Last week's extraordinary warning to Malaysian men about travelling to Thailand went largely unnoticed. It came from authorities in Perak state, not from the central government. It did not mention the violence in the deep South. Rather, the caution was that men were increasingly returning from the deep South with HIV infections. It reminded would-be tourists bound for Thailand that precautions are available and probably necessary.
Thailand hosts more than 2 million Malaysians a year _ many of them satisfied, repeat visitors. The vast majority of Malaysian tourists cross the land border in the Thai South. Few venture more than 50 kilometres from the border _ the distance to Hat Yai city in Songkhla province. And they don't visit Thailand for the Buddhist culture or the Thai food.
To most Thais, destinations like Sadao, Betong and Sungai Kolok bring up images of recent history, the Muslim South and shopping. To those Malaysian men targetted by the recent travel warning, the mention of these Thailand destinations brings up entirely different images. Most of the potential Malaysian visitors to the Thai border region think of liquor, discos and _ especially _ women.
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