Malaysian officials are banking on more Thai tourists hopping on a new fast train to cross the border into their country, although Kelantan state police are telling citizens to be careful when traveling to Thailand because of violence in its troubled south.
Representatives of Malaysia’s Ministry of Tourism and Culture gathered with Thai officials and tour agents last week in Songkhla, a border province in Thailand’s far south, to unveil the “Southern Thai Packages to Malaysia” travel program featuring low train fares to Kuala Lumpur.
The packages promote travel on the fast and direct KTM train from the railway station in southern Thailand’s Hat Yai town to the Malaysian capital.
But Hasanuddin Hassan, the police chief of Kelantan, a Malaysian state that lies just across the border, on Wednesday warned local residents about crossing the frontier into Thailand’s Deep South because of ongoing turmoil there.
“We do not want any unwanted incidents like that of a Kelantanese who was fatally hit by a stray bullet in Tak Bai,” he told the state news agency Bernama. “The situation is still not peaceful and there are still blasts and shots which pose a danger to the public.”
Thai media reported that Kelantan resident Wan Mohd Zain Wan Hussin was fatally shot Sunday night when suspected insurgents attacked a security checkpoint in Tak Bai, a district of Narathiwat, one of the provinces that make up the Deep South. Since 2004, Nearly 7,000 people have been killed in violence associated with a separatist insurgency in the predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking region.
Malaysia’s Consul-General to Thailand urged his countrymen to be careful when crossing the border.
“I would like to advise Malaysians who want to enter Thailand to use legitimate documents. This is important to avoid being detained by their authorities,” Mohd Afandi Abu Bakar told BenarNews.
Special train fares
Meanwhile, five major Thai travel agencies have joined the promotional campaign that features a base package priced at 4,200 baht (U.S. $126). Malaysian officials expect that Thais will want to visit attractions including the Genting Highlands, the Cameron Highlands, Penang Island, Langkawee Island, Ipoh and the capital, Kuala Lumpur.
“Our target number of Thai tourists to Malaysia this year is 1.8 million people,” Iskandar Mirza M. Yusof, director of corporate communications for the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, told BenarNews. The figure represents a slight increase from 1.78 million visitors in 2016 and about half the number of Malaysians who visited Thailand, 3.5 million, according to officials.
“The train goes directly to Kuala Lumpur,” Yusof said, adding that travelers can avoid potential traffic jams in reaching the capital city.
Suthida Doloh, from Thailand’s Yala province, told BenarNews that she enjoyed her train trip with friends to Kuala Lumpur in April.
“It was fast, only five hours to KL, convenient and I had great views of historical towns along the way. It was a great fun and I would like to make it again,” Suthida said.
Hadi Azmi and Hata Wahari in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.