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I'm planning to travel by land from Langkawi to Ko Samui (which would include ferry to Satun, bus to Hat Yai and train to Surat Thani), but in Thai Railway Guide (effective 24th May 2014) we can read a scary warning about the violence:

Travel Warning - Southern Thailand

There are almost daily incidents of politically motivated violence in the far south including arson, bombings and shootings. Targets have included civilians and members of the security forces, government offices, tourist hotels, discotheques and bars, shops, marketplaces, supermarkets, schools, transport infrastructure and trains in the provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and in the Sadao district of Songkhla province. Since 2004, over 3,500 people have been killed and several thousand more injured. Security authorities can detain suspects without charge, censor the media, conduct searches and seize documents. The British Foreign Office and the United States Department of State recommend only essential travel should be made between Hat Yai Junction and Sungai Kolok. They also advise using hotels outside of Hat Yai’s central business district. Rail travel via Padang Besar has not been subject to attacks and is considered safe.

Therefore, I'm asking which parts of Southern Thailand are safe from violence (arson, bombings and shootings)?

Also in above warning, it's advised to use hotels outside of Hat Yai’s central business district where actually I'm planning to stay over the night in Hat Yai city central. Is it really the case? I thought staying in central city supposed to be safer than in rural areas.


Related:

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TL;DR: All routes you're likely to use are tolerably safe.

Broadly speaking, the insurgency affects only the eastern bits of southern Thailand: Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat. However, all 'standard' backpacker routes from Langkawi to Thailand, including the main train line via Padang Besar, go through the western side, not through any of those provinces.

Hat Yai is targeted because it's the largest city in the South, but then again, Bangkok has also been targeted, although the jury is still out on whether southern insurgents were responsible. Most bombings in Hat Yai have targeted places where Malaysian tourists come to cavort with Thai prostitutes (karaoke bars, rent-by-the-hour hotels, etc), so if you avoid this profile, odds are high you'll be OK. The vast majority of the "daily" attacks mentioned target Thai military and police security forces, not random passersby, much less foreign tourists.

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Very few tourists have been killed or injured during the many years of southern insurgency. The violent acts target security forces (police, soldiers, village volunteers), government officials and school teachers. The tourists that have been injured or killed were all visiting the eastern side of the isthmus. As jpatokal mentioned your route travels up the west side of the Kra Isthmus.

Ultimately you are putting yourself at greater risk by taking a bus, as more civilians (and tourists) are killed in bus crashes each year, than by insurgents. And if you are thinking about renting a scooter, three times as many people are killed in scooter crashes per year than the total number killed by insurgents since 2004.

The risk from insurgents is not something to worry about, other than the usual common sense precautions when traveling.

  • Have there been (non-Malaysian) tourists injured or killed on the east side? I wasn't aware on any deaths outside the linked Bangkok case and (IIRC) some backpacker staying in the wrong Hat Yai hotel at the wrong time. – lambshaanxy Nov 11 '14 at 4:43
  • Tourists are tourists whether they are from Malaysia or Australia. And there have been some unfortunate deaths when bombs went at or near hotels (and not all have been by the hour places). – user13044 Nov 11 '14 at 5:16
  • Most Malaysians visiting southern Thailand are either relatives of locals (the area was effectively Malay until 1909, hence the current troubles), cross-border shoppers or sex tourists (primarily in Hat Yai); the travel profiles of all three groups are quite different from the average Australian tourist. – lambshaanxy Nov 11 '14 at 10:46
  • They are still "tourists" in any sense of the word. And I hate to burst your nationalistic bubble, but there are plenty of Australians in the girly bars looking for an all night companion. – user13044 Nov 11 '14 at 11:53
  • In Bangkok and Pattaya? Sure. In Hat Yai? Not so much! – lambshaanxy Nov 11 '14 at 22:20

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