When we got to Thailand, the excitement and beauty of being on these beautiful beaches, was, for me, always accompanied by a feeling of guilt. Much of Thailand’s coastline was decimated by the December 26, 2004 tsunami. And the town of Khao Lak was hit the worst. This beach was devastated – an estimated 4,000 people died at Khao Lak beach alone (unofficial estimates put the number at more than 10,000).
The film The Impossible, starring Naomi Watts and Ewan MacGregor, which was recently released, documents a real-life family’s story that survived the tsunami in Khao Lak. Scenes from the film were shot on location on the beach in Khao Lak. Khao Lak residents even served as advisors and extras in the film. I can’t wait to see it. After seeing many photos from the tsunami’s aftermath, it looks terrifyingly realistic. Check out the trailer here.
When we arrived by bus, we walked around town and headed to the place where we had booked a room. Seaweed Hostel was a new hostel and one of the few hostels we stayed at in Thailand. The place was cozy and modern, and we managed to snag a nice, quiet cement bungalow with our own bathroom, air-conditioning, and even WiFi for just 750Baht ($25USD)! It was such a nice relaxing setting, with palm trees all around and frogs to keep us company at night. One night, we even had a gecko in our room, making noise and keeping us up all night!
The town is a bit quiet and full of diveshops. Erik did a one-day dive trip to visit the famous Similan Islands, on the border with Burma. The trip involved a speed boat and spending the day aboard a “liveaboard” full of divers on multi-day diving excursions where you sleep, eat, and dive from the boat. It was a long day, but included three dive sites, including the legendary Richelieu Rock. While it was a fun day out, unfortunately he still didn’t get to see any resident whale sharks! Someday!!!
Each day, we treated ourselves to delicious fresh fruit smoothies made by a local Thai woman, and served with a big Thai smile. She was just a few steps from our hostel and they were so delicious!
Most days, we chilled in our bungalow, walked down to the beach, and relaxed on the sandy beach.
One day, we walked quite a long ways down the beach and came upon trees with handwritten signs on them. When we looked more closely, we saw that they were memorials to the people who had perished on the beach in the tsunami. Sadly, among them were children’s names, age 10, age 12. It was so terribly upsetting and a lump instantly grew in my throat. Those poor people had no idea what was coming and no time to get to safety.
We took a long (hot) walk to the famous Police Boat 813. During the tsunami, the police boat was anchored one nautical mile offshore protecting Thai royals vacationing in Khao Lak. As the tsumani surge plowed into Khao Lak, ravaging everything in its path, this huge heavy boat was pushed 2 km inland where it still sits today.
It serves as a somber reminder of the sheer force and destruction with which the tsunami blasted Khao Lak.
There are plans to build a museum and memorial on the site. A few blocks away, we found another memorial to the commemorate the tsunami and its victims. The sculpture by Lars Englund is entitled “Stabile,” which means “something sound and solid.” It is an abstract geometrical structure comprised of twisted stainless steel beams extending up six meters from the ground. Englund has said of this memorial, “you are supposed to enter into my work, but only with your mind.” The memorial is a bit tough to find, a short walk from the main road in Khao Lak. If visiting the police boat, it is worth a visit. The location is quiet and set back a bit from the road, giving visitors a serene spot to reflect on the horrors that occurred in Khao Lak on the terrifying day of the tsunami.
Since the tsunami, an alert system has been put in place and a tall cement shelter has been built on the beach to provide safety in the event that another tsunami hits the shore.
On our last morning in Khao Lak, we decided to pay our respects to those who perished in the tsunami on the exact spot that we stood by spreading beautiful bright pink blooming flowers into the sea.