Thailand bombs unnerve tourists, and sap industry confidence

HUA HIN, Thailand — An hour before midnight, Andrea Tazzioli was fetching his own birthday cake, looking forward to celebrating with friends in this balmy beach resort town, a world away from his stressful military work in Afghanistan.

Then the bomb went off.

"I saw light, white light, big explosion and immediately it hurts here in my shoulder, like big fire. And I go down on the floor in blood. Everyone was screaming, the glass broken, table broken, confusion," the Italian said Friday from a Hua Hin hospital bed, a place he never expected to turn 51.

While Tazzioli recovered from blast wounds, other tourists huddled in their hotel rooms, locked down after bombs exploded in at least five areas of Thailand, including popular beach cities, killing at least four people and wounding dozens more.

British vacationer Darren Hilling was lounging by his hotel pool in Hua Hin when a pair of blasts shook the Friday morning calm, "quite loud, sounded very close to here."

Those attacks killed one person and wounded three. The Thursday night blast in which Tazzioli was hurt also killed a street vendor and wounded 20 other people in this beach city about 200 kilometers (120 miles) southwest of Bangkok. The 24 injured included Thais, three Germans and other visitors from Italy, Austria and the Netherlands.

Overnight and into Friday, bombs also went off on Phuket's Loma Beach in southern Thailand and the southern provinces of Trang, Surat Thani and Phang Nga. One person was killed in the Trang blast, which occurred Thursday, and another was killed in the Surat Thani attack on Friday morning.

Police said it was too soon to say who was behind the attacks, but added that they have ruled out international terrorism or a long-running insurgency in the country's Islamic south.

Phuket in particular is frequented by millions of European, Chinese and Thai tourists each year who come to swim in the warm, azure sea, party at the open air night clubs and explore tropical rainforests. The other towns hit are less prominent international destinations but still popular among Thais and many foreigners.

Even as police searched for suspects and fears of more bombs continued, locals said the explosions will be a blow to tourism, a critical source of income. Governments including the U.S., Germany, Australia and Britain advised their citizens traveling in Thailand to take precautions.

Henrik Buuz, 62, of Denmark sipped beer in a Hua Hin hotel lobby Friday. He said that while he might not have taken security seriously in the past, he no longer felt safe. Streets were eerily quiet for the beginning of a three-day holiday.

"No, no, no, no. Now we don't think it's funny anymore," said Buuz, as bomb-sniffing dogs patrolled nearby beaches.

Tourism already suffered a setback nearly a year ago after a bomb blast ripped through a Bangkok shrine, killing 20 people, mostly visitors from other Asian countries.

Friday's attacks were a new blow.

"This ruins business. Hotels, restaurants, tours, we were already suffering, but this, it's going to ruin our lives," said Hua Hin Adventure Tours guide Natsupa Dechapanya.

Natsupa raced Friday from hotel to hotel, visiting clients and warning them not to go outside, especially where people gather. She was also fielding cancellation calls, although she was staying away from her office, opposite a clock tower where Friday's bombs went off.

"I'm scared. It's bad," she said. "We think of this as a safe town, but now everyone is fearful."

Thailand's economy has struggled since a 2014 military coup; investors grew wary and have stayed away, but tourists came back, even after last year's shrine bombing. More than 14 million people visited between January and May 2016 — up from 12.5 million the year before, according to the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Earlier attacks have been tied to political turmoil. The latest explosions came less than a week after voters approved a new, junta-backed constitution. Friday was a national holiday in Thailand marking the Queen's birthday, also Mother's Day.

Sirasit Teimtontanin, a manager at City Beach Resort in Hua Hin, said one of Friday's explosions went off about 300 meters from the front door. Stores, shopping malls and movie theaters were closed. More than 15 rooms had been canceled within hours.

"We've never had anything like this in our city," he said.

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AP writer Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, and video journalist Jerry Harmer in Hua Hin, Thailand, contributed to this report. Mendoza reported from Bangkok.

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Follow Martha Mendoza on Twitter: @mendozamartha

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