« Scouting Siam Square | Main | Be Bold And Powerful Forces Will Come To Your Aid »

April 16, 2005


    The night was punctuated by regular breaks at rest stops, the first of which was enforced as the bus attendant woke me up with a poke and the instruction “Hey you, eat.”  The rest stops were large open buildings with street stall food as well as a restaurant with a sitting area to eat in, squeezed in amongst mountains and mountains of packaged snacks and sweets.  As there is no toilet on the bus a visit to the rest stop bathroom can not be avoided, though the number of flies and bugs trying to tip you off balance as you squat yourself over the hole in the floor can make the whole experience a little traumatizing.  Most important to remember, though, is that the bus driver will leave when he is ready, so it’s best not to dawdle.
    Thankfully only the first stop was mandatory, and we tossed and turned in our seats until 5:20am when the lights were switched on.  We began to stop regularly, letting people off at various places along the read, as we neared Talat Kao, the bus terminal just outside Krabi.  As the bus pulled off the road all the motorbike and songthaew (like sitting in the back of a utility) drivers roused themselves in preparation for business.  It was still pitch black outside and as we had no idea really where we were, we were at their mercy.  As we collected our luggage we agreed to an exorbitant amount to be driven by taxi car into Krabi town. 
    The ride was short, only 4km, and as the driver pulled up on the shore-front road lined with travel agents and hotels, the sky began to change to light blue.  We dragged our belongings over to a seat in a park which ran up to the shore and watched a group of about 10 Thai women practicing aerobics to loud dance music, mostly western pop tunes.  It was just like Aerobics Oz Style, with the leader shouting commands and occasionally letting her side-kick helper lead a couple songs. 
    After consulting our Lonely Planet for information about nearby islands, we decided on a small and seemingly undeveloped island Ko Jam, which we could get a boat to from Krabi.  We ate some noodles from the only place open so early, then sheltered from the already hot sun under some palms until the businesses began to open.  We wandered over to a travel agent and enquired about getting a boat to Ko Jam.
    “Ko Jam no have boat.  No farang.  Only charter boat.  About one thousand baht.”
    “What about Ko Phi-Phi?”
    “Have boat.”
    “Ko Lanta?”
    “Have bus.”
    “How far is the bus to Ko Lanta?”
    “About two hours.”
    “Is Phi-Phi ok to stay there?  Do they have electricity?”
    “Not sure.  Maybe have cheap room now for tsunami.  Not sure.”
    The only thing left to do was consult the internet, so we searched the Lonely Planet website for any discussion about the islands in the area.  It seemed Phi-Phi was under a lot of construction rebuilding what had been destroyed by the tsunami, and though it would have been good to volunteer for a few days to help them clean up, we really had to study for the CELTA course.  Ko Lanta however sounded untouched.  There were a few recommendations for a beach called Lonely Beach, so we decided to head there and see what looked good.
    “How much is the bus for Ko Lanta?”
    “200 baht.”
    “Can we get a ticket for this morning?”
    “Wait here.”
    Half an hour later a mini-van pulled up out the front and we were hurried on.  After picking up a few more passengers, 3 farang and 4 Thais, the van sped out of Krabi.  We passed by huge karst formations, mountains of limestone, which were one of the main attractions for the area, particularly for rock-climbers.  The rattle of the van seemed to rock us to sleep  and we dozed off until an hour and half later until we reached the first pier for the ferry to Ko Lanta Noi, the smaller of 2 islands which make Ko Lanta.  The ferry was just pulling in and as soon as the last car had driven off our driver sped onto the ramp and over to the opposite side, squealing to a stop only meters before the platform edge.  As soon as the ramp touched ground on Ko Lanta Noi after a short 10 minute journey, we were the first vehicle off, and we lead-footed it down the road, rushing by coconut and rubber plantations.  We had no idea what the hurry was about, but soon found out when we reached the pier on the other side of the small island to find the ferry to Ko Lanta Yai just pulling away.  We laughed at the ridiculousness of the situation, and the ferry turned back for us.  As soon as our van and one other car behind us made it on the ferry it pulled away again, and as we looked behind us about five other cars pulled up simultaneously, all obviously having come from the previous ferry as we did.  As they say, “the boat come when the boat come”.
    Our driver was nice enough to ask where we were all staying, and if we had a reservation.  When he stopped at a travel agent by the side of the road and asked us all to get out we weren’t quite sure what was going on, and before we knew it he was driving away with only the 2 farang who had said they actually had a reservation at their chosen bungalow.  Obviously we were meant to go inside and make a reservation here, for a small fee of course.
    “I’m getting the feeling like someone’s about to screw us for money” Jeremy said to me as a man tried to usher us forcefully inside the shop.  I slipped by him and caught the attention of someone driving a motorbike with a kind of side-carriage.
    “Taxi?”  He pulled over and we threw our luggage in the side-carriage, Jeremy jumped on the back with the driver and I perched next to the luggage.  Before the travel agent man knew what was going on we were taking off down the dusty road for Reggae House, a bungalow operation and I had read good reviews of in my guidebook.
    The road was very bad and we had to drive slowly at times.  When a Thai man riding a scooter pulled up beside our driver and spoke to him while we were driving I figured they were friends, until our driver slowed and stopped. 
    “Where you stay?” the newcomer asked us.  He had a round, friendly-looking face, though he looked a little anxious.
    “Reggae House” I replied.
    “Oh, Reggae House closed” he tried, but I had heard that one before.
    “Oh no, we called them and they said it’s no problem, they have a reservation for us.”  Playing one of those games where he’s lying, and I know he’s lying, and he knows I know he’s lying. 
    “Why don’t you come see my place, Lanta Family Resort.”  He flipped open a photo album and flashed us pictures of clean bungalows with fan and bathroom set on  a spotless beach dotted with coconut trees.  It looked perfect.  “We have bungalow with bathroom only 100 baht ($2.50US).  Very nice.  You come look, I pay taxi driver half fare to bring you.  If you don’t like I pay taxi driver take you to Reggae House, no problem.”  He looked as though under he was desperate under his Thai neutral expression. 
    We had nothing to lose, Reggae House was just a name out of a hat for us anyway.  “Sure, we’ll go take a look.”
    He spoke Thai to our driver, who complained right back at him.  I understood that the driver was explaining I had argued the price of the taxi down to 50 baht, and that Lanta Family was further than Reggae House.
    “He say Lanta Family more far Reggae House.  You tell him 50 baht before but he say 70 baht now.  OK?”
    That sounded fair, and our portion would only be 35 now that our new friend was splitting the bill with us.  “So we pay 35, right?” Jeremy asked.
    “No, you pay 70 I pay 70.  Please?”  Now he did sound desperate, especially as it was rare to hear a Thai person say “please”, not that they are not polite, but that it is a word they just don’t use very often. 
    For 100 baht we couldn’t complain, if it were indeed true, and though we knew that Lanta Family never intended to pay half our taxi fare, we agreed.  As we turned down the road that led to Family Lanta, our tout having gone the other direction when we continued on, a small Thai girl with a demure smile and playful eyes ran out to meet us.
    “Bungalow?” she asked.
    “Yes” we replied, and she walked me to a cluster of bungalows while Jeremy rested in the restaurant.  Our friend had been truthful, we were offered a very clean and adequate bungalow for only 100 baht so Jeremy checked in while I took the luggage to our room. 
    We were 2 of 7 farang staying at Lanta Family, only four of 15 bungalows occupied at the time.  The beach was beautiful, though a little rocky as you first walked in the water, and exactly what we were after.  There were bamboo tables and chairs set up along the edge of the sand, with some beach chairs, a hammock and a swing.  We ordered lunch, noodles and curry soup, and settled down in some shade to read and relax between swims in the clear water. 

