I know I concluded the last post by saying I wasn’t going to write about the floods just yet, but upon reviewing my blog notes, I realized that it was already 99% done – so I figured I might as well just go ahead and release it after all 😛
Exploring The Bangkok Floods (on 11/18/2011)
Although I spent the overwhelming majority of my time in Bangkok either working or partying, there were just a couple “touristic” exceptions. One of them, something I’d been itching to do ever since I arrived, was to go and see the floods for myself.
I’d been reading and hearing so much about them; even after the city center was no longer at risk, the water was obviously still big news. There was always a wall being breached or a neighborhood uprising or a supply chain interrupted somewhere. For months stores continued to close early so their employees could wade home through the chest-deep water still plaguing many poorer outlying districts.
Even a girl I personally knew – who works at the little food stall just down the block – said she always brings two pairs of clothes to work. One gets drenched as she swims to and from home, then another she changes into once she’s made it out of the floods. With such an unusual scene just a dozen or so kilometers away, how could I not go explore?
So on Friday November 18th, after spending the first few hours getting through my regular deluge (pun intended) of e-mails, I hopped on my bike and started riding North. At first, little seemed different. The city was as dry and well-functioning as ever.
But as I continued farther from the familiar commercial center, things gradually did start to change.
Family sedans were slowly replaced by army hummers and super-lifted pickups, loaded down with people or canned food and drinks. The color of the asphalt on less-trafficked sidestreets changed from the regular grey to a more silt-looking brown, like you’d find in a dried-up riverbed. And the sandbag walls I’d grown so accustomed to became taller and taller still – no longer neatly stacked like around Siam Square, but partially washed-away, with bits of sand trailing off towards the stormdrains. Every once in awhile I’d pass a parking lot with a plastic boat laying quietly under a tree.
And then, the water appeared. It was so sudden it almost shocked me. One minute I was riding on asphalt and the next, little plastic bags were floating by.
The floodwater started right at a “Major Cineplex,” a mini-mall which had been more or less taken over by the Royal Thai Army. Huge industrial-sized pickups were parked in front, using it as a dropoff point for citizens transported from farther up North.
From here I wasn’t sure what to do. Should I leave my bike and walk? Should I ask to get on one of the trucks? Or should I just keep trying to ride until I couldn’t pedal any further?
As the water was still only ankle-deep, I decided to ride.
The rest of the day was an experience I’ll truly never forget. Although it may sound callous to call such a thing “tourism,” it was a kind of sight I’d never before seen.
For starters, proceeding wasn’t always as tough as I thought – just tough enough to be a bit of adventure. The depth varied hugely from place to place, but each time it got past waist-deep something appeared to let me proceed.
For example, just as I reached a junction where I thought I could go no further I came to an elevated road that took me another 10 minutes North, and when I descended, the water was again shallow enough to go on.
…By which I mean the pedals would only be underwater during the lower half of the stroke.
There were times when I lifted my bike over the center divider of a half-flooded highway, and others when I found myself walking atop the gravel on railroad tracks, moving aside when a train passed by.
One minute I’d be in a completely dry park, and the next I’d be watching rowboats deliver police officers to the doorstep of their station.
As I pushed ever onward, locals passing in their trucks and service vehicles increasingly slowed to give me a smile or thumbs up; everyone seemed shocked to see a foreigner out there, especially one on a bike. Indeed I didn’t see even one more.
Whenever I came to a particularly interesting-looking sidestreet I’d stop riding and wade in by foot; sometimes people would pass me in rowboats, others, the “wake” from their lifted pickups would nearly knock me down.
A few of the more flooded Sois had wooden gangways setup so that people could still walk to their homes, but most just had enterprising locals who’d modified their vehicles as taxis to drive people back and forth.
Countless residents could be seen waiting in the waist-deep water until a truck came by to offer a ride home.
Most of the streets I saw looked more like rivers than roads – except for the stoplights and street signs and partially-submerged 711’s. The whole scene was all very, very surreal.
As I was finding every minute so interesting – and it was a beautifully warm sunny day – I couldn’t bring myself to turn back until the last possible second…not because of the water but because of the time.
The sun was starting to set, and I will admit that riding through the floods was often no easy feat.
Many of the roads had developed a thick layer of moss making them incredibly slippery, and although often shallow, the murky brown color meant you couldn’t see potholes or curbs at all. A few times I almost took a major spill, a potential a disaster considering my fully-loaded backpack.
By the time finally I made my way back to the “safe” city center it was after 7pm, but I was still far from satisfied. I promised myself I’d make time to head out once more. After all, the floodwaters sprawled out in every direction – and I’d only seen but a few kilometers to the North.