Memories of Phuket Island
One magical night 22 years ago on Phuket Island, I saw what looked like the Milky Way come to earth at Nai Harn Beach. Peter and I were walking back from dinner to our little beach resort of Ao Sane, about a half-mile from the more populous Nai Harn. Drawn by the luminous surf, we waded in and saw there swirling around our legs, bright globes of light – bioluminescent sea life as large as grapes, washing up on to the beach.Phuket was indeed a magical and timeless place for us in 1982.Our beach hut at Ao Sane, with rattan walls and a thatched roof, no electricity or water, rented for 50 cents a day. We were right on the beach and it was paradise. While we were there, we took an excursion boat out to an island a few hour’s ride west of Phuket called Koa Phi Phi. The day-long snorkeling trip had a scheduled stop at a small, rocky island where one of the early James Bond films was made. We stopped at Koa Phi Phi for lunch. Peter and I were entranced. Right on the beach was a small restaurant and a handful of “beach huts” that were definitely a cut above our primitive living quarters on Phuket. We talked the boat captain into leaving us on the island. He’d be back in a few days and we’d reboard then for the trip back to Phuket. But that night, a storm blew up that kept the boat from reaching the island for seven days.During that marvelous week we had the island to virtually to ourselves. Our first day on Koa Phi Phi we walked around a rocky point on the far side of the island to find a broad, sweeping pristine beach. I remember thinking as we walked along its untouched sand that we were the first humans on the beach. It was our own private paradise.I also have a fond memory of talking to the man who managed the little resort at Ao Sane. He and Pete and I sat over a bottle of Mekong brandy one night, and we listened to him tell his painful story about the Japanese occupation during World War II. Although it happened 40 years earlier, his wounds were still fresh, and his memory long.And I remember thinking how happy he must be to be living his life on this beautiful tropical island with nothing to worry about but keeping track of a handful of hippie guests.When we were there 20 years ago, the resort was popular with backpacking travelers on the Indonesia-Thailand-Burma circuit. Since then it’s grown to be a destination resort with high-rise luxury hotels. I’m having a hard time picturing the devastation of the tsunami that pounded the island Sunday.I know we’re only hearing the most preliminary reports of the destruction at this point. With a disaster of such epic proportions, it seems certain this tropical gem will be many years recovering. I can’t imagine the loss of life. Beyond that, who knows what the effect will be on its tourist-dependent economy.I pray for the people of Phuket, Thais and foreign visitors alike.Donna Gray is a reporter for the Post Independent.
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