2004 Tsunami in Khao Lak

On the morning of the 26th of December 2004, the seafloor shook and rumbled off the west coast of Sumatra. Within 100 seconds, an enormous rupture in the earth crust appeared 30 km below the seabed. Measuring 400 kilometers long and 100 kilometers wide, it is the largest rupture ever recorded and was just one of the symptoms of the 9.1 magnitude mega-thrust earthquake that thoroughly devastated the region. When all was said and done, the 2004 tsunami was the deadliest natural disaster ever recorded, and it left the coastlines of 14 Indian Ocean countries devastated. It claimed nearly a quarter of a million lives, as waves up to 30 meters high hit beaches around the Ocean basin. The hardest hit countries were Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand.

Tsunami Effects in Khao Lak

The effects of the mega quake, the third largest magnitude ever recorded after the Chilean quake of 1960 and the prince William sound quake of 1964, were particularly devastating in comparison. In Khao Lak, the official death count of four thousand is considered by some to be an under estimate, with unofficial estimates reaching as high as ten thousand due to the high number of undocumented Burmese migrants who disappeared.

Khao Lak tsunami effects gained particular notoriety in the media due to the many videos taken by tourists of the sea rapidly withdrawing and disappearing, as if summoned back by Poseidon himself. The images of the wall of water that was then unleashed, and that can be seen mercilessly approaching the shore like an unstoppable juggernaut, are burnt in the memories of many survivors as well as the families of the thousands of victims the tsunami claimed. The same goes for the many screams of fear and anguish and the cries for help that can be heard on the videos shot by people fleeing for their lives to higher ground.

The effects of this wall of water were so devastating that as it swept everything in its passage, almost no structures survived, and enormous swathes of vegetation and plant life were uprooted and carried inland with the marauding wave. To give you an idea about the scale and sheer power of the wave, the Thai Navy patrol boat number 813, which was at anchor whilst on royal protection duty guarding the grandson of the king of Thailand, was unceremoniously swept up by the wave and deposited nearly 2 kilometers inland. Sadly, the grandson of the king Bhumi Jensen,who was jet skiing off the coast of the La Flora Resort, was one of the many thousands of lives lost that day; his body was found the next day.

khao lak tsunami from skykhao lak tsunami aerial

Up to this point in its life, Khao Lak had grown to a small idyllic tourist attraction, with many smaller resorts and cabins constructed along the stunning beaches. Most of these buildings were constructed with natural occurring materials and local wood. These beautiful methods of construction greatly contributed to the charm of Khao Lak; but when the waves came, they were to become the Achilles’ heel of the small beautiful beach town. Almost all of the few buildings constructed out of concrete in Khao Lak survived the tsunami, with the roofs of many used as a high ground haven by many of the fleeing people. Unfortunately, most of the other buildings that gave Khao Lak its charm could not withstand the power of the sea and where smashed to smithereens and swept aside like matchwood.

khao lak tsunami trees

Post Tsunami Rebuilding efforts

In the years since the Tsunami, Khao Lak has bounced back with vigor and been entirely rebuilt. In fact, today, the only visible signs of the catastrophic events that happened 10 years previously are some discreetly placed tsunami evacuation routes. Apart from that, in its efforts to rebuild, gone are the bungalows and cabins, replaced by small solidly constructed boutique hotels. These are built on the back of the beach on an elevated balustrade, which offers some protection from advancing sea water. Over all, there has been a concerted effort to move on from the devastating effects of the disaster and most of the locals prefer not to speak about the painful memories of those days. Khao Lak has now sprung back to its former glory and is now considered one of the premier destinations for visitors to Thailand.

After the devastation, is Khao Lak still worth visiting?

Yes, and Yes. The tsunami has not dented the charm of Khao Lak, it is still as beautiful as ever and with the rebuilding, remains one of the most idyllic places to visit when in Thailand. With its proximity to the Similan islands and the nearby Khao Sok national park, it is still more than worthy of a visit.
Khao Lak Tsunami

Are there any memorials I can visit to pay respects to the victims of the Tsunami?

Yes there is a museum and a nearby memorial to the victims that make for a solemn visit and offers a truly enlightening experience to the scale of the disaster that occurred that boxing day morning.
Tsunami Memorial

Is it safe to visit Khao Lak – could this happen again?

It is absolutely safe to visit Khao Lak and all countries affected by the tsunami – remember that a catastrophe of this magnitude is a once in a generation event. There was a hugely devastating earthquake in San Francisco in 1906, yet you would consider it safe. In addition, since the 2004 tsunami, there has been several tsunami shelters specifically constructed, as well as a sophisticated alarm system that should give a two hour warning of any impending tsunami, which is ample time to get to higher ground.
Khao Lak Tsunami boat