It’s a bizarre site, a Thai navy battleship sitting stranded in grassy fields one kilometer from the coast. Perhaps the most poignant visual testament we’ve encountered to the power of the 2004 super-tsunami that swept across the Indian Ocean.
Khao Lak was the area hardest hit in Thailand. 5,395 people are confirmed to have died in Thailand; more than 4,000 of those people died in and around Khao Lak. (In reality the death toll is estimated to be much higher because of the large number of undocumented Burmese illegally working in the region.)
Much of the most dramatic footage captured as the tsunami hit was filmed here in Khao Lak as well as Koh Phi Phi further south. The tsunami completely devastated the coast here leveling the hotels and restaurants which lined the beaches. Even today hotel and restaurant ruins are still easily found.
Memories of the tsunami are very much alive in Khao Lak. Strolling along the beaches here, we discovered numerous impromptu memorials to family members and friends who died during the natural disaster. Laminated photos of loved ones nailed to coconut trees with bouquets of flowers and messages in Swedish, German and English. It’s an extraordinarily moving tribute to those who died here.
Beyond the human toll, the environmental impact of the tsunami is also quite noticeable. Much damage was done to Thailand’s coral reefs, although, truth be told, bleaching due to global warming has been far more destructive. And while resort beaches have been cleaned up, Thailand’s remotest beaches are often still covered with debris. Some of the more isolated beaches in Tarutao National Park were covered with huge chunks of broken wood, endless Styrofoam pontoons, and a host of personal objects from children’s toys to cooking utensils to mountains of flip-flops.
Fear of another tsunami is palpable among Thai locals and visitors. Up and down Thailand’s Andaman coast, endless signs direct visitors to tsunami escape routes. Ironically, these signs can be somewhat discomforting as, occasionally, they serve to highlight just how far you are from safety.
But life has a way of teaching you a valuable lesson. While we had our eyes focused on Thailand’s evacuation signs and worried about quickly dropping tides, the world’s next super-tsunami hit Japan, reminding us that Mother Nature can be one hell of an unpredictable bitch.