December 17, 2004 to January 8, 2005
We went to Thailand with two very good friends in search of adventure and exploration. We had a very loose-knit plan with a flexible schedule. A bulk of the trip was to be spent touring the northern half of the country in a truck (and on foot). One of the things we planned to do while in the north was to try and locate some degree confluences that had not yet been documented. For more info, visit The Degree Confluence Project. Our travels took us to some locales that were definitely off the beaten path. One of the routes we ended up on, near the Laotian border, was used so infrequently that the jungle was reclaiming up to a third of the narrow, two-lane paved road. After climbing high into the mountains, we encountered a military checkpoint, where they seemed quite surprised to see us. Soon after, the pavement abruptly ended and night began to fall. We were kind of off the map, and took a chance at making it through to our evenings destination in Nan. This sort of travel really reminded me of the backroads in Mexico. Eventually, we had plans to meet some friends in Bangkok and head south to the famed beaches, where we would bring in the New Year. I was so looking forward to seeing the incredible limestone karst formations jutting up out of the waters, and go swimming in the turquoise bays. All I had seen were pictures and I couldn't stop thinking about actually being there in person. On December 26, 2004 an earthquake in the Indian Ocean sent a tsunami rolling towards the shores of southeast asia and India. This disaster of epic proportions would shock the world.
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We were in Chiang Mai on the morning of Dec. 26 when the quake happened. We actually felt a tremor that morning while we were eating breakfast at our hotel. The building gently shook. It was kind of creepy. I still haven't figured out the exact relation, but I have read that this was actually due to a quake in neighboring Burma that happened roughly 30 minutes after the quake in the Indian Ocean. We went about our business, checked out, and headed for the mountains. We had no idea what was transpiring. Over the next two days, we were out in the hills exploring some of Thailands natural wonders and hiking on "The Roof of Thailand" at it's highest point. In retrospect, it is kind of ironic that while the tsunami was encroaching on the coastal lands, we were climbing up into the highest of all of the land in Thailand, the peak being at 8,413 feet above sea-level. Upon our emergence back onto the main artery that heads south from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, we stopped at a truck stop for fuel. Srisuda called our friends in Bangkok to confirm our rendezvous for the beach. They told her the news, and she told Uwe, who walked up to Sharon and I in the parking lot and told us. We couldn't believe it. He was saying that the place we were supposed to stay (Khao Lak) was gone. As we walked around to the little shopkeeper's stalls at the truck stop, we could see the news playing out on small television sets. We couldn't believe our eyes. At this point in time, some phone calls were in order to notify our relatives that we were safe.
Our plans had to be flexible once again. So we decided to head for Sukhothai, where we would visit the historical park which is a World Heritage site. From there, we made a loop to the northeast, and ending up at Chiang Mai once again, for New Years Eve. After this point, Uwe and Srisuda departed in the Hilux to head for the wild lands along the Burmese border, and Sharon and I decided to stay in Chiang Mai to relax and explore the area for almost a week. Eventually we met up with Uwe and Srisuda back in Bangkok before heading back to the states. We spent a little more time with our friends in Bangkok, visited Ayuthaya (another World Heritage site), and then began the long journey home.
A lot of cool trucks can be found in Thailand...
Some GPS maps from the trip...