Last Word on the Flooding

Quick (and hopefully final) update to the flooding situation here in Bangkok:

While the waters have started to slowly recede, many areas on the northern, western, and eastern edges of the city continue to be under a meter or more of water.  This water has been there for, in some cases, nearly a month and has stagnated.  Needless to say, residents of these areas are furious and have taken to tearing openings in some of the sandbag barriers to enable some of the water to more rapidly drain away.

In the past few weeks, what had just been piles of sandbags in the Sukhumvit area (where I live) has turned into more extreme defenses against the likelihood of flooding, a vote of no-confidence in a government that has continued to be incapable of communicating useful information in a timely manner.  Thankfully, by this point it seems unlikely that we will see any water but nobody is removing the defenses yet.

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Outside an office building in the Ploenchit area, two rows of sandbags with a wall of boards sealed at its base with silicone or tar to hold back water.  Of course, vehicles are unable to enter or exit this building so, like many buildings around the city, business is being impacted.

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Along the road leading up to the international airport, mega-sandbags were laid out and pumps installed in case the road itself needed to be turned into a canal to channel the water out of the city.  The airport’s retaining wall was increased to 2.5 meters (almost 9 feet) and, despite having been built in the midst of a natural flood plain, the airport has thus far remained dry. 

Don Meuang
Photo courtesy Bangkok Post

Not so the old airport, Don Meuang, which before the flood was being used as an air force base and for limited domestic service.  It is still closed with more than a meter of water covering the entire airfield.  It will cost millions of dollars and take at least two months to bring this airport back into service.

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As of last week, walls and other barriers were still being constructed.  Here, a view from the inside of the Villa Supermarket near Sukhumvit Soi 33, looking outside to the street.  A wall of concrete blocks and sandbags was built, necessitating a climb over the wall with your groceries.

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The subway stations, exits at a few of which were closed because of the flooding, had flood barriers installed.  These were new additions but were added very quickly that I imagine they must have been prepared in advance and stored for such an event.  I’m unclear why there’s a gap at the corner but I guess they would close it with sandbags?

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Finally, while at Bangkok Hospital this past week, off Phetchaburi Road, I noticed the wide range of flood protection they had put into place, including concrete walls around the base of escalators so water wouldn’t damage the machinery.  Kind of awkward to climb the wobbly wooden steps to get over the wall.  Perhaps it is part of their plan to treat more slip-and-fall patients!

Here is a short video showing some of the other flood preparations at Bangkok Hospital.

As mentioned above, I’m hoping this is the last entry I write on this subject.  The amount of damage and suffering in Thailand has been immense – 594 deaths as of this morning – and yet I’m not sure that there’s anything more I can add to the subject after this point.  I’ll return to other subjects from this point onwards including an update on my attempts at container gardening.

 

When I Am Through With the Hong Kong MTR

Before doing a final back-up of my November 2010 photos and videos and removing them from my laptop’s hard drive, I realized I had an unfinished project from my most recent trip to Hong Kong.  I was in the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station on a Friday evening during rush hour and shot some video of the mass of humanity.

At the same time, I had just completed the third season of the Glenn Close TV show “Damages” and they have an interesting effect in the title sequence that I wanted to try to recreate: they show a crowded intersection in New York in fast-motion and then suddenly cut the clip to slow-motion.  (If you want to see the original, a link to it is here.  The shot I’m talking about lasts all of one second and takes place at about 0:08.)

As an homage to my inspiration, I “borrowed” the same title song, “When I Am Through With You” by The V.L.A.  It is an energetic, guitar-driven song which I crudely edited to just over one minute.  I hope you enjoy it.

I’ve been making an effort to post on a daily basis.  Right now I have a backlog of several entries and am trying to work through them.

Seven Modes of Transport Around Bangkok

Last week I took two of my visiting guests (the third is Thai and was visiting his family instead) around Bangkok to see the sights.  Instead of doing the usual things, we spent a good portion of the day exploring the city using different, and often less-touristy, modes of transportation. 

The idea occurred to me a few weeks ago.  One of the guests is an aviation enthusiast, so I extrapolated that he might also be interested in other forms of transportation.  When I’ve previously used other ways to get around the city, I find myself seeing Bangkok through an entirely different light.

