Experienced my first earthquake yesterday!

Yesterday morning I was having breakfast in the 37th fl0or club lounge at the InterContinental Bangkok, quite enjoying my conversation with Julia, the lovely Bavarian lady that staffs the club lounge. Suddenly I felt really dizzy. I didn’t drink anything the night before and got a great night of sleep, so I found that a bit strange. But it continued. After a few moments I realized what was going on — I wasn’t dizzy, but it was an earthquake. My reaction was something like this:


Disclosure time: I’ve never experienced an earthquake. And I’m mildly terrified of them. Actually, it’s a reason I was considering not moving to Seattle. For a little over 20 seconds the club floor was shaking. Like, seriously shaking.

Julia (the club attendant) tried to remain calm and directed us towards the stairs. Now, to get to the stairs you walk past the rooftop pool, and I saw water rushing out of it, which terrified me even more. I skipped down the 37 flights of stairs as if I was participating in the Olympics. I found it odd that nobody else was evacuating, and eventually made it to the ground floor. Again, I’ve never been in an earthquake before, so I had no sense of how these work. I was kind of expecting chaos on the streets, a thousand people in the lobby, and a general Armageddon style setting.

Sure enough I bust through the doors on the first floor and go straight to the concierge desk, thinking she’ll know what’s going on.

Me: “Excuse me, was there just an earthquake?”
Her (confused look): “I’m sorry, you want restaurant recommendation?”
Me: “No, was there just an earthquake? You know, earth shake brrrrrrr [yes, that’s what I picture an earthquake sounding like]?”
Her: “One moment,” as she calls over someone else.
Other guy: “What can I help you with?”
Me: “Was there just an earthquake?”
Other guy: “You want to go to park?”

Grrr! It’s funny cause I’ve never had such a hopeless feeling before, where I was convinced the world was coming to an end, while everyone looked at me as if nothing happened.

Well, as it turned out, nothing did happen for them. Apparently there was an earthquake in Myanmar, and it was only felt at the top of some of the taller buildings in Bangkok.

Julia kept the club lounge closed for a bit as a safety precaution, while I was happy just to be on the ground level.

Has anyone else experienced an earthquake in a hotel before? Certainly an interesting learning experience for me, and makes me wonder about staying at 100+ story hotels like the Park Hyatt Shanghai and Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong

Filed Under: Hotels, Travel
  1. During an earthquake, the last thing you should do is go down a staircase. Staircases are not well supported and come tumbling down very fast. I was in a 7.9 earthquake before in India and so many people tied while trying to escape their apartments from stairwells crashing.

  2. Stand under a door as doors have a metal frame that protect the area or get under a desk. After the ground stops shaking, if everything looks stable, you should try to escape the building.

  3. We were in Narita two days after the earthquake there last year (after waiting in HNL for the tsunami and taking the island hopper). We had numerous aftershocks during the night but the ones I looked up at the USGS site were 5.2 and 5.8. Needless to say, we left the next morning, which wasn’t really quick enough. Having never experienced one before, having numerous ones throughout the night was unsettling.

  4. You shouldn’t go outside near tall buildings during or immediately an earthquake either, unless your building is in danger of collapse. Falling glass/masonry is the main danger.

    Inside, you should DROP COVER HOLD. The “get under a door frame” advice is a good 10-20 years out of date, especially in hotels where doorframes usually aren’t under a structural wall.

  5. When I was in Scottsdale I was watching tv and felt weird, dizzy like the sofa was on the water and my immediate reaction was earthquake! But I thought in AZ it was not likely, however, when I looked at the pool the water was sloshing from end to end so I knew I was right. It was only 2.9. I would not want to be in something more severe, especially in a high rise. Very weird feeling.

  6. My first trip tp Tokyo, the cleaning staff started screaming in the halls, I opened my door and asked, ” earthquake…?” nods all around…. we all survived, btw.

