About Southern Thailand
Culturally the southern peninsula of Thailand has been shaped by influences different from those affecting the rest of the Kingdom. Most factors influencing the region's art, language, religion and other traditions have come from Malaysia and Indonesia, beginning with the ancient Srivijaya empire. That dynasty is said to have begun in the 8th century and lasted about five hundred years.
Islam, which is found throughout Thailand, is most strongly established in the southern provinces. The technology of growing and extracting rubber came from Malaysia, along with many Muslim Malay people already skilled in this knowledge. Many early Muslim emigrants made their living from the sea and they settled in coastal areas. Many islands, especially on the Andaman Sea side of the peninsula, were occupied by Muslim people and by the Chao Ley, the nomadic 'sea gypsies.'
As recently as the 1970s and '80s, Muslim separatists were active, especially in the provinces on the lower east side of the peninsula. Wisely, the Thai government has largely diffused this movement by building more roads, schools and hospitals throughout the region. It has replaced corrupt or inefficient administrators with ones more attuned to the needs of the Muslim people. This remains an ongoing process.
After the tragic events of September 11, 2001, there was a general perception that Muslim countries were not very safe for tourism. This included Indonesia and, rightly or wrongly, Malaysia. Thailand has remained largely unaffected by this changing perception. Tourists report no anti-western sentiment while traveling in the southern provinces. Roy led a number of tours to destinations with largely Muslim populations. He did not encounter any negative attitudes or behavior toward him as a foreigner before or after the 9/11. This held true even on islands that were almost 100% Muslim. Though the Kingdom has been Buddhist for more than a millennium, the governments for several hundred years have maintained a policy of tolerance toward other religions. Southern Thailand today is rightly perceived as a safe place to visit.
The Thai government is promoting tourism with all its energy and resources. Each year there are more people in our favorite areas. But with kayaks we can get away from other tourists within a few minutes even when the bungalows are full. The trends are clear; if you are considering Thailand's natural beauty as a holiday destination, see it now, don't delay.
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