Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image
Marko Cunningham


March 2, 2014

Expat Kiwi recounts sleeping with the tsunami-dead

March 2, 2014 | By | No Comments

In this interview by independent news, Marko gives a thrilling and shocking account of the terrible events that caused more than 4,000 people to lose their lives in southern Thailand in december 2004.




“The smell was even more intense here and I just wanted to get out of that area as soon as I could. We put the body down in a row with many others and I stood back and looked up and down the rows and estimated there were over 500 bodies there, as far as I could see. I was really in shock and had to force myself to go back and get another body from the truck. I couldn’t believe this was real. ‘This must be what hell is like,’ I said to myself.”

Expat Kiwi humanitarian, Marko Cunningham, shares — for the first time — the horrors of retrieving Thailand’s tsunami-dead.

Teacher by day, ‘body snatcher’ by night, this gentle, Wellington-raised, Buddhist still suffers from recurring nightmares about those two, life-changing weeks.

Writing his story has partly been therapy, but he also wanted to tell the story of who he believes are Thailand’s “unsung heroes”: the thousands of his fellow volunteers who work for the humanitarian NGO called the Ruamkatanyu Foundation, better known as ‘The Body Snatchers of Bangkok.’ This free ambulance service rescues the sick and injured and reclaims the dead in a superstitious culture where most people won’t touch cadavers.

ruamkatanyu foundation tsunami thailand

Members of the Ruamkatanyu Foundation during the rescue mission in Southern Thailand.

Sleeping with the dead, in store from 18 September, is a gripping, raw and ultimately entertaining account which Marko hopes provides Kiwis, who continue to enjoy the pleasures and delights of Thai tourism, with some insight into the darker and more complex side of this compelling and alluring culture where life has very little value and systemic, institutional corruption is rife.

Marko shares frankly and openly the daily and overwhelming horror of working around the clock, in sweltering heat, retrieving the thousands left dead in the wake of Thailand’s 2004 tsunami and its harrowing aftermath. Although Marko had already worked for several years in Thailand for the foundation doing aid work, nothing could have prepared him for what he was about to endure in the devastating wake of the tsunami. Heading south to Phuket as soon as word of the tsunami came through, Marko listened to reports which down-played the situation.

It soon became apparent that the loss of life was on a massive and unprecedented scale: “I almost can’t remember much more about that night, I can’t remember how many bodies ’
marco bed during mission
A picture taken with a phone showing how Marco had to sleep during the rescue missions. He hardly managed to get any rest as he laid on top of the same clothes used to cover the never ending dead bodies.

Find the Original Interview at

Title: Sleeping with the dead

Author: Marko Cunningham

Submit a Comment