KHAO LAK, Thailand – More than two weeks since an earthquake and massive tsunami smashed the coastlines of South Asia, at least part of the relief effort is being hampered by the war for people's minds and beliefs.
Some hard-line Islamic clerics have preached that the tsunami was sent because people didn't follow the law of God. Aid workers have been warned not to venture into outlying areas in Sumatra because the situation may not be safe.
These warnings don't take much hold here in Thailand, or in Sri Lanka, where strict Muslims make up only small portions of the population. But in Aceh (search) province and other parts of Sumatra, that falsehood is being reported in newspapers and on radio and television.
Yesterday we headed away from the coast for a break and into the vast rain forest that envelops this amazing country. Waterfalls abound in Thailand, in some places elephants and monkeys still run free.
The provincial capital of Pang Nga (search) stretches across the shoulders of three majestic mountains covered in deep emerald green.
Life is normal here, and people wander about in street-side markets. Students dress in navy-blue slacks and white shirts, the girls in long skirts. Everyone welcomes us with smiles and waves.
Our drivers are Thai locals, who before the tsunami ran Toyota vans between the airport and Phuket's popular resorts. Aun (pronounced "oon") and Ood (pronounced "oodt") have become essential to our reporting and part of the team.
Both are quite thin and jovial and their English is much better than our Thai.
Aun and Ood guide us through the destruction and provide communication between the villagers and our crew each day. This job must be tough — each day brings a new reminder of what people have lost.