The modes of transport used could be varied and there were at least three – bus, taxi, and motorcycle taxi – that we did not try.  In the future, I will have to refine this itinerary, but here are the notes from this time.

Seven Modes

Mode 1: MRT Subway from Sukhumvit Station to Hualamphong Station

Walking from their hotel to the nearby Asoke-Sukhumvit intersection, my guests and I descended into Bangkok’s five-year old subway for a ten-minute ride to the Hualamphong train station.  The subway is clean and modern and the insides of the trains as well as the platform areas are surprisingly free of advertising.  A short walk through an underground passage took us to the front entrance of the Hualamphong Railway Station.  Trip price, approximately 20 baht each.

 

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Mode 2: State Railways of Thailand from Hualamphong Station to Lat Krabang Station

Our timing was perfect as there was just enough time to buy our 8-baht tickets and get to the platform before the four-car diesel locomotive pulled out of this 1930’s-era station and began the thirty-minute ride to the eastern suburbs of the city.  We could have disembarked at an earlier station and shaved some time off our route, but these open-window, unairconditioned carriages (which are older than me) and their passengers provide interesting people watching.  My entry about the steam engines the State Railways pulls out for special occasions.

 

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Mode 3: Airport City Line from Lat Krabang Station to Makkasan Station

Also operated by the State Railways, this elevated electric train runs along the same right-of-way as the diesel train, so we retraced our steps.  The City Line and the Airport Express share the same track and we disembarked at the brand-new “in-city terminal” where one day passengers will be able to check in for flights, deposit their baggage, and take the 15-minute express train to Suvarnabhumi Airport.  15 baht each but will increase after January 1 to a distance-based pricing scheme.  Link to my review of the Airport Express.

 

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A dog taking a nap outside the Petchaburi MRT Station, near the Asoke Pier.

Mode 4: San Saeb Canal Boat from Asoke Pier to Golden Mount

A short walk from Makkasan Station is the San Saeb Canal, a major east-west aquatic artery in this “Venice of the East” and the only one that has regular boat service.  The water is murky and the boat engines are very loud, but it is an adventure and provides a view of yet another, much poorer, facet of life in the Big Mango.  The end of the line is at the foot of the Golden Mount, the only hill in the city.  11 baht each.

Some pictures from the canal boat:

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Craig and Matt and a few dozen other passengers enjoy their ride on the murky waters of the San Saeb Canal.

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The boats whiz under various bridges, some so low that the canopied top of the boat must be lowered.

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Which explains why the conductors/deck hands wear helmets and are very alert of their surroundings.

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Not my guests.

Mode 5: Tuk-tuk from Golden Mount to Tammasat University

We negotiated with a tuk-tuk driver to take us to a riverside restaurant located just outside the gates of Tammasat University.  Tuk-tuks are three-wheeled auto-rickshaws that serve as transportation in many parts of town, so named because of the sound of their engines.  These are actually pretty dangerous and for the price you pay, a taxi offers greater comfort (air conditioning!) and safety (seatbelts!).  We could have taken the tuk-tuk all the way to the Grand Palace but I was hungry so lunch first.  60 baht total, so 20 baht each.

 

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Previous guests (not Craig and Matt) after disembarking from the Chao Phraya River Taxi.

Mode 6: Chao Praya River Taxi from Tha Tian Pier to Sathorn Pier

After lunch we were too late to see the Grand Palace (it closes at 3:30 – don’t believe anyone who tells you it is closed before that time) so we walked to Wat Po, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha.  I’ll write about that in another entry but once we were finished, a bit after rush hour, we caught a river taxi service from the Thai Tian Pier right near the temple back to Sathorn Pier underneath the Taksin Bridge.  Also 11 baht each.

 

Skytrain Departure

Mode 7: BTS Skytrain from Taksin Station to Asoke Station

We concluded our journey by walking to the nearby BTS Skytrain station.  The 10-year old BTS Skytrain is convenient and overcrowded.  Thankfully, new four-car trains are entering the system soon and additional cars have been ordered for the three-car trains.  From what I’ve read, BTS is also the hold-up in the efforts to create a common ticketing platform (a la Hong Kong’s Octopus card) between the three electric rail systems.  Nonetheless, for about 30 baht we made our way back to the Asoke-Sukhumvit junction.

