If someone were to visit the Thai island of Ko Phi Phi with no knowledge of the tsunami in 2004, they might not ever notice that it was the scene of real devastation. The natural beauty, the wonderful people and the island atomosphere are well intact. Though the final toll may never be known, 75% of the buildings were destroyed and about 2000 people were killed in the tsunami, including about 1200 that are listed as missing. Wikipedia has more info.
Ko Phi Phi has a rather vulnerable geographic position that caused both sides of the most populated area to be hit by the wave. This video simulation shows how the wave hit. The biggest concentration of people was in the tiny isthmus (150 meters wide) between the two islands at the top.
Just as you get off the pier at Ton Sai beach, you notice some fields to the left with no buildings. Before the tsunami, these fields had high end bungalows, all of which were destroyed and/or swept away. This photo is looking aross the isthmus looking between Ton Sai Beach towards Loh Dalam Bay where resorts and bungalows used to be.
As you might imagine, there are signs and warning systems everywhere now.
Apparently the relief effort was centered at Carlito's Bar, which is down the beach a few hundred meters and spared. We heard a story that Carlito himself perished while trying to save others. We met an American that owns a group of used book stores (D's Books) and he showed us the level where the water came into his store (though he didn't own it then).
Despite some controversy, reconstruction is well underway. We found the island to be clean and mostly debris free.
There are sure signs of quick recovery, though, as visitors, we can only know so much. Last night we walked by the small school grounds and there was some sort of festival going on. About 75 kids were all dancing in the courtyard under lights and corporate sponsored tents, surely donated for relief. The kids were having such fun, dancing and horsing around- smiles everywhere. I couldn't help but wonder what mark the tsunami might have left on these kids and how they are coping. Like everyone that lives here, I'm sure the scars will take a while to heal, but for last night and for our whole time here, people seem to be more focused on the future than the past. Seeing those kids so happy gave me a good feeling that recovery, in a number of forms, is well underway.
If you're thinking of going to Phi Phi, we highly recommend it. Your tourist dollars do a lot for the local economy and it is an incredibly beautiful place. This is a panorama of Loh Dalam Bay:
I think we overdosed on the Internet access in Japan, as we always had a connection in our room. I could revert to my habitual surfing. Once we landed in Thailand, I had an Internet hangover and I haven't shared pictures in a while, so this is a chance to catch up a bit.
It's rather strange to return to a place like Thailand or Phuket. My camera doesn't seem to be drawn to the same things. The world is not uniquely new to me, like it is for the first visit. Nevertheless, it is still a wonderful place to be.
We spent a few days in Bangkok, at our old home at the Asia Hotel. If anyone wants to see some Thai quirk, go there any night for dinner (MRT Stop: Ratchatewi). The Elvis impersonator is there nightly and is fun to watch.
You can see from the sweat the he's working hard. Speaking of sweat, the traffic police must have the hottest job in Bangkok, complete with face mask:
Even the dogs can hardly stay awake.
Next was Phuket, where we met Kris and Robert (and tried to get certified for diving). We went to a Thai boxing match with them and here is Robert with "the champ", who is actually only there for pictures.
Since Phuket doesn't really do it for us, we decided to replace the days that I would have been learning to dive with a few days on Phi Phi Island (Known for beautiful scenery, the movie "The Beach" and tsunami devastation). Kris and Robert are hopefully going to come meet us here after Kris is certified. We really hope they do, as Phi Phi is another world compared to Phuket.
Being a secluded island, we thought Phi Phi might be too expensive, too crowded and not what we want, but we've found it to be very cool and a good value. It has the laid-back island vibe and it is an amazingly beautiful place.
I plan to write more about the tsunami's effect on Phi Phi soon. It really seems that the island has fully recovered. In fact, this little guy makes me wonder if tiny aliens have not invaded recently.