Bangkok, Thailand has been inundated with flood water for three weeks. Hundreds of millions of cubic feet are already in the city, with two times more water than we already have still flowing down towards the capital from the north’s already flooded provinces. Twenty five percent of Bangkok is now under water, with many areas at one meter (three feet) or more. I live in northern Bangkok, and my entire area has been under water for five days. With the level of water we have (around two feet, so far, and rising) and more on its way, the government has advised it will probably be at least a month before we are flood-free.
Evacuation orders were announced for the area I live in late last week, along with most areas to the north, east and west of me. Most people however chose to stay in their homes, myself included, as if you leave you either have to pay for an expensive hotel room for at least a month, or move into an evacuation center, most of which are poorly equipped to deal with hundreds of people. I’m comfortable in my apartment, so I chose to stay.
I live in an apartment building on the seventh floor so, although as far as you can see we’re surrounded by water, I’m not in any danger of my apartment flooding or of drowning. Our electricity is still on, along with internet and running water and, unless we suddenly get eight feet of water or more, the authorities have said we’ll likely keep all our essential services turned on. In Bangkok’s typical 90-degree-plus weather, you’ve no idea how comforting that is.
But, living in an apartment building surrounded by water, in the middle of a small soi (Thai word for ‘lane’) that I have to wade down to get to the main road, which itself has more than two feet of water on it when I get there, what is living here like? Actually, it’s really not bad.
Getting Food – We knew floods were coming a week before they arrived, so had plenty of time to stock up on food and water. While supermarkets and 7-11s emptied fast in my area, it was still possible to buy whatever I needed at supermarkets in areas that weren’t expected to flood. I even stocked up on vacuum-packed tuna sandwiches while on a visa run to Cambodia, as I knew I wouldn’t be able to find them in my neighborhood. My only difficulty, now the floods are here, is keeping fresh vegetables in stock for my two rabbits. In three days, if I can’t get out to buy more, they’ll unfortunately have to live on dried food and bottled water, until the flood waters recede.
Yesterday, one of the men who works in my apartment building drove me and a couple of others to a supermarket about four miles from us, in an area of Bangkok that’s not yet flooded. To say it was a wild ride is an understatement, as the flood water we had to drive through the entire way was almost at the top of the tires of his truck, so we had to drive fast in case the engine stalled. Barrelling down the road, with flood water streaming by on either side, we passed buses up to their grills in water, boats being rowed by men, women and children, and a bus with a flooded engine. All the male passengers were out in water that was up to their butts, pushing the bus through the floods.
In Thailand, when it floods, life goes on as normal as much as possible, even if it means standing in waist-high water to do what you’d normally do while dry on a normal Bangkok day.
Getting Out – The water in my neighborhood is continuing to rise. When it first hit, it was easily possible to wade down the lane to the main road and either flag down one of the military trucks being used as transportation for the locals, or wade to the underground train station. As the water has risen, that’s proving to be more difficult and we presume, if it rises much more, within the next couple of days our only option for getting out will be to flag down a passing boat and hitch a ride. Yes, we now have boats going up and down my street.
Surprising to westerners, the underground train system is still functioning in every area of Bangkok, along with the sky train. Authorities have said underground train stations that have flood water past the second step of the station will be closed down until the floods recede. My local underground train station now has water right at the second step. Another 5 centimeters or so, and that option for getting downtown Bangkok will be closed off for me, until the water disappears.
The sky train however is still running, and will continue to run until flood water reaches 1.5 meters on the road (around four and a half feet). When it does, the whole sky train line will be shut down the entire way acros Bangkok, as the train’s electricity hub is housed at the end of the line, right where the worst flood waters are.
Most people though are getting around on buses, which still chug through meter-deep water, all sizes and types of boat (people are hiring out their services as a taxi, but not in a car, a boat), on motorbikes if the water isn’t more than 60 centimeters, and on military trucks that drive around specific areas and pick up passengers who need a ride. Even my local Thai bank has put on a series of flatbed trucks, and they come around my neighborhood several times an hour, offering free rides to anyone who needs one.
Thai Resilience – I’ve lived in Thailand for almost a decade and have always admired the resilience of the Thais. They put up with anything duriing a crisis, rarely complain, and just get on with their lives, even if it means a supreme struggle to do it. They smile all the time while they’re doing it too.
In Bangkok’s current horrendous floods (and unless you’re here, you really can’t appreciate how incredibly bad it is, now that over 2 million people are literally living their lives in water), the Thai’s resilience continues on as normal.
They wade through thigh-high water with a smile, waving, smiling and telling you “Amazing Thailand” when they pass you (“Amazing Thailand” is the old slogan of the Tourism Authority of Thailand – once a way to get tourists to come to Thailand, now it’s used in a rye way to say “Crazy country, eh?”). Street food vendors stand in knee-deep water cooking Pad Thai, and still manage to serve you a plateful with a smile. Strangers drive by in trucks up to their bumpers in water, and stop to help you out of your wade through the floods, then give you a lift to where you’re going.
So fascinated by life, including the terrible moments, are Thais, they’re even documenting everything about these devastating floods on millions of cameras all across the city. A few days ago, I was wading through thigh-deep water carrying several bags of shopping, only to hear a Thai woman shout “Farang, farang” (“farang” is the Thai word for westerner). I then had to stop and pose in the middle of the street, water now up to my butt and flashing the peace sign, while she photographed the “foreigner’s travels in Bangkok’s floods”. You really have to love the Thais. They’re amazing.
For me though, the Bangkok floods are nothing more than a massive inconvenience. But, for most Thais they are devastating. The majority of Thais live on less than $8 a day and, with no unemployment insurance or government welfare, when they can’t work, they don’t make money. Add onto that the hundreds of thousands of homes now under a meter of water or more and, with most Thais not having flood insurance as it’s just too expensive, you can only imagine what awful conditions they’ll still have to live in when these floods are all over.
As with everything though, the Thais will pick themselves up, dry themselves off, and get back to life as normal. As soon as the floods disappear. In a month………. if Buddha be willing and the creeks don’t rise.