I feel the earth move: the earthquake in Chiang Mai

Written by on May 5, 2014 in Asia, Blog, Thailand - 20 Comments

“I want you to take over control … take over control … take over control …”

My feet pedal furiously to the beat as I try to sweat the fever out of my body.

Six more songs. Only six more until I’m done and can go home, shower and take medicine, then pass out.

Except, sometime during the chorus, I feel my body begin to sway on my spin bike. Rocking, slowly, steadily, back and forth.

Holy shit. I’m super sick. I need to stop pedaling immediately.

I look up at the instructor, trying to will my legs to echo his kwasai (left, right) instructions.

His face, topped in a backward hat, looks concerned.

People around me begin to stop pedaling.

And my body continues to shake. Only, so does everyone else’s.

Screams rise in the air as the building sways. We’re on the eight floor of a center in a building probably as old as me.

We’re going through an earthquake in Chiang Mai.

may-2014-earthquake-thailand

“Wait,” our instructor tells us, still perched on the bike as the building continues to move side-to-side. I look at him like my life depends on it, having never been through a quake.

Sure, I’ve lived in places where quakes can happen, but none ever did. Same with tornadoes. (And thank god I never had to witness one of those in my existence thus far.)

The trembling seems to go on forever, lifting me into another world. A surreal world where I sit and think to myself that any second the entire building could just collapse on itself and this could be it … my life, crashing eight floors to the ground … because I thought it would be a good idea to go and take a spin class to help me get over whatever sickness in my body.

Of course, as soon as the instructor tells everyone to stay put, people jump off their bikes, running and screaming out of the room.

I don’t move. I’m paralyzed … not with fear … but just knowing there is no safe place for me to be until the building stops shaking. I’m not close enough to a real door frame to seek cover, and really? Eight floors up, if the building comes down, there’s no making it outside before that happens.

Finally, after about 20 seconds, the shaking stops. The instructor gets off of his bike and stands in front of the stage, looking bewildered. It’s just me and another member left in the spin room.

In a daze, I walk up to him and put my hand on his shoulder. “I guess spin class is canceled?”

He looks at me incredulously.  thought I was being funny.

I walk out to the gym and talk to my trainer.

“I think we all need to leave,” I say, after checking to make sure she is OK.

“I have to wait until everyone leaves,” she says.

So, I head out of the gym, stopping to look out one of the large, glass-less windows at the city below me.

Everything looks fine.

People line the streets, but the structures are still standing. No car alarms pierce the air. It’s relative calm below me.

Outside, I wave down a songthaew and make my way to Chiang Mai Gate, calling my friends in the city to make sure they are OK, letting my mom know I’m safe and (of course) posting on Facebook. The only thing I can think of is getting home to my little Thai house and checking to make sure my cats were OK, and running through the events of the day to see if they were acting weird (because I always read that animals know about a quake hitting before it hits.)

At the gate, the calm continues. It seems like I am the only one with adrenaline running wild through my veins (which, since spin was canceled, am going to pretend it is just a good of a calorie burn). I start to hit the internet, checking to find out more about the quake.

It’s a 6.3 (not bad for my first quake, eh?), shallow and centered just outside of Chiang Rai, not too far from Chiang Mai. My heart still racing, I head back to my house, prepared for aftershocks.

As I walk, I see minimal damage. Smith, where I used to live, has evacuated everyone, and Papa’s, the makeshift bar, is packed with people. Those who cannot fit (or don’t want to fit) are lining the road, waiting to go back in.

Then, there’s me, who decides to head home, eat some dinner, drink some calming tea, and work through my latest experience via writing.

What you need to know about earthquakes in Northern Thailand

Quakes in Northern Thailand are not as common as in other parts of the world (Ring of Fire, I’m looking at you). In the almost two years I have lived here, I have never felt so much as a tremor. That being said, according to the Chula International Communication Center of Chulalongkorn University, which issued the report “Likelihood of Earthquakes in Thailand” the region is on the Mae Chan fault which runs through both Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai and it isn’t exactly a fault that stays quiet.

“The fault is seen as the most potentially damaging one in the country in the event of an earthquake, and it may have been affected by major quakes in China’s Yunnan province back in 2009 … Mae Chan fault remains quiet as stress continues to build up …” the report reads.

There are 15 active fault zones, according to the Department of Mineral Resources, eight of which run through the northern part of the country. The Mae Chan fault last made international news when it delivered a 6.8 in 2012 that caused death and destruction in Myanmar.

Am I safe in Northern Thailand?

Again, according to the CICC, buildings constructed after 2007 are earthquake resistant. The building I was in when the May 5, 2014 quake hit was built before then and I did not see any major damage. In fact, I saw no major structural damage at all from the 6.3 quake. But, I’m no scientist, no building expert … I’m just writing about what I saw.

Fears, however, are justified, especially in structures that are not prepared for earthquakes. Does this mean to live in fear? Absolutely not. Until tonight, I had never experienced a quake. And, after tonight, I don’t expect to really experience one again anytime in the near future (barring aftershocks). It took me 34 years to feel the earth move under my feet … and I’m not going to let a quake stop me from enjoying the beautiful place I call home.

About the Author

Diana Edelman is a travel writer and expat currently residing in Chiang Mai, Thailand. She is a former career breaker and long term solo traveler. Today, she helps promote responsible elephant tourism and is the co-founder of #RTTC, a weekly chat on Twitter focusing on responsible tourism. When she isn’t writing, Diana handles the PR and social media for Save Elephant Foundation, which runs the popular Elephant Nature Park. Her writing as appeared in About.com, Thought Catalog, The Huffington Post, Matador Network, Travel + Escape, Luna Luna, Vegas Seven, World Nomads, Viator, CheapOair, OneTravel and more.

