Margery and I decided to take our October break in Khao Lak, the area on the Andaman Sea that was so hard hit by the Tsunami five years ago. We flew into Phuket airport, rented a car and drove the 100k up to our resort on the beach. It was what we would call a five star place. Our room even had a swim-out pool area where you just step into the water outside your sliding door. She found the place online and it was only 200 bucks total for 7 nights. The hotel was almost empty. We only saw a few other people the first two nights, although a large group of Russian tourists showed up yesterday. It was low season because of the monsoon, but you got the idea that people are still creeped out about the events of five years before.
I had brought my golf clubs with me and decided to go out solo. Margery said she would spend the day beach-combing and swimming and maybe have a spa treatment. I drove about 20 minutes south to the Tulambu Royal Navy Golf course. I checked in and paid my greens fee and, as I was heading to hole #1, two geezers were just going into the clubhouse. I asked them if they were a twosome and could I join them? They smiled and agreed.
One was a Brit named Peter, 77 years old, but amazingly fit. He had been living in the area for almost 25 years. The other guy, who bore a striking resemblance to my uncle Vernon Valentine Johnson, was a Swede who had come to Thailand 10 years earlier after his wife had died and he has since never left. His face looked so compellingly familiar I had to ask him where he had come from in Sweden. He replied, "Skane". Wow! That is the area where both my grandmother and grandfather emigrated from in the late 1800s. I told him of my lineage and how much he resembled my family members and he was amazed. We joked and laughed the whole way like long lost relatives.
Peter was very nice, but a bit more reserved. He had few stories, but when I made a poor shot, he just said, "Never mind. It's a beautiful day!" Neither of them were long hitters, but both were very straight and consistent with all their shots. We played match play and I only won two holes. Erik, who had broken his back a few years before, swung only with his arms but still hit short but straight shots onto the fairway and won four holes. Peter was a lefty and at 77 still played really well. He won six of the holes and the rest were ties. They were long-time members and really knew the course well. It had the most water and sand of any course I have played.
The golf course, though difficult, was beautiful. It ran along the seaside with a mix of palm trees, hardwoods of some kind, and a weird tree with roots that went down from high limbs and then bored into the ground. Birds of all kinds were chirping away. Lots of exotic flowers were growing everywhere. Our caddies were really excellent (caddies are mandatory in Thailand). My caddie was adept at reading my mind and handing me the right club, giving me my water bottle when I was thirsty, and also offering good advice on putts. She laughed and smiled the whole time. She was caddie number 31 (they did not have name tags).
The subject of the tsunami came up as the three of us were were teeing off on Number 16, a beautiful hole with the sandy beach on the right for the entire distance. Erik, the Swede, said that he had been having breakfast with his Thai wife and saw the gigantic wave coming. He was on his second floor balcony and when the water came, he was just plain confused. He remembers he first got up on his chair and then he got on top of the table. He and his wife both grabbed the edge of the roof and held on for dear life. There is a big reef running alongside his beach area and he reckons that that is what saved his life. He said he saw his car float away out of the corner of his eye.
When the wave subsided, he ran down to where the car had beached, opened the car door and let the water out, put the key in and amazingly started the car and began frantically trying to help find survivors in the area. Peter the Englishman had very little comment about that day. Many people lost friends and relatives.
The Tulambu Royal Navy Golf Course is also a barracks area for Thai sailors and their families. All of them were killed that day in their housing units. The club house, which was of heavy concrete construction survived, although the windows were blown out and the place was completely filled with sand from the beach. The staff on duty that day, all of the golfers, and the caddies out on the course were washed away and drowned except for one caddie who climbed up into a tree and held on as the 60 foot wall of water washed through.
31 must be a lucky number.