Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Kokkram, Koh Chang Island, Tsunami Aftermath

by AJ/Skald

Thankfully, I narrowly missed the Tsunami that engulfed southern Thailand.... I traveled to the south a few days after it hit. Three of the Athens Hobopoets (me, Kristin, and Todd H.) along with Tip, Wat, and Da met on Andaman Koh Chang (not to be confused with the more famous Koh Chang on the East coast).

We met at the Kokkram "resort" for the new year... a collection of simple bungalows that our friend Wat helped to build. He invited us to join him there for the New Year and assured us that the island had not been badly damaged by the tsunami. And so we booked a bus from Bangkok to the town of Ranong on the west coast. It was the typically gruelling Asian bus ride that I've grown to loathe over the years and yet keep making time and again. Ten hours later we arrived.

We stayed in the Wood House Guest House, run by Wat's friend Bow. They have simple concrete rooms... clean but very spartan (much like my apartment... but cleaner). No boats were running the day we arrived as the Thai government was still wary of aftershocks. We therefore spent the day at Ranong's famous Siam Spa.... a hotspring spa that includes a large hottub, a sauna, a steam room, and Thai massage facilities. If was a wonderful way to relax and unwind after a long bus ride. After several hours in scalding water (and a great massage) we hiked up a nearby hill and feasted on spicy tofu curry and rice.

Bow booked us a boat ticket and the next day we caught a wooden fishing boat to a rendevous point in the sea.. where a long tail boat met us. We transferred to the small boat which took us into Kokkram's isolated bay. We plodded onto the beach and caught sight of the tall tower on the left side of the bay-- Kokkram resort. This "resort", this beach, and this island are not hotspots. There are no shops at Kokkram... and the resort itself is merely a collection of simple wooden huts and dome tents. The huts have no fan or air conditioning and the entire resort has electricity only from 6pm to 10pm-- when they run the generator. Otherwise, the experience is much like camping... though most huts do have a spectacular view of the beach and each night Tip and I fell asleep to the sound of waves.

Curled in a bamboo nest,
The voice of the sea
sings me to sleep.

This is a place for the depleted-- for those craving rest, peace, and quiet. It is a place to recharge. It is NOT a place for those wanting to party or socialize. For that, the eastern islands of Koh Phangan and Koh Tao are much better. Activities at Kokkram are subdued. Tip and I hiked a trail one day and came across a ramshackle, deliverance-esque shack next to a long marsh flat. The inhabitants, Chang (Kokkram's tattoo artist) & his girlfriend, whacked a coconut off a tree and offered us its fresh juice. It was gigantic and took the two of us over 10 minutes to finish. Once done, Chang split it in two and dropped it on the ground.

A feeding frenzy of ensued... for the grounds housed a collection of ducks, chickens, dogs, puppies, cats, and kittens... who all eagerly went for the coconut. The chickens pecked the kittens on the head, the puppies chewed the ducks' tails, the ducks waddled and pecked at the puppies... and everyone dug into the coconut half-shells. Tip jumped and giggled amid the frenzy.

Another morning I sat on our bungalow porch and watched the resident pony, struck by a wild urge, charge up and down the beach. At one point he turned and charged into Kokkram's beachside bar.... skidding, kicking, and sliding on the tile.

Kristin and Wat arrived a couple of days later. We booked a small longtail boat for a trip to nearby Koh Phayam island.... rising and dropping on choppy seas under a cloudy sky. We reached the beach, and a Reggae Bar, in about an hour. At the Reggae Bar we met another of Wat's friends, Pon. We also met Pon's British girlfriend and a German girl who was staying there. The German girl had recently arrived from Surin Island and was on the beach when the Tsunami struck.

In fact, she had pictures of the wave. A group of Thai snorkellers were walking on the beach at the time. They couldn't swim (as many Thais can't) and so they had on life jackets. They were still wearing them on the beach, which amused the German girl. So she took out her camera and started to snap pictures--- just as the first wave hit. The succession of pictures show a wave sweeping onto the beach, knocking people over, and then sweeping them out to sea. As it turns out, the Thai snorkellers were saved by their life vests.

After listening to us talk about the tsunami, the Thais at the bar seemed agitated and encouraged us all "not to worry". This is the "mai pen rai" attitude so ingrained in Thais.... a go with the flow, "no worries" approach to life. They rolled a massive joint and passed it around. I barely inhaled and coughed out one hit and felt nothing... doing it more to convince them that I was not worrying than for any other purpose.

Tip and I then strolled the beach as Kristin continued to talk to the others... Todd drank and smoked and Da scowled. We all then took the boat back to Koh Chang/Kokkram... a magical ride on bumpy seas at sunset... squid and fishing boats glimmering in the distance... a chill breeze blowing... sea spray in my face.

We returned to Ranong the following day and spent another afternoon at Siam Spa.... then ate great Som Tom (spicy papaya salad) sitting next to the stream.

And then another grueling bus ride. I'm now back in Bangkok amid a crowd of tourists, traffic, and barking dogs. But I am, indeed, rested and rejuvenated.... ready to tackle the city, the final phases of the Masters degree, and the upcoming move to Hiroshima, Japan.

"Another year is gone -
A travel hat on my head,
Straw sandals on my feet"

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