When I came outside, he pointed to the beach where we’d been lounging for the past few days, but the beach was submerged. The water had risen to the point where sand met land, and the current was running like a river, parallel to the shore.
At our resort’s reception area, no one knew what was going on, but in the minute or two it took us to get there from our bungalow, the sea had receded. We sat down to order breakfast, looking out at the Andaman, trying to make sense of its behavior.
Soon we spotted a set of waves far offshore. They weren’t much larger than the surf you might see along the Southern California coast, but these were out of place. In the three days we’d spent on the beach, we hadn’t seen anything that resembled breaking waves, just gentle ripples lapping the shore. Something else—this I didn’t realize until I returned to Los Angeles—was the speed of these waves; they were moving too fast.
They charged ashore, roiling the sand as they surged, sweeping tables and chairs up at the restaurant. As the waves crashed into the restaurant’s foundation, the hotel manager ordered everyone out. Amidst the following tumult of confusion and misinformation, we spent the day atop a hill waiting for the approach of rumored waves. We slept on the same hill that night beneath a full moon setting into the Andaman.
We returned to our resort the next morning. Indicated by a ribbon of detritus, the water had come within feet of our bungalow door, and there was minimal water damage throughout the resort. My Reef sandals, which I’d taken off per custom before entering the reception area, had been washed away. I found them fifty feet from where I left them.
When we walked up and down the beach witnessing the decimation of other resorts and bungalows, the destructive force of the wave became clearer to us.
At the airport in Krabi later that day, the gravity of the tsunami was more pronounced. Everyone was trying to get back to Bangkok. Everywhere around us people’s faces told stories of a wave far more devastating than what we’d encountered.
Back in Bangkok, news and information was more readily available, and the magnitude of the tsunami that struck Southeast Asia, India, and places as far away as Zanzibar and East Africa crystallized.
More than five years after the wave, that day serves as a reminder of nature’s fickle way.
I remember telling my students the week I returned to teaching that my New Year’s resolution was, simply, to have a New Year’s resolution the following year. After witnessing a natural disaster that killed more than 180,000 people, I resolved to make it another year.