  7. I wouldn’t necessarily worry about those two hotels, lucky. Neither Shanghai nor Hong Kong sits in an active EQ zone, and pretty much all modern skyscrapers are built to be EQ resistant to a good extent.
    That much said, lucky, HK does get to feel about one earthquake a year coming from other areas, but they would be far more mild than the one you no doubt experienced. Can you imagine millions of people in Hong Kong running to the streets after an earthquake? 😉

  8. I was in Christchurch during the 2011 earthquake, and watched the upper floors of the building crash down 10 feet away onto the sidewalk near the windows I was at…it was striking to see how blocks were reduced to rubble and then there would be a building made all of glass without so much as a crack. The reality is, any buildings designed in the last 30 years or so will be able to withstand a severe earthquake. Anything before that might be an issue.

  9. I was on the 17th floor office of our company in Tokyo when the March 11 earthquake hit.

    The force was so strong that we simply couldn’t move. We all went under our tables – most tables can withstand a lot of falling debris so they are safe places to ride out earthquakes.

  10. Ben, The drill is to duck under a table so as to protect yourself from any falling debris. If there is no table available, cover your head with your hands and go to a corner or away from possible falling objects. Only after the shaking has stopped should you then follow evacuation procedures if the quake is a strong one.

    In principle you are safer in modern high rises which are built to withstand even severe quakes than you would be in an older brick building or, most certainly, on the street. I say “in principle” as we all know that in some lesser or newly developed countries, building codes can be fudged, so while I would feel quite safe on the top floor of a modern high rise hotel in Tokyo, I might be concerned in, say, China.

    As to my own experience, when I was ten years old I experienced a really strong earthquake at the Ahwahnee Lodge in Yosemite National Park which was strong enough to knock me out of bed; however that luxury hotel is entirely built of wood, which is resilient, so while it rocked from side to side, there was no serious structural damage (it happened at 5 AM and they did evacuate).

    Living in LA, I’m pretty used to small quakes and do keep a supply of power bars and potable water just in case, but it’s not something that I focus on or which would even begin to dissuade me from living here.

  11. Was at the Mulia Hotel in Jakarta during an earthquake. Had to go down to the lobby until the hotel staff allowed us to go back to our rooms. Since I was leaving the next morning I packed my stuff and decided to wait for my flight at the airport lounge instead of in the 35th floor of thr hotel.

  12. It was only a minor tremble…. It just shook my coffee a little that I was having in the Hyatt Erarawan lounge:-).

  13. Yup, take cover if possible, and stay away from the windows. If you’re indoors, stay indoors. Protect the back of your head/neck. You’re most likely to be hurt by stuff falling off shelves etc.

    If you’re worried about earthquakes (and now you live on the West Coast you should certainly be aware) I definitely recommend taking your local CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) training. You’ll learn a lot including what to do in an earthquake, basic firefighting and disaster medicine. Also how the authorities will respond to different scenarios.

  14. Evacuating down the stairs? Oh no. I live in Los Angles and as part of an earthquake prep sequence I was part of, it was estimated that falling glass from downtown skyscrapers could potentially be several feet deep in the streets. (This was for a cataclysmic quake.)

    Just ride ’em out. To me the most unsettling part is that if it’s shaking moderately, you don’t know if it’s a small quake directly underneath your home or a if it’s a huge quake 200 miles away.

  15. I have lived in California for most of my life so I am used to them (including the Loma Prieta quake where I was 10 miles from the epicenter).

    A few years ago I attended a large meeting in Anaheim when an earthquake happened. One guy screamed and ran out of the room. The other Californians and I just directed the other attendees away from under the chandeliers, but it passed quickly with no damage.

    You will get used to them. At least they end faster than a hurricane!

  16. I live in the suburbs of DC, and I think I was the only person in the area who didn’t feel the 2011 Virginia earthquake. I was eating at a buffet restaurant with my dad, I got up to get some more food, and when I got back to the table, he asked me if I felt the earthquake. I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. When we were driving home, the radio was ablaze with earthquake chatter. Same thing with the internet. I was confused as all hell for a while. 🙂

    I did, however, notice an aftershock later that night (barely).

