More Recent – Koh Tao Floods: Update
We arrived at Koh Tao yesterday with our sunscreen and snorkels at the ready, bursting to enjoy one of the world’s most beautiful islands. Unfortunately, heavy rain and storm warnings arrived just before we did.
We’ve been in Thailand for a month now, and have spent a lot of that time in cities, and it hasn’t rained once. Then when we finally arrive at the islands, where we’ve been dreaming of lazy days spent lounging on the beach, the famous Thai monsoonal rain finally decides to show up. The internet tells us that the rains are going to continue for the rest of the week.
At first we were a bit depressed. I’m not normally much of a beach person, but Jeyn’s excitement had been contagious and I was really looking forward to swimming together in the warm tropical water. The mud and rain and wind was definitely a let down. But we reminded ourselves how lucky we are to be over here at all. It was still hard to shake a lingering gloom.
We headed down to the local bar for lunch to find the rain much heavier than yesterday, and the street ankle deep in brown water. The cafe was packed. There was a nice camaraderie with everyone dripping wet and laughing about it. After a while we realised the rain didn’t seem to be abating. If anything it was getting heavier. And the water on the road was running faster now with less patches of bitumen still showing through.
Across the street from where we were sitting there was a group of Thai people fishing rubbish out from the water which was lapping at the door of their shop. The flood water was running down the main road and into a makeshift stormwater channel that went under the front porch of their shop and, presumably, out into their backyard. The broken chunks of Styrofoam boxes, empty beer bottles and abandoned thongs were tumbling down under the shop’s front stoop. If the debris wasn’t picked out of the stream it would block the outlet of water from the street. If that happened the water level would rise and shop fronts would start to flood.
“We should go help them” Jeyn said.
I looked around us. A lot of our fellow travellers were standing against the cafe railing, leaning out, filming the people trying to save their shop. The water level was at the shop keepers knees now and there was more rubbish flowing down the street than could be picked up by the people working. The trash was starting to plug the gap under the house.
We told our waiter we’d be back, ordered some chips so they’d be waiting for us when we were finished, pulled on our reef shoes and headed down into the water.
At this point I’d like to say that – in retrospect – I can see that wading around in the flood water was probably a dangerous idea.I know from growing up in flood prone Lismore that people can drown in relatively shallow flood waters. I think these thoughts were playing around somewhere in the back of my mind but we were caught up in the experience of it. There were also quite a lot of people walking and motorbiking through the flood water and heaps of people on the side of the road. I felt pretty sure that if me or Jeyn fell, someone nearby would help us. In my mind it was a risk, but a calculated one. It was also a lot of fun.
The guy picking up rubbish seemed happy to have some helpers. His coworkers handed us black plastic garbage bags. We waded through the murky water and fished out cans and coconuts and bits of plastic. When our bags were full we dropped them off at a designated spot, a high point in a neighbour’s yard and went back for more black bags.
Soon the water was above our knees, and then higher still at our waists. The workers at the shop wouldn’t let us get too close now in case we got sucked under the veranda. We found a safe spot to hand over the plastic bags. Other people from nearby shops had begun helping with the rubbish removal as well.
We eventually got back to our table after about an hour or so of rubbish fishing. We wanted to stay out there with the other water people but were starting to get concerned about our phones being stolen. We’d left them in a bag at our table. When we got back our chips were waiting for us. We washed our hands and scoffed down the chips in a couple of minutes.
Our original plan had been to stay at the same cafe into the night, or at least until 6pm when the 100 baht/$4 AUD/$2.90 USD cocktail special started. Unfortunately for us (and our cheap cocktail plans) the water from surrounding streets had started to waterfall into the restaurant. A waiter came over and asked us to pay. I asked if we could get a takeaway pizza. She said she was sorry but the kitchen was filling with water. That seemed like a fair reason not to make us pizza.
We decided we needed to find somewhere that would sell us a takeaway pizza and also get to the other side of the chest high main street river to the 7/11 to buy beer and candles and Snack Jack (pea flavoured crisps) to take home as supplies.
We made it safely across the deep part of the road and got to the 7/11 just as the power came back on and business resumed. There was a near panicked throng of pasty, mud-smeared tourists inside scrambling to grab snacks and alcohol before supplies ran out. The rain was still pouring down outside. No one knew how long the power was going to last, how much food we might need.
After spending a small fortune on snacks and beer we made our way further up the road to a pizza parlour called “Farango Pizza” which translates literally as “white foreigner pizza”. The name of the place was accurate. The restaurant was full of tourists, smoking and drinking and eating pizza. Water surged all around us.
We bought two pizzas and a garlic bread and made our way home with our haul.
So far our island getaway hasn’t been exactly as we planned. There’s definitely been less sun and surf than we’d hoped for. But the wet weather here has a certain charm all of it’s own it turns out. A flash flood in Koh Tao is something I won’t forget in a hurry.
By the end of today, as dirty and wet and tired as we were, neither of us had any lingering disappointment about our rainy week to come on the island, instead we felt satisfied and exhilarated – we felt alive.