And we are back in Norway. A few weeks ago we soared through the clouds above Thailand and said goodbye to food on a stick, inexpensive food, delicious Thai food, markets, oh and did I mention food?? While I do miss the food, culture, and people it is nice to be back in a country that really cares about their natural surroundings. Honestly, it has been quite a reverse culture shock to see the way people take care of the environment. Unfortunately, this was not the case in Thailand.
Open sewage canals, trash, smog, traffic and pollution where all things I knew where in existence going into Thailand, Bangkok especially. However, after really living in these conditions they lost their novelty and I realized the grand scope of the problem. We walked the streets of Bangkok a considerable distance, and by the end of our month there we had to seek refuge in malls with air quality filters. Both of my parents ended up with bad coughs from the pollution in the city.
We only lived in Bangkok for a month, others live there their whole lives. The pollution is a result of a growing urban industrial nation, car emission, and rural forest fires and burning. Recent studies have shown that elevated levels of pollutants in the air have directly caused an increase of respiratory disease and related hospital visits.
Traffic along a turnabout in Bangkok
One day, we were led by google maps to a “river ferry”. In reality this was a sewage canal being used for transportation purposes. Honestly, I will never forget the sight of this canal. The water.. if that word can even be used in this situation, was completely black. Bubbling at the surface. The smell that came out of this canal was the most rancid sewage smell you can imagine. Even after that sensory experience were still determined to make it from point A to point B. Then, the “river ferry” pulls up. The thin boat is completely packed with Thai’s. The boat is covered in plastic to protect travelers from the splash of the sewage (how considerate). Keep in mind this is not the “river cruise” decorated boat you see in tourism brochures. No tourist were in sight, except us of course. The paint had peeled of the boat long ago, and hanging from the sides were a decent amount of used car tires to protect the boat from the impact against the cement loading platform. No life jackets were in sight. Within 25 seconds, a bare foot attended threw a rope over to the loading platform and ten or so people jumped a foot over the canal waters arriving at their destination, meanwhile another ten jumped in.
Homes along a canal
Another boat passed by while we considered how to navigate this situation. After it rushed by, bouncing over waves of sewage, I was convinced we were going to die. Thankfully, I convinced my family of this and we left the area, seeking safer modes of transportation.
While I’m writing this in a light tone, it is a very serious problem. I’ve heard that Bangkok calls itself the “Venice of the East”, but hearing this makes me cringe. 9.6 million people live in Bangkok, and only 40 percent of homes are connected to the city sewage system. 2.5 tons of liquid waste are produced every day, and out of that large number only 60 percent is able to be treated. Added on top of the liquid waste is the trash, vegetable waste, and other assorted substances thrown into the rivers.
For all of Thailand, the statistic is even scarier. 21 percent of 68 million people have access to the sewage system. 14 million cubic meters a day of waste is produced, and only 3 million are treated.
Children swim naked in these canals, people take baths in them, and they are even used for tourism as “river cruises” . Some how no one seems to realize that this is an actual and growing problem, it is often brushed aside as a unique trait of the third world.
A ferry crossing the Chaco-Phraya River, the largest river in Thailand and a dumping ground for agricultural and industrial waste.
I don’t want to leave Bangkok on a bad note, however travel bloggers never seem to write about the reality because no one really wants to read that. Everyone wants to paint a pretty picture of a place, my self included (see my earlier article “Wandering Through Bangkok” ). Sometimes we also need to talk about what’s not so pleasant.
I love Thailand and living there immensely. We had a ton of wonderful experiences and adventures, and met a ton of amazing people. Thailand is a beautiful country, but the way the environment has been neglected to the point that very little can be done to solve this problem really made me think about what some countries are doing differently than others, and what needs to be done to solve this growing global issue.
Chaco Phraya River Basin, Thailand a case study by: The Working Group of the Office of Natural Water Resources Committee (ONWRC) of Thailand.(http://webworld.unesco.org/water/wwap/case_studies/chao_phraya/chao_phraya.pdf)
Vichit-Vadakan, Nuntavarn, and Nitaya Vajanapoom. “EHP – Health Impact from Air Pollution in Thailand: Current and Future Challenges.” U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 29 Sept. 2016.