Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Khao Lak

For my birthday earlier this year, we went to Khao Lak. Only those in our innermost circle will be able to date that, which is by intention. I always want you to be under the impression that we're on top of this blog, sporadic updates aside.

I have a theory that if you want to find a good beach, you have to follow a German. Khao Lak is a beautiful, coastal area, very popular among German, and other European tourists. It's just north of Phuket, and is much less crowded and noisy. The beaches are lovely. Khao Lak is a well-known jumping off point for diving, with several nearby national parks, nice and plentiful accommodations, and close enough proximity to Phuket that you can pop over for a day tour. I don't know why I'm trying to sell you on this place, because a large part of Khao Lak's appeal is that most tourists don't know about it. Stay away.

Khao Lak lighthouse from the beach in front of our resort.

We spent most of our trip hanging out on Khao Lak's beaches, but we did a slight bit of touring, including in the city of Phuket. It was interesting, and fun, and sad, and astonishing, and really, really beautiful. I've broken our photographs down into four sections. The majority are pics of the beach, but there are some other things I want you to see, and know.

The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami

I want to get this out of the way at the outset, because it's hard to read about, and hard to write about. On December 26, 2004, an earthquake struck off the coast of Indonesia, triggering several massive tsunamis in the Indian Ocean. The waves slammed into southwest Thailand around 10am. Thousands of people died, but the hardest hit area was Phang Nga Province, which includes Khao Lak. The run-up was large, and the waves reached 2km inland. Entire fishing villages were devastated. I had a classmate who died in Khao Lak that day, which is one of many reasons I've wanted to visit the area. 

A sign on our resort's property. 

It's hard to understand the degree of devastation that occurred in Khao Lak, particularly when you're not familiar with the history, but there are several obvious reminders of what happened. Some of the vegetation near the shore has big gouges and deep scarring. Several small, locally-run museums have popped up, with photographs and videos from the disaster. There's a tsunami warning system, and new infrastructure to prevent a similar disaster. And there are tsunami memorials.

Police Boat 813 was patrolling offshore while the late king's grandson rode a jet ski. When the tsunami hit Khao Lak, the boat was dragged 2km inland. The king's grandson did not survive the tsunami. The boat was left in place as a memorial. 

This tsunami memorial in Khao Lak is on the same site as Police Boat 813.

We drove from the beach to the memorial. 2 km didn't sound like that far of a distance, until we actually experienced it. To see the vegetation, the roads, and the structures between the shore and the police boat was jarring.

Ban Nam Khem is a fishing village to the north of Khao Lak. Per capita, it suffered the greatest tsunami losses in Thailand. The village was decimated. There's a tsunami memorial on the shore, where plaques with victims' names and photographs hang along a tiled wall. The opposing concrete wall is shaped in a wave, with a cutout near the end closest to the water. That opening shows a recovered fishing boat, which has been incorporated into the memorial. Walking through it felt similar to the feeling you get when you walk though the Vietnam War memorial in Washington D.C. It was overwhelming.

I have read a lot about the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. I have watched a lot about it, and I have thought a lot about it. I am thankful we were able to visit Khao Lak, and see some of the recovery that has taken place, though it is still hard to understand. 

Phuket's Big Buddha

Now that you're educated, and sad, let me show you something from the party that is Phuket. We only spent half a day on/in Phuket, and the most photogenic thing we saw there was the Big Buddha. It's exactly what its name implies...a very big Buddha. The statue sits on top of a hill, with panoramic views of Phuket from the top. It was built as a community effort through donations, and is only about 10-15 years old, with construction ongoing. It's a pretty place, and a site of worship for some, but it's also super touristy.  

Here's a little bit of view, and a little bit of religion. Supplicants can purchase one of these gold leaves, and write a prayer of blessing or gratitude on it. The funds go toward construction and upkeep of the statue/temple.

The Big Buddha in Phuket draws a weird mix of supplicants and sightseers, but that seems to be par for the course when it comes to the well-known temples in Thailand. We liked it. We were glad we went.

Ao Phang Nga Bay and Rubber Trees

On the way back to Khao Lak from Phuket, we stopped at an overlook of the Phang Nga Bay. This place has been featured in a few movies, including one of the James Bond shows. I don't know which. Google says The Man with the Golden Gun. Sure. A lot of people (most people?) take a boat tour of the bay, but we had limited time and a toddler. We found an overlook. It was an outstanding view.

Now you see me...

...now you don't.

As an unrelated, but cool, aside, this area of Thailand boasts a significant rubber production industry. There were rubber trees everywhere. This is notable, because The Kid kept yelling, "Wuhbba Kwees," while we drove, and it was adorable.

Rubber trees in Phang Nga province.

Khao Lak's Beaches

The beaches. Oh, the beaches. What can I say about the beaches? Why don't we let the beaches speak for themselves. This is convenient, because I am tired of writing. Enjoy Khao Lak.

A quick written interjection--this is all coral. This entire beach was coral. CORAL!

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