Along the beach fronts of Thailand’s west coast, towering multimillion-dollar luxury hotels compete for space with pastel mansions overlooking the warm, turquoise Indian Ocean. Range Rovers and Mercedes cruise the resort’s nightlife strip, booming techno and rap and stopping to pick up partiers headed for discos and high-end bars. Farther north sprawl golf courses hemmed in by luxury gated communities. Tourists from Japan, Germany, England, the United States, Australia, and many other countries head down narrow roads to the water, where masseuses trawl for customers and beachside bars serve up beers and Johnnie Walker.
Yet just 200 miles away from this lush, wealthy scene, in a more rural part of the country, a far different daily routine is taking place. Most days, before the sun even sets, violence will shatter any sense of calm. Armed insurgents blow massive holes in the roads with IEDs. When the insurgents seize officials, teachers, or even ordinary rubber plantation workers believed to have sympathies with the national government, they behead them and leave their decapitated bodies in public places. They warn residents to obey a strict form of Islam and not to cooperate with the government. Fighters storm buses and strafe them with gunfire, killing young children, and firebomb primary schools, leaving charred remains and prompting schoolteachers to pack pistols in the classroom.