For months now, I’ve been looking forward to returning to Thailand. I had an incredible time here last year, and Halloween – one of my very favorite holidays – seemed like the perfect opportunity to celebrate a return.
But then all this flood mess started.
Until just days before our flight from Saigon, the Thai government had been seriously downplaying its severity, insisting that there’s no risk to central Bangkok. Then their story suddenly changed. By the time Peder and I arrived we found a city in panic.
Some businesses had piled sandbags a meter high while others rushed to throw up brick walls. The normally-bustling bar street of Soi 4 – home to my usual guesthouse – was virtually dead, and every convenience store had completely sold out of basic necessities. So we started to research.
Information was unbelievably conflicting. Some sources claimed the city would be under 2 meters of water, while others swore it wouldn’t flood at all. So what should we do? Turn right back around and jump ship? Risk staying and try to tough it out? A few centimeters would be one thing, but 2 meters of water could mean being unable to leave. News reports warned of the spread of disease and of crocodiles finding their way into the city, and as one of Bangkok’s two airports was already underwater, the bus system could barely cope with a mass exodus.
Ultimately we decided to risk it, as most of the evidence seemed to indicate an exaggerated panic. And I guess it was the right choice. The water never did reach the center, but I do have to say that the whole ordeal was a pretty big downer.
With my one-year visa in hand, I’d been almost giddy to move into an apartment, to see all my friends, and to setup a new life in Bangkok. But suddenly everything was about leaving – and even once we did decide to stay, putting down roots no longer felt like a particularly good idea.
Peder and I had specifically flown here to celebrate our favorite holiday – he’d even delayed his ticket home to do so. But when we arrived, we found that two thirds of the events had been cancelled. Plus, almost all of my friends – arguably the biggest reason to celebrate here – had gone. Giles had been relocated to Malaysia after his company’s factory was destroyed, and Stefan and Jack evacuated to Phuket. It looked like Halloween with the “BKK Must Go Party Crew” was off.
Note: I certainly don’t want to sound insensitive to the suffering of those in the devastated districts; I fully realize they had it far worse than me. I just wanted to convey my personal disappointment at the fact that that everyone and everything I loved about the city seemed to’ve been shipped away just days before I arrived. It was certainly a far cry from the joyous return I’d been looking forward to.
Note: These posts are behind realtime; the above took place in October, 2011.