What to Do and How to Prepare When it Floods in Thailand

Flooded Thai house - copyright VMOS


One thing newcomers to Thailand are often surprised by is how often it rains during rainy season, which lasts six months of the year, and how fast Thailand’s streets and freeways flood. Flooding in Thailand, when it rains, is normal and happens within minutes of the rain starting. Since July this year, the flooding has been so bad, the government now says it’s the worst in more than 50 years. So, if you’re caught up in floods in Thailand, what should you do, and how should you prepare for it?

Follow these quick tips on preparing for floods in Thailand, so the next time you’re caught out in the rain you won’t have any problems.

Don’t Panic, Floods Dissipate Quickly in Thailand – In Bangkok and Chiang Mai, I’ve seen foreigners panicking when it starts to flood. Thais, and expats who live here, are so used to it they just hitch up their pants and paddle to dry ground. Flood water disappears quickly in Thailand, as quick as just a few minutes, unless, like now, when there’s so much rain and flood water, there’s nowhere for it to go.

In fact, I was once in Chiang Mai at the Night Market and rain caused floods up to our knees in less than an hour. We paddled through it to a waiting songtaew (taxi van) and went back to the hotel. An hour later, looking out of the hotel window, almost all the water had disappeared. Something I’ve never seen anywhere else in the world.

Carry Flip Flops With You – Most Thais carry flip flops with them during rainy season to prepare for floods, or have a pair at work in their desk or in their car. This is so that, when it rains and they need to go out, they can wear a pair of cheap rubber flip flops rather than ruin their expensive leather shoes.

Flip flops are as cheap as $1 a pair in Thailand, so make sure you have a pair at home and one at the office, and you’ll be much more prepared for when it rains. Thailand’s streets can flood up to a foot in height in minutes and you really don’t want to be paddling through that in your $100 shoes.

Always Carry an Umbrella During Rainy Season – I have three umbrellas. One at work, one at home and one in my bag, which I take with me everywhere. During rainy season in Thailand, it can rain at any time, and it does. Especially during July through October, it often rains every day and, for me, it’s usually around the time I’m leaving work for the day. That’s why I always make sure I have an umbrella with me, and one at work in case the other one breaks. That way, I don’t have to get stuck at work waiting for the rain to stop because I don’t have an umbrella to shelter me.

Get Sandbags if You Live in a Low-Lying Area – I live on a high floor of a high-rise apartment building so, when it rains, if I don’t want to deal with the floods, I just stay at home. But, if you’re living in a townhouse or house, you may have flooding problems when Thailand gets heavy rains, and are all but guaranteed to have problems in this month’s horrendous floods. That’s why you’ll need sandbags.

In rainy season, it’s often best to have sandbags at your house to be able to block off the front and back of your house from flood water. Of course, sandbags won’t stop the water completely, but preparing for a flood with them can mean the difference in a couple of inches of water around your house and a couple of feet in the middle of your living room.

Don’t Drive In It – I’ve taken many a taxi in Bangkok during rainy season, where the water is almost coming through the car door. The taxi drivers, however, usually know which streets are safer and which streets you don’t want to go down because they’re already under three feet of water.

For many westerners though, they have no idea which streets flood and which are on a little higher ground. I’ve seen several western expats stuck in cars in Bangkok that are obviously much lower than the water, and in streets a Thai would never have driven down.

When in doubt, don’t drive. Leave it to the Thais who are much more adept at driving in heavy rain and floods (they’re used to it, after all) or stay at home until it stops.

Wait at the Mall or the Office Until the Rain Stops – If you spend any time in Thailand, you’ll notice when it pours down with rain, most Thais stay inside the mall or at the office until it stops. Only the foreigners try to paddle through it.

Rain in Thailand can cause flooding quickly. So, if you stay at the mall while it’s raining you won’t be in danger of falling down a hole on a flooded street and you’ll be easily able to walk home a few minutes after it stops when the water drains away.

Go have a coffee, do some window shopping, get a Thai massage – by the time you can leave the mall, you’ll feel much happier than if you’d tried to paddle your way home.

Follow Official Warnings – Duringthe current flooding in Thailand and any subsequent flood problems, government and local officials will make announcements about which areas will flood and which are safe. If you don’t speak, or read or write Thai, either ask at your hotel reception desk or check the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s website, for updated flood news.

Get a Boat – Seriously, if the current flooding continues in Thailand (35% of the country is now under water), you may just have to rent or buy a boat. If the weather doesn’t get any better soon, I recommend an ark.