  17. I live about 40 north of Tokyo, and I was home on 3/11 (having the day off) during the 9.0 and subsequent major aftershocks.

    Everything was ok for us, except no food or non alcohol drinks at the local markets.

    I grew up in Southern California so am fairly familiar with earthquakes. During the quake you should get under a sturdy table or in a door frame. Stairwells are not safe areas since the shaking could cause you to loose your footing and fall. You should wait until the quake subsides then exit by the stairwell.

  18. Me: “Excuse me, did a tsunami just wash away the resort?”

    Her (confused look): “I’m sorry, you want restaurant recommendation?”

    Me: “No, what happened to the resort? You know, that was just here a minute ago?”

    Her: “One moment,” as she calls over someone else.

    Other guy: “What can I help you with?”

    Me: “Did a tsunami just wash away the hotel?”

    Other guy: “You want to go to park?”

    Me: “Did you not see the waves and hear the screaming? Where is everybody?”

    Other guy: “The bathroom is over there next to the gift shop.”

    Me: “What gift shop? All I see is debris, sand, and water!”

    Other guy: “You need to go to next town over. They have a gift shop and bathroom.”


    By luck of the draw I was in Phuket in December of 2004. However, by the luck of another draw I ended up missing the tsunami by a few days thanks to some random complications and conflicts in my schedule. Go figure.

  19. The fact that you became my hero by posting the Sweet Brown video (a personal fave) completely overshadows the earthquake news 😉

  20. Experienced my first and only earthquake about 5am while staying at a Holiday Inn Express in Western Kentucky in 2008. I literally had no idea why the entire building was shaking. It seems obvious now, but I guess having no frame of reference coupled with the sleep induced stuper meant I was clueless.

    Ironically, there was another 4.something earthquake just yesterday in Eastern Kentucky that was felt across seven of so states.

  21. So they don’t do Earthquake “duck and cover” drills starting in Kindergarten in Florida like they do in Seattle?

  22. I was in Mandalay just a week ago (epicenter of the earthquake). Once experience an earthquake at the Radisson in Cebu, Philippines on the 20th or 30th floor – quite scary.

    Why did you go ask them whether it was an earthquake? What else was it supposed to be?

  23. @ northwesterner — they used to call these “nuclear attack” drills when I was a kid. 😉

    After over three hundred magnitude 5+ earthquakes in just the first week following the 3/11 quake, I don’t even wake up anymore when one hits…

  24. @ flo — Well it was an intro question, in hopes that they could tell me more about what happened.

    @ Sean M. — None, and certainly wasn’t expecting any. Though they did send an apology note to my room.

  25. THE EXACT SAME THING happened to me when i was living in Bangkok in early summer last year!

    One night when i was in my apartment on the 20th floor of one of the newly build condo buildings on Sukhumvit, a pretty high-magnitude quake hit in a rural area near the border of thailand and laos. i was sprawled out on the couch watching a movie when all of a sudden i felt like dizzy and off balance…

    i’d never experienced even a slight earthquake before and i couldn’t quite place the feeling at first but when i stood up i immediately realized its definitely not just me, this building is shaking too.

    Anyway. in the end, i made my way to the hallway where i met an equally confused amalgam of residents and we confirmed, in several languages, that some kind of earthquake was in progress…. since the only emergency weather preparedness training I could recall was something about tornadoes and bathtubs, once the shaking subsided and someone decided it was best we head downstairs I followed like a freaking lemming …

    especially before we got downstairs i was actually pretty terrified. First, because i just had no frame of reference for what to do in case of an earthquake and second, because questions like “does Bangkok even have building codes that require newly built structures to withstand minor earthquakes?” and “ how high on the richter scale would a quake have to be to knock down half of the multitude of already collapsing buildings in this city?” were already flying through my head…

    but, of course, no one on the ground floor, or on the lower levels, even knew anything had happened because the epicenter was so far away that it could only be felt in the tallest buildings. so the receptionists, doormen, and gate security staff just starred at us with super perplexed faces when all the residents of floors 18+ arrived in mass downstairs and asking about what we should do and when it would be okay to go back upstairs.

