After the flood : Ayuttaya

The signs that Ayuttaya was a recent disaster area only now on the mend were pretty much apparent as our tuk-tuk drove through the old walled town that sat within a natural meander of the swollen Chao Phraya river.

Shops were still closed, a mass of garbage formerly known as jetsam was being piled high on every street corner.  Any and all decorative vegetation was lacking having been washed away or killed by the deluge that engulfed this region.

moped, Ayuttya, clean up, flood

A moped rides through the rubbish strewn streets of Ayuttya

Indeed, the entire area looked as though it needed a good wash; Ironic really given that for the previous two months the city had been submerged by the worst floods to hit south-east Asia in a generation.

After much debate, we chose to stay in Ayuttaya not only because of its World Heritage status, but because we were aware that the city was so badly hit by the recent floods and its industries (especially that of tourism) so devastated, that any quick show of support would go a long way to helping the city get back on its feet both psychologically and economically.

Our plans were swiftly put out of stride.

Arriving late afternoon, we discovered that the guesthouse we had earmarked was closed.

As our tuk-tuk pulled up, its apologetic owner explained that most of his rooms and furniture were now floating a few hundred kilometres south out on the open seas of the Gulf of Thailand.

Ayuttaya guesthouses damaged during the floods

Reconstruction work is well under way at one of the Ayuttaya guesthouses damaged during the floods

Every second property in the area displayed the rasp of sawing or clang of furious hammering as men worked to restore their community to something like normality.

Though the waters had now receded, the aftermath of the great flood of 2011 was going to take a long time to resolve.  And this, was only a few blocks of one city in one district of an entire region that had been under water for months.

Most shops had a scarcity of supplies.

The usually fully stocked 7-elevens had many empty shelves, but these select outlets were the fortunate ones in that at least they were still trading.

high-water mark left on the walls of an Ayuttaya 7-eleven by the retreating floodwater

The 0.5 standing next to the high-water mark left on the walls of a 7-eleven by the retreating floodwater

Most of their sister shops were gutted beyond salvation.

Passing one former 7-eleven, I snapped a photo of the 0.5 stood next to a long horizontal stain that marked the high point of the floodwaters.

The brown telltale was above head height.

On the streets, disaster relief was still in full swing and we were able to witness the emergency kitchens cooking volumes of rice and vegetables, before packaging and distributing their aid.

This city was marginally on the upside of chaos, but its people were resilient and determined nonetheless.

Ayuttaya flood victim

After the flood; A woman cuts a sad figure as she traverses the town with her belongings piled high upon a hand cart

Townsfolk relocated their belongings by whatever means were at hand.  They shared experiences, they shared stories, they pulled together in a way which I can only imagine reflected how war-torn Britain acted in the aftermath of the Luftwaffe Blitz of 1940-41.

Any and all efforts were being made to save the ancient Khmer sites from the damage of the floods.

A huge volunteer clean-up operation was underway in the grounds of the historic temples to restore them to a reasonable state for visitors.

It was a really uplifting sight, and one that even a cynical old goat like myself couldn’t help being touched by.

Buddha statue, Wat Mahathat, Ayuttaya

Buddha statue, Wat Mahathat, Ayuttaya

The Ayuttaya temples themselves were striking.  More so one might even argue than those of Sukhothai, particularly with regard to the scale of Wat Ratchaburana whose stature was far greater than anything we had seen over the previous few days.

Mostly now in a state of crumbling decay, with Buddhas beheaded as prizes for collections around the world, there is a faded grandeur within the scene.

It is an eery kind of beauty one finds within the gnarled grounds and gardens, so perfectly epitomised by the much photographed Buddha deeply entwined in the roots of a tree at Wat Mahathat.

The main sites of Ayuttaya are, ultimately, impressive.  They are on a grand scale, though without the manicured ambience offered by the grounds of Sukhothai.

One day of ruins was enough though, and so on the next day as we pushed south to Bangkok, we entered a world like no other I had seen before.

The Khmer influenced Wat Rachaburana, Ayuttaya

The Khmer influenced Wat Ratchaburana, Ayuttaya

Beyond the historic city, dry land gave way to wetland.  Wetland gradually gave way to flood.

With the waters only slowly receding in these parts, thirty minutes out of Ayuttaya, the recently reopened train line (perched as it was upon a raised embankment) cut a swathe through an aquatic world that stretched as far as the eye could see in all directions.

At times, only a green canopy of tree-top indicated that this wasn’t a permanent sea through which we were travelling.

The harsh sun reflected sharply off the water forcing one to squint at the sight surrounding us.

Factories, villages, farms.  All were inundated.

As we reached the northern suburbs of Bangkok, we were plunged into a surreal world that until now I had only seen on the news reports.

Northern suburbs of Bangkok were still under several feet of flood water

Though the floods were receding, the Northern suburbs of Bangkok were still under several feet of water

What one could identify as anyway poor communities, were still thoroughly submerged by a metre or so of water.

A mere twenty kilometres south of here in the cocooned, sand-bagged and flood free central district, life would be going on much as normal for the affluent of the city.

The sky trains would be busy whilst friends and acquaintances would bemoan the daily traffic jams.

Here though, in the northern reaches of the very same capital, kayaks not cars were the preferred mode of transport.

Sois, thanons and highways were still submerged.

Flyovers and ramps acted as nothing more than temporary giant car parks.

abandoned vehicles, flood bangkok

Vehicles submerged by the floodwaters north of Bangkok, the brown high water mark can be clearly seen on the paintwork

The less fortunate (or less quick to act) had managed to utilise train station platforms as their car parks.

Raised several metres above the lay of the land, the owners must have hoped it would afford protection to their vehicles.

Unfortunately this was to no avail. The tell-tale brown mark at almost bonnet height suggested that even if the roads were clear of water, their motors wouldn’t be going anywhere in a hurry following their prolonged submergence.

Some of the displaced were camped in shelters along the rail track, all sense of normality stripped from them.

Meagre, rescued belongings were presented on full display to the fortunate few who were only passing through this sorry scene.

Temporary shelters bangkok floods

Temporary shelters were desperately erected along the raised embankment of the railway line

I, along with an entire carriage of fellow travellers, sat in silence as we crawled through the nightmare outside.

This disaster was so close, so real, it was difficult not to be moved.

My photos are poor, snatched as they are through the stained window of a moving train, but I hope they convey at least some of the anguish being caused by this huge tragedy.

Millions of people are suffering, and at this moment it is right on my doorstep.

They say that travel broadens the mind, and I can genuinely say that this experience has opened my mind to the reality of many less fortunate than myself.

It sometimes takes a seismic shift of perspective such as this for me to consider how fortunate I am to be who I am.


About misterkelvin

I searched, I failed. And then I accidentally found one in Ubud.
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One Response to After the flood : Ayuttaya

  1. Pingback: Bangkok dogs and Botox (Bangkok, Thailand) « a backpack, a buggy, a baby…

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