Previous to the tsunami, the Phi Phi Islands chain, part of the Haad Nopparattara Mo National Park, was a pristine paradise and one of the most expensive hot spots in the Andaman Sea. After the events from December 2004, 850 bodies were recovered and a suggested 1,300 are still missing from little Ko Phi Phi alone. Furthermore, over 70% of the buildings were destroyed by the waves and only a few were up and running when we arrived from Patong beach.
As soon as I stepped onto the rocking pier, the depth of devestation was immediately apparent. Directly in front of me was a massive expanse of open beach. Twisted palm trees, bent concrete structures, and piles and piles of rubble and waste lay all around. I was looking at an area where there had once been almost 400 bungalows. In one giant swoop, they had all been washed inland, leaving a path of destruction along the way.
After unpacking, we wandered around and saw the many areas that have remained untouched since that fateful December day. Open bottles of champaign were still sitting next to sodden mattresses. A broken watch, stopped at the exact time that the waves hit the island, lay on a bedside table and doorframes swung slowly on their hinges, creaking eerily in the bright afternoon sunlight.
Hi Phi Phi Volunteers – Upon inquiry, we learned that the main volunteer organization was called Hi Phi Phi and met on the beach each evening. We attended and quickly signed up for the following morning’s work group. We weren’t sure what we would be doing, but we were excited to take part in such a worthy cause.
Volunteering with Hi Phi Phi was incredibly addictive. For the next nine days, we sweated and labored over our projects on the island. Along with several other friendly backpackers, we volunteered to help rebuild Chilli House, a guesthouse that had been completely destroyed. The area was now a mass mile of rubble, debris, concrete, and various odds and ends that the angry waves had tossed inland. Our job was to clear the land, digging up as much mess as we could before the construction crews could move in.
The days were long and hard, but working with Hi Phi Phi was wonderful. I was lucky to meet so many amazing and big-hearted travelers. It was inspiring to see so many people from so many nationalities working together for one cause.
Many volunteers were traveling clear across country to help out for one day, five days, three weeks, or several months. We met two brothers who had quit their full time construction jobs and had been working for free for six months. There were many, many others that were doing the same. Having an entertaining group to work with made swinging a pick ax and hauling concrete around the island almost enjoyable. As we toiled in the hot afternoon hours, Ko Phi Phi locals passed by to offer friendly encouragement and kind words of thanks. Their honest graditude made our time in the sun worth every minute.