Roughly two months after the Tsunami struck Thailand, I decided to
travel south to see the aftermath and talk with people whose lives had been affected by
We reached Trang, in southern Thailand, by overnight train from
Thanks to the Thai people's irrepressible friendliness, we managed to
have a decent party on the train ride, enhanced no doubt by generous amounts of Sang Som
We sang, we danced, and made friends with fully three-quarters of our
car. In any case, when we pulled into Trang, after a sixteen-hour ride, hangovers were in
Perhaps due to the Muslim influence, Trang is one of the cleanest Thai
cities I have ever visited, with dusted sidewalks and trashcans actually in use. There's
not much to the city in terms of tourist spots or nightlife, but it made a good starting
We rented motorcycles from an affable and extremely trusting Thai
fellow. He took only our driver's licenses and then handed over the keys to three, brand
new Honda Waves, for only five dollars per day.
The bikes turned out to be the best investment of the trip, as we
spent the next four days cruising along the Andaman Sea, stopping wherever looked
We spent one night in a tiny town called Ban Jao Mai Hat Yao, where we
stayed at a ramshackle, almost-resort, perfectly located on a huge beach.
They had free kayaks for use, so we did a bit of offshore island
cruising and got some decent work done on our sunburns.<
I talked to the owner's wife about the Tsunami and she said that it
was 'lek mahk laet kao talay churi churi', meaning that the wave was small and stayed in
the sea. This was a common refrain among the natives, although they all decried the drop
Several people admitted that they had initially thought we three
foreigners were 'pee' or ghosts (Thais are an extremely superstitious people) and were a
bit scared at first to talk.
One friendly manager, at the lovely Pak Meng Resort, did offer me
free room and board if I taught her staff for two hours per day; a job I reluctantly
After a week of many swaying trees, long, twisting coastal roads, hot
springs, card games in tiny fishing villages, stickball on deserted beaches (and other
such silliness), the highlight of our trip was a tour of Koh Muk and
seeing Tham Morakot; the Emerald Cave.
We took a long-tailed boat to the island, stopping on the way for some
Outside a limestone cave, we dropped into the water and were led down
an eighty meter long tunnel, with total blackness surrounding our guide's miniscule
flashlight. The tunnel opened up in a sparkling pool, replete with white-sand beach and
surrounded on all sides by towering cliffs.
The only entrance is either through the ocean tunnel or by a very
exacting parachute drop. A sign claimed the cave was originally discovered by natives, and
used by pirates as an ultimate hideaway for buried treasure.
We were in the middle of searching for this treasure when voices
spookily began to echo from the tunnel.
The resonance made it difficult to be sure, but it sounded like a
horde was advancing, albeit at a snail's pace. The chattering grew louder and more
excited, until the first in a chain of over forty Buddhist monks floated into view, yellow
robes wrapped into a loincloth and covered with a lifejacket.
Taking a holiday from a local monastery, they were equally as awed as
we were by the hidden Emerald Cave. The monkhood, while not obliquely required, is entered
by most Thai males at some point in their lives, and most monks, in my experience, are
quite friendly and down-to-earth.
We took some pictures and then, feeling the crowd, set off back
through the tunnel; leaving the secluded cave as safe haven for the happy monks.
As part of an easy day trip, or by staying on the island of Koh Muk, a
visit down the limestone tunnel of Emerald Cave is well worth the journey.
We dropped the bikes off and took another overnight train back to
Bangkok, although we avoided the Sang Som on the return journey.
For an area suffering a sever drop in tourism, Trang has recovered
from the tsunami physically. The mental superstitions will, I believe, also fade as
visitors return to this untouched beauty on the Andaman Sea.
By Seth Leighton.
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