A travel moment in Koh Lanta, Thailand

Little did we know that our dive boat was the safest place to be when the tsunami ripped through Asia. I had flown to Thailand to spend Christmas with my sister and brother-in-law on Koh Lanta, a small island with few visitors and a basic infrastructure. A 4x4 was needed to reach our beach but the simple huts dotted along the shore were all that we wished for.

The restaurant hung over the water on wooden stilts with a tiny kitchen that backed into the rock face. Elegant girls emerged with fresh seafood, cooked to perfection and always served with a friendly smile. Adjacent was Patís Bar where Thai cushions softened the floorboards for sunset drinks. Pat was young, instantly likeable and proud of his business. When trade was slow he made jewellery from silver and locally collected shells. By night, when the party spirit was high, he turned up the music and swung his fire poi to the beat of the latest club anthems.

It was the most relaxing Christmas Day that culminated in dancing with fellow travellers, our hosts and their children. The next morning we motored an hour off shore to snorkel the reef under clear skies. Instead ferocious currents and a surge that engulfed the white beaches on islands either side of our small boat shook us. Once calm returned it took the rest of the day to navigate the flotsam back to our devastated beach.

We retrieved a few possessions from our huts and retreated to high ground where a small clearing in the forest provided safety for a couple of hundred people. Faces glowed in candlelight as we talked about the dayís events. The girls from the tiny kitchen cooked food for us all on salvaged gas cookers, a testament to their resourcefulness and generous spirit even at this tragic time.

Stress had left many exhausted. Comfort was handed out to those in need but nothing could be done to lessen the angst of one lady who stood amidst our little community with her young children clinging to her legs. There was no news of her missing husband after his morning dive trip, the only person unaccounted for on our beach.

Pat sat with us and shared the bottle of scotch we had rescued earlier. Two wooden stilts were all that remained of his bar. His possessions and livelihood had been sucked out to sea. He was his usual cheerful self as we chatted late into the night with no evidence of self-pity.

Our encampment was a surreal sight but one moment remains with me. As people began to shroud themselves in blankets for the night a man appeared from the darkness of the forest. The distraught lady let out a scream and the two figures desperately picked their way through the crowd towards each other. Everyone broke into spontaneous applause as they buried themselves in each otherís arms and the tearful joy of this moment was shared among us.

T Maw

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