    Obviously everything turned out fine, but at the time i was definitely worried and none of the building staff seemed the least bit concerned that %15 of its residents were standing/sitting/pacing on the ground floor afraid to take the elevators back up again….

  26. My first earthquake experience was in a hotel in Los Angeles, as a 12 year old on the last night of a holiday. We were in the bar and suddenly all the glasses that were hanging up started clattering together. Then the room shook and my dad’s chair (which was on wheels) rolled across the floor.

    All us foreigners jumped up and ran for the door, whilst the barmaid was screaming “It’s OK! It’s only an earthquake!”

    We didn’t sleep much that night 🙂

  27. I’m headed to Taiwan next week. A place also known to experience its share of earthquakes. On the one hand that’s probably a good thing because building codes should be pretty stringent. But I would prefer to miss the quakes.

  28. I was at the grand Hyatt DFW once and awoke to a rattling sound. It sounded like the AC unit, which I thought odd since it had been quite. The noise stopped for about 10 seconds then started again for about another 15 seconds. I just rolled over and went back to sleep. The papers the next morning said there was an earthquake in Midlothian (SP?) not too far south of DFW (the TV antennae farm that you fly over when approaching DFW from the south).

    I used to work for AA in the Ramp Tower at DFW. More than once I felt sick and/or dizzy only to notice my beverage swaying back-n-forth in my cup. The high winds in Texas thunderstorms could rock the building. The point is that tall buildings are designed to sway just like airplane wings and engine mounts are meant to flex and twist.

  29. Grew up in So Cal. First earthquake was the Tehachapi quake (7.5). After that one (and like most Cali kids), if it ain’t over 5.5, not worth paying attention to. Hurricanes,however, freak me out.

  30. I work for the federal government, and we had a quake here in DC about a year and a half ago. The office building started shaking, and many people reacted much like you and Sweet.

    I had never been in an earthquake before, and started asking people what we were supposed to do. Nobody knew. One woman who was freaking out yelled, “For God’s sake! It’s an earthquake! Why are you standing around!? Get out of the building!” And then she proceeded to run down the stairs and onto the street. I stayed put. Later I learned (as other people have said) that it is a bad idea to take stairs and exit the building during or shortly after a quake. So don’t do that.

  31. I experienced an earthquake while staying at the GH Bali in August. If anyone’s been to GH Bali, they’ll know the GC lounge is surrounded by fish ponds. I was in the GC lounge when the earthquake struck and it was just right after the evening happy hour, around 7.45 pm or so. Quite a number of guests were still hanging out at the lounge and we heard some commotion in the water (the fishies must have felt the tremor before we did) and then the whole club was shaking for a maybe around 5 seconds. The guests were staring at each other and then there was another commotion in the water and the club started shaking again, this time a bit longer about 20 seconds or so.

    Everyone was calm and no pandemonium ensued. The staff also carried on clearing the tables like nothing had happened. We later learned that there was a minor earthquake in one of the neighboring islands that was felt in Bali.

  32. I;m sorry to hear about your terrifying experience but that conversation you had with the concierge got LMFAOOOOOO… Only because I’ve stayed at the IC BKK and met the concierge team. The language barrier is consistent atleast–and i thought it was just me.

    Ben, thank you so much for making my day! =))
    It is always a joy to read your blog! 🙂

  34. I live in Ohio and felt the November 2011 quake that hit Virginia/D.C.

    Never want to feel another earthquake. I’ll take the tornado’s we get anyday. I have an underground place to go.

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