Searching for Thailand’s Sea Gypsies

[words and photograph by Mark Eveleigh]

I was on assignment in Thailand for CNN Traveller and had, rather rashly, pitched a story on the plight of the Sea Gypsy communities that had been traumatised by the destruction of the 2004 tsunami. The problem was that I had no real idea of how or where I would track down these elusive and rather secretive people. So the mission began on a wing and a prayer.

I made my way to Koh Chang (near the Thai-Burmese border) following a vague rumour that there was a Sea Gypsy community on a remote island somewhere in the area. From Koh Chang I spotted just one possible form of transport: a Thai fishing boat way out on the reef. The sweeping current (and the prospect of sharks) discouraged my initial thought to swim out to the boat, but about an hour later I noticed it had drifted closer so I swam out to it. Standing dripping in the bow, struggling with my woefully inadequate marketplace Thai and drawing numbers in the sand on the deck, I managed to haggle the fisherman into shuttling me to the Sea Gypsy island.

Petr, as he was called, had visited the island only once before and I crossed my fingers as the little skiff puttered out into the maze of islands that dot this part of the Indian Ocean. We motored for so long that I began to think that we must have crossed the border and that I had surely entered illegally into Burmese waters.

Read Mark’s story the Sea Gypsies – one of Asia’s crumbling cultures – at roundtheworldflights.com

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