My mum is here travelling in Khao Lak for a week. Giving her the complete locals tour we have been motorbiking around, visiting the waterfalls, the Memories Bar, watching sunsets, cocktails and enjoying dinner at a few of my favourite places! Over the week mum has been getting to know Becks and vise versa. It has been truly special hanging out with the two of them and watching them become friends.
Mum was aching to do some touristy, elephant trek thing and I honestly couldn’t think of anything worse. Eventually I gave in and went with her to one in Phang Nga. I actually had a really good time. It was a beautiful experience at Pattaporn Elephant Camp. Bathing the female elephant Coco, scrubbing her and giving her lots of attention was a unique experience. How beautiful are elephants 🙂
Now, during this bathing session our driver who was with us was getting more and more anxious. He mentioned an earthquake measuring 9.1 on the richter scale and the looming tsunami which was on it’s way! Immediately I thought back to the 2004 infamous boxing tsunami which recorded 9.3. Staying calm I asked more questions finding out that the epicenter was also off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, where the 2004 earthquake epicentre was. The mother and two children with us turned into a bumbling panic of tears, anger and worry. I don’t blame them as their dad was still at the resort (on the beach) so within minutes we were back in the car heading back to Khao Lak. The intensity and morbidity of the situation struck me as I gazed from the car window watching local kids crying on the side of the road, their mum frantic. Thai farmers were evacuating their rubber tree plantations all in search of higher ground. It was obvious that the warning of a tsunami from our guide was not a rumour. Whole communities were evacuating. Still far from home we were stopped and hastily ushered out of the cars into a little mini Mart type thing. The driver informs us that we cannot go any further as the next few towns are on lower ground and were completely destroyed last time. If you went not aware Khao Lak was the worst affected town in Thailand back in the 2004 tsunami. 8000 people died, resorts demolished and inland water records were set by a navy boat which was carried from the harbour 2 km inland.
The mini mart was packed with locals. Some urgently using their mobile phones to locate loved ones, others tired comforting their families whilst some like this one elderly man, sat quietly, alone, with a cigarette in his hand and tears rolling down his cheeks. I am guessing he was recounting the last time.
Mum the smart women, had brought her phone on the elephant tour and was getting updates from BOM via dad and phil. I had no contact with Becks as she was on the boats out at sea. It is moments like these you have no idea how you will react. I wasn’t doing too good at this point.
After a few hours of heightened emotions, nerves and beers, the ‘all clear’ came and we were able to make the journey back to Khao Lak. The verdict was that the sea rose a little around the islands but nothing significant and no damage was caused. A tense few hours. Seeing the community come together as it did that day was unique and heartfelt. Past stories from the veterans of the area who spoke rarely of their experience, opened up about their terror on that morning of the 26th of december 2004 and the horrors that followed over the long clean up.
For an insight into the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, the movie ‘The impossible‘ (2012) based on a spanish families nightmare on that very day. It was actually filmed down the road from Khao Lak when I was there, when you travel the world and stop to work on the way you get to see the good and the bad and really become a part of the local culture.