New Pedestrian Bridges at Asoke and Thong Lo

For a city of about 8 million people with generally poor mass transit systems, Krungthep (Bangkok) can sometimes surprise you with the usefulness of some of its infrastructure development.  A good example of this are the pedestrian bridges built to connect some of the BTS Skytrain (elevated rail) stations to surrounding buildings.  In a city with lots of traffic congestion, poor air quality, and even poorer footpath quality, an elevated way to get from the station to the buildings is a big incentive to get out of the car and into the mass transit.

Asoke Road

The junction of Asoke and Sukhumvit roads is an example of this bridge building trend.  One of the busiest intersections in the city, crossing at street level has long been a hazardous activity for pedestrians.  Located at the intersection of the MRTA subway and the BTS Skytrain, this junction houses three high-rise offices each with a few floors of retail, two large hotels, and a nine-story mall that is under construction.

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The pedestrian bridge built under the Skytrain viaduct, heading east from the Asoke station.

In the past two years, pedestrian bridges were built to the west of the BTS Skytrain station, connecting the two hotels and one of the three office buildings.  Then a large bridge was built to the east under the Skytrain tracks on Sukhumvit, crossing Asoke in a single cantilevered structure.  On the east side of the junction the pedestrian bridge connected to the building in the southeast corner, but not to the newer building on the northeast corner.

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The northeast corner of the Asoke-Sukhumvit junction. 

Before the pedestrian  bridge opened across Asoke, you had to descend from the Skytrain station to the subway station, cross under Asoke road in the subway station, and then reemerge at the base of this building.  The subway entrance is in the lower left of the photo, near the large umbrellas.  The new pedestrian bridge is on the right that connects directly to the building is on the right.  What follows are some pictures of the connection under construction over the past two months:

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Taken about six weeks ago, you can see in this picture how the new extension of the bridge will connect from the existing pedestrian bridge (shown in the very first picture in this entry) to the third floor of the building.  At this point, just a part of the metal framework has been put into place.

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A few days later, crossbeams have been added and some of the concrete flooring is in place.  You can also see how a stairwell to the street level – a requirement for all the bridges that connect to buildings to allow after-hours access to the pedestrian bridge – fits into the design.

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A few days after that, the columns for the roof structure are mostly in place.  The following week, the roof itself has been added and most of the side panels are installed.

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Finally, about two weeks ago the bridge is finished and is nearly open.  Lighting is working, as you can see.  This will be much more convenient to access the building and its businesses.  Certainly much easier than having to pass through the subway station to get there!  Plus, you can now descend to the street and access businesses along this side of the street more easily.

Thong Lo

A second example of new pedestrian bridges is going up on the west side of the Thong Lo Skytrain station.  This is my neighborhood station and it lies just to the east of the junction of Thong Lo and Sukhumvit Roads, two stops to the east of the Asoke station.

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Looking west from the foot of the Thong Lo Station

The main driver behind this bridge is the Noble Remix condo (the purple building) which will have two floors of retail below about 35 stories of residences.  While the retail floors will get traffic from the residents, there’s no hope of anyone else traipsing over there unless it is convenient, and that means a pedestrian bridge. 

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Looking west from the station’s westbound platform.

Looking from the station platform to the west, you can see the condo on the left and the entrance to my alley on the right, just under the tracks before the first column.  The rationale for needing a pedestrian bridge is that someone walking along the sidewalk has to go along the petrol station and then cross a small but busy alley between the petrol station and the condo.  By building the bridge, it is safer and more convenient for pedestrians. 

At the same time, some stairs will be built on the north (righthand) side of the road in front of the international school – the building that is wrapped in blue construction tarp.  This should be safer for students and their parents to access the Skytrain station.

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Looking back from in front of the international school towards the BTS Skytrain station, you can see the condo to the right and the first columns of the pedestrian bridge.  This is about two months ago.

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As of four weeks ago, box frames were built around the train viaduct’s columns.

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A few weeks later, the bridgework was added to connect each of the support columns.  For the past two weeks, no further work has been done including the connection to the station itself.  I’m curious to see how quickly they will finish this project.  It seems like it should not be difficult but each step has moved quite slowly.  In the end, it won’t benefit me very much but it is another sign of progress in making the Skytrain more accessible to the area surrounding the station and and more user-friendly to potential passengers.