Tsunami on my mind
I took the afternoon ferry to Phuket today and arrived just in time to see the sunset over Patong Beach.
I was sad to say goodbye to Allison. The next time she and I will meet up will be in Beijing, just before the end of our trip… however, I am sort of happy to have some down time with myself.
Just like the ferry ride to Ko Phi Phi, I sat on the deck of the boat, where I enjoyed the sun, the wind and my book… which I finished. I’m on to book number four this trip, and it’s a good one which I’ve already halfway devoured! I need to find another book exchange shop!
When I got to the port at Phuket, it was chaos. No one was holding a sign with my name or the name of my guest house, but there were a lot of people walking around with lists. I tried to communicate with someone, and eventually they showed me to a minivan with some other tourists. It was air conditioned. A very important detail, since it was burning heat when I arrived. I showed the driver my guest house info and explained in my own personal made-up sign language that I had already paid for a transfer and he said no problem.
We drove for maybe about a half hour or so, and I was the first person out of the minivan. As we were driving up to Patong Beach, where I was staying, I couldn’t help but notice how dirty Phuket is.
I got to my guest house easily, and found the front desk woman on the floor playing with the cutest baby. She didn’t speak much English, but understood me well enough. She handed me my key, arranged an early morning ride to the airport, and handed me a bottle of water. When I came downstairs, she gave me a card with the guest house info on it (including a map) and read my mind as she pointed me to the beach.
The sun was still up — but setting — when I got there. I had time to pull out my book and read for a little bit before it got dark.
Sitting there on the beach, I started thinking about what a tsunami would look like. I’ve thought about tsunamis on every beach vacation I’ve taken since news of the SE Asia Christmas tsunami back in 2004. What does a giant wave look like? How did the beach look without water when the ocean pulled back — and then forward — after that underwater earthquake? Then I starting thinking how THIS IS ACTUALLY WHERE IT HAPPENED, one of the beachs where the tsunami ACTUALLY hit and I was determined to talk to people about what it was like.
While I was leaving the beach, walking to town, I encountered a tuk-tuk driver who spoke alright English. I asked him if he was here when it happened. He said he was on vacation in Bangkok at the time, but that the tsunami waters were about 10 meters high just off the beach, where we were standing. He said the water covered the buildings on the beach front and reached the tops of the palm trees.
I asked two shop keepers about the tsunami. They weren’t around 4 years ago when it happened. Neither was a tour operator I spoke with. Then it dawned on me… had they been around, they may have likely been killed! That’s probably why I didn’t find anyone who could describe it to me. I was told all the stores were washed away. For the most part, Phuket has rebuilt since then, but I didn’t meet any new store owners who were witnesses.
I also realized there’s a reason why I got the impression Phuket was dirty as I was driving up to Patong Beach; it’s because there’s still leftover tsunami rubble on other parts of Phuket. At least, that’s what the tour operator told me. She also said the water reached all the way to the local school, which is about a block from the beach.
Interestingly, I asked her if people still talk about it. She said not really, that they’ve moved on with their lives. The lasting legacy though, are the tsunami evacuation signs I see all over the SE Asia islands, including Ko Phi Phi and Krabi in addition to Phuket. There are also tsunami recovery and picture books in the windows of some of the book stores I’ve seen, so it’s not COMPLETELY off their minds.
After all that walking and chatting, I found an authentic little Thai restaurant where I sat down for some curry. It was really good, but very spicy! I asked for some coconut milk to tame the spice. They said sure, and brought me some hot sauce. I got a little laugh over that. Eventually one of the cooks understood the food was too hot for a non-native like me and got the coconut milk for me.
Anyway, I leave tomorrow early for a flight to Bali with a brief stop-over in Malaysia. I’ve already arranged my guest house via email with a really nice-sounding owner named Ketut. I wish I could spend more time there, but my schedule doesn’t allow it. I’m just going to have to come back to this part of the world again, soon.
In the meanwhile, if I see the waters of the Andaman Sea receding before I go, I’ll be sure to run!