BETONG (Thailand), Nov 6 — The sea of clouds hanging over the mountain range at Airyerweng, here make the whole place look ethereal, more so at the crack of dawn.

And, watching the sun slowly rising above the misty surroundings is a sublime affair what with the sunlight illuminating the sky above with an orangish hue.

This writer had the opportunity to view the magnificent sunrise from the peak of the 612 metres high Airyerweng hill when she visited Betong last month as part of a media visit to southern Thailand on the invitation of the Southern Peace Media Club and the Southern Thailand Media Association.

Twenty-five Malaysian journalists and bloggers participated in the media visit to Betong, Golok, Pattani and Songkla from Oct 2 to 6.

The objective of the visit was to familiarise the media with the developments taking place in the southern region, an area long known for its restiveness due to attacks by insurgents. 

Their first stop was Betong — which at one time was a stronghold of the Communist Party of Malaya —located in the southernmost border province of Yala and a mere 10-minute drive from Pengkalan Hulu in Gerik, Perak at the Malaysian-Thai border.  

Misty town

The organisers are quick to point out that Betong is relatively safe and peaceful and bursting with tourism potential.

Indeed, it is. As it is surrounded by mountains and forests, the weather in Betong is cool all year round and at dawn, the surroundings are shrouded in mist, making the whole landscape look dreamy. Little wonder it is known as the “misty town”.

To enable us to enjoy a breath-taking view of the misty landscape, we were whisked off in a van to the peak of the 612 metres high Airyerweng hill, which is about an hour’s drive from Betong town.

We arrived there at about 5.00 am and braving the cold, we made our way to the viewing platform where we feasted our eyes on the mist-shrouded mountains and, later, the glorious sunrise.

The best views from Airyerweng hill are from 6.00 am to 9.00 am after which the mist disappears as the sun gets hotter.

According to assistant head of the Airyerweng Sub-district Administrative Office Saari Yaakob, the area has now become Betong’s top tourist attraction.

“Everyday, we have people heading to the Airyerweng hilltop to watch the sea of mist that envelopes the whole area. For Betong, it’s truly a gift granted by God,” he said.

In a bid to attract more tourists to Betong, as well as other towns situated in the southern growth triangle of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani, plans are in place to build more tourism-related infrastructure. — Picture via Instagram/skyeyeoh

More infrastructure

In a bid to attract more tourists to Betong, as well as other towns situated in the southern growth triangle of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani, plans are in place to build more tourism-related infrastructure.

A skywalk complex, costing 98 million baht (RM12.5 million), is set to be built in Airyerweng. Work on the skywalk, which affords more panoramic views of the mist-shrouded mountains, is expected to begin soon.

Saari said the road leading to Airyerweng would also be widened and provisions were also being made for more restaurants, souvenir shops and parking bays. A bigger surau is also in the works.  

“Once all the infrastructure is completed (by 2019), we expect an influx of tourists but we will limit tourist arrivals to 4,000 a day in order to preserve our natural surroundings,” he added.

The year 2019 will also see the completion of a domestic airport in Betong. The 1.3 billion baht airport will cater to the smaller 50— to 70-seater aircraft and will facilitate tourist arrivals from Pattani, Narathiwat, Hatyai and even Bangkok.

Currently, Betong is only accessible via roads and a road trip from Hatyai to Betong takes about six hours.

The roads linking the various towns in the southern provinces will also be upgraded. The 120km-long two-lane road linking Betong to Yala, for example, will be upgraded to four lanes to cut the travelling time between the two towns.

More tourist arrivals

Betong district head Damrong Deesakun said they had targeted 1.2 million tourists to visit Betong this year. Three years ago, there were 400,000 tourist arrivals, with the number rising to 700,000 last year.

He said besides the misty mountains of Airyerweng, Betong also has other attractions like flower gardens and hot springs, as well as the caves where the communists used to hide.

“The safety factor is among the reasons more tourists are now coming to Betong as we’ve not had any incidents over the last two years,” he said, adding that the local community also cooperated with the police and military to prevent insurgents from infiltrating Betong.

“The local people here are the eyes and ears of our security forces and they help to take care of this area’s security,” he said. — Bernama