First Person: Should I Take a Military Truck Through Bangkok Flood Waters, or Will a Cement Bowl Boat Do the Job?

by on March 7th, 2015
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Although floods are receding in some parts of Thailand, more than 20 provinces, including Bangkok, still have flooding, and five million people remain affected. One challenge for these people, living in flooded areas, is how to get around. How to get to work, do grocery shopping, go to the doctor – do all the things you’d have to do, even without two feet of water outside your front door.

Luckily, Thais are amazingly adept at creating flood transportation, as I realized the first morning I stepped out onto my flooded Bangkok street.

With 18 inches of flood water lapping at the steps to my apartment building, I was amazed to see motorbike taxis riding up and down my small lane. Granted, they drive slower than normal, and make a heck of a splash but, they were still managing to taxi people up and down, just like every other day.

When waters rose to two feet, most motorbike taxi drivers could no longer work. Except for those with ingenuity. They’ve attached hoses to their exhaust pipes, to stop water getting in, and, as long as the hose remains above the water, driving up and down through two feet of water isn’t a problem. Even if some of them do look like submarines.

On my shopping expeditions, my modes of flood transportation vary. Some days, I wade to the end of my lane in above knee-deep water, then across the even-more-flooded main road, and hop onto a bus.

Buses run on Bangkok’s flooded roads, as long as water is no higher than two feet. For passengers, it means wading through thigh-high water to climb aboard. But, to help, some nice companies have built raised platforms at the front of their buildings, that sit just above the flood waters. Doormen stand there all day, helping passengers climb from platform to elevated bus steps. Look, Mom. Dry feet.

Military trucks too are a godsend. All day long, and well into the night, they ferry people from one flooded area of Bangkok to another. Soldiers help people climb the ladder at the back of the truck. Once inside, you sit on plastic chairs they’ve placed there or stand, crammed in like sardines, if it’s rush hour. Designated stops are set up along the way, with raised platforms built into the water. Soldiers man each stop, helping people on and off trucks, and sometimes half carrying them as they wade through water as high as their butts. Most soldiers work 10 hour days and stand in water up to their thighs for much of it. Their pay? Less than $10 a day.

Boats, of course, are everywhere. From row boats to motor boats, children’s paddle boats shaped like swans and teddy bears, and makeshift boats created out of Styrofoam. Plastic bowls usually used to mix cement are also popular. I’ve lost count of the number of teenage girls that have passed by. While I’m wading in the water, they’re nice and dry, rowing their cement bowl boat.

As awful as the floods are, seeing what Thais come up with to get from A to B has been incredible. That people living their lives for weeks in murky, dirty flood water can still come up with effective, and even fun, ways to traverse through it is remarkable. That the Thais do all of it with big, wide smiles, is even more so.

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