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Foreign tourists touched by Thai generosity after tsunami disaster

Channel News Asia (AFP), Dec 30, 2004

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Western tourists who survived giant waves that struck Thailand's shores at the weekend have been astounded by the generosity of locals grappling with their own massive destruction and loss of life.

"The Thai people have little money but a big heart," said injured German tourist Jurgen Kosian after arriving in the capital Bangkok from the southern resort of Khao Lak, left devastated by Sunday's killer tsunamis.

"The staff helped us so much," said Kosian, who had been spending the Christmas holiday with his family at the French-owned Sofitel hotel.

"The Thais have been very kind," said Frenchwoman Anne-Marie Bugnon, who had been at another hotel in Khao Lak. "They immediately brought us food and drink," she said, with tears in her eyes.

"People stopped in the road and gave tourists lifts in their trucks. They have lost everything but they brought us food, they transported injured foreigners," she said.

The national newspapers, which devoted nearly all their pages on Wednesday to the catastrophe that struck at the height of the tourist season, have also published statements from grateful foreigners.

A Dutch couple were quoted in The Nation thanking residents who had offered them water, food, clothes, blankets and a place to stay.

People with cars had even offered to drive them for free from the badly hit southern province of Phang Nga to the capital Bangkok, about 800 kilometres (500 miles) away.

"Such hospitality is unbelievable," said the woman, Arlette Stuip. A Thai man had offered her help even before going to look for his own sister, carried away by the massive waves, she said.

"This could never happen in another country," she said.

The people living on the coasts of the six affected provinces, particularly the tourist magnets of Phang Nga, Phuket and Krabi, are mainly small businessmen, restaurateurs and fishermen who depend on tourism for their livelihood and meet foreigners all year round.

They live and work in small, humble dwellings along hundreds of kilometres of white-sand beaches that have given Thailand an image of tropical paradise -- but many of their wooden shacks were swept away like straw by the walls of water produced by a massive earthquake off Indonesia.

Thais, 95 percent of whom follow Buddhism which promotes compassion, have themselves lost loved ones and all they owned.

Nonetheless, "There was a lot of donations, they offered food, clothes ... it was an extraordinary effort," said Sarah Craig, number two in the New Zealand embassy in Bangkok.

"It is a lot to ask in any country which has to deal with a crisis like this. We must not forget that they have their victims as well," she said.

At Khao Lak, a seaside area devastated by the tsunamis that killed more than 60,000 people across the Indian Ocean, several Thais freely made their telephones available to foreigners so they could call their families in Europe.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was sombre and in a black tie late Tuesday when he addressed the nation, offering his condolences to foreign countries for the at least half of the victims who come from the West.

In the outpouring of praise, only a few local thieves who have used the chaos to break into hotel safes and suitcases abandoned by tourists, to steal jewellery and break into cash machines, have blemished the honour of the kingdom.

"It's really bad. We must consider these people very bad guys," Thaksin said.

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