Oct 23 2011

Bangkok floods: Defensive planning

Published by at 10:00 pm under Floods

Day by day the flood waters seep ever closer to the heart of Bangkok. Tonight we saw photos of minor flooding on the lower sois of Samsen Road, which runs north-south toward Khao San Road. While the flooding was definitely in the scheme of things minor, it is nevertheless concerning to see flooding this close not just to the heart of Bangkok’s backpacker district, but also to the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew.

Yesterday we were quite upbeat on the outlook for travel to Bangkok; today we (along with it seems governments apart from Singapore) still don’t think you need to cancel your trip. But we would look into what we would do in terms of travel plans if the situation does deteriorate markedly (Events in one of the worst-hit areas of Bang Tua Thong haven’t inspired confidence in authorities’ ability to handle the crisis, either — see a firsthand account here).

So, for the “glass-half-empty” types (or perhaps just those not in denial) here are some tips for defensive planning.

Already in Bangkok
Reports of scarcity of drinking water are becoming more common, so stock up. If the flooding is substantial, ATMs may be partially submerged and banks closed so accessing money electronically could suddenly become very difficult. We’re not suggesting carrying $5,000 in cash on you, but it may be prudent to keep a few hundred on you — at least enough to get out of Bangkok.

Still water, no whiskey. And stay away from the river!

Still water, no whiskey. And stay away from the river!

Make sure you’ve sufficient credit on your phone (if you have one) and perhaps carry a spare top-up card with you just in case you have trouble finding a store that is open. Though we’d hazard a guess Bangkok’s 7-elevens would brave a lava flow to stay open.

Domestic travel by air
As we’ve mentioned previously, as long as Bangkok’s airport is open the rest of the country is within easy reach. All of Thailand’s major centres, including Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Trat, Ko Samui, Surat Thani, Phuket, Krabi, Hat Yai and Trang are all connected by domestic flight to Bangkok. Some destinations are served by more than a dozen flights a day.

Faster than the bus. Flood or no flood.

Faster than the bus. Flood or no flood.

Now if the situation in Bangkok deteriorates to the point that bus and train travel out of the capital is affected, these flights will fill very, very quickly — not just with other tourists, but also probably with residents looking to get out of the capital. So if you are not deadset on catching a train or bus out of the capital and want to cut back your time in Bangkok, book these flights now — not tomorrow, now. The two best domestic budget carriers are Nok Air and Thai AirAsia, while Bangkok Airways and THAI fly many of the main trunk routes, but generally at a higher pricing.

Domestic travel by land
As it stands, with the exception on the northern train line from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, most of the bus and train transport is running more or less unhindered (albeit sometimes via a very circuitous route).

Bangkok needs more flood proof trains.

Bangkok needs more flood proof trains.

If the situation deteriorates markedly, the train service will be the first to be substantially affected; buses, so long as the bus stations are not flooded, will almost always be able to find a way. The least affected areas at this stage are east to Ko Chang and Ko Samet and out to the northeast, but with substantial flooding forecast for the east of Bangkok, this could change quickly.

Our advice, right now, would be to watch developments closely. If you want to have secure transfers, domestic flights are going to be more reliable.

International travel
If you’ve decided to bypass Thailand altogether but were still angling for Laos, Cambodia or Vietnam, there are direct flight connections from Bangkok to Vientiane and Luang Prabang in Laos, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap in Cambodia, and Hanoi and Saigon in Vietnam. There are also regular flights to a number of destinations south of Thailand, including Kuala Lumpur and Penang in Malaysia, Singapore and Jakarta and Bali in Indonesia.

Bali: Just like Thailand. Sort of. Well, not really.

Bali: Just like Thailand. Sort of. Well, not really.

In all of these cases, there are fewer flights than the domestic offerings, so if you are planning on hopping in and out of Bangkok internationally, we highly recommended that you look into booking these immediately.

Inbound flight considerations
Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport is the only airport in Thailand that can sensibly handle the A380 so if the flooding really becomes extreme (the government has repeatedly said the airport will remain completely safe) and the airport is closed, you may be looking at a diversion to either Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. It’s not clear how (or whether) the airlines would assist you in getting from there to Bangkok.

Stuart at Round the World Flights pointed us in the direction of this advice from Qantas, which indicates some of the possibilities for changing flights without penalty.

Our advice at this stage would be to check with your airline to see what (if any) contingency planning they have in place for the airport being closed.

Likewise, if you’re on an organised tour, check with your tour operator to see what they have to say.

Travel insurance
You’ve got travel insurance right? Read the small print. Find out what types of cancellations are covered by your policy. If the situation deteriorates to the point where waterborne disease becomes a major problem and foreign governments start warning their citizens not to go, your travel insurance may be impacted.

Gimme a ticket to anywhere.

Gimme a ticket to anywhere.

In summary
As of right now, Suvarnabhumi airport is operating as per normal and travel from Bangkok to the majority of the rest of the country remains largely unaffected.

If you’re concerned about onwards transport within Thailand or have decided to spend your holiday in the region using Bangkok as a hub, book flights right now.

Check with your inbound flight operator for any contingency planning or re-routing you should be aware of.

Make sure you have travel insurance.

Keep up to date on developments. We suggest checking the Bangkok Post, the Nation, the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s regular updates and Newley Purnell does a good roundup of the latest news. Twitter is also a handy resource; #ThaiFloodEng is the hashtag to search for English language tweets relating to the floods.

17 responses so far

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17 Responses to “Bangkok floods: Defensive planning” ...

