Two weeks in a five-star boutique hotel in Pattaya might not sound too bad, except when you can’t go outside or interact with anyone other than your health workers. Emmy Sasipornkarn reports from quarantine in Thailand.
At eight in the morning, the doorbell rings and a familiar voice announces that my breakfast is ready. Like every morning in the past nine days, I open the door to find no one in sight — just a plastic container of food on a small table.
The same contact-free procedure is repeated for lunch at 12 p.m. and dinner at 5 p.m. This is a “normal” day in the life of Thailand’s state-sponsored 14-day coronavirus quarantine, compulsory upon entering from Germany.
Trying to go home
A few weeks ago, I — like many other Thai nationals in Germany — was looking forward to finally returning home. But first I had to register with the Thai Embassy due to the pandemic.
When my Thai Airways flights were cancelled for the second time in mid-September, I decided to register for a chartered repatriation flight. I waited anxiously for weeks for a response from the Thai Consulate in Frankfurt.
Thailand gave priority to travelers with urgent needs to fly to the Southeast Asian country. Longing to see family and friends after nearly two years abroad was not considered a priority by the Thai government — no matter what my mother might think.
Fortunately, on November 1, Thailand decided both Thai and non-Thai nationals could register online for Certificate of Entry (COE). I rushed to book a spot on a chartered plane.
Only 200 passengers per flight – and only Thai nationals – are allowed to undergo state-sponsored quarantine free of charge.
The other option would have been to fly back with a different airline and pay for an alternative quarantine privately – the cheapest government-approved accommodation being €1,000.
Thai nationals, interestingly, are not required to show a negative coronavirus test upon arrival.
Frankfurt to Bangkok
Arriving at Frankfurt Airport on the long-awaited day of my flight, the once-bustling international air travel hub was almost empty and it only took 15 minutes to pass through customs.
My journey back home with Thai Airways amid a global pandemic was a strangely enjoyable but simultaneously sobering experience. Some seats were empty and passengers were not allowed to roam around freely except to visit the lavatories.
The cabin crew had swapped their iconic purple uniforms for full body Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). In fact, since boarding the plane in Germany, I have only come into contact with a handful of people not covered head to toe in PPE.
Upon landing at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, all passengers had their temperatures measured.
All of our luggage was sprayed with disinfectant before it was loaded onto the fleet of buses.
Before the pandemic, Suvarnabhumi was one of Asia’s main travel hubs. Now, it seems the once bustling airport is a thing of the past.
Pattaya: Unrecognizable ghost town
Where you end up in quarantine in Thailand is like playing roulette.
Nobody had any idea which city we would end up until we had actually landed at Suvarnabhumi. But I was lucky – I ended up in a boutique five-star hotel in Pattaya, a coastal resort city about two hours’ drive south of Bangkok. The only catch – I am not allowed to leave the room.
En-route to Pattaya, I saw nothing but mostly empty streets and closed bars in the normally buzzing town famous for its nightlife which draws millions of tourists each year. Thailand closed its borders in March.
I knew that the pandemic had severely battered my country’s once-prosperous tourism industry, but seeing the hedonistic getaway of Pattaya deserted with my own eyes, really drove home the reality of life in post-COVID Thailand.
Daily life in quarantine
Upon arrival at the hotel, staff dressed in PPE greeted us with a pump of alcoholic gel, asked us routine health questions and once more controlled our body temperatures.
I was then quickly assigned an ID card and a room, along with a handout of the hotel’s quarantine rules, and a dinner in a sealed plastic bag — the first of many such “COVID-safe” meals. Bringing in any cooked food outside from the hotel is strictly forbidden.
The room is modern, spacious and equipped with the usual amenities one might expect from a five-star hotel: large flat-screen TV, shower with rainfall showerhead and a separate bathtub, two comfortable beds with crisp white linen, full wall-length windows and of course, face masks, alcohol gel and a thermometer.
Every morning, we must check our body temperature everyday between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. then send the information via a messenger app.
There is no housekeeping service during coronavirus times. I must use a small plastic bowl as a wash basin.
The only times I am allowed to leave is when someone calls me to go downstairs for swab tests. I took my first swab test on day three and the result came back negative. Now, I have just five days left in quarantine and one more test to go. Here’s hoping to another negative test so that at last, I can see my family again when they drive down from Bangkok and take me back home.