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Ko Phi Phi was devastated by the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, when nearly all of the island's infrastructure was wiped out. Redevelopment has, however, been swift, and services like electricity, water, Internet access and ATMs are up and running again, but waste handling has been slower to come back online.

If someone were to visit the Thai island of Ko Phi Phi with no knowledge of the tsunami in 2004, they might not ever notice that it was the scene of real devastation. The natural beauty, the wonderful people and the island atomosphere are well intact. Though the final toll may never be known, 75% of the buildings were destroyed and about 2000 people were killed in the tsunami, including about 1200 that are listed as missing.

Ko Phi Phi has a rather vulnerable geographic position that caused both sides of the most populated area to be hit by the wave. The biggest concentration of people was in the tiny isthmus (150 meters wide) between the two islands at the top. Just as you get off the pier at Ton Sai beach, you notice some fields to the left with no buildings. Before the tsunami, these fields had high end bungalows, all of which were destroyed and/or swept away. As you might imagine, there are signs and warning systems everywhere now.

Apparently the relief effort was centered at Carlito's Bar, which is down the beach a few hundred meters and spared. There's a story that Carlito himself perished while trying to save others. There is an American that owns a group of used book stores (D's Books) and he showed us the level where the water came into his store (though he didn't own it then). Despite some controversy, reconstruction is well underway. We found the island to be clean and mostly debris free.

There are sure signs of quick recovery, though, as visitors, we can only know so much. Last night we walked by the small school grounds and there was some sort of festival going on. About 75 kids were all dancing in the courtyard under lights and corporate sponsored tents, surely donated for relief. The kids were having such fun, dancing and horsing around- smiles everywhere. I couldn't help but wonder what mark the tsunami might have left on these kids and how they are coping. Like everyone that lives here, I'm sure the scars will take a while to heal, but for last night and for our whole time here, people seem to be more focused on the future than the past. Seeing those kids so happy gave me a good feeling that recovery, in a number of forms, is well underway.

If you're thinking of going to Phi Phi, we highly recommend it. Your tourist dollars do a lot for the local economy and it is an incredibly beautiful place. Although rapidly becoming less and less attractive due to the masses of tourists as well as the construction on the island, it's still a very beautiful place to visit, and is one of those places everybody should go at least once in their lifetime. Although the beaches are not the best in Thailand, the place has a good vibe and nightlife and there are dozens of dive shops to choose from. Most of the (over)development of Phi Phi is situated in or around Tonsai village, which is on the low, sandy isthmus that joins the two hilly spurs that comprise the rest of the island. There are also other, quieter resorts on Long Beach, Laem Thong, and at other less accessible areas of the island.

Ko Phi Phi was devastated by the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, when nearly all of the island's infrastructure was wiped out. Redevelopment has, however, been swift, and services like electricity, water, Internet access and ATMs are up and running again, but waste handling has been slower to come back online.

It should be noted that, while very laid back, many of the local islanders are Muslim. You will lose considerable respect if you walk around town in your skimpies (this applies to Buddhist areas of Thailand too!). While many tourists do in fact parade down Main Street in their Speedos or thong bikinis, to avoid offending your hosts, it's usually best just to throw on a pair of shorts or a sarong; similarly, toplessness on the beaches, while grudgingly tolerated by most locals, is also probably best avoided.

Info thanks to: www.theworldisnotflat.com



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