Retire at Chiang Mai on 550 USD per month only
Guess where we were on the fateful day of December 26, 2004 when the tsunami hit Thailand?

Well, we were vacationing in Patong. Patong is about a 30 minute drive from Phuket and we thought we would go there for a week to relax and enjoy ourselves. We were sheduled to leave Patong on December 28 from what I recall and the tsunami hit unexpectedly 2 days earlier.

If you want to know first hand what happened then and there then read on. We will tell it the way we saw it.

First of all we arrived outside of Patong after an hour flight from Bangkok. The bus ride from the airport to the hotel was about 30 minutes.

The hotel we were staying at was the PATONG MERLIN and keep this in mind as we will refer to the MERLIN chain hotels a few times during this article.

Photo of hotel pool at Patong Merlin

During our week we spent more time by the hotel pool then on the beach. One day at the beach during the week was when we rented a ski doo or whatever it is called where you can skim the water in a 1 or person little boat. One ski doo for each of us. We also took a boat cruise to Phi Phi Islands the day before.

The reason I mention this is because for us to have been on the beach during December 26 when the tsunami hit or heading out for the Phi Phi cruise then someone else would be writing this and not me. 

At around 3 am December 26, 2004 the bed shook in our room and my first impression was that it was an earthquake. Wan my girlfriend did not even take notice and slept calmly. At about 6 am another similar vibration and again Wan slept peacefully.

It was common for us to shower and go for breakfast and then relax by the pool and then swim. So on this day at about 8 am we were preparing for breakfast when we heard what I thought was a shotgun blast.

My first impression and thoughts was that it may be terrorists. About a half minute after that another couple of blasts and some screams from the pool area.

When we first checked into Patong Merlin, our $115US night hotel room we found the hotel room had a small window and a view of a brick wall 2 feet away. Not what we expected so we asked for a change from the second floor horrible view view to a room with a pool side view. They at least did manage that for us.

So the screams that we heard from the pool area were just outside of our room. Once again my thoughts were of terrorists and to stay in the room. Wan urged me to leave the room. We left the room as quickly as we could. After leaving the room I could not recall if I had my wallet, passport, ring, watch or other valuables.

Photo of beach in Patong a couple of days before the tsunami.

We ran outside of our room and down the hallway, into the pool area and up a flight of about 6 steps into the hotel lobby. So the hotel lobby was about 8 ft. above pool level. Other guests were running through the lobby and crossing the street or running up the stairs leading the rooms on the second or third floors.

We crossed the street and noticed that there was water on the street and it was flowing quickly. Not deep mind you but it seemed to be gaining strength.

Several minutes after we crossed the street we watched as a wave of water went thru the hotel lobby and onto the street. At this time the other side street had cars being carried down the street by the water. So this told me that the height of the wave had to have been at least 9 ft. high.

No one understood what had happened or how devastating it would turn out to be.

We watched from across the street and saw purses, shoes and other personal articles and clothing being washed down the street with the current of water.

No bodies, just personal belongings from what I saw. If I had seen bodies floating in the water I would have realized the severity of the tsunami much sooner.
After an hour we heard a siren then a police officer stopped by and said that there was another tidal wave coming and for us to stay put.

Well we took his advice and stayed put. About 15 minutes after the police officer's warning true enough another wave of water gushing thru the lobby and with more intensity than the first wave.

About an hour later when we saw the water levels reciding we decided to re-enter the Patong Merlin Hotel. What we observed was guests in the lobby sitting on chairs, one group centered around the body of a boy who we saw swimming in the pool a day before who was getting mouth to mouth resuscitation from another hotel guest with the parents crying and pleading for one of the staff to call for a doctor.

Although I have learned to realize that Thai people are generally optimistic and smile often this was not the time for it. Several of the staff smiled when a guest pleaded for them to call a doctor. Did they not realize what was happening? It was obvious that the boy on the ground needed prompt medical attention.

After a several minutes of pleading and crying and guests watching helplessly it appeared that the person who was trying to resuscitate the young boy had given up. That was the first and only fatality that we noticed during the tsunami.

Someone at the hotel made arrangements for us to be transported to higher ground and within an hour a truck came by to pick us up. Not a bus, van but by truck. They were able to contact a truck driver but not an ambulance or doctor???

The truck took about 25 of us packed in like cattle about 10 minutes from the hotel on to higher ground. The guests were asked to lay by the side of the road and wait for further arrangements.

