Senior editor Michelle Baran is traveling through Thailand for one week with the Tourism Authority of Thailand following severe flooding in the country. Her first dispatch follows.
BANGKOK — Is Bangkok underwater? That is the question prospective Thailand travelers have asked themselves in the past couple of months, as they grappled with news reports that some of the worst flooding Southeast Asia has seen in decades was threatening to drown Thailand’s capital city.
In response, tourism to Bangkok plummeted. During the high season, the Grand Palace, one of the city’s main tourist attractions, might see upwards of 10,000 visitors a day, according to a local tour guide.
A month ago, that number had dropped to as little as 1,000 visitors per day. Now, with the threat of a flood surge retreating, tourists are starting to return, with the Grand Palace now welcoming around 5,000 visitors per day.
Rest assured, after a couple of days touring Bangkok with the Tourism Authority of Thailand, the majority of important tourist destinations around the city are dry and almost completely unharmed.
Sadly, it is the residents of the city who are paying a much higher toll than its visitors, as they continue to pump water out of their streets and homes in the city’s outlying areas and along its canals.
“Welcome to Dry-land!” quipped the proprietor of Oasis Day Spa to a group of about 20 North American travel agents with whom I am traveling on a familiarization trip organized by the tourism authority prior to the flooding.
Bangkok and its sites are not underwater was the message from the spa owner and the myriad of people working in the city's tourism and hospitality industries.
Truth be told, there are parts of the city, such as the central business district, where one would be hard-pressed to find any signs of flooding at all.
As for sites and hotels along the river, such as the Temple of Dawn and the Peninsula Hotel, there are reminders of the threat the Chao Phraya River posed not more than a couple weeks ago. Sandbags, for instance, remain stacked along the banks. And pumps can be seen dumping excess water from sources unseen into the river.
Perhaps one of the most uplifting areas of the city was its weekend market, which had been closed until recently. But this past Sunday, Bangkok’s youth and tourists alike were out in full force, spilling out of the market’s stalls and food stands to the point that only the most determined could successfully do their bidding.
But after weeks of near standstill for certain segments of Bangkok’s economy — not least of which, its tourism economy — it’s just that level of determination the city needs now.