Left Bangkok yesterday at 5:30 pm via overnight bus and boat to Phuket...We got our tickets via our guesthouse and the supposedly VIP bus turned out to be a process of changing from bus to 3 different minivans and then when we finally arrived on Kata Beach where we stayed we checked our luggage and it had been broken into!!! How we do not know, the locks were still on but all our gear inside had been gone thru and Jake lost all his NZ dollars (+/- $1000 worth about 3-400 US!!!). Needless to say we were quite bummed...Phuket is virtually deserted and yet they have not tried to lower prices, ha! Anyway, we met a couple on the bus who were on their way to volunteer to do cleanup so we called the contact they had and he said the beaches had all been cleaned in the area, the last one was scheduled to be complete by the 23rd. After we had checked into a guesthouse that did lower its price for us(they were empty except for us the entire 3 days we were there), we went to eat and met a couple who told us about their volunteer work...they had just returned from an island where they just got off the boat and wandered about until they asked someone about what was going on(the island was pretty much trashed along the beaches and even quite a ways inland)...they learned that the locals remaining had until Sunday to go thru the rubble and retrieve things at which time the govt. was coming in with dozers and just piling it all up to haul away, and then charging the owners. So these two helped haul stuff out of a number of proprietors places from 10am til 3pm when they had to catch the boat back. Cost of the boat trip was +/- $25 US. We met with a group that evening that had plans to build boats for villagers in a fishing village N. of here - 5 to start(supposedly more than 40 were lost but as they said, before the tsunami there weren't that many fishermen there so who knows??!). Anyway, that project was just getting together, they figured 1-2 weeks to really get off the ground and build boats. This left only the local government office where a lady was heading up to the worst hit village 250 km N. where they were still finding bodies and hauling them to the local buddhist temple where many villagers were staying and the forensics crew was stationed. She thought they needed help hauling the bodies from the beach to the temple! She offered us free rooms and a trip up, but we would have to stay in the temple also as there were no accomodations even for the locals other than tents that had been brought in.
None of these options seemed appropriate for us for various reasons, so we decided to take the advise of the government tourist agency which was talking up tourism...they said the best thing for visitors to do was visit and spend $$ since it would keep the economy afloat enough to weather the 30% drop in Bangkok tourists(in Phuket we estim. it was more like 80% +). So we've stayed here 3 nights, swimming, snorkelling and generally hanging out.
Not much evidence left of the destruction here, just remains of wreckage in piles off the beach sites, and temporary fences, etc. Losts of closed businesses as well!