#5 – 2004 Thailand tsunami memories: Krabi, December 27, 2004

A catastrophic tsunami crashed into coastal Thailand the morning of December 26, 2004.

This post is part of a series sharing my memories of this time.

The blocked section below is from the end of part 4. Links for the previous sections are at the end of the post.

* * * * * * * * *

Clocks ticked away seconds and minutes, the sun baked my scalp, and we walked. While alive, I didn’t feel present.

We returned to the guesthouse down the road with the big screen TV for dinner. Staff at ours had left to check in with family and friends.

Collapsed in bed at 8pm, I was physically and mentally spent. My body floated back and forth around me, perhaps from the boat ride earlier in the day. Senses crystal clear and alert were held in a cool, hollowed shell of a body.

December 26, 2004 was finally over.

December 27, 2004 – life continues in Krabi

“Today dawned sunny with more and more horrible news.” – personal journal

Despite the tragedy of the day before and the ongoing chaos, I wanted to stay in Thailand. There was no way that we could leave anyway. We decided that spending our tourist dollars was how we could help. And so I booked us an elephant ride for the afternoon.

At lunch, a young couple starting talking to us. The husband spoke while his wife stared at nothing and only moved to breathe. They had been snorkelling when the wave hit and their long boat sank. Amazingly, their pack with passports and plane tickets inside didn’t and bobbed by.

They were on the water for hours before being rescued and taken back to Phi Phi Don. Getting to their hotel on higher ground meant struggling through debris and bodies.

Sitting in a cafe with their bags talking to strangers, they were desperate to get home but stuck where they were. The agitation and distress was obvious and so difficult to observe.

On the ride out to the elephant compound, other tourists talked about their experiences. Some were staying in Krabi and had felt the earthquake in their hotel. We laughed and smiled and chatted and this felt right. We were all on vacation! But it also felt very wrong.

At the compound, we waited turns to climb up a tower to “board” the elephants. Strange benches that looked like they belonged on legs in a park were tied to the backs of the enormous animals.

elephant huddle

elephant huddle

Normally guests rode in pairs but I was alone with a handler and her elephant. She straddled the elephant just behind his ears while I sat behind on my park bench. Grunts and unfamiliar sounds started the elephant moving along with taps from a cruel-looking tool with a wooden handle and metal prod. Pushing on the backs of billowy ears with a strong pair of feet steered the lumbering pachyderm left and right.

The long line of elephants, handlers and tourists perched high wobbled and bobbled into the forest. Taking my shoes off for better grip didn’t help. I expected roughness but my feet slid around soft skin with the occasional prickly hair sticking straight up like a quill.

on elephant in Krabi, Thailand

Please don’t move! The elephant’s handler had jumped off to take a few photos.

After the ride, the elephants inhaled mini bananas. Their funny snouts looked like a comical face, snuffling around for the next bunch of treats.

A 2-year old elephant was dancing, posing and ringing the bell around its neck in a little clearing. It was impossible to not melt in front of her as she soaked up every ounce of attention. I slowly moved forward to say hello but arched back when her snout shot out towards my face. She took my surprise as rejection and hung her head in sadness.

Crunched into a car for the ride back to Krabi Town, it felt like a parallel world. Enjoying a first elephant experience clashed sharply with yesterday’s horrifying tsunami shock.

Walking around the compact town core that evening was bizarre. Some businesses were closed or had limited hours with signs saying that staff had returned home due to the tsunami. Kids laughed and played on the sidewalk or hung out of windows to say hello. Bars and restaurants were full of patrons. Tourists and locals explored the night market. Life continued.

Finding a place to eat dinner, we sat down to relax and scan the menu. Ambulance sirens suddenly slammed into every corner of the tiny restaurant. One of our group panicked and insisted on immediately returning to our guesthouse up on a hill.

Life continued but against a backdrop that just didn’t match.

Part 1 – Beijing and Phuket, December 2004

Part 2 – Phi Phi Don Island, December 25 and the morning of December 26, 2004

Part 3 – Phi Phi Don Island to Krabi, the morning of December 26, 2004

Part 4 – Krabi Town, December 26, 2004

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18 thoughts on “#5 – 2004 Thailand tsunami memories: Krabi, December 27, 2004

  1. We got to meet a baby elephant in Phuket – she/he used to play in the sea outside our hotel. When we read about the tsunami afterwards they mentioned a baby elephant that had run inland carrying a child to safety when the tsunami struck. They are truly amazing creatures. It is strange how life continued. I think that is the Asian temperament. I don’t think it would happen like that here – everything would grind to a stop.

    • Hi and sorry for taking so long to comment! I’ve been frustrated with the new notifications and am slowly getting things sorted out. That’s an interesting story about the elephant carrying a child to safety. I agree with you in that they are so fascinating. I thought they were before but then to experience one up close completely changed how I saw elephants after.
      It was strange how life continued and interesting to hear your thoughts about what would happen had the same thing happened in the UK. I have no idea what would happen in my little corner of Canada although some parts of the country have had pretty devastating natural disasters over the past couple of years and the biggest note was how quickly people jumped into help out.

      • No worries, I don’t usually remember I am waiting for a reply! It is a bit frustrating that WordPress keep changing things. I still prefer the old statistics page.

        • Agreed! I was sad that I could no longer load it. It’s odd since the so-called upgrades are supposed to make things better for “mobile users” but I disagree. I use the laptop for writing but all the reading is on the tablet and the changes absolutely do not make things better.

          • I still have a link at the bottom of the new statistics page that goes to the old one. On another subject I can’t reply to your comments on your site once the thread gets too deep. I guess you have chosen that somewhere? Luckily I still can in the notifications area.

  2. Every time I read your accounts about the tsunami, I feel like I am there and I can understand how you felt and still feel. I recently wrote about the 9-21 earthquake for my book and it was so chilling. I remember how sad I felt to know that I was ok but people so near me were suffering.

    • Thank you, Constance! I really appreciate your feedback. The writing style is different than I have done before and it’s fun to try and (a) keep the style consistent and (b) challenge myself to write that way.
      How is your book shaping up these days?

      • It is going great! I am actually taking a break from it now (getting back it in a few min). Yesterday I wrote 4000 words (!!!), close to 2000 today – it is just flowing these days and I am finding my fingertips have a hard time keeping up. However, some days I find it difficult to string the right words together.

  3. I can imagine it must have been a strange feeling to be “on vacation” with all of that happening… I love the elephant pics and story, aren’t they awesome creatures. I’ve never ridden one, have only seen them in animal larks, but I did get to feed one, and touch her and photograph them up close last year at Australia Zoo.

    • Definitely. It was so strange. The processing and overwhelming emotion happened more in the months after I got home.
      Yes and thank you! Elephants are incredible. It really pains my heart to see that poaching continues. Can you post your pictures? I’d love to see them!

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