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Thursday, October 26, 2006


Long live the King

We knew we were going to be safe traveling to Thailand following the recent coup when the King gave his blessing. Thailand is a country where every movie is preceded by the King (and a bunch of smiley thai kids) singing the national anthem. Everyone stands up, takes off their hat and pays their respects. Every store and home has at least one framed picture of the King, surrounded by incense and other offerings. Thais take their monarchy seriously.

And we can understand way. It was their royal family that prevented the Empire of Siam from being carved out as colony to the French or British, like all of their neighbors (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Burma). And the royal family is at least partly responsible for the thai economic miracle, that has made this country twice as modern and twice as cosmopolitan in half the time as all of its neighbors. The roads are all paved, the electricity rarely cuts out and the internet is cheap and plentiful, with wi-fi spots all over the city. It is so modern that there are even fat people here - along with gyms and frequent advertisements for weight loss programs.

Another reason why Thailand has raced ahead of its neighbors is its incredible beach based tourism industry. Unfortunately, the south of Thailand, where all the best beaches are, was hardest hit by the tsunami in 2004. We stayed for a week to decompress in the beach town of Khao Lak. It was the province hardest hit in the south, with ,more than 75% of all the fatalities in Thailand occurring here. They are still trying to lure tourists back, but a large portion of their tourist industry is for Thais, who are very superstitious and may never return to a beach with over 6,000 ghosts.

We could see the effects clearly. Next to our resort was another resort that had supposedly opened on Dec 25th, 2004. The day before the tsunami hit. It was entirely wiped out and they had no capital to attempt rebuilding. All that is left is the concrete shell. Riding around on our motorbike, we saw several memorials, including a Thai Navy boat that had been thrown two and a half kilometers inland by the giant wave and was left as a testament to the power of nature.

Every person had a story. Our bellhop had lost a daughter. Our snorkel guide had boat problems and left the dock to head uphill back to town. When he got to town it had practically been wiped away.

We took a snorkeling trip to the Similan Islands Marine National Park. The water and beaches were the most incredible turquoise blue and white sands we had ever seen. But we found that underneath, the coral had been shredded and shattered. Coral grows extremely slow, and it is doubtful if this important ecological / tourism site will ever come back to its former glory. Despite this tragedy, there were colorful schools of fish everywhere we looked.

Overall, Thailand has served us well as a place for us to recuperate from 2 months of travel, and recharge our batteries before our next journey to Burma and India. The food, aside from the scorpions, insects, silk worms, and frogs that find their way into the markets, is incredible and cheap. Bangkok, our base of operations, has great shopping, hip kids break dancing by the subway, and stylish shops filled with chic thais. I am sure that within a week we will be longing for the comfort of the air conditioned elevated subway to the local mall food court for a bowl of green curry and spicy papaya salad.

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