FLIGHT OF FRIENDSHIP

Thailand Tsunami Survey

February 6-14, 2005

By SoCal PATA Board Member Linda Matthies

On Sunday, February 6, a group of PATA members from chapters across the country joined a collection of travelers from Oregon to participate in a tour to Thailand to survey the damage wreaked by the tsunami at their seaside resorts and to explore ways we might help. It was a deeply moving and memorable experience.

Upon our late arrival on the 7th we were met at the airport by Diethelm Travel and transported to the Hotel Montien, a new, very dramatic hotel on the river 10 minutes north of the city, where we were greeted by the manager and staff with a welcome beverage before being escorted to our beautifully appointed rooms.

Tuesday, February 8, the first day of our busy schedule, began with a deluxe buffet breakfast, followed by introductory remarks by Jim Ferguson, Director of North America, who provided each of us with a kit and laid out our activities for the day. The main event was a luncheon for the PATA team at Thai Ministry of Tourism across town, which was attended by numerous trade and government officials who welcomed our presence and were eager to tell of the damage as well as the early strides in recovery at a number of the resort areas.

Afterwards the PATA group went on to a meeting at the T.A.T. headquarters, where more evidence awaited concerning the vast destruction at many of the southern resort areas, most of which had been cleaned up and repaired and were now ready for business.

That evening The Montien hosted a reception for the group which was attended by the U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, Ralph “Skip” Boyce, and Embassy staff as well as management from PATA headquarters in Bangkok and other dignitaries.

The following day, Wednesday, the 9th, everyone departed for an hour-long morning flight on Thai Airways to Phuket Island and were immediately transported to the magnificent 650-room Hotel Phuket Arcadia Resort, a beautiful tropical property managed by Hilton International, where the group was warmly greeted with a welcome drink and VIP treatment. Although unaffected by the tsunami and in perfect condition, the normally busy hotel was running mere 10% occupancy – which was increased to just 20% with the addition of our group.

That afternoon, we donned our bright yellow and red Flight of Friendship T-shirts and headed for Phuket City, where we were to take place in a march commemorate-ing Chinese New Year and were to be recognized for our visit. Lined up and carrying our Flight of Friendship banner, we strode the length of the city, waving and handing out candy to the cheering children and families. We all felt proud to represent our country in visiting the area to search for ways to help and our actions were clearly appreciated. The day ended with a boxed dinner prepared for us and an outdoor opera attended by the townspeople in the large city park

The following day, February 10, we departed early for Phuket City Hall, where we were welcomed by the Mayor and her staff while we made a donation to the children left homeless by the tzunami. They touchingly returned our gift with words of appreciation. That evening we were feted by a sumptuous outdoor reception by the hotel, which was attended by the Governor, Mayor and Regional Director of T.A.T.

Early the following morning of the 11th, we all gathered at the beach for a memorial service dedicated to the many who had lost their lives and added prayers for the continued recovery of the area. The service was followed by a bus ride to Krabi, a beautiful resort area several hours south.

Upon checking in at the traditionally-styled Andaman Holiday Resort, we were escorted to our spacious, quaint cottages that were spread across hilly, landscaped grounds a few steps from the ocean. Later that afternoon, a trade show had been arranged with tables attended by mostly English-speaking staff, to inform our group of Krabi’s many beautiful and unique resorts. The show was followed by a tropical reception and dinner in their lovely open air restaurant, where we were entertained by lovely native dancers, and addressed by the Governor of Krabi and other dignitaries.

The following day, Saturday the 12th, several members of the group arranged for morning tour to explore Krabi and some of the beaches that had been ravaged by the waves. Although there were still remnants of the wreckage, a massive clean-up effort had already taken place. What everyone is seeking now is business to enrich the area once again with tourists and visitors.

We returned to Bangkok that afternoon to stay a remaining two nights at the excellent and convenient Sheraton Royal Orchid, on the banks of the main conduit of Bangkok, the Chao Phraya River. That evening, PATA headquarters hosted a delicious seafood dinner for the PATA team at the River City Center, next door to the hotel, where we could watch the lighted boats go by as we dined on excellent seafood and Thai delicacies.

Later that night several went on to visit the tallest restaurant/lounge in Bangkok – possibly in the world – the Sirocco, atop a 64-story office building. Situated completely outside the building’s domed tower, visitors descended a 50-stair descent to reach the restaurant entrance which was surrounded by only a 4-foot clear glass wall. The effect was like being on top of the world. With all of our safety regulations, a structure such as this could never be built in the U.S.

Sunday, the 13th was the last day of the trip and was devoted to sightseeing and visiting the many wats and markets of Bangkok. The PATA group enjoyed a lengthy river cruise terminating in a tour of the magnificent Royal Palace, followed by a luncheon at The Jim Thompson House. Jim Thompson is an American who is responsible for revitalizing the Thai silk industry in Thailand and who mysteriously disappeared some years back. “The House,” which is now a museum, is comprised of actually five houses, his and four others, which were rebuilt on the klong (river). The rest of the facility includes a large gift shop and the dining room, all spread out over lush grounds. That evening, Peninsula Hotel, rated Best Bangkok Hotel for 2004, hosted a luxurious farewell reception for everyone in spectacular gardens. Everyone then moved on to the Royal Orchid for a farewell dinner hosted by Azumano Travel, who had spearheaded the trip and orchestrated the arrangements.

Monday, February 14, was departure day for most; the few remaining continued to sightsee and visit local hotels during the day and have dinner and buy last-minute gifts at Bangkok’s famed Suan Num Night Bazaar before returning the next morning to the U.S.

It was a most memorable and productive trip for all with many return trips being planned for themselves and others.