Much of Southern Thailand has been hit hard by unseasonable storms which have resulted in floods and mudslides. Up to 25 people are believed to have been killed and some villages either engulfed by rising waters or covered by mudslides. Eight provinces in mid-southern Thailand, including Nakhon Si Thammarat, Surat Thani, Chumphon, Phatthalung, Trang, Phang Nga, Songkhla, and Krabi, have been affected by the floods.
At present, Nakhon Si Thammarat Airport remains closed and trains on the Southern Line terminate at Chumphon. Buses are getting through on some roads, but a number of roads, for example in Krabi, are impassable. However, Samui Airport and also the ferry boats between the islands, including to Koh Tao and Koh Phangan, have all resumed services. Firsthand reports on Twitter today say that things are getting back to normal on the islands with foreign tourists already going out on dives.
On Wednesday evening, I talked by telephone with one of the foreign backpackers who was stuck on the island. We had news the day before that ships as well as the aircraft carrier from the Royal Thai Navy were being dispatched to the region. They arrived on Wednesday. News later that day gave us the impression that all of the foreign tourists had been evacuated. That wasn’t really so. From what I learned from Lee, a backpacker from America, was that only about 25% of the tourists were able to be evacuated. He told me that they had been told to report to the pier at 8 a.m. Women and children, as well as the elderly, were evacuated first by helicopter. You can see that happening in the video above shot by tomlansfordvideo and posted on youtube.
Other people were ferried out to the ships by longtailed boats. Lee said that they stayed at the pier until 4:30 p.m. when they were finally told that the ships were leaving without them. He said that no-one seemed to know whether the navy would be coming back. However, the catamaran service, that runs between the islands and Chumphon announced that due to the weather improving that they would be selling tickets for the next day. So, Lee bought a ticket on this boat for 1,000 baht with a connection all the way to Khao San Road in Bangkok. As far as I can work out, this was the normal price. In fact, Lee told me that there didn’t seem to be a hiking of prices on the islands. There was no shortage and they even got some free food from the locals. He said that he was very impressed with the hospitality of the Thai people.
This afternoon I spoke with Ayesha Cantrell (@kohtaodive) via email and twitter. She lives and works on the island and what she had to say mirrors what other “locals” have said about the situation. The picture above and below were posted on her blog today “Koh Tao After the Rain”. This is what she told me in her email:
“The evacuation seemed a little over the top to most residents on Koh Tao but I understand that the situation has been much worse in many places. We are used to this. Being cut off for a few days is not out of the ordinary and we didn’t loose power and certainly had enough food. I have been here without ferries for more than 10 days and even then we weren’t down to crumbs, although beer was being rationed. When the boats stop running what we don’t have apart from transport is fresh fruit and veg – but everything else is ok. The worst hit areas are actually residential and will take a little time to put right – again this is quite normal in monsoon. The problem was the amount of water in a short space of time.
“As far as I am aware there are a few shops and two bar/restaurants closed on the main strip of road (see above). One resort has had a couple of 15 yr old bungalows fall/slip and has seen damage to their pathways. The main beach path has at the most a couple of metres that has been washed away. One beach restaurant lost its deck. This is all being fixed as we speak and will rectify itself very quickly. All in all relatively little damage and little that will inconvenience a visitor. The beaches are deserted. Ferries are running normally, dive boats are back out and the multitude of fishing boats hiding in Sairee have left overnight. Today its bright and not raining. The sun is trying its hardest to break through. Once it does the remaining large puddles will be a memory.”
It was certainly a bad storm on Koh Tao which you can see on this video uploaded to youtube by OceansBelowKohTao. But, as Ayesha said, they are used to it on this island and things are quickly getting back to normal. However, there are not many tourists and the people on these islands depends on them for their livelhood. The situation is not being helped by travel warnings posted by various countries that haven’t been updated yet. For example, The British Foreign Office have this to say: “The Foreign Office advise against non essential travel to Koh Tao and Koh Phangan” [source Updated: 31 March 2011]. I am not sure why they single out these two islands.
Most of the emails and tweets that we have received today were about Koh Tao and also Samui. I have been in contact with people there and they are in agreement that much of Samui is habitable now and should be back to normal by mid-April. We also had quite a few questions about Phuket on the West coast. According to firsthand reports from Phuket, although they had continuous rain for four days, they had very little flood damage. Today the sun has even come out. I was supposed to fly down to Phuket on Thursday and I think it was a shame that it was cancelled. It sounds like they have already returned to normal. For the latest travel news for Thailand you can follow me on Twitter @RichardBarrow. I can also suggest two excellent weather blogs for that region: Jamie’s Phuket Weather and Camille’s Samui Info Blog.