์เบตงมงคลฤทธิ์).

A maintenance worker cleans the sidewalks outside of The Betong Mongkhonrit Tunnel (อุโมงค์เบตงมงคลฤทธิ์).

Local people run around a track at a public sports complex in Betong. The official slogan of the city, "Ok Betong, "is painted on the bleachers behind the runners.

Local people run around a track at a public sports complex in Betong. The official slogan of the city, “Ok Betong, “is painted on the bleachers behind the runners.

A Muslim family plays at Sud Siam Public Park (สวนสุดสยาม)

A Muslim family plays at Sud Siam Public Park (สวนสุดสยาม)

A man reads a book at Sud Siam Park (ทะเลหมอกอัยเยอร์เวง).
People play competitive sports at a public recreational area in Sud Siam Park (ทะเลหมอกอัยเยอร์เวง).

People play competitive sports at a public recreational area in Sud Siam Park (ทะเลหมอกอัยเยอร์เวง).

Betong Central Mosque
Betong Central Mosque

Betong Central Mosque.

The Chedi (stupa) at Wat Phutthathiwat in Betong.

The Chedi (stupa) at Wat Phutthathiwat in Betong.

A monk sweeps the path in front of houses on the residential grounds at at Wat Phutthathiwat in Betong.
A traditional Chinese funeral setup at a graveyard in Betong.
A condominium building painted in bright rainbow colors in Betong.
A small street in a residential neighborhood in Betong.
Guards carrying shotguns ride a motorcycle through a residential neighborhood.

Guards carrying shotguns ride a motorcycle through a residential neighborhood.

A motorcyclist drives down a steep, winding mountain road in Betong.
A man living in a mountain village in Betong poses for a portrait.

A man living in a mountain village in Betong poses for a portrait.

A farmer herds her goats along a mountain road in Betong.

A farmer herds her goats along a steep mountain road in Betong.

A bunker made of sandbags is seen around a police checkpoint in Betong. These checkpoints are common along the roads in the bottom three Thailand provinces.

A bunker made of sandbags is seen around a police checkpoint in Betong. These checkpoints are common along the roads in the bottom three Thailand provinces.

A police checkpoint in Betong.
Armed military guards perform anti-terrorism patrol along Highway 410 in Betong.

Armed military guards perform anti-terrorism patrol along Highway 410 in Betong.

Armed military guards perform anti-terrorism patrol along Highway 410 in Betong.
Armed military guards perform anti-terrorism patrol along Highway 410 in Betong.
An armed military guard takes a photo of a blooming flower while performing roadside anti-terrorism patrol in Betong.
An aerial (drone) photo of Aiyerweng Skywalk (ทะเลหมอกอัยเยอร์เวง) in Betong.
Aiyerweng Skywalk (ทะเลหมอกอัยเยอร์เวง) in Betong.

Aiyerweng Skywalk (ทะเลหมอกอัยเยอร์เวง)

Photographs displaying memories of historical importance to the city are seen on display at a gallery in Betong.

Photographs displaying memories of historical importance to the city are seen on display at a gallery.

A public official paints a piece of a new zebra crossing in downtown Betong on February 4, 2022.

A public official paints a piece of a new zebra crossing in downtown Betong on February 4, 2022.

A street food pushcart vendor sets up shop in front of a mural downtown.

A street food pushcart vendor sets up shop in front of a mural downtown.

An old art car is seen parked on the street in downtown Betong.
An old yellow art van is seen parked on the street in downtown Betong.
A young Muslim girl smiles while playing outside with some neighborhood cats in Betong.
A Muslim woman plays with a baby in front of their home in Betong.
A pet goat walks through a pedestrian crosswalk in a residential area of Betong.

A pet goat walks through a pedestrian crosswalk in a residential area of Betong.

Sunset along a canal in Betong.

Sunset in Betong.

A street food vendor prepares meals to go at nighttime in Betong.
A street food vendor prepares meals to go at nighttime in Betong.
An alleyway at night in Betong.
A man is seen on a motorbike with his pet dog in downtown Betong.
An alleyway with street food vendors in Betong.
Street art in downtown Betong.
View of downtown Betong at night, with its clock tower as the centerpiece.

View of downtown Betong at night, with its clock tower as the centerpiece.