As our Thai Airways airbus made its way into Thailand’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, I looked down and saw the worst-hit areas of Bangkok still submerged in floodwaters. I thought for a moment: Did we make the right decision to go ahead and pursue this long-planned post-Christmas family holiday trip, just after Thailand’s worst flooding in 50 years?
We did. Because when we touched down that day after Christmas Day, Bangkok’s floodwaters had already receded in most parts, and it’s been back to business since—except that the evidence of what this city and its resilient people had gone through is still very much there, from the abandoned sandbags fronting some shops to the still-high water levels in canals and river systems we passed on our way to the Samphran Elephant Ground & Zoo.
On our first night, as we walked along the streets of Ratchathewi District in Bangkok, we passed by some of those sandbags. Our good friend, Thai national Ms. Well, explained that some of the residents and shop owners have kept their sandbags for fear that the floods might come back. (Others, she said with a chuckle, have just been too plain lazy to get rid of them.)
We ended that night dining in a small, family-owned Spanish-themed restaurant named Ole!, that served hearty, home-cooked Thai food. By the time we had asked for the bill, the tiny place was packed with tourists and locals alike. There was a jovial atmosphere in the air.
It was the same jovial feeling I felt when we entered the much-talked about Calypso Cabaret “Ladyboy” show at The Asia Hotel, attended by tourists from different countries. We were lucky to have secured the last few seats for the fully-booked show of “the most beautiful ladies in all of Thailand.” Ms. Well told us that the shows went on even at the height of Bangkok’s floods!
It was a totally different atmosphere when we attended the Thai Dinner with Thai Classical Dance show the following day at Silom Village. The Thai performers put out an amazing show with their khon and lakon nai classical dances, as well as southern Thailand’s Indian-influenced manohra dance.
Our journey to the Samphran Elephant Ground & Zoo, an hour’s drive from Bangkok, revealed to us more of the devastation the floods had wrought, not just in its capital city, but in the outlying areas west of Bangkok. We drove through paved highways and bridges that looked perfectly cemented and brand-new on that bright sunny Tuesday, but for the occasional eyesore of muddy puddles of water, sandbags, and dead twigs and branches.
Ms. Well told us that if we had planned on visiting the Zoo earlier in December, we wouldn’t have been able to, because the floodwaters had risen to impassable levels that only amphibian trucks could manage.
It was all well worth the journey, as the elephants at the Zoo were just so totally adorable! My family and I had the best seats ever when we sat on the backs of two elephants for a ride around the zoo. We even got to feed them countless sticks of sugarcane after the show. By the way, those pachyderms are trained to take tips (any currency accepted) using their snouts!
Back in the city, we were also able to do some street-side shopping, getting awesome bargains for tees, and do a little bit of fancy shopping at high-end Gaysorn Plaza at the Ratchaprasong District, where we got seasonal discounts.
We also dined at the world-famous Thai restaurant chain Blue Elephant in Sathorn. The food was simply delightful, spiced just right according to the diner’s preferences. My favorite: spring rolls. What was most delightful was when master chef Khun Nooror Somany-Steppé came to our table for a chat, and when she knew I had a huge interest in cooking, she signed two of her cookbooks for me and took photographs with the family before heading off to her cooking class on the third floor.
Our Bangkok visit would not have been complete without a visit to the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, and its endless stream of tourists and locals. We immersed ourselves in the Hinayana Buddhist ways in the few hours that we were there, spending time with the monks in their five o’clock prayers and even taking a photograph with one of them. (It was good that Ms. Well had advised me earlier that Buddhist etiquette requires women to be, at least, one meter away from Buddhist monks when taking pictures with them.)
It was a Thai holiday to remember, not just for its uniqueness as a tourist destination, but for how resilient the people have proven to be amid a crisis that, for a moment, had the nation caught in the whirl of devastation for the latter half of 2011. But here she is—Bangkok, bouncing back, and so quickly! It’s a lesson we Filipinos could certainly learn from our charming and resilient Southeast Asian neighbors.
As they say it in Thailand, with a slight bow and palms pressed together in prayer: “Sawasdee!”