    After a couple hours relaxing in the afternoon, Jeremy decided to take a walk to explore the beach, so I piled on some sunscreen and joined him.  The sun was bright and the water crystal clear, but the beach wasn’t as tidy as we would have expected.  Litter was scattered up to the shoreline and I suspected there had been a bit of a beach party the night before.  Bee Bee’s, the bungalows next to Lanta Family, was very tidy and had a great set-up of tables and platforms with Thai lounging cushions alongside the sand.  The next place looked a bit rundown and without any customers, while the next again looked abandoned.  Bungalows had been left to fall down on one side and there was great need of a general clean-up of trash.  It looked rather odd for a tourist beach, and we started to get an eerie feeling about the place.  There were too few tourists, and Thais for that matter, and it looked like no-one had been in these bungalows for months.
    We reached a fancy two-storey resort built of cement with a swimming pool before the shoreline, and wandered over to explore.  There were two farang on the balcony of one of the rooms on the second floor, so we knew this place must at least be operating, however as we crossed the grounds it too began to look abandoned just like the others.  The gardens were unkept, there were no Thais floating about, and as we got closer we noticed that each of the rooms on the ground floor were empty.  No furniture, nothing.  In fact, we realized, there were no glass sliding doors on any of the rooms on the ground floor, such as every room on the second floor had.
    “Are you alright?” a voice called down from the second floor.  We looked up to see a 60-something couple looking down at us from their balcony.
    “We were just looking around.”  A silent pause as Jeremy and I began to realize what we were looking at, and the couple watched on.
    “Were all the glass windows on the ground floor knocked out by the tsunami?” Jeremy asked, finally saying what we had been thinking, but unable to voice.
    “Yep.  Everything.  All the furniture, everything.”
    We looked around us in silence.  All of a sudden it all came together.  The trash washed up on the beach, the bungalows knocked-over, the falling-down roofs.  Even the pool table in the middle of nowhere which we hadn’t really taken much notice of before.  The tsunami had hit Ko Lanta, and though it hadn’t been affected as badly as Phuket or Ko Phi-Phi, it certainly had affected lives here.
    “It’s heartbreaking isn’t it?”  Cheryl and Dave were Australian, and were spending six months in Thailand at a time since retiring, before they could finally pack up their lives back home and move here for good.  “We had actually stayed here a couple of times on previous trips, and ended up befriending the owner.  So we stayed in touch by email, and after the tsunami happened, he emailed us asking for help.  Dave’s an electrician, you see.  So when we came back he gave us the keys in Bangkok and has left us completely in charge.”
    Jeremy was still exploring the ground floor rooms and he called me in to look in one of the bathrooms.  It was two inches deep in sand, trash, dead coral and shells.  It looked like the bottom of the ocean in a bathroom.
    “I can’t believe this!  We had no idea the tsunami hit Ko Lanta.  I mean, it makes sense considering the location…”
    “Yeah, they were hit.  Most of the bungalows on the island have closed down and the owners gone back to Bangkok to try to make money so they can rebuild.  But everyone’s going to Bangkok, it’s pretty hopeless.”
    “Did the owner here have insurance?”
    “He did, a lot of the places here didn’t, but he did, because it was a more up-market resort.”
    “Is he getting it covered?”
    “No!”  Dave laughed.  “The insurance companies aren’t paying up because it was an Act of God.  He would have been better off if the place had burnt down.”
    The air was heavy and it suddenly got cool.  This place would have been a dream in its day, swimming pool lined with ornamental pebbles and air conditioned rooms with glass doors giving a full view of the ocean from your bed.  Now it was an abandoned concrete shell behind a swimming pool seemingly in the middle of nowhere.  It must have represented at least one man’s entire life-savings and some. 
    I noticed a pile of at least 20 mattresses leaning up against one another in one of the downstairs rooms.
    “Actually, there was a guy living down there when we got here” Dave told us.  “The owner said he could stay as long as he helped out around the grounds, but as soon as I went down to tell him the day’s activities on our first morning here, he took off.  I don’t know what’s wrong with them.  We don’t see any of the locals picking up the rubbish on the beach.  It’s like they’re all so depressed they can’t get motivated to do anything.  Many people have just left what they had here because they can’t afford to fix it, and the others are struggling at best.  It’s so sad and depressing.  We’ve had a number of backpackers asking us if there’s anything they can do to help, but there’s nothing really right now.  If there was money to buy supplies and start rebuilding, then there would be work to do, but right now there’s nothing.”
