Recently returned from Thailand, which has been experiencing horrific flooding. More than two-thirds of the country's provinces have been flooded, including significant portions of Thailand’s capital city, Bangkok. Many people have had their houses, cars, and places of employment flooded for over a month. More than 600 people have died and damages are estimated to be around $45 billion.
Out of our two weeks in Thailand, we spent about a week climbing at (unflooded) Ton Sai Beach and a week sight-seeing in Bangkok. In central Bangkok, there were relatively few, but still notable, signs of the flooding: a severely limited number of tourist attractions that weren’t underwater; shops barricading their doorways with 2’ high walls made of sandbags and concrete to block unexpected floodwaters; parked cars lining elevated roadways to protect them from the water; and intermittent supply of bottled water, soda, and beer* in some stores and pubs due to supply distribution issues. We didn’t venture much beyond the city center, but I hear things were much different there…
We did visit the Grand Palace (a must-do for any visit to Thailand), which sits next to the Chao Phraya river running through the heart of Bangkok. The Thai government has tried hard to keep the Chao Phraya from flooding—but that hasn’t stopped the river from creeping over its banks. That day, we ate lunch in a market with a couple inches of water covering half the market. The Thai people were carrying on business-as-usual in boots and flip-flops. With water only a few feet from our table (where we were enjoying amazing Thai noodles and stir-fry), we watched a young Thai woman lying on a beach chair surrounded by water, playing games on her iPhone like it was no big deal her entire market stall was covered in water. One of Thailand's most famous sayings is “Mai pen rai”—“No worries.” In a country that has undergone a number of natural disasters and significant political unrest in recent years, the resiliency of the Thai people amazes me.
I got some amazing climbing in Thailand, but the most memorable part was experiencing Bangkok. I owe some credit to my boyfriend here, with whom I’ve spent much time traveling abroad and climbing. Every place we go—Thailand, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, etc.—he insists that we invest time seeing parts of the country outside of the climbing areas and learning about the culture. I usually fight it (wanting to pack in as much climbing as possible!), but the result tends to be a significantly more rewarding and lasting experience, even at the expense of a few days of climbing.
After my visit, I would really like to encourage people to do the following: 1. Check out the climbing in Thailand—the hot, humid conditions don’t necessarily lend to sending hard, but the food is amazing, the scene is fantastic, and climbing on stalactites on the beach is quite fun! 2. Spend a couple of days in Bangkok or Chiang Mai (also a good climbing destination) when you visit. Tourism is a key component of Thailand’s economy and your presence will be welcome by one of the friendliest cultures in the world, particularly in the aftermath of the flooding. The culture is rich, and I guarantee you’ll be rewarded.