Apr 07 2012

Cycling from Bangkok to Singapore: On cycling through the far south

Published by at 6:12 pm under Bangkok to Singapore by bike

As Gaby and I were planning this trip we knew that we would have to transit the south of Thailand, which has suffered from an on-again, off-again insurgency for almost a decade. Like most insurgencies, this one doesn’t have much to do with outsiders, and foreigners haven’t been targets specifically because they are foreigners. That said, it’s important to remember that collateral damage is just a nicer name for being in the wrong time at the wrong place. Originally, we wanted to travel south through Pattani and Yala. They both have some amazing beaches and I was interested to see how ethnically-Malay Thais fit into the country.

Sunrise in Songkhla

Sunrise in Songkhla.

After talking to friends from the area, journalists who have worked in the southern provinces, and reviewing the most recent news, it looked like the safest way through the south was to stick to the highways and avoid secondary roads. Highways make for terrible cycling. None of the beaches were on the highways. All of the interesting villages and back country would be inaccessible on the highway.

Beautiful, but probably inaccessible.

Beautiful, but probably inaccessible.

A quandary, indeed. At the time, I felt like some of the warnings we had received were overblown and full of hyperbole (one person advised us the southern provinces were “just as bad as Afghanistan” which is clearly not even remotely true) but I was cycling with Gaby, and while I’m fairly brave (read: reckless and kind of dumb) when on my own, dragging someone else into your own bad decisions is an entirely different matter. We decided the southernmost provinces would have to wait, and we’d proceed south via Songkhla and Hat Yai and cross the peninsula to Penang as a consolation prize.

On March 31, the day after we left Hat Yai and the day that we would have been in Yala had we gone our original route, car bombs exploded killing 14 and injuring hundreds, one in Hat Yai and two in Yala. I doubt we would have been anywhere close to the areas targeted, but we could have been. I’d been into the building that was bombed in Hat Yai on a previous trip. Since then, many foreign governments have advised against non-essential travel to the southern provinces — advice that at present, seems reasonable, but it will stale with time and seem less compelling when the memory of a blown up McDonalds isn’t so fresh. Should you go to the South? It is beautiful, and interesting, and important to try and understand the region, but it is a risk. All of life, and all travel, has risks.

Pick carefully.

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