Thailand’s troubled South seeks to woo tourists

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BF9A7ASPHVCome visit us – that is the plea from local authorities in Thailand’s restive south to international tourists.

The region, comprising the provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat, has been plagued by violence for the past 10 years – and is understandably not on the top of visitors’ lists in Thailand.

The predominantly Muslim area suffers from regular bomb attacks and shootings by separatist groups fighting for autonomy from the central Bangkok government. The so-called “Deep South” has heavy advisory warnings from Western countries, and all unnecessary travel is not recommended.

The province of Narathiwat only receives around 50,000 visitors a year – mostly comprising of short-stay visitors from Malaysia. But authorities there are hoping to change all this as they try and lure tourists to its unspoiled beaches – even if roadblocks and blast shelters feature quite prominently along its roads.

“We plan to use word-of-mouth to encourage tourists to come of their own accord,” said Ahman Mad-Adam, Director, Tourism Authority of Thailand, Narathiwat Office. “We will then support, for example, by encouraging Muslim visitors to experience the culture of the three southern provinces.”

Part of that culture is a vibrant Muslim community – and the largest Da’Wah center in Thailand. “It can be a center,” said Pongsak Yingchoncharoen, Mayor of Yala. “We need to translate this into a cultural destination and then we will be able to draw in visitors from across the Islamic world.”

But even key sites like the 500-year-old Krue Se mosque are vacant following a massacre in 2004 that left 32 guerrilla insurgents dead. Meanwhile to attract local Thai visitors, authorities are trying something different – they plan to organise music events by popular Thai acts.

“We must accept that there is violence, but we hope that celebrities, those with a large fan base, can help attract people here and show them that Yala is not as portrayed in the news,” said Mayor Pongsak.

But getting to the southern provinces remains cumbersome: There are currently no direct flights to the area, and the recently renewed train service has been cancelled as attacks on the local railway have been stepped up.

Local communities however, are unfazed by the violence, even gathering in the open to watch a boat race between locals and the military. “We still live our lives as normal,” said Sukanya Yubadee, Narathiwat resident. “People outside of the South may think that there are bombs all the time, but it is actually very safe here.”

Yet the region is still a fundamentally dangerous place. Hotel operators continue to struggle; the largest hotel in Yala, Chang Li hotel, had to be closed down due to bomb attacks. And encouraging tourists to the region remains a difficult task.

“Now it is impossible to sell tours (to the border provinces) because of the ongoing unrest” said tour operator Pornchai Maliban. “But if we begin to promote the area as a tourist destination it could be an interesting package.”

 

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Reading Time: 2 minutes

Come visit us – that is the plea from local authorities in Thailand’s restive south to international tourists.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

BF9A7ASPHVCome visit us – that is the plea from local authorities in Thailand’s restive south to international tourists.

The region, comprising the provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat, has been plagued by violence for the past 10 years – and is understandably not on the top of visitors’ lists in Thailand.

The predominantly Muslim area suffers from regular bomb attacks and shootings by separatist groups fighting for autonomy from the central Bangkok government. The so-called “Deep South” has heavy advisory warnings from Western countries, and all unnecessary travel is not recommended.

The province of Narathiwat only receives around 50,000 visitors a year – mostly comprising of short-stay visitors from Malaysia. But authorities there are hoping to change all this as they try and lure tourists to its unspoiled beaches – even if roadblocks and blast shelters feature quite prominently along its roads.

“We plan to use word-of-mouth to encourage tourists to come of their own accord,” said Ahman Mad-Adam, Director, Tourism Authority of Thailand, Narathiwat Office. “We will then support, for example, by encouraging Muslim visitors to experience the culture of the three southern provinces.”

Part of that culture is a vibrant Muslim community – and the largest Da’Wah center in Thailand. “It can be a center,” said Pongsak Yingchoncharoen, Mayor of Yala. “We need to translate this into a cultural destination and then we will be able to draw in visitors from across the Islamic world.”

But even key sites like the 500-year-old Krue Se mosque are vacant following a massacre in 2004 that left 32 guerrilla insurgents dead. Meanwhile to attract local Thai visitors, authorities are trying something different – they plan to organise music events by popular Thai acts.

“We must accept that there is violence, but we hope that celebrities, those with a large fan base, can help attract people here and show them that Yala is not as portrayed in the news,” said Mayor Pongsak.

But getting to the southern provinces remains cumbersome: There are currently no direct flights to the area, and the recently renewed train service has been cancelled as attacks on the local railway have been stepped up.

Local communities however, are unfazed by the violence, even gathering in the open to watch a boat race between locals and the military. “We still live our lives as normal,” said Sukanya Yubadee, Narathiwat resident. “People outside of the South may think that there are bombs all the time, but it is actually very safe here.”

Yet the region is still a fundamentally dangerous place. Hotel operators continue to struggle; the largest hotel in Yala, Chang Li hotel, had to be closed down due to bomb attacks. And encouraging tourists to the region remains a difficult task.

“Now it is impossible to sell tours (to the border provinces) because of the ongoing unrest” said tour operator Pornchai Maliban. “But if we begin to promote the area as a tourist destination it could be an interesting package.”

 

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