One of the explosions damaged the Golden Mermaid statue in Songkhla province while the second took place 300 metres away near another statue. Another three explosive devices were found nearby and destroyed.

In this Thursday, Oct. 22, 2009, file photo, a soldier patrols with a mobile explosive detector GT 200 at a hotel in Cha-Am, a resort town in southern Thailand.
In this Thursday, Oct. 22, 2009, file photo, a soldier patrols with a mobile explosive detector GT 200 at a hotel in Cha-Am, a resort town in southern Thailand. (AP Archive)

Two small bombs exploded at a popular beach in southern Thailand, one of them damaging an iconic statue beloved by tourists, police said.

Police in Songkhla province said they're looking into whether the bombs late Wednesday were related to a separatist insurgency that has wracked nearby provinces since 2004, taking almost 7,000 lives.

One of the explosions damaged the Golden Mermaid statue, which is an unofficial symbol of the province, said police Lt. Gen. Ronnasilp Phusara. The other took place about 300 metres (yards) away, near the beach's Cat and Mouse sculpture.

More explosives 

Police said a bomb disposal squad discovered and destroyed three other explosive devices found near a trash area and under rocks near the Golden Mermaid statue.

The insurgency has mostly affected the three southernmost provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat, which have Muslim majorities in predominantly Buddhist Thailand. Songkhla, with a substantial Muslim population, has generally been spared the violence, though its biggest city, Hat Yai, has suffered several bombings.

Although terrorism is not considered a major problem in Thailand, tourist spots have been sporadically targeted since 2006, when a series of bombs were set off in Bangkok at New Year's Eve gatherings, killing three people and wounding more than three dozen.

Not a new problem

In 2016, bomb explosions in five beach towns popular with tourists killed four people and wounded dozens.

In both cases, southern separatists were suspected but responsibility was never definitively established.

Thailand's most spectacular attack in recent years occurred at the Erawan Shrine in the centre of Bangkok's tourist district in August 2015. Twenty people, mostly foreign tourists, were killed and more than 100 hurt.

South Korean tourists found dead

The bodies of two South Korean men who drowned while golfing in northern Thailand have been found, police said Thursday, after their wives' buggy collided with their own, knocking them into a river.

The group were on a ferry preparing to cross the river that runs through the course when the men - who were in one buggy - were accidentally rammed by their wives in another.

The impact threw them all into the muddy waters, said district police Lieutenant Colonel Suwat Suawatmontri.

The women were promptly rescued by nearby fishermen.

More than 50 rescue workers from the military and police were involved in the search for the missing men - Sung Jun-yong, 68, and Ha Jae-oong, 76. 

One body was found last night about 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) from the accident site, while the other was discovered by villagers Thursday morning "floating near a temple", Suwat said. 

"Their wives said both are able to swim but I think the cause of drowning was the strong undercurrent," he added.

The two couples arrived in Thailand on Christmas Eve for a holiday. 

Thailand typically draws more than 35 million visitors each year.

But tourism took a hit in 2018 after a ferry carrying Chinese tourists in southern Thailand sank in July, bringing a death toll to 47 people. 

The accident, which highlighted lax safety rules in the tourism sector, left Chinese tourists wary and caused an immediate drop in visitor numbers.

Thai authorities have been scrambling to remake the country's image since then, reacting swiftly to any issues facing tourists, especially from China.