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.
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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.
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.
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