Former building projects manager Simon Godwin sent this email to his aunt and uncle Jean and Basil Neville, of Shearman Road, Blackheath. The 42-year-old has lived in Thailand for three years after moving there to teach English. He is calling for tourists to return to help the local economy recover ...

I'm back in Phuket and, as you might know, I was very fortunate to have been in the UK when the tsunami hit the coast.

My girlfriend Jaeng, her family and friends are all OK and her bars suffered only very shallow flooding. We live in Karon Beach, only 5kms from Patong (which was very badly hit). Karon suffered some damage, mainly beachfront stalls, shops and restaurants which were either damaged or destroyed, together with numerous vehicles and sunbeds being washed away.

My favourite beachfront bar was destroyed, but the owner (a great Thai guy) is rebuilding and hopes to re-open in a couple of weeks. Figures I hear vary, but around 20 people lost their lives in Karon, which on the big scale of things is a low number.

I was talking to a parasailing operator the other day who was on the beach at the time and, as the sea initially retreated before the first big wave, he called to his colleague to go out and look for crabs with him. When he saw the white of the approaching wave he said he ran back to land and was up to the top of the nearest coconut tree like a monkey! A lucky man indeed.

The clean-up operation by the army and local people has been nothing short of miraculous. The beach looks pristine and, because there are no sunbeds (or people) it is even more beautiful than before. To see it, you find it hard to believe something bad has happened.

Rebuilding work is going on and all the place needs now is tourists to return to allow businesses and local vendors to get some income for what is left of the high season.

Patong, the neighbouring beach and main 'lively' holiday spot, was hit very badly indeed - as were Phi-Phi Island (where the movie The Beach was filmed) and Khao Lak, which was hit by a 12m high wave because of the slope of the continental shelf off the coast.

Elsewhere the wave was 5-6m high. I'm not up to date with the appalling numbers, but a lot of people in Patong were killed by objects being tossed about in the water, or being thrown against buildings etc. Many others were trapped inside buildings at low levels. A deckchair attendant I spoke to was beginning to be swept away and managed to grab hold of a column and was fortunate not to be hit by anything.

Two holidaymakers she had just been talking to weren't so lucky. The first wave hit at about 9.30am when many people were still in hotels etc. Had it hit later, the death toll would have been even more horrendous in Patong.

Imagine 3-4km of beachfront, usually heaving with people walking, sunbathing eating, shopping and sitting in bars.

It is almost unbelievable to see the devastation close up and what it must have been like as the wave came in. Photos and television images can't possibly bring it truly home.

There are apparently that many people still missing that locals won't eat seafood.

The hilly/mountainous terrain of Phuket most certainly contained the damage. Khao Lak, Phi Phi and other island were flattened.

There were apparently a small number of looters immediately after the sea retreated. Some were beaten to death. Thais are very placid people, but don't mess with them. Having said that, searching in the sand outside a gold shop doesn't seem to have been considered such a dreadful offence. I suppose as long as you don't go into a building it can be thought of as beachcombing.

Away from the areas of damage, life really does go on as normal and the biggest message I hear is that if the local economy isn't going to suffer, more tourists must quickly return.

At the moment Patong, Karon, Kata etc are even quieter than the lowest point of the low season.

Holidaymakers arriving will get the warmest welcome and biggest smiles from the Thais.

Local papers have letters complaining that the news broadcasts abroad are still showing the same old images and not showing the cleared up areas and work that has been carried out to make it suitable for visitors to return. Is that the case? If so, spread the word.