As a preliminary matter, the author was presented with a number of warnings. The United States Department of State had issued travel warnings and advisories for Thailand generally, and for southern Thailand more particularly. Potential travelers were advised to be wary of political strife in Thailand; this was as a result of increasing political protests and rumors that a military coup was possible. Moreover, travelers were advised to avoid the southern provinces, bordering Malaysia, because of a series of bombings, the burning of schools, and civil unrest between the Muslim majority in these southern provinces and the Buddhist majority in the rest of the Kingdom of Thailand. For the most part, the author heeded this advice and scheduled most of the holiday for Bangkok and northern Thailand. However, the author also spent the final four days in the southern province of Songkla, and the experience clearly demonstrated that the people being demonized and chastised in the travel advisories were hardly dangerous or threatening. In fact, the southern Thais proved to have been extraordinarily hospitable, more diverse than a Muslim designation might have suggested, and quite eager to mingle and talk with foreign tourists.
First, the Muslim people in southern Thailand did not conform to stereotypes too often used to describe Muslim peoples and culture. The travel advisories had stirred the author's imagination. It was easy to imagine a southern Thailand replete with veiled women, mosques dotting the landscape, and suspicious gazes for tourists or other outsiders. The author's friends reinforced these stereotypes and cautioned, only half-jesting, that a kidnapping or a beheading might very well be around the corner. The reality couldn't have been more different. As an initial matter, the author was almost unable to distinguish Thai Muslims from Thai Buddhists. The shops and the streets were crowded with people wearing shorts, brand name shirts, baseball hats, and sunglasses. Veils could be detected only through the most diligent observation and a Muslim restaurant owner confided to the author that Thai Muslims enjoyed their pork and their alcohol. This lack of a strict devotion to the commonly understood protocols of Islam could be seen and experienced everywhere. Young Thai Muslim girls decorated their faces with make-up, heavily Thai Muslim districts had karaoke bars and advertised in English, and people went about their daily business just as they seem to do here in the United States. The author, in short, experienced a southern Thailand that was fundamentally at odds with the views of friends and the statements made prior to the trip in a variety of travel advisories. By immersing oneself in a foreign culture, it is easier to strip away stereotypes, whether romantic or fearful, and to better understand the people and their way of life.
Second, and quite surprising, the Thai Muslims did not view themselves as a separate nationality. One of the main reasons for the concerns of both friends and family was a firm belief that