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Published: April 8th 2021
The school and university years had ended so we set off for a two week jaunt in Thailand. We landed in Phuket and were driven an hour or so north to the small beachside town of Khao Lak. The coastal area around the town had been hit harder than any other parts of Thailand in the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. The official death toll was around 4,000, but the ever reliable Wikipedia reports that due to lack of reliable census data and the large numbers of undocumented Burmese immigrants it could have been as high as 10,000. There was no shortage of reminders of what had happened here - a tsunami museum, and a brand new early warning system complete with sirens and signs directing people where to go to get to high ground in the event of a repeat. It was hard to imagine just how extraordinarily bad it had been. When it had all subsided a large navy boat was apparently found some two kilometres inland. We've since seen the horrific movie "The Impossible" starring Naomi Watts. It was filmed in Khao Lak, and was based on the true story of Spanish doctor Maria Belon and her family. They'd
been staying at one of the Khao Lak resorts when the wave hit and were swept away and separated. Maria suffered horrific injuries, but somehow survived, along with her husband and their three young sons. We very much suspected that the locals were highly dependent on tourism for their income, so it was good to see that most of the resorts seemed to have been rebuilt and the tourism industry seemed to be well and truly up and running again.
Emma, Troy and I decided we'd go elephant riding. Now I'm not sure I'd do this again knowing what I do now about how some of these poor creatures are apparently treated, but the ones we rode on seemed to be well cared for as far as we could tell. They don't walk all that quickly, which probably shouldn't have surprised us. The trek was fairly short, and took us to a nice waterfall out in the jungle where we could cool down, and the elephants could get a drink. We got back to the car park to be confronted by a man with a small and very lively monkey on a lead. He'd seemingly appeared out of nowhere
and his charge immediately made a beeline for one of Emma's legs. A few seconds later it had wrapped itself around her head. Just as well she's an animal lover. I started to take pictures, but of course there was a catch. Payment was required. It was hard to begrudge that. It certainly was entertaining, and we were left wondering how the handler and the many like him had managed to survive both the tsunami and a few subsequent years here without any tourists.
Most memorable travel stories inevitably seem to involve things that went wrong, and this trip was no exception. Troy got sick, and boy did he get sick. He said he was feeling a bit off, so he stayed in the room one night while the rest of us went out for dinner. When we got back we found him lying on the floor in the bathroom looking like he wanted to die. The hotel called a doctor who gave him a jab and something to get him rehydrated. Emma had gone out in sympathy, so she got jabbed as well. The medico told us that if Troy wasn't a lot better in a few hours
we'd need to get him admitted to the local hospital. Hmmmm. We were in a relatively remote location in a distinctly third world country, so this didn't seem like a particularly attractive proposition. The hotel chef then turned up to offer his apologies. I'm not sure why - Troy could have picked up whatever he'd got from anywhere. If it was the hotel food then surely the rest of us would have also been sick, along presumably with most of the other guests. I'm not sure I'd want the stress of being a hotel chef - one dodgy meal and all the guests get sick. And I don't think you'd be getting too many positive reviews, so you could probably forget about too many more guests turning up for a long time afterwards. Fortunately Troy did recover relatively quickly, but the memory lingers.
We took a tour to some of the local Buddhist temples. Our friendly guide was apparently very keen to give us some background on Buddhism, but we were a bit slow to catch on. He kept repeating very quickly what sounded to us like a single word "gunnabedamonk". By the time we'd worked out that this
meant that someone was "going to be a monk" I think a lot of what he was trying to tell us had gone well and truly over our heads. The temples were spectacular and felt very peaceful. There was lots of gold, well gold paint I assume. There was a chair in one of the temples that had long steel spikes sticking out from its back, seat and armrests. I'm not sure we ever got quite to the bottom of what purpose this was supposed to serve. Someone had left some serviettes on its seat, which we assumed were meant to be used to clean up the blood if you were unlucky enough to stumble into it. It was located near a donation box, which was a small slit cut into the top of a large and very heavy looking combination safe. I'd often wondered later if the punishment for trying to steal the safe was being made to sit on the spiky chair for a few weeks. That would have stopped me.
Emma and I took a bike ride through the jungle to a very attractive waterfall, passing through a working rubber plantation along the way.
would have liked to swim in the sea, but there were signs everywhere warning about dangerous jellyfish. But walking along the beach; surely that'd be OK. Issy, Scott and I wanted to eat at a beachside restaurant, but it seemed to be on the other side of a river from the hotel. No problem we thought, we'll walk across the bridge. Now I've seen pictures of the world's most dangerous bridges, and I'm sure the only reason this one doesn't feature is because if you fell off it you'd only tumble a few metres into some calm water, rather than hundred of metres into a raging chasm. It was about a hundred metres long, and made entirely from spindly tree trunks. The deck was a lot more gaps than wood, and I wasn't entirely convinced that we wouldn't be safer taking our chances with the jellyfish.
We were fortunate to be there during a local festival, and the locals certainly knew how to put on a good show. As we were having dinner next to the pool one evening we were treated to the spectacular sight of hundreds of candle-filled lanterns floating up from the beach into the night
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