Phi Phi island is located in the Andaman Sea, off the coast of Thailand. It is predominantly limestone, and features stunning spires off the coast. Three hours by boat from the mainland town of Phuket, for years, Phi Phi was an "insider's" paradise. As I understand it, five years ago, there were less than 10 tourist shops, no paved roads, and small huts on the beach.
Ko Phi Phi was severely damaged by the tsunami on December 26th, 2004. I went to the island to see not only the legendary beauty of the limestone spires, but also to see the progress made after the devastating tsunami. This photo shows the shape of the island. The water from the tsunami intensified as it was forced through the horseshoe bay. The isthmus connecting the two bays is only 3 meters above sea level, and this area is also where the heaviest concentration of tourists is located.
Today the island is on the radar for backpackers and the well-heeled alike. 21 months after the tsunami, there is still a significant amount of construction. While I was there, investment for large scale projects ensured construction was continuous...7 days a week, 24 hours a day.
Being on an island has also impacted the recovery effort. Every brick, bag of cement, nail, and qualified employee has to be brought over by boat. All the remnants of the tsunami's destruction that could not be burned, also has to leave by boat. Construction materials and wages are 3-5 times higher than on the mainland. Piles of old mattresses, broken cinder blocks, shards of corrugated metal, and mountains of sandbags all claim ground wherever there is not a current construction project.
On the way to the beach...
Since the tsunami, not only is tourist lodging at a premium (thankfully I was traveling during the low season), but so is permanent housing. Buildings that were obviously still under construction were being inhabited by work crews. Walls waiting for glass shipments, donned lines of laundry drying in the sun.
I'd like to say I had a normal "beachy" time on Ko Phi Phi, but the remnants of the tsunami were still very much an impact and consequently never far from my mind...