Vulnerabilities to floods in Thailand are changing as a result of many factors. Formal and informal institutions help shape exposure, sensitivity and capacities to respond of individuals, social groups and social-ecological systems. In this paper we draw on several case studies of flood events and flood-affected communities to first assess how current practices reflect various laws, procedures, programs and policies for managing floods and disasters and then explore the implications for dealing with additional challenges posed by climate change. Our analysis identifies several institutional traps which need to be overcome if vulnerability is to be reduced, namely capture of agendas by technical elites, single-level or centralized concentration of capacities, organizational fragmentation and overemphasis on reactive crisis management. Possible responses are to expand public participation in managing risks, build adaptive capacities at multiple levels and link them, integrate flood disaster management and climate change adaptation into development planning, prioritize risk reduction for socially vulnerable groups and strengthen links between knowledge and practice. Responses like these could help reduce vulnerabilities under current climate and flood regimes, while also improving capacities to handle the future which every way that unfolds.