Pabuk – tropical storm at best

Posted on January 4, 2019

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The last of the ferries left Koh Tao on Jan 3 in the afternoon. The strained faces of worried tourists loaded up like human mules headed for the pier. As the hours wore on, residents and those left behind, waited for the impending cyclone/typhoon to hit……it never came.

Thailand is still very much a developing country. It’s not geared towards informing visitors efficiently about potential typhoons. It’s not the UK where news is available everywhere, and let’s face it, even we screw up when there’s bad weather. In south east Asia it’s left to individual travel agencies, hostels and hotels to keep their customers up-to-date with the latest weather reports. If you leave your travel plans to last minute there’s not a lot anyone can do for you. It’s the high season you have to book your return ferry ticket in advance, regardless.

Why has this story made the headlines? It’s supposed to be the first typhoon predicted to hit Thailand in more than 65 years outside of monsoon season. Monsoon these days runs from November to December as traditional weather patterns have changed.

It’s now 2pm on January 4th and the rain has only just started to come down thick and fast. The night was quiet with some strong gusts of wind but my rocking chair on my balcony wasn’t going like the clappers. It barely moved.

Koh Tao is one of three islands that falls within the southern province of Surat Thani. It sits snugly in the Gulf of Thailand. The others include- Koh Pha-ngan, Koh Samui and Ang Thong Marine Park. Surat Thani is also the name of a city, within the province. This has lead to a lot of confusion outside of Thailand because that city had been badly affected by the weather and the other islands in the province haven’t.

The number of tourists reported to have left the three islands has also been grossly exaggerated by international media. Mainly because poorly researched and written agency copy has been reprinted multiple times by several newspapers. Staff reporters clearly still on their Christmas break. Only one source has been quoted and no fact checking or cross checking of numbers has been done. There’s no way 30,000 to 50,000 people could have left because the boats don’t carry that many people in one go and there are not that many services a day. Even over the three days in the run up to the storm. That figure would be more accurate for an exodus of the whole of Thailand.

Last night I sat in the open bar on the beach and listened to seasoned staff who’ve been living here for a good number of years. They’ve seen a few storms and the general consensus was Koh Tao will get wet and possibly waterlogged if there’s a downpour, but not flattened. The things to watch are always flying missiles, like coconuts, trees falling and debris.

All the boats along the pier have been tied up or brought into shallower areas. This morning a few fishermen went out on kayaks to check their moorings. Most shops in Mae Haad are open for business and restaurants are full. The panic buying of food and water yesterday In the supermarket by some people, will feel like a knee-jerk reaction today.

The tropical storm is believed to be at its strongest today and maybe tomorrow morning. The wind is now beginning to howl, so we’ll see if she turns into a banshee as the evening approaches. But so far her bark has been worse than her bite.

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