The first wave of the 2004 tsunami hit Phi Phi Don Island shortly after 10:30am on December 26, 2004.
Our group was on vacation in Thailand and visiting Phi Phi Don. We took a regularly scheduled boat to Krabi Town some time before the first wave hit.
Photos were taken on December 25 and the morning of December 26. Most were taken with a disposable film camera. (Do these still exist?)
Christmas Day high
Christmas Day was elating! As a treat, I booked an afternoon dive trip. Having completed my open water diving certification in frigid Canadian waters, I was ready to try my skills in warmth.
The trip was not fully booked and I had an instructor to myself. Nervous and vibrating with excitement, I half fell, half jumped into the water.
The first dive was over in less than ten minutes after I sucked through an entire tank of air in shallow water. My instructor teased me but followed that with reassurance and a firm suggestion to breathe normally.
During Christmas dinner that evening, I was relaxed in a way that I’ve found only comes from breathing compressed air. I didn’t have a care in the world!
Our small group was supposed to catch the boat to Krabi Town the next morning. Perhaps everyone else was feeling as good as I was – we tossed around the idea of staying an extra night.
The casual debate ended with the five of us deciding to stick with our original plan.
Absorbing final moments on Phi Phi Don
Boxing Day arrived sunny and calm. I woke up as late as possible but in time to pack. Someone wandered down to the lane to pick up snacks for breakfast.
Sitting on a stone bench outside our guest house with my back pressed against the wall, I munched on fresh banana bread and thought about nothing.
A cart was tracked down to wheel the heavy suitcases to the dock. My friends had brought school supplies to donate in Bangkok.
Being too early for most, the usually cramped lane was almost empty.
Shops on the left backed onto the water and some were open with a view, like the dive shops. Sarongs, baked goods, and handmade items filled shops on the right.
Looking in the dive shop I had gone with yesterday, one of the instructors was clambering over boats, carrying tanks and gear for today’s divers.
At the end of the lane, we turned into the open under pressing sun to reach the dock.
Strolling leisurely conflicted with ingrained anxiety to be on time for our 9am boat. There was no need to rush though. Thai time ruled and the boat would leave when it left.
We climbed on the craft, joining many other tourists.
9am came and went. There was nothing to do but wait, relax and melt in the rising humidity.
At the end of the dock, a tall, gangly figure wearing a toque dashed haphazardly towards the boat in unstable flip-flop sandals. His substantial pack flopped left and right and up and down on his back. Would he tumble into the water?
His unforgettable entrance was neatly capped with flinging himself on the boat as it was finally pushing away.
The water receded deeply on the beach across from our guest house around 10am.
Another half hour passed before the first wave slammed and swarmed around the bungalows.