    We stood in silence looking at the empty building, the scattered rubbish, the clear blue ocean which had brought this devastation. 
    “Was anyone hurt here?”
    “Six people died on Ko Lanta.  No-one was killed in this resort though.”
    “Was the owner here when it happened?”
    “No, he wasn’t actually.  He was very lucky.  See that tree there?”  We were standing beside a medium-sized tree bearing large green fruit.  “It’s a Chinese good luck tree.  The owner planted it here when he built the place.  If it bore fruit it would bring good luck, and it did have fruit, but then the tsunami came.  But the owner was actually supposed to be staying here over Christmas with his family, in the room directly below.  Anyway he was delayed due to business and couldn’t come, so they weren’t here.  So he says the tree brought him good luck.”
    We smiled at the owner’s ability to find some fortune in the disaster which had befallen him. 
    “How long are you staying here?” Cheryl asked.
    “About ten days.”
    “Well, we’ll probably see you around then.”  There wasn’t much else to say, Jeremy and I were completely bummed and pretty much speechless. 
    As we started walking away Cheryl called after us “Have a jump in the pool on your way out, we’ve cleaned all the rubbish out and just put the chlorine in, so it might be a bit strong but it needs a good stir-up.”
    “OK.”  We both took a dive in the deep, luxurious pool, the floor lined with smooth ornamental stones, which you would expect to see in a Club Med resort.  Surrounded by half-dead grass in front of an abandoned building, it was incredibly surreal to be swimming in this pool in the midst of such devastation.  We quickly climbed out and started walking back to Lanta Family.
    As we made our way back along the beach we couldn’t tear our eyes from what we now realized was the direct result of the tsunami.  It was as though it had happened yesterday, with bungalows still leaning on their sides and the pool table out in a clearing on its own – where it had come from I couldn’t guess.  We could make out where stone steps had once led to a restaurant, but were now buried under sand and stones.  A bar was left washed out and abandoned, the shelves empty and chairs and tables gone.  Old beer bottles, odd flip-flops and even a soup ladle decorated the beach which was piled with dead coral in places.  As we walked in silence I studied the sand, wondering who the owner of that shoe was, or where those broken fishing nets had washed in from. 
    Suddenly I noticed one of the fishing ropes in the corner of my eye was actually moving and I looked up to see a purple and yellow striped sea snake struggling in the sand. 
    “Holy shit!” I called to Jeremy as I stepped quickly but not suddenly to the side.  I was only one metre from it when it caught my eye, well within striking distance I would imagine.  Luckily for me it was having a tough time in the hot sun and was barely able to keep its head up, though it continued to try to slither through the pebbles and shells. 
    Jeremy turned back and we stood a good distance away, watching it struggle towards the water.
    “I can’t believe I just nearly stepped on that thing.  I wasn’t even watching where I was going.  And it will kill you too, it’s really venomous.”
    Suddenly it stopped struggling and lay there still.
    “I think it’s dead” Jeremy ventured.
    We stood for a moment.  I threw a rock at it.  It found new wind and started again, this time so close to the water’s edge.  It finally made it to water and a small wave washed over.  We watched anxiously to see if it would swim away with the backwash, but instead it was tossed right back on the sand again with the next wave.  It started to struggle again, and when it finally reached some water for a second time the same thing happened.  It seemed not to have enough strength to swim out of the breakwater. 
    A couple of small kids ran out on the sand nearby so we called to them to come see the snake.  They squealed and threw shells at it before calling to a man further down the beach.  He smiled at us and watched it for a minute, then used a long tree branch nearby to pick it up and toss it out past the shallow breakwater.  I saw it hit the water but didn’t see it resurface, nor did it wash up on the sand again.  Satisfied, the Thai man walked away. 
    As we walked the short distance back to Lanta Family I felt an overbearing sense of struggle, the locals struggling to rebuild their lives after the ocean tried to wash them away mirrored by the sea snake’s struggle to survive a much smaller, but just as deadly, wave crashing on the sand.  Although Ko Lanta had at large been spared by the tsunami, in terms of lives lost, surviving the after-effects of the tsunami was not a given.  We had probably seen a total of 5 other farang on the beach so far, and at a tourist destination which only stayed open 6 months of the year due to monsoon, not everyone here would survive to see the return of business.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Survival:


