Thailand on a panic-stricken afternoon
Beachside oasis ... Koh Lipe, Thailand. Photo: Alamy
LYING half-naked on a massage table, covered in baby oil, is not the best position to be in when an earthquake rocks the ground beneath you.
But that's where my travelling companion Trish is left when the ladies of the massage parlour on Koh Lipe's Walking Street desert their post in terror.
A hysterical lady boy runs past us, screaming into his mobile phone: "We're going to die."
Memories of the 2004 Boxing Day earthquake and subsequent tsunami, which devastated the islands along Thailand's Andaman Sea coast, are still fresh for many Thai people, so their panic is understandable.
However, it's little consolation for Trish as she slides back to our beachfront bungalow to wake me from my scuba diving-induced slumber with news of an earth tremor that I had slept through.
When disaster strikes, it's best to be prepared - not slathered in baby oil - so Trish wades into beautifully calm water as everyone else is getting out.
"Do you think they're worried a tsunami is coming?" she asks.
"No. No tsunami," replies a sea gypsy, a term for local islanders, as the tsunami warning siren begins screeching.
It's then that we realise our rickety wooden bungalow, barely three metres from the water's edge, will be no match for the giant wave the siren suggests will be generated by the massive earthquake that occurred off Sumatra.
What do you take when a natural disaster threatens to wash away your worldly possessions? Passport. Check. Wallet. Check. Jo Nesbo crime novel for what could be a long, boring wait. Check.
Unfortunately, I forget to change out of my damp budgie smugglers, heightening the risk of an unsightly rash if forced to evacuate in a hurry.
As we begin our trek across the island towards higher ground, we pass shuttered shops, worried Thais on motorbikes moving to higher ground and bewildered tourists unsure of what to do.
Panic takes longer to set in when it's being expressed all around you in a foreign language, so we can only giggle when a hysterical lady boy runs past us, screaming into his mobile phone: "We're going to die."
We join a long stream of people sweating their way inland to Mountain Resort, the highest point of Koh Lipe, not knowing if our friends are following us to safe ground.
Thai tourists are not taking any chances, wearing life jackets as they trudge uphill and set up camp far away from the beguiling waters.
But it's stinking hot away from the beach so Trish and I edge downhill to the resort's bar, which is happily open and doing a roaring trade as evacuated tourists order jugs of beer to calm their nerves.
The wait for the tsunami begins. Time ticks by as we're told a wave will hit the island at five o'clock, then six, then seven.
Happily, there's beer to drink, a sunset to admire and plenty of fellow tourists to swap stories with.
Thai television news offers sparse information, so we're left relying on the lady next to us calling her sister Mary in Dublin for updates.
But no giant wave is triggered by the quake or its numerous aftershocks and, after a few hours, Mary hangs up to eat lunch and Trish and I decide to search out the restaurant that serves the best seafood on the island.
Despite the panic of the afternoon, the beachfront restaurant is open for business. And our meal is delicious.