Even Miss Dengue didn’t want me to leave.
Most nights I was shivering and attending to an outbreak of welts. I’ve no idea what the chemist in Hat Yai gave, but I was suffering on both fronts.
The action wasn’t here.
I knew where it was. It was a little border town in Yala province.
It had become the holy grail of destinations.
From Malaysia, it would be a case of crossing the border and covering the seven kilometers into town.
I had to train it across Pattani and eventually get off at Yala, then it would be another four hour drive on a minibus through the mountainous region to Betong.
The government was offering free trips on the train around the three troubled provinces. But the only occupants were the Thai soldiers and a few crazies, who were too brain damaged to realised the seriousness of the trip.
Trains are easy targets. Lines are always being blow up and any carriages the insurgents get is a bonus.
No bombs gone off since about eight weeks. There was a truce during Ramadan.
I was posting pictures on Twitter.
Selfies at Starbucks in Bangkok were trending more than my pictures of check points, concertina wire and security forces going through the motion of checking I.D’s and registrations.
I got off at Yala. And I walked from the station into town looking for a hotel. A few soldiers got off, but most were heading towards Kalok where security was mostly needed.
It’s a Muslim town.
And the town folk were nice enough if you didn’t count the recent gunning down of innocent Buddhists or a few decapitated heads.
I didn’t linger. Next morning I took a motorbike to the bus stop.
The locals were wonderful. They treated me with respect and there was no incident.
Which was good for me, because otherwise I couldn’t have made the next leg of my trip.
I got into Betong eventually.
Here’s where my hunch began. Only a few more days till the end of Ramadan.
The sympathetic Malay towards the insurgent’s ultimate goal of independence from Thailand, laughed and joked at my posts.
They certainly didn’t warn me that something was going down.
If something was, it would be in the next few days, as the end of Ramadan was approaching.
The last time this place was hit was eight years.
It’s a border town that attracts mostly Chinese Malaysian who make the pilgrimage here to visit the insurgent tunnels of the Communist Age. This is Insurgent Age, and the rules are played out just a little bit differently.
Mr. Malay Crusader on Twitter never hinted there was going to be a bomb. He encouraged my tweets and hash tags, making me more of a test speed dummy. I stood out like a sore thumb. I updated my status, late into the night. ‘Was that a noise?’ Of course it was. ‘But was it a bomb?’ Of course not silly. I felt silly being so guarded but when your gut feeling is saying lay low and sharp, you do.
After a run in with a copper at a resteraunt, who called his boss, suggesting I was either a spy or a journalist, I remainded even lower.
The town is your usual whoring border town, with karaoke bars, massage joints and bars, catering to the weekend sex tourists from across the border.
I never felt eyes on me. But I spent most of my time hidden in my hotel room. The only time I went out was for Seven-11 runs. Lay low. I had checked into a Muslim hotel. No questions. They didn’t even want to see my passport.
Now I thought that was cool as did my neighbors who were making their plans for the end of Ramadan.
My plan was to visit the Communist Caves and then fuck off back to Malaysia, with another Thai border town under my belt.
Be careful what you wish for.
I didn’t hide in my room after the bomb went off. Why should I waste an opportunity like this by hiding in my room? Hadn’t I been waiting for the action?
I did interviews, compared photos, examined shrapnel. I walked up and down the bomb zone within twenty minutes of it going off, looking out for the second bomb. These are the things you do. I witnessed valour, I witnessed grief. I was a basket case myself.
In the evenings I took more photos. The security force were not alarmed to see this middle aged white guy. They never told me not to take photos. They never questioned me what was I doing here.
That all changed when Mr. Malay Crusader told me to lay low.
He had without my premission told the insurgents I was a harmless backpacker from Australia.
He also told me that I was given their blessings for past articles I had written. So they were even reading my articles. I couldn’t say I was flattered. They were a magnanimous bunch. After killing two people and seriously injuring 37, they said in the tradition of the end of Ramadan, I was forgiven.
All was fine until I got his email. Then the shock wore off and another one began. Someone was after me.
Well I couldn’t guess who was looking for me. I knew it wasn’t the military.
I’m sure I wouldn’t be hard to find even if I didn’t have a SIM for them to locate me. I only piggyback on WIFI, I’m that cool I wanted to tell Mr. Malay Crusader who said I could be a target for bearing witness to this carnage and sharing it to the world.
His jokes had stopped. Exposing Islam for what they were didn’t appeal to my Malaysian contact.
I never fled that night. I did a few runs outside. The town was shut down. Areas were cordoned off and I managed to buy some snacks down the road. The motorbike driver from the hotel was really nice about it, and I paid him.
Now the worry began. If I never received that email from Mr. Malay Crusader, I’d still be most likely on Twitter condemning the terrorists, and explaining how nervous I was that I had to take a crap.
That all changed. I logged off and dug in deep. Now where is the fucking valium when you need it?
Sleep eventually came and so did the morning.
I missed the shootout between security forces and the insurgents.
Then Mr. Malay Crusader asks me if I’d like to stick around and document the aftermath.
Not on your dear life. Not even if you get the insurgent’s endorsement.
One bomb was more than enough for me.
I’ve never heard of Mr. Malay Crusader since I refused to meet up with him.
‘But he saved your life,’ said one sympathiser.
Fuck, he put it in jeopardy, especially since he knew where the bomb was going to go off. He had inside information.
He acted like he was the one who was inconvenienced with deadly bombs and insurgents on his back. I wanted to remind him, I was the one who took it for the team, not him.
A Dirty Little War can be purchased on Amazon.