BANGKOK - A car bomb exploded on Friday outside a hotel in insurgency-wracked southern Thailand, killing three people and wounding 36 others, police said.
Firefighters were seen battling to extinguish the blaze in the town of Betong in Yala province as a plume of black smoke rose from the blast site.
Police inspected the mangled remains of what appeared to be the car used in the attack, almost completely destroyed by the explosion.
"A car bomb went off in front of Holiday Hill Hotel at around 4pm (0900 GMT)", Lieutenant Colonel Sophon Saisuree told AFP by telephone.
Of the wounded, three were in critical condition, he said.
According to a Reuters report, at least one of the injured was a Malaysian.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but suspicion was likely to fall on Muslim insurgents waging a decade-long campaign against the Thai state.
More than 6,100 people have been killed in near-daily bombings and shootings in the Muslim-majority region near Thailand's southern border with Malaysia since 2004.
Buddhists and Muslims alike fall victim to the shadowy insurgents, who target security forces, civilians and perceived representatives of state authority.
Peace talks between some rebel factions and the Thai authorities stalled as a political crisis erupted in Bangkok last year, culminating in a coup in May by the army chief General Prayut Chan-O-Cha.
The militants have demanded a level of autonomy from Thailand.
Police said they had been on heightened alert for possible attacks in the region towards the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
Despite the increased vigilance, the authorities admitted that they were taken by surprise by the magnitude of the attack.
"We did not expect unrest to cause as much damage in Betong as this," said Colonel Banphot Phunphian, spokesman for the military's Internal Security Operations Command.
"These are the last three days of Ramadan so General Prayut ordered us to keep an especially 'close eye' on the situation in the south," he added.