Post a comment

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In

Recent Posts

Recent Comments


  • The Biggest Snowman Ever
    From foliage to snow in West Hartford, CT.


  • Man On The Mountain
    Life in the land of Crodcodile Dundee, Yahoo Serious, and a disgusting excuse for food called "Vegemite".

Koh Lanta vs. The Tsunami

  • Tsunami Water Level
    In April 2005, Fiona and I went to Koh Lanta, an island off the Andaman coast of Thailand. We were shocked to see the damage done by the tsunami, and we decided to see what we could do to help our new friends. We sent out an email, and within four days we had raised a total of $2,905.00 USD from almost 50 friends and family members. Our most profound thanks to everyone who donated. You cannot possibly underestimate how much you have helped.

March For Women's Lives

  • Us
    From across the nation and from nearly 60 countries, women marched in Washington DC on Sunday with their daughters, mothers, husbands and others in support of the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that made abortion legal. The rally stretched from the base of the U.S. Capitol about a mile back to the Washington Monument. While authorities no longer give formal crowd estimates, various police sources informally gauged the throng at between 500,000 and 800,000 people. I've been to a fair number of rallies in Washington DC, and I've never seen anything like this one. It's difficult to tell from photos, but the number of people was absolutely staggering. The sheer size of the crowd coupled with the raw enthusiasm and the sense of power was overwhelming. I am proud to have been a part of it.


  • And Finally...
    Wayaleilei Resort, Wayasewa Island, Fiji December 2004


  • 20menacing_sky
    From June 11 through June 13 we went to a festival in Manchester Tennessee called Bonnaroo. Over 80 bands played to 150,000 people on six separate stages. Sun, rain, music, mud... what more could you want?

Angkor Wat

  • Khmer Kiss
    The largest and most impressive religious monument ever constructed in the history of the known galaxy. June 6 - June 8, 2005