DANOK - Once the domain of Thai triads, Malaysian gangs are believed to have muscled in to turn a portion of the town into their own turf.
The New Straits Times recently spent three days at the border town and were told that these businessmen were running pubs, massage parlours and safe havens for criminals fleeing Malaysian authorities.
Safety in numbers seems to be the order of the day, as these outlets were usually next to each other.
There were many lookouts, many of them heavily tattooed but light on their feet as they zoomed through the streets on motorcycles.
A source familiar with the underworld here said some Malaysian gangs were working with local gangs to run their businesses.
"The local underworld gets a cut. Business is thriving so much. You can see for yourself how fast Danok has developed in the last five years."
Until recently, Danok used to be littered with small budget hotels built with wood and zinc. Today, a guest is spoiled for choice with the many fairly big hotels. Rates are low, with accommodation at a "high-end" hotel going for less than RM100 a night.
Some throw in breakfast, while some have the convenience of go-go bars, karaoke and massage parlours just outside the hotel's doors. There are also hotels that entice guests by supplying free adult channels.
Enter a hotel and pimps, each taking care of his territory, would jostle for a guest's money by offering massage and sex services.
Danok, it seems, has benefited from the ongoing turmoil in other parts of southern Thailand.
"Many Malaysians choose to stay in Danok, so, a lot more investment in businesses was made here. That is why you see the rapid development of hotels and other entertainment outlets."
So popular is Danok now that Padang Besar, an hour's ride away, has lost its appeal to tourists.
"Nothing happens in Padang Besar at night, unlike before. Just compare it with the nightlife in Danok now."
Entertainment outlets have also diversified to meet the varied interests of clients. Dangdut and reggae joints co-exist with Indian pubs, for example.
Some of the massage parlours have also put up a more presentable facade that rivals the spas in major towns like Kuala Lumpur.
A source said some Malaysian gang members had married Thai women to legitimise their businesses.
"They are known to shelter criminals who fled Malaysia and want things to cool down after committing a crime."
It was reported on Sept 7 nine suspected hitmen from the notorious 04 and 08 gangs were arrested while trying to flee to Thailand.
The suspects, from Kedah, Perak and Selangor, were detained at the Bukit Kayu Hitam Customs, Immigration and Quarantine complex.
Bukit Aman anti-vice, gambling and secret societies division (D7) principal assistant director Datuk Abdul Jalil Hassan had said the suspects were trying to leave the country because of Op Cantas Khas, the nationwide crackdown on crime.
Jalil said all suspects had triad tattoos on the body and the men had admitted that they were members of secret societies from Kedah, Perak and Selangor.
At the same time, Kedah police also arrested three men and seized a pistol, parang and drugs from a house in Taman Permai, Sungai Petani.
The suspects, aged between 24 and 35, were members of Gang 35. One of them, known as "Mandela", was high on the wanted list.
Kedah police chief Datuk Ahmad Ibrahim said police had arrested two other suspects in Langkawi.
In Kota Baru, a gang member from Klang was arrested in Rantau Panjang earlier this month while attempting to flee to Golok.
The 37-year-old man from Pandamaran later admitted to police that he was a member of Gang 21.