Surviving a Tsunami

Trip Start Jun 15, 2004
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Trip End Apr 03, 2005


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Thursday, December 23, 2004

Back in Bangkok, after returning from Cambodia, Jacquie and I spent a day picking up a few more trinkets and arranging to have our new suits shipped back to Canada. We also had to figure out where we were going to spend Christmas and New Years.

We knew that we wanted to stay in Thailand for the holidays (We love the food and the people) but that left so many options. We wanted to be on the beach and we didn't want to spend more than about 500 baht ($15.00 Cdn) a night. We thought about the islands of Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Samui but after talking to people we learned that Ko Pha Ngan was a real party place and Ko Samue was really expensive. We then thought about Ko Phi Phi which got great write ups in the Lonely Planet. Our internet searched showed everything as being fully booked. We thought about heading back to Koh Lanta as it was nice and not too expensive but we had already been there and felt that we should try to see somewhere different. We then started looking at Phuket but, once again there were no bungalows or rooms available on the beach in our price range. One of the last sites that we visited on the internet listed a place called Shanti Lodge on Phuket. It was not on the beach but the price was right and it looked like they had some rooms. We sent an email and got one back the same day telling us that they had bookings for the holidays but that some of these were not confirmed. Kim invited us to come over and, if it turned out that they were full they could at least help us out in finding a place to stay. Happy to have a starting place in Phuket (we figured that we would stay one night at Shanti and then walk the beaches looking for a cheap place to stay) we arranged for yeat another long bus ride. We hopped on the bus on Khoa San Road at 5:00 pm and presto, only 18 hours later, we arrived at Shanti Lodge.

Our first impression of Shanti Lodge was one of peace and tranquility. There was a beautiful salt water pool with a water fall, there were fish ponds full of Koi into which more water falls flowed. The room we were shown had its own bathroom outside on the patio which also included another fish pond and grotto as well as, you guessed it, another water fall. We knew amlost immediately that this was where we were going to spend our Christmas and New Years. The fact that the room was only 400 baht a night didn't hurt either.

We spent a nice night hanging out listening to great music in the open air restaurant and bar. We met Happy, part owner of Shanti along with two of his children, Tia Lee and Tai. We were made to feel at home right away and soon afterwards we met Kim who arrived from Bangkok. Kim is Happy's partner in Shanti and the one that we emailed the day before. She is also Tia and Tai's Mom. One big happy family.

The next night, Christmas Eve, we joined the Shanti Gang in travelling down the road (in the back of Kim's truck) to the Friendship Beach Resort which is owned by a man from the Gulf Islands just south of Victoria. Small world really. We had a great evening eating turkey with all of the trimmings along with lots of veggie treats for Jacquie and meeting lots of interesting people.

Christmas day dawned hot and sunny and we laughed watching the kids (Kim's two older kids had now shown up) enjoy Christmas festivities outdoors under a decorated tropical tree. For Christmas I gave Jacquie diving lessons that were to start on Boxing Day morning. The rest of Christmas day was spent lounging by the pool.

On Boxing day we were up early for Muisli and fruit. Jacquie called her Mom and Dad in Arizona where it was Christmas night and then we headed off to the dive shop to start her lessons. Things were pretty disorganized at the dive shop and Jacquie's first assignment was to do the reading that she should have done earlier if the person who signed her up would have given her the work book. So I left her there and headed back to Shanti where I called my folks to wish them a Merry Christmas. After a quick phone call I sat and was reading my book when phone calls started coming into the lodge reporting a tidal wave. Friendship Beach where we had our Christmas dinner was pretty much washed away. Then news came in from the beaches at Karon, Kata and Patong. People were reporting considerable damage and lots of people killed and injured. It was so surreal as we were only a few miles from these beaches and nothing around us had changed.

The mood around the lodge was understandably changed as the owners started worrying about their friends and families. The more news that reached us the more we realized just how bad the situation was. The island of Phi Phi where Jacquie and I had considered spending Christmas was hammered and most of the bungalows and resorts were gone. All of the bungalows at Patong Beach had been washed away along with anyone who was on the beach. The coast of Koh Lanta where we had been staying just a week before was devastated. After listening to the reports coming in by telephone I walked back to the dive shop to see Jacquie. The television was tuned to BBC World and it was only then that we started to get an idea of just how bad things were. You all know the rest as I'm sure you have seen the images on the news. Jacquie and I immediately sent emails to our folks in the hopes that they would read these before they saw the news. Thankfully that was the case.

The next few days were difficult for all of us staying on Phuket as we knew what so many people were going through just down the road. To many people were searching for family members who were playing or laying on the beach when the waves hit and all we could hear was the sound of ambulances racing up and down the road transferring people to hospital. Jacqhie's dive course was put on hold as all of the divers were called out to help recover bodies that had been swept out to sea. The plan was to resume her course on the 29th of December. On the 28th Jacquie and I helped the Shanti staff package up individual servings of rice and noodles for the refugees in Koa Lac which is north of Phuket and one of the areas hardest hit by the Tsunami. Jacquie, Kim, Malcolm and Ell hopped into Kims truck and headed off to the refugee camp to deliver the food along with clothing and first aid supplies. She reported seeing truckloads of bodies wrapped in rice sacks and resorts levelled to the foundations. At the time I think that there were still about 5,000 tourists missing from the resort town.

On the 29th we got Jacquie in the pool to take her first breaths under water. All went well and the plan was made to get her into the pool for one more session and then out into the open water. Neither of us was looking forward to diving in the ocean following the Tsunami but Owen, Jacquie's instructor, said that the dive sites had been cleared and ok'd.

New Years came and went and no one was in the mood to do any celebrations. Most people attended candle light get togethers on the beaches with thoughts going out to those hardest hit by the waves.

Unfortunately for Jacquie the diving never did happen. She passed her final exam and pool skills but never got into the open water. We will have to finish up in Australia.

We were happy to leave Phuket as there were so many tragic stories about lost families and a huge number of people still missing who we knew were not going to be found.

We opted to travel to Kuala Lumpur by air rather than taking another insanely long bus ride. Using the internet we found seats on an Air Asia flight for 400 baht each. The bus would cost 600 baht so it was a no brainer. On the morning of the third we headed off to the airport to catch our 1 hour flight to KL. With one more day to hang in South East Asia we will prepare for the next leg of our journey, Australia.
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