20 Comments on " I feel the earth move: the earthquake in Chiang Mai "

  1. Alex May 5, 2014 at 8:22 am · Reply

    Was creepy. Sunny’s parents said the roads around their house are destroyed. Luckily, their house is OK.

    If animals can sense it, my dog is really bad at it. When it happened, he stopped playing with the other dogs, froze for the 15 seconds it happened, then went right back to playing as if nothing happened.

    • Diana May 6, 2014 at 3:13 am · Reply

      So glad there was no destruction other than roads. I can just imagine the pup going back to playing like it was no big deal. Hilarious!! :)

  2. Ace May 5, 2014 at 8:22 am · Reply

    Really glad you’re OK! Xx

    • Diana May 6, 2014 at 3:10 am · Reply

      Thank you! Me, too! So glad there was no catastrophic damage or injuries. The entire region is very lucky it was as shallow as it was!

  3. donnae May 5, 2014 at 9:50 am · Reply

    Glad you made it through your first alright. My first I had just moved onto the 11th floor with my roomie and it rocked the apt block quite nicely. It is so surreal, isn’t it? I just thought it was me until I noticed the water in the aquarium moving.
    I assume everyone is fine out at ENP?

    • Diana May 6, 2014 at 3:08 am · Reply

      The 11th floor?!? I was praying the building didn’t collapse and I was on the 8th. Cannot imagine being even higher up! Everyone is fine at ENP, no damage. :)

  4. Candice - Desert to Jungle May 5, 2014 at 9:59 am · Reply

    Not for a second do I believe they build earthquake-resistant buildings here!

    I ran out of my house as stuff was falling off of shelves. Two lovely masks from Sri Lanka lay broken on the floor when I came back in.

    My dog was entirely chilled out until I shouted at her to get out of the house, she didn’t sense a thing.

    It’s my third earthquake (Uganda and Dubai) but the strongest. I’m sure I wouldn’t like it if I was in a tall building but so far I’ve just found it really interesting (being into geology) and exciting.

    • Diana May 6, 2014 at 3:07 am · Reply

      Yeah, it doesn’t look like they started to construct earthquake proof buildings until after 2007. The building I am in today is old and it definitely shook during the aftershocks. Thankfully, nothing fell last night in my house, and I doubt anything fell today. I cannot imagine being through so many quakes. This one last night and the following aftershocks were enough for me. It is fascinating, though. I used to really be obsessed with natural disasters, and this has sparked that quest for more information again.

  5. Leigh May 5, 2014 at 4:25 pm · Reply

    Yes, glad you’re ok. Noah used to work for the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory in NY. According to him… and something his boss said all the time… when buildings sway like that, it’s a good thing. Its’ when they don’t, they crack and break.

    From reading the news, it sounds like although there was building and road damage, no people were hurt, which is, you know, good.

    So were you ever able to sleep after that?

    • Diana May 6, 2014 at 2:54 am · Reply

      I’m super thankful CM was spared any destruction! Just reading about the swaying made me feel better. We had a few large aftershocks this morning and this building shook as well. I did get to sleep, but not well!

  6. Adam May 7, 2014 at 2:59 am · Reply

    I do seem to remember CM being near a fault line but I still find this surprising – especially considering you’ve been there so long and never experienced it! Sounds like a scary experience

  7. Alex May 7, 2014 at 7:09 am · Reply

    I felt one for the first time in Peru, and it was wild! I was laying on the beach and feeling the earth move under me like that was kind of exhilarating… until of course I started wondering if a tsunami was on its way to get us. Thankfully it wasn’t and damage was minimal. Glad you are okay!

  8. Federico May 7, 2014 at 3:39 pm · Reply

    I’ve experienced a few , never got used to them. There’s just something about the earth shaking that brings everything out of what it should be…

  9. Suki F May 7, 2014 at 9:25 pm · Reply

    That is so scary! I’m glad you are ok.

    • Diana May 8, 2014 at 1:55 am · Reply

      Thank you! It was scary. I’m glad everyone was OK.

  10. Camels & Chocolate May 8, 2014 at 9:56 am · Reply

    Would you believe after living in San Francisco for four years, I’ve still never been in an earthquake (that I felt)?!?

  11. Giselle and Cody May 9, 2014 at 9:01 am · Reply

    Wow, that must have been such a crazy experience that you went through. We have never experienced an earthquake before….Ok, well in Toronto there was a tiny tiny tiny earthquake…..It must be pretty crazy. Glad you are ok and can’t wait to give you a big hug in Israel.

    • Diana May 13, 2014 at 12:43 am · Reply

      It was scary!!!! And all the Thais after it just kept on. I’m sitting there and wanting to scream “HELLO!! We just had a MAJOR EARTHQUAKE. Stop cooking and emote with me!!” I cannot wait for that hug!!

  12. Mindy & Ligeia May 11, 2014 at 10:19 pm · Reply

    What this earthquake has taught us is what to do in the event of any future ones. I certainly did everything WRONG during this one!

    • Diana May 13, 2014 at 12:36 am · Reply

      Haha! SAME SAME!!! I was all “let’s just stay on the bike.” Didn’t even think about falling lights, etc. All I was thinking was “if the building collapses, its gonna pancake and we’re all screwed.” And, “get into a doorway or stairwell.” Clearly, I ignored that rational thought.

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