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Thailand Tourism Recovers From 2004 Tsunami, but Faces Economic and Political Undertow

Today, the Thailand's beaches show evidence that the tourists have returned since the waves that hit on December 26th, 2004

Tourists have returned to Thailand's beaches but, the resort island faces political strife and the global financial crisis.

The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami killed over two hundred thousand people, about 8,000 of them in Thailand, and destroyed thousands of businesses. Thailand's tourism industry - a pillar of its economy - was badly damaged. Tourists have returned to Thailand's beaches but, the resort island of Phuket, political strife and the global financial crisis cause new problems.

Five years ago, walls of water up to five meters high swept across Patong beach, swamping hotels and restaurants, and carrying away scores of people.

Chairat Sukban, the deputy mayor of Patong, says the damage was extensive at Phuket's main tourist beach. "They still have only structure but the interiors or whatever like that it's all damaged. But, the structure they still have. But, after the tsunami we at the city we also set new law and forced them to use strong material to make the walls and retaining walls," he stated.

Chairat says many of the businesses along the beach had insurance and rebuilt within a year.

Thais affected by the tsunami on Phuket received about $500 in compensation during the reconstruction work.

But not everyone recovered financially so quickly.

Sawleehah is from Bangladesh and has sold pancakes along this beach for 11 years.

She says the tsunami destroyed her cart and equipment but because she is not a Thai citizen, she could not get compensation or even a bank loan. "It took two years for my business to recover," she said. "I had to save money and buy a new pancake cart."

Today there is little evidence of the waves that hit on December 26th, 2004, and tourists have returned.

But officials and tourism workers say Thailand's political instability and the global financial crisis are causing new damage.

"The big pressure now is to encourage people who aren't traveling at the moment to get back on airplanes or cruise ships and choose this part of the world as their holiday destination," Dale Lawrence, spokesman for the Pacific Asia Travel Association said.

Officials say they are better prepared for disasters and point out the tsunami-warning towers now lining the beach.

Businesses have moved back from the shore and hotel workers are trained to evacuate guests, who enjoy Thailand's beaches with little thought about the disaster.