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Published: October 24th 2005
Viewpoint at Phi Phi
Nearly kills you but totally worth it! A word to the wise, if you go for sunset - take a torch for the way down! You can see here where apartments were, where the land is now bare..
For the last four weeks I have been on the island of Ko Phi Phi, off the Thailand Andaman Coast, the island is building a memorial garden for the victims of the tsunami and the project needs to be finished in time for the one year anniversary. I went along with the intention to volunteer for a couple of days during my time on the island, which was orignially only meant to be a week but really enjoyed the work that the garden was doing and wanted to try and help in any small way I could. So I ended up doing three weeks volunteer work in total with a visa run to Malaysia in between!
Phi Phi basically looks like two islands connected by a bridge of land a few metres long, either side of this bridge there are two bays and the garden is based on one of these bays (Ao Lo Dalam). It used to be the case that when you got off the boat at the Pier you could not see through to the other bay for bungalows and resorts, but since the Tsunami you can see right across to the other bay, reaffirming the fact
that Phi Phi was one of the worse hit islands in Thailand.
With the geography of the island, the first wave hit the Pier side of the island, causing everyone to run away from it and desperately heading them straight towards the second wave that hit the other islands bay i.e. where the garden is now. This wave was far more damaging and was approximately 8 metres high.
They estimate that there were 8000 people on the island on Boxing Day, of those 850 people died and 1300 are still missing, so it would be fair to say now that the island lost a quarter of its population that day. Alot of the dead were children because, as was reported at the time, they were curious as to why the tide had gone out and started chasing it and looking at the fish that were left in the sand. Whilst on the island I was shown footage of a couple trying to get in a long-tail boat at the shore, within a minute this boat and all the others were totally standed on the sand, all the locals standing around in bewilderment and then began trying to push
My favourite place in the world...watching the sunset at this bar. Truly breathtaking
the boat out further to sea, obviously totally unaware about what was to happen.
Once the wave had hit and the fortunate people had made it to higher ground they weren't necessarily safe, alot of people obviously were badly injured and with open wounds. They had a horrendous time trying to avoid the mosquito's and posionous snakes up in the mountains whilst those more able bodied came down for supplies.
104 children on the island lost either one or both parents on that day and a lot of them are still in orphanages and day care centres on the mainland. However with the work that Hi Phi Phi (the volunteer organisation based on the island) has done such as rebuilding the school, those children are gradually coming back. There are also some amazing stories: one of the surviving residents of the island was a blind man and on the morning of the Tsunami was sat down by the sea. He could hear the coral tinkling and cracking as the sea had gone so far out and so knew something was serious was happening and started to run. They are still in the process of identifying people, obviously
this happens on the mainland.
The garden was the brainwave of a couple who lost their little girl in the tsunami. They wanted somewhere for relatives and friends to come and visit as the current park on the island is only a temporary structure whereas the garden is going to be a permanent fixture. Part of the garden's charm is that it has been lovingly tended to by the people that have worked on it and everything is totally natural, even the rocks that we used for the wall were collected from the sea every morning by the boys on the boat. Most of the time we had to share very few implements: a few rakes, shovels and wheelbarrows and so it used to make me smile when a new volunteer would start and with the best intentions declare "lets organise a digger", or have some dynamic strategic plan. They were missing the point really, it somehow seemed fitting that the the garden should take time to complete and not be completed by five men in five days with all the tools at hand. That would seem incongruous to what the garden was about.
When I left Phi
Phi the garden was slowly getting there even though the place was still littered by sandbags which had been made to fill a trench around the garden, in an attempt to stop the tide progressing further at times of high tide during full moon.
Alot of the volunteers found that it was difficult to leave, people wanted to see the garden right through to its conclusion and wanted to be part of it. The majority of people either extended their stay by days or like myself by weeks. Infact I know very few people that actually left on the day that they were due to!
Right next to the garden there was a bar called Sunflowers, this is the most amazing place to see sunsets and it soon became a nightly ritual for the volunteers, to go home, get showered and come back for a Singha (Thai Beer) and sunset and then on for dinner! Sunflowers used to be called Sunset, however the owner of the bar lost his wife and two little girls in the tsunami. As a tribute to his girls he renamed the bar after the girls favourite flower. Stories like this hit you hard
and as one local said, for months all people were saying to each other on the island was "I am sorry for your loss" but it was so humbling to see how these lovely people are carrying on with their lives.
The best day that I had whilst volunteering was nicknamed Peat Wednesday. A boat came with 1000 bags of peat for the garden and countless beautiful plants. We had to unload eveything from the boat and transport it to the garden on the other bay, with 15 volunteers and three trolleys in 30++ degree heat!! My one resounding memory of the day was pushing a trolley with another girl through the town and struggling!! Despite this, the little lady that sells BBQ'd Corn on the Cobs on one of the streets came running out shouting "CORN CORN CORN CORN CORN CORN"...probably her least likeliest sale for the day! It was such a good day as there was a real spirit amongst the volunteers and it was brilliant to see how beautiful this garden was going to look with what had been bought.
Phi Phi is and still remains an idylic paradise and is actually referred to as
Phi Phi Ley
Only a Long Boat away and unmissable..Take Me to The Beach!
Paradise Island, you cannot get over the beauty of the place despite what has tragically happened in recent times - its totally intoxicating. I would have to say that if you are going to Thailand, your journey would not be complete without going to Phi Phi - its amazing as you can see from the photos. I stayed on a place in the island that advertised "Half a Roof, Full Heart" which I think totally sums it all up!
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