To-Do List for Last Week in Bangkok:
Tuesday: Zen Cucina; Hajime Robot Restaurant
Wednesday: La Monita; CentralWorld Movie; Science Center for Education
Thursday: Asia Hotel; CentralWorld Shrines (morning)
Friday: WP Wine Pub; Meet with Kathrin, Siam Winery
Saturday: Horse Racing; Thai Port Soccer; Local Restaurant
Monday: Thip Samai; Chao Phaya Bar
Tuesday: Jae On; Asia Hotel
Wednesday: Pad Thai Guy
I wanted to squeeze in as much as possible before heading back to New York, without overdoing it and without forgetting anywhere important. It was my last week living in Bangkok, at least for awhile, and putting an end to that six-month period of my life was no less difficult than it was the last time we lived there, for eight months in 2008-09. Eight months wasn’t long enough then, as six months certainly wasn’t long enough this time. I now consider Bangkok as much of a home as I do New York, if not more, so returning to the States wasn’t so much going home as it was leaving one for another.
So that was the loose plan of attack I jotted down in my journal, one that was obviously heavy on local haunts and favorite things to do, with a few places I hadn’t yet been to but wanted to check out if I could. I made it everywhere except Hajime Robot Restaurant (seems well worth the short trek though), while of course sandwiching everyday things like long walks through Lumpini Park and massages at Ruen Nuad around the planned excursions. Everywhere, that is, except one place.
There’s a pop-up local’s only bar right on the Chao Phaya River at night, located at one of the piers facing Wat Arun (sorry, nothing personal, but that’s all the info you’re getting as to its exact whereabouts). It’s been our favorite secret spot for a cold beer with a view, enjoyed in relative solitude, for years now, and our standard post-Thip Samai watering hole of choice. You’d love it, but again, I can’t bring myself to name its exact locale.
Long story short: as planned, I walked over to the bar after a predictably delicious plate of hot, fresh pad thai at Thip Samai, but as I approached the pier saw a number of Thais standing at the front of the short staircase leading up to the walkway, hiking up their pants and taking off their shoes. The dock was flooded with the chocolate-brown water of the Chao Phaya, the water almost knee deep on the Thais wading through the muck to get to the bar.
This was the last time I’d be in this part of the city before leaving, so I got as far as flipping my flip-flops off before deciding I couldn’t do it: not through that dirty water, not with a small cut on my foot, not with that weird thing that looked like a fetus floating in the middle of the walkway.
That was mid-August, a full month before the strong rains that traditionally soak Thailand in September and October had arrived. While its entrance was flooded then, there’s a chance the whole pier is flooded now.
Following disastrous flooding north of the city, particularly in the ancient capital of Ayutthaya, Bangkok is now dealing with its own flooding problems. Many parts of the city have already been evacuated, with up to 3.2 feet of water predicted to cover some areas in the coming days. The government is scrambling for solutions, but at this point it seems nature is going to mostly run its course. According to reports, this year’s flooding, the worst in over 50 years, has already claimed 373 lives and affected more than 9.5 million more nationwide.
A few friends confirmed yesterday that central Bangkok is still quite manageable–the above-ground BTS Skytrain and below-ground MRT subway systems are still running–but many businesses have understandably shut down, particularly near the river, and food & water supplies are becoming dangerously thin (thank God for Bangkok’s zillion 7-11s). The floods are wrecking havoc on the general Thai economy–I’ve seen some reports of a 2% GDP loss–but on a more immediate level I worry about all the street vendors and the financial losses they’re incurring.
With reported sewage issues and the Chao Phaya now spilling over, I also worry about health concerns. Reports Moni Basu for CNN:
Bangkok residents waded through murky waters without knowing what lurked within, the risk of infection and communicable disease worrying health officials.The government sent out crocodile hunters after reports of crocodiles as well as snakes in the filthy floodwater.
“We were hearing disturbing reports of dangerous animals such as snakes and crocodiles appearing in the floodwaters and every day we see children playing in the water, bathing or wading through it trying to make their way to dry ground,” said Annie Bodmer-Roy, spokeswoman for the humanitarian agency Save the Children.
Local and national authorities are urging residents to move to the second floor of their houses, but unfortunately many of them don’t have a second floor. Shelters are being set up, but are becoming more and more crowded. I think some reports about the potential for mass chaos are grossly exaggerated, but the potential for things to get worse before they get better is certainly there. Ugh.
Should You Still Go to Bangkok?
The US State Department has advised travelers to avoid the affected areas of Bangkok for all but the most essential travel. Suvarnabhumi Airport, the main airport which handles international as well as domestic flights, is still open and running as normal (despite being built on marshlands), but Don Muang Airport, used for domestic flights, is closed through at least November 1.
If you have a ticket booked for Bangkok sometime in the next few days or weeks… don’t cancel it, at least not yet. The flooding situation is clearly a fluid one (no pun intended), so there’s a chance some normalcy could be restored soon; it could of course also get worse. Keep in mind that central Bangkok is still mostly dry: it’s the outlying suburbs that, for now, are being hit the hardest.
Either way, in times like this, when so many people across the country are being impacted by a somewhat localized natural disaster, it’s important to still lend your support if at all possible. Thailand’s economy is heavily reliant on tourism, and the country is already facing an excess of $5 billion in flood-related damages alone. A prolonged loss of tourism dollars will only make things worse.
Go to Thailand, but re-route your itinerary if necessary. Maybe go north to Chiang Mai, or find a quiet spot on a beach at an island in the south. You have a number of wonderful options. Bangkok is often used as a gateway to the rest of the country, but this time, plan to use it as your exit point. Be flexible; a few resources for up-to-date info follow.
Travel may be restricted in and around the city for weeks, but many popular tourist areas will likely (keyword: likely) only be minimally impacted–and you can bet local authorities will do their best to ensure the few true “tourist attractions”, such as Wat Po and the Grand Palace, are accessible and open as quickly as possible. You’ll also likely find great deals on hotels, which is rare in November and December, the beginning of the high tourism season.
Whatever happens, and whatever the impact these floods end up ultimately having on the city, one thing is for sure: Bangkok will bounce back. It always does.
Few Bangkok Flooding Resources:
+ Latest Flood Updates, News, and Tweets
+ US Embassy in Bangkok Travel Alerts
+ British Embassy in Bangkok Travel Alerts
+ Tweets from Richard Barrow (he’s on the ground and on top of it)
+ Follow the Hashtag #ThaiFloodEng on Twitter