Thailand: Khao Lak & Tsunami

Michael and I traveled to Thailand as part of our 2007 career break. The following is an excerpt from our travel blog.

[singlepic=560,250,,,right]From West Railay we decided that our next port of call and home base would be Khao Lak, which is situated just 70km north of Phuket. All we knew about Khao Lak was it was a great starting point for dive trips to the Similan Islands and that it was the area of Thailand most affected by the December 2004 tsunami.

Curiosity factor did play in part to us staying here, as we wanted to learn and understand more how that tragic day affected the community. One of our first stops was to the Tsunami Volunteer Center, where we got more details about the “numbers” (of the almost 9,000 people killed in Thailand, nearly 5,000 were from this area alone) as well as the various sustainable projects they have set up in response to the immediate and long-term affects of that day. They also provided us some information on some of the “landmarks” that are still there, showing the physical signs of the devastation. We would later spend a day on scooter doing a self-guided tour (see slideshow).

And from our dive instructors, we heard their experiences from that day and got some insight into the development of the area. From our standpoint, having just arrived, it seemed as if it was a thriving resort town, with dozens of beach side bungalow resorts, numerous restaurants & bars, a plethora of tailor shops and high-end hotels quickly being built up the coast for miles. But we were told that even in 2002, the town had barely any hotels, one bar and one restaurant. It was more of a stop to get to the Similans.

[singlepic=571,200,,,right]But development began to pick-up prior to the tsunami, as visitors were looking for a quiet alternative to Phuket. That day, nearly a third of those who lost their lives were tourists.

I found that when those who lived through that tragedy are asked about it, there is a pause to their response, as if a high-speed slide show of what they saw and felt runs through their heads. And a sadness creeps into their eyes. Having watched the towers fall from across the Hudson River on September 11 and volunteering for a month with the Salvation Army, I could understand a little bit of how they felt.

But unlike 9-11, they had to live with thousands of bodies lying everywhere for at least five days, with no electricity, gas or running water. If you needed to go out in the dark for some reason, it was best to memorize the path around bodies. As one person put it, she hopes that “no one I love ever has to experience something as horrible as that event.”

[singlepic=577,250,,,left]And even though building eventually began and tourists continue to come in numbers, many of the local people are afraid to live by the sea and for those whose livelihood is the sea (fishermen) it’s even more difficult. The same holds true up the coast in Kuraburi, were we would do our home-stay. One woman who was working at a resort by the water told us how she was whisked out to sea by the wave, where she managed to stay afloat for four hours. And she has even fought her fear of returning to the sea by taking diving lessons.

Immediate response projects have now evolved into sustaining ones and hopefully the affects of that day will turn into new opportunities for those affected.

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