Oct 23 2011
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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