  1. Larson 23 Oct 2011 at 10:33 pm

    I have booked a Room in Samsen Soi 3 in November 1st-2nd. This will get interesting…

  2. Hanson 24 Oct 2011 at 12:15 am

    We are flying into Bangkok 6th of december, so still a while to go, but we read somewhere that the government fears the floods can last 4-6 weeks. Would you advise us to book an onward flight as a precaution, or should we wait for a while ..?

  3. adminon 24 Oct 2011 at 5:55 am

    Lars, that’s still a week away — think the next 24-48 hours are going to be crucial in indicating if matters are going to go totally pear-shaped or will be contained. Assuming the waters are contained they’ll still be some scope for you to help with the cleamup around there, but if matters deteriorate, I’d be reconsidering that reservation.

    Hans, December is a long way from now. The problem with the Govt is they’re not “on message” and different spokespeople are saying different things so it’s difficult to know who really knows what they’re talking about. I think the prospect of Bangkok still inundated in early December is an absolute worst case scenario, so at least for now, I’d be holding off making reservations.


  4. Hayleyon 24 Oct 2011 at 10:27 am

    Hi, Well i am leaving for Bangkok tomorrow morning and will be arriving Tuesday 25th October at 9pm, what should i be worried about, or is it all going to be ok??

  5. Brockon 24 Oct 2011 at 11:34 am

    While no one can predict exactly what is going to happen, it appears that the airport will still be operating as normally, and flooding will be localized in the north and west of the city, sparing the city center. The situation could, of course, change rapidly, if the flood barriers were compromised or an unexpected surge of water arrives, so do monitor the situation closely.


  6. Adamon 24 Oct 2011 at 8:53 pm


    We are flying in to Bangkok on the Ocotber the 28th for 2 nights staying In the Bhuthorn B&B near the Grand Palace.
    I see this is near the main river, do you reckon this will be safe to stay here?

  7. adminon 24 Oct 2011 at 11:24 pm

    Hi Adam,

    Bhuthorn (from memory) has a small canal just to the north of it (not good) but is very close to the Grand Palace (excellent). Given Thai authorities will be doing their upmost to protect the palace, you could be well located.

    I’d keep an eye on the news and check on the situation in a couple of days. As far as I know there has been no flooding so far in the area you’re talking about.

    Perhaps also drop Bhuthorn a line and see what they say.

  8. Larson 25 Oct 2011 at 2:31 pm

    My guesthouse in Samsen Soi 3 has just been closed. Now it’s gonna get really interesting for me…

  9. janon 25 Oct 2011 at 2:43 pm

    Don Muang Airport (the one for Domestic Flights) has been officially closed and incoming Nok Air Flights will land in Suvarnabhumi, no more outgoing flights they say til first on November, but it’s likely much longer and they will extend the grounding week by week i suppose, possible for a month or more.

    I still think you are save in Bangkok if you are here already, but i would recommend to avoid the city anyway. Its very possible that more important transport facilities will close down so that if you don’t plan to stay in Bangkok all the time it will be hard to get convenient transport. Thinking of the Northern Bus Terminal for example, but water is still far from that place. Also the Souther Terminal might see floods at some point. It’s in the east of Bangkok with is kinda second ranked after the west (city center) for flood protection.

    Just keep that in mind. International Airport is very save as said in the article. Actually a bit too safe cause it blocks off huge area of land that was supposed to take flood water but now has to flow into Northern Bangkok.

  10. adminon 25 Oct 2011 at 3:53 pm

    Hey Lars, sorry to hear about the guesthouse – one of our writers was on Samsen earlier today and said everything was still open. Things changing very quickly.

    Jan – more on the Nok Air situation is here:

    and on Travelfish here:

    We’ll do another post later tonight to keep people updated.

    Thanks for the feedback all!

  11. Robon 25 Oct 2011 at 6:00 pm

    I have been monitoring the situation in Thailand especially around Bangkok, I am planning a vacation in the region in early February 2012. Does anyone know if Siem Reap has been greatly affected, especially the area near Angkor Wat? Can anyone comment on long term damage in the Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Pho, Chatuchak Flea market and Silom district area!

  12. Steve Von 27 Oct 2011 at 12:26 am

    Starting the long flight to BKK in about a half hour, probably going to skip BKK for now and head straight to Kanchanaburi , I don’t land till after midnite so I assume I’ll have an overnite in the airport before I can get a bus?

  13. miton 27 Oct 2011 at 5:45 pm

    I have booked a Room in The PINNACLE Lumpinee Hotel & Spa in 4th of november and booked a flight to siem reap on 9th november.Some info about the situation in cambodia would be helpful

  14. adminon 28 Oct 2011 at 7:22 am

    Hi Mit,

    Cambodia is fine at the moment. Our last post was a few days back on the cleanup in Siem Reap. You can read it here:

  15. nadiaon 28 Oct 2011 at 8:15 am

    I’m have just finished booking my honeymoon 12th of dec in bangkok and 14th phuket. i’m coming from a long way (egypt) so can you advise me if you know by now how things will look like in dec 12th. should i cancell the 2 nights in bangkok and just head to phuket maybe at once ??

  16. adminon 28 Oct 2011 at 8:43 am

    Hi Nadia,

    That’s a long way from now and I wouldn’t be making changes to your plans. Nobody is suggesting Bangkok will be flooded for six weeks, and I think regardless of what happens in the coming days, by early December downtown Bangkok should be back to normal.

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