It was one hot day and the thought of sitting there for any length of time did not appeal to me and I observed that Wan was walking towards some shacks about 50 yards from the road and asked me to come along. Shacks made of lumber, plywood, sheet of metal and raised off the ground level in the Thai style of building.

Wan spoke to them and they politely asked us to come onto their porch in the shade and then offered us something to eat and drink. It was about 3 hours later that we saw another vehicle arrive to transport the guests elsewhere. We proceeded to join them and we were taken to Phuket about a 25 minute drive away. AT Phuket we were taken to the sister hotel, Phuket Merlin.

Here we waited for a couple of hours for the accommodations to be sorted out. At first I was told that there would be 3 of us in one room. My g/f, myself and some unkown man.

We checked into the room, and freshened up and we had nothing with us other than what we grabbed before running out of our hotel room at Patong Merlin. So we left the hotel in search of clothing we could purchase and other things we may need such as toothpaste, toothbrush...

Shopping complete we returned to the hotel and had a quick meal. The following morning we were to return to the Patong Merlin by cab which we were to pay for, check out our room to see what we could recover and then take another taxi to the airport which we had to pay for as we were scheduled to leave that afternoon for Bangkok.

When we arrived at our former hotel we saw the water level was indeed high enough and strong enough to bring ski doos and small boats from the ocean into the hotel pool. Strange site indeed.

We tried to get entry in our room but there was something blocking the door and we could not open it. The other rooms all seemed to have the doors broken or off their hinges. So we tried to enter the room from outside by way of the balcony. All the rooms on pool level had water enter them and the balconies glass doors were all broken and littered with broken glass and articles from inside the rooms.

No power in the room made it difficult for us to search around. The mattress was upside down and the washroom door was broken which led me to believe that staying the bathroom would not have been a wise move. Well, I grabbed what I could including dirty clothes. Photo's taken during the week were important and I actually found them on the floor of the washroom with lights out and my moving my hand about in dirty water.

Time was running short and Wan was washing articles I brought out of the room in the hotel pool. Before leaving the resort we went to the hotel lobby to let them know we were checking out and gave them our address in Chiang Mai so that they could contact us.

A short 30 min. drive to the airport and then it started to dawn on us the magnitude of this catastrophe. There were people at the airport with bandages, bruises, broken arms and legs and looking at getting out as soon as they could. The television was now broadcasting death tolls and estimated total of missing persons. Every 15 minutes the totals were increased. Hundreds of thousands dead in about 3 countries and hundreds of thousands unaccounted for and missing.

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I consider myself an understanding person and I know that the employees of the Patong Merlin probably earn very little and that a catastrophe of this magnitude only comes along once a decade if that.

Now keeping that in mind I have to say that the employees watching the boy from the pool receiving mouth to mouth resuscitation and smiling and unable to even phone an ambulance or do anything in the situation will live with me forever. At least one person who worked there should have been able to communicate in English with the guests and attempt to do something which may have saved the boy's life. That is my honest opinion.

Secondly. After we arrived back in Chiang Mai we e-mailed the Patong Merlin hotel and the sister hotel in Phuket. We explained that we had left camera, personal belongings including medicine, clothing and other articles in the room which may be salvageable. If they could clean or attempt to clean and return it would be greatly appreciated.

Now what you have to understand about Thailand is that most of the laundry is done by hand and not cheaply but VERY CHEAPLY. So for the hotel to have at least returned our clothing washed or even unwashed with our personal articles would have been a positive gesture on their part.

After 9 e-mails to them we finally received a reply. The reply was that they were not responsible for the articles and that we were to be charged for our hotel room even though we did not stay there the last night.

To translate the English e-mail to slang English or common day English it could as well have read:
You stupid saps we do not have to do anything nor will we do anything about your clothing or articles.

Once again an honest opinion from us. We understood the situation and the pressures that they were under but after about 5 weeks to receive a reply from the hotel chain like this was not deserved or appropriate. Anyone handling customers regularly would have sympathized and tried to help them.

So in all honestly I would NEVER stay in a Merlin hotel again anywhere. And I would suggest that anyone visiting Patong, Phuket or in other cities where they may have hotels to STAY CLEAR of Merlin hotels.

After all was said an done I could see that Wan handled pressure well, that we should be thankful for coming out alive and unhurt and learning a lesson from a hotel and hotel chain that I will always remember.

So that is what happened during the tsunami from our respective. No photo's taken after the tsunami as our camera was in our room and not recovered or returned by the hotel.

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