Thailand tsunami wrap
First published 14th April, 2005
Thailand is slowly recovering from the tsunami that devastated the region on Boxing Day 2004 -- some areas far quicker than others. We were in Sri Lanka at the time of the tsunami and heard shocking reports of the devastation as we remained in the most affected Sri Lankan areas. Around the one month anniversary of the tsunami, we decided to follow-up on these reports and visited the three worst affected areas in Thailand -- Phuket, Khao Lak and Ko Phi Phi to see how the cleanup and reconstruction was going. Beach to beach the damage varied considerably as did the stages of reconstruction (if any). What we found were tremendous levels of destruction, matched only by the spirit of those affected to get back on their feet.
The Khao Lak area bore the full force of the tsunami, and of all the areas we saw in Thailand, this was the worst. Entire resorts no longer remain -- in some cases washed away by the tsunami, in others, the remains already bulldozed. As far as accommodation is concerned, the vast majority of hotels on Khao Lak, Bang Niang and Khuk Khak beaches have been either completely destroyed or reduced to concrete skeletons. There are a handful of places still open, with limited shopfront accommodation available on the far (eastern) side of the road (a couple of hundred metres from the water) and also a couple of hotels on the hill just before the damage, such as the Baan Krating Khao Lak Resort.
Ko Phi Phi
Like Khao Lak, Ko Phi Phi was severely damaged, particularly in the Tonsai Bay area, which has been badly gutted and flattened in places. When we visited, we were the only westerners on a ferry that would normally be carrying in excess of 100.
Despite the severe damage, several resorts on Ko Phi Phi remain open for business, both high-end and budget options are available and for a number of reasons this is an excellent time to go -- you'll be able to actively help in the cleanup, give badly needed financial support to the remaining resorts and be able to see some of Phi Phi's beaches at their absolute best.
The water at the moment is the best we've ever seen it with incredible clarity and spectacular snorkelling. Phi Phi Leh is absolutely breathtaking -- and there is nobody there -- you can easily have large tracts of beach on both islands totally to yourself. When we visited, we were given a range of estimates on the number of guests on the entire island, 50-75 was about the consensus.
Before you race off, be sure to take enough cash, as none of the ATMs work and the exchange rates being offered by a couple of operators (on cash only) are best described as "unattractive". As a guideline, Phi Phi Long Beach and Phi Phi Paradise Pearl on Haad Yao are both open, Ao To Koh Resort on Ao To Koh (our favourite spot on the island) was damaged but is now open, on Ao Rante the resorts were standing with some minor damage, but there were no guests and we couldn't find any staff -- give it another week or so. Phi Phi Island Village is open -- and just about empty -- so if you want a discounted honeymoon package, this is the time! On Laem Thong both the Holiday Inn and Nature Resort open for business. Ao Ton Sai and Loh Dalam were the worst damaged and have very little in the way of usable accommodation -- there is also a lot of uncertainty in this area of the island regarding what (if any) rebuilding the government will permit -- that being the case, this will be the slowest area to be rebuilt. The stretch of small bays between Ao Ton Sai and Haad Yao is badly damaged, though some of the places could be open again within a couple of months according to owners.
There is one ferry a day from Krabi and at least two from Phuket. If you're in the area, this is an excellent time to consider visiting.
Compared to Ko Phi Phi and Khao Lak, Phuket's damage is less severe. Of the beaches, the worst hit is Kamala, then Patong and Bang Tao. As far as we could see everything on the beachside of Kamala was either closed or destroyed, though construction was evident in many places.
Likewise Patong had damage -- the resorts that had unwisely decided to build on the beach side of the beach road are all gone, as are some of the beachside restaurants. Everything more than a few hundred metres back off the beach though appeared to be fine. With the restarting of the Scandi charter flights to Phuket on 1 Feb, the number of tourists in Patong appeared to double overnight.
The resorts at the southern end of Bang Tao were badly damaged and in at least one case destroyed, but there is still accommodation available for all budgets in the area. One sad area was Naiya Beach, on the southwest part of the island which was one of the last budget holdouts on the island -- both the resorts which were at ground level have been destroyed -- though there are plans to rebuild.
In all three areas, even in the worst-hit parts of Khao Lak, spirits amongst locals remained high -- even among those who had lost many (and in some cases all) family members. Please, when planing your trip to Thailand, don't put these areas in the too-hard basket and head to the east coast instead -- rather consider staying in these paces and becoming an active part of the reconstruction that will take years. Businesses in all the affected regions need foreigners to return -- please consider being one of them.
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