Betong: A wealth of southern comfort

Betong, a border town between Malaysia and Thailand, stretches out along the valley. (Photo by Phoowadon Duangmee)

Tucked away on the Thai-Malaysian border, Betong is Thailand’s southernmost point. The small border town – which is isolated in a misty mountain valley – is well worth visiting and exploring for the stunning panoramic views, good food experience and a great escape along the tunnel.  

Start at the Betong Museum to get to grips with the border town’s history. Located beside the public park and perched over the town centre, the three-storey building exhibits Betong’s past through old furniture, a traditional Chinese bed chamber, chinaware, and old photographs on the first and second floors. While poking your head around the artifacts, you’ll discover that the word “Betong” is derived from the distorted Thai sound of Betung, which means “bamboo” in Malay. The third floor, on the other hand, is well worth the climb up the stairs for a panoramic view of the border town stretched out along the mountain valley.

Betong might translate as “bamboo”, but don’t be fooled by the name – Betong is a small slice of food paradise. The small border town has much more to offer hungry visitors than braised bamboo shoots.

“Betong is famous for its food,” says Lek, the Hakka-speaking owner of Betong’s Ta Ren restaurant. “We take our food seriously. We have a hundred different ways to cook fish, pork, and chicken. Some dishes require up to three days to prepare.”

Dim sum is a daily ritual for residents of Betong who share the small plates with friends until late morning. (Photo by Phoowadon Duangmee)

Har gow and char siu pork have been brought to every corner of the world by Chinese immigrants and settlers, and Betong is no exception. Dim sum is a daily ritual for the locals here, who share small plates with friends until late in the morning. Betong is also well-known for its “Betong chicken”, a popular breed prized for its tenderness and rich meaty flavour. You can have it as classic Cantonese poached chicken with salted ginger scallion sauce or as the popular Hainanese chicken rice with a tasty white sauce.

Aside from the famous chicken dish, the Braised Pork Belly with Yam, Stir Fried Petai with Shrimps, and Squid Salad will make you eat more than you intended.

Betong chicken is known for its tenderness and rich meaty flavour. (Photo by Phoowadon Duangmee)

When you’re not eating, you can explore the parks, temples, and tunnels, or take a ride to Malaysia’s duty-free shop to stock up on cheap booze.

Betong, located in a mountain valley surrounded by tropical forest, is certainly not short on natural beauty, and the Ayerweng Skywalk is a great place to start, with its spectacular setting and stunning panoramic view. The skywalk, which extends 61 metres from a towering platform, allows visitors to stroll above the mountain valley. A metal walkway leads to the glass platform with a breath-taking view of the mountains. All year, a thick mist rises over the mountain valley at sunrise. Layers of a mountain range silhouetted in the misty valley with a bright backlight can be seen from the skywalk. Mist flowing with the wind over the forested valley will remind you that Betong is full of places yet to be discovered.

Down in the valley is the Piyamit Tunnel. Hollowed out in 1977 by members of the Malaya Communism Party in Yala and inspired by the Cu Chi Tunnel in Southern Vietnam, Piyamit is a passage under the earth. While the famous Viet Cong’s tunnel stretches around 200 kilometres through a labyrinth of subterranean villages, the Thai edition is more modest, at just one kilometre. But Piyamit, with five to six feet width, is luxurious compared to Cu Chi that’s no wider than your shoulders.

The Piyamit tunnel was made by members of Malaya Communism Party in Yala in 1977 as a bomb shelter and for storing food supplies. (Photo by Phoowadon Duangmee)

“This tunnel is a kind of secret hideout,” says the village headman. “It was built as a bomb shelter and to store food supplies.”

Now Piyamit Tunnel is a reminder of the underground movement and resistance. It’s also a tourist destination drawing visitors for a walk through the tunnel and leafy wood. And there is always light at the end of a tunnel. The local restaurant, where Malaysian tourists enjoy tucking into durian, even serves beer at the end of the Piyamit passage.

If you enjoy flowers and sporadic bursts of colour, the Winter Flower Garden, just a short ride from the Piyamit Tunnel, is the place to be. The garden, known locally as “Suan Muen Buppa”, is filled with asters, hydrangeas, chrysanthemums, roses, peacock flowers, gerberas, lilies, gladioli, and a variety of other floral beauties in full bloom.

Ayerweng Skywalk leads to the glass platform that offers a spectacular mountain view. (Photo by TAT)

Nothing beats a relaxing dip in a hot spring after a long day of driving. The Betong Hot Spring, located a short distance from the town centre, provides visitors with relaxation and health benefits such as stress relief and skin detox. Even better, it has a community pool where bathers can soak in full-body healing.

If you go

The nearest active airport to Betong is Narathiwat Airport, from which Betong is 190 kilometres to the south. Taxi and minivan services are available from the airport to Betong.

The Betong Museum exhibits Betong’s past through old furniture, a traditional Chinese bed chamber, chinaware and more. (Photo by Phoowadon Duangmee)


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