Thailand: Living in a flood disaster zone

Thailand’s raining season is pretty immense, from all day downpours to insane night storms it’s an experience you have to see for yourself. It’s hot, it’s humid and it’s super wet! However, with all that rain comes the threat of floods. Having lived through some of the worst floods modern Thailand has ever seen whilst residing in Singburi, one of the 65 declared ‘disaster zones’ of 2011, i’ve fished through my old diaries and photo’s to bring you my experience in a series of diary entries.

Singburi is situated in Central Thailand, approximately two and a half hours north of Bangkok and it rests on the banks of the Chao Phraya river.

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I first landed in Thailand in April 2011 and almost immediately experienced my first Thai storm. “I was up early Tuesday morning after the worst night’s sleep! It’s so uncomfortable in this humidity without aircon… yes i am currently too poor to afford an air conditioned room! After breakfast there was a huge thunderstorm and the rain was lashing down. The thunder was so loud it sounded like a bomb going off!! I’ve never heard anything like it, i could feel it in my chest! But I took the opportunity to try and go back to sleep”. Top tip:  A cold shower and lying completely starkers under the fan works wonders when it’s super humid… not so great if you’re living in hostels/ shared guestrooms mind!!

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After settling down in the town of Singburi on a teaching contract just in time for the early days of raining season i began to notice that torrential downpours had a habit of creeping up on you… suddenly you felt the change in the air and out of nowhere the heavens opened! “Wednesday was an experience! After class we walked into the local market to buy some food as we were STILL waiting on our moped from the school (patience is a virtue Kara… you should know this by now, nothing happens quickly in Thailand!). On the way back a torrential douwnpour broke out and within seconds we were soaked. We hid under a little shelter, but that soon flooded and we were in water past our ankles! We spent a good fifteen minutes wondering what to do next and eventually we rang Kru Pat (our school teacher) but of course she couldn’t understand a word we were saying and didn’t know where we were. My friend decided to run into the little restaurant/ shack nearby and shoved the phone into some poor Thai women’s face who had no idea what was going on and her restaurant was quickly washing away! Meanwhile, i’ve dropped the eggs and i’m scrambling around in a bloody ocean of dirty water trying to collect them up as their floating away down the road. Yes, this is actually happening i’m chasing flippin’ eggs, soaked through to my underwear and no-one understands me!!”.

Those evening downpours soon ramped up into a few days of nothing but rain and with the same thing happening in the north that’s all it took for water levels of the Chao Phraya river to rise to bursting point. “A lot can happen in a few days, Singburi is now underwater! On Thursday and Friday we watched the river levels rise as the rain became more frequent than just an evening downpour. My three friends and I made the decision to stay in Singburi as everyone was holding tight for a flood!” The level of English in Singburi was particularly poor and it was an unnerving time. You never knew exactly what was going on or how serious things were but then again they do say ignorance is bliss!

Flood water didn’t seem to stop anyone in Thailand though and we soon found ourselves battling through the water on our mopeds and continuing with our days. The locals found opportunities in even the most difficult of times and nets were soon thrown out across flowing water to bring in the fish!

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Everyone loses their mind once or twice in Thailand and living in a human fish bowl was obviously far too tempting to act a fool! “A bottle of vodka later (amongst friends) and i’ve made the decision i want to try out my friends nice new rubber ring she had for the beach… in the flood water, cos y’know vodka, especially cheap Thai vodka, makes me do silly things! This crazy idea resulted in four of us taking out a wooden boat from the selection in the town that were being used to get about in. So off we went,  floating through the the villages having a jolly old time, until it sank!! With the realisation that we had probably sank some poor guys only method of transport and filled with panic we tried desperately to pull it back up with no success. Soon enough the owner and his friends showed up, looking pretty ticked off! They helped us to retrieve the boat and after muttering our apologies in Thai we waded back through chest deep water to dry road!”. Side note: The man was compensated and he brought himself a nice shiny new boat…. being the only westerners in the town we weren’t too hard to track down! Luckily, everyone saw the funny side –  oh, the shame!

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I wasn’t going to be this chuffed with myself in the morning!

However, things quickly turned serious as the rain continued to fall and dams up the north reached their capacity. “School has now been closed, the majority of the town is deeply flooded and everyone, including the army, are working round the clock building mud and sand bag walls trying to contain it as best they can…. we are down to one road in and out of the town”.

Bangkok’s CBD was under serious threat and flooding to surrounding areas caused delays to public transport all over the city, the quickest way to get anywhere short distance was on foot or in small boats.The news was reporting of deaths and missing people. We were officially living in a disaster zone, as were 64 more of Thailand’s 77 provinces.

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We had friends who chose to evacuate Singburi altogether as we prepared for the worst. In the final weeks right in the peak of all the disaster, i headed to Cambodia and Vietnam for a break,  placed all my belongings above my wardrobe and prayed i’d be lucky enough that the flood waters wouldn’t reach my home. Army trucks would eventually bring people in and out the area as it became almost inaccessible, farmland was lost and homes completely submerged. Tents and aid were brought in for those worst affected. Throughout it all what would astonish me was the strength and the resilience of the Thai people in the face of such devastation.

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Monk’s were confined to the top floor’s of the temples or washed out completely and the local bus-stops acquired new transport methods!

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Children played in the flood water and howled with amusement as passing cars and moped’s showered them with water.

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Man’s best friend remained exactly that and the locals would ferry their pets and stray dogs around in boats all day. Singburi had quite a number of stray dogs and puppies but unfortunately they didn’t all make it.

The locals didn’t moan and they didn’t give up, somehow they just got on with things. Sure enough the water soon subsided and people began to rebuild their lives and businesses. The community rallied round and helped each other out.

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Sweeping away the aftermath at local temple grounds.

Nationwide the floods claimed more than 800 lives and thousands of lively hoods were damaged, but i’m thankful for the community spirit in Singburi that carried us all through safely.

 

 

 

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