Saturday, January 20, 2007

Paradise Recovering

Two years and three days after the tsunami that swept away most of the structures and people on the densely packed, tiny tourist island of Phi Phi in Southern Thailand (made controversial by the filming of Leonardo DiCaprio's "The Beach" a few years earlier), I visited there this past holiday season, staying only a few hours on my way from Krabi to Phuket by boat. Having been there three times before, I was a little afraid of what I might find . I have friends who spent time in Phi Phi within months of the disaster and returned with depressing stories of giant piles of debris lining beaches, children left parentless and without schools, and corpses still being found both on land and at sea. Most of the island has now been cleaned up and the tourist hordes and uncontrolled cheap tourist-trap development that, in my opinion, always had largely ruined the place's picture-perfect-south seas tropical beauty, are returning. It is a little sad to see that some lessons don't seem to have been learned very well, and that the government there don't seem to have dedicated themselves any more than before to sustainable development. The hardest-hit end of the village, which was wiped out, is still eerily empty. Where once there were dozens of bungalows (in which I remember staying) there is now nothing but sand dunes interspersed with bits of broken floor tile, pipe, cement from broken foundations, and this longtail boat washed up on land a couple of hundred feet from the shoreline. Having seen the photos of the carnage after 7 meters of water tore ashore with no warning, and remembering people I had met who had worked in the now ruined, empty shell of a dive shop and restaurant, I found it a little hard to get into the spirit of the merry beer drinking European tourist hordes who once again throng the streets of the place. It may be a while before I return to Phi Phi.

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