Popular resort town with royal heritage left shaken

Thai members of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) wearing a bomb suit inspect the scene where a bomb exploded in the Patong beach area, Phuket province, southern Thailand, on Aug 12.
Thai members of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) wearing a bomb suit inspect the scene where a bomb exploded in the Patong beach area, Phuket province, southern Thailand, on Aug 12.PHOTO: EPA

HUA HIN • An elegant resort town with royal heritage, Hua Hin looked more like a war zone than a tourist hot spot yesterday, with bodies in the streets and blood on pavements after a series of deadly attacks.

"This sort of thing does not happen here in Hua Hin," said Mr Kevin Mcbeath, an Australian retiree who, like many residents of the upmarket town some 200km south of Bangkok, was shaken by the fatal attacks.

"(It is a) nice quiet place to retire, a lot of expats here," he said, adding that the bombings were "not good at all" for the holiday destination.

Both Thais and foreign tourists often flock to the peaceful town known for its chic hotels and pristine beaches. The area was busier than usual on Thursday, the eve of Queen Sirikit's birthday, a major public holiday in Thailand.

"I was a bit shocked," said Danish tourist Peter Klinge Kryger, 65.

"It is my holiday - I don't want to stay in my room every day," he said, adding that he did not plan to let the bombings ruin his one-month trip.

German, Italian, Dutch and Austrian nationals were among the wounded, according to staff at local hospitals, after the blasts tore through the popular main strip next to the beach. The explosions were part of a string of apparently coordinated bombings across the country.

Hua Hin is home to the revered royal family's summer palace, Klai Kangwon (Far From Worries) - and has long been a favourite retreat for King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world's longest-reigning monarch.

The 88-year-old is currently hospitalised in Bangkok for a number of health issues, a source of anxiety for many Thais and a key factor in the kingdom's past decade of political turmoil.

That the bombings struck on the eve of Queen Sirikit's birthday made the attacks even more of a direct affront to the arch-royalist military government, analysts said.

A parade marking the birthday went ahead yesterday, just a few hundred metres from the first blast site. Hours later, the second set of bombs went off.

"I was in the middle of the road. I heard an explosion, then a second one. Then I saw a body on the ground," said Agence France-Presse photographer Munir Uz Zaman.

After the second blast, Hua Hin's streets emptied, and shops and restaurants closed, with the authorities announcing new security measures. The night market, a tourist favourite, was also closed yesterday.

"I am not really scared - I am more afraid I won't have any foreign clients," said 58-year-old taxi driver Wichai Chaona. "I saw many foreign tourists leaving already."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 13, 2016, with the headline 'Popular resort town with royal heritage left shaken'. Print Edition | Subscribe