Tsunami in Thailand: Remembering the Devastation of 2004

Tsunami in Thailand Kitesurfers at Nai Yang Beach, Thailand

On Nai Yang Beach, two kilometers from the Phuket Airport, in the south of Thailand, a construction worker hammered relentlessly. He was reinstalling a restaurant’s roof. Today, the coastal region in Thailand rebuilds after the 2004 tsunami devastated the area and left nearly a quarter million people dead across Southeast Asia. The construction worker stopped his banging for a moment and studied the mercurial seas. I too found it difficult to forget the impact of the 2004 tsunami in Thailand, and I had been far from the Thai Beaches eight years earlier.


Remembering the 2004 Tsunami in Thailand and Southeast Asia


It was December, 2004, and I had been laying down in my hotel room in the Berkshires, Massachusetts, resting from a day on the slopes. But the television wasn’t playing the mindless entertainment that I had wanted. A torrent of water rushed across the screen dragging tree trunks and cars through the courtyards of resorts. I watched as a woman, standing on a landing above the surging seas, reached out for a man. I suspect the man was her husband. He was hanging on to a bannister and the tsunami waters were tugging at his legs and waist. Then he disappeared beneath the wave.


As I sat on the beach of Nai Yang in 2012, I watched mounds of whip-cream clouds grow frothy above the turquoise waters. A dozen kite boarders raced toward the horizon. It should have been a peaceful day at the beach, but I couldn’t help but think that another watery bulwark would charge toward the horseshoe-shaped beach and eat up all of the umbrellas and lounges, the reconstructed restaurants and massage parlors, the palm trees and people.


The Main Road at Nai Yang, Thailand

I went for a run, passing dilapidated fishing canoes that were decorated with makeshift flags as though children had attempted to transform their fathers’ boats into pirate ships. I leapt uprooted trees and zigzagged around refuse planted in the pattern of the last high tide. I wondered for how long had the trees been rotting on the sand. What had the beach looked like after the 2004 tsunami?


By the time I returned to my wife, a dark storm cloud had arrived. One strong gust had manifested up the beach, charging toward us like an invisible stampede kicking up sand. The wind knocked over umbrellas and flags. It dropped kites as if they were birds dying mid-flight. Everything collapsed like dominoes. The Thai workers scattered, chasing the umbrellas and mattress pads that were cartwheeling down the beach. When the rain came, the kiteboarders and tourists and construction workers ran for cover.


The skies cleared quickly, but nobody moved right away. When we heard the hammer on the roof, rebuilding Nai Yang, eight years after the tsunami, we decided that it was safe to return to the beach.


Where were you when the tsunami in Thailand hit? What images do you remember seeing? Is it too soon for Hollywood’s The Impossible, a film about one family’s struggle to survive the tsunami?

Posted on by Noah Lederman in Asia, Somewhere

7 Responses to Tsunami in Thailand: Remembering the Devastation of 2004

  1. Juliann

    Wow. It was 2004? It seems so much more recent.

    I don’t remember where I was that day. Home, I guess. I do remember all the television coverage, but it seemed so unreal. I couldn’t really imagine it.

    And while it’s probably not too soon for the movie, I don’t think it’s one I’d want to see, but you never know.
    Juliann recently posted…R.E.M. is on Deck, Ready to PlayMy Profile

  2. Cam @ Traveling Canucks

    Glad to see that the area has rebuilt itself. What a tragedy. My wife’s aunt was on Phuket during the tsunami. Fortunately she had gone up the hill to grab a coffee at the Starbucks… otherwise her story may have been much different.
    Cam @ Traveling Canucks recently posted…25 Epic Adventures by Travel Bloggers in 2012My Profile

    • Noah Lederman

      Hi Cam. Thanks for sharing that story about your wife’s aunt. What a tough story to recall each December 26th, but most likely to remember on a daily basis.

  3. Toni

    It’s not my story to tell as such but 2 years ago I was on a day trip dive boat and got talking to one of the veteran divers. She was in her early 70s (looking like a Chanel model with her figure and complexion) and had stopped counting her dives (which included ones with Jacque Cousteau) at about 20,000. She told me that on the day of the Tsunami, she was diving off the coast of Phuket and almost died herself. She said that she felt the ‘pull back’ of the wave before it pinned her and her buddy to the seabed for ‘what seemed like hours’. Thankfully the roll of the wave brought her back up close enough to the surface to fully ascend; just in time to see their dive boat disappear into the horizon on the wave. They were at sea for another 4.5 hours before they were rescued by a passing fishing trip.
    It was an incredible story and she told it with such sadness at the loss but happiness of the gift of life.
    I was still in Phuket when there was a tsunami warning after a Sumatra earthquake and that was scary enough; I couldn’t imagine what it would have been like!
    Toni recently posted…Instead of looking back at 2012, I’m looking forward…My Profile

    • Noah Lederman

      That’s a remarkable story. Thanks for sharing, Toni.

    • John

      Very moving story Toni, it brought a tear to my eye and makes you realise that sometimes we should live life to the full a little more than we do. I was at Nai Yang Beach last October for a wedding. My first visit to Asia and hopefully I will return. The local people don’t have an easy time of things but they always have a smile on their face. This is contagious and certainly rubbed off on me. John

      • Noah Lederman

        Thanks for sharing your experience of Nai Yang with us John. Toni’s story certainly did have a powerful impact.

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