We are all just prisoners here, of our own device
The government of Thailand has had a ban on incoming international passenger flights since April. The only exceptions other than emergency landings are for military planes and repatriation flights chartered to carry Thai citizens home.
At the beginning of July the government adjusted the rules so that a few categories of foreigners can apply for a certificate of entry on a repatriation flight. The list includes immediate family of Thai nationals, medical personnel, diplomats, and, happily for us, teachers and students at international schools.
Anyone who enters the country, Thai or foreigner, has to do 14 full days of supervised quarantine.
Most Thai nationals go to the official state facilities in converted military barracks – here’s a video I found showing what that looks like.
All foreign arrivals except diplomats have to quarantine at one of sixty Alternative State Quarantine facilities. The ASQs are mainly business or luxury hotels that are certified by the state to provide secure full-service quarantine packages in partnership with a major hospital. A pretty clever plan, when you think about it: with no international tourists coming in, the hotels and hospitals (Bangkok is a normally major medical tourism destination) need the business, and the hotels are already set up to transport, house, and feed visitors.
We are fortunate in that my school selected a particularly well-appointed ASQ for its incoming teachers. It’s called the Grand Richmond “stylish convention hotel,” with medical services provided by World Medical Hospital.
At the airport, after efficient and fully socially distanced document checks, temperature checks, immigration processing, and disinfected luggage collection, we showed our printed ASQ reservation confirmations and were sorted into groups by hotel. Andreas and I were the only passengers for the Grand Richmond van.
A nap might have been nice after the 26 hour journey but I was too interested in looking out the window at our new city.
At a reception desk in the basement garage entrance a fully haz-matted employee took our temperatures and had us fill out intake forms one person at a time. Then we rode a designated service elevator to floor 29 where another haz-mat man escorted us to our room. Our re-disinfected suitcases were already waiting for us.
I always enjoy exploring a new hotel room and this one had lots of little things designed to make our two weeks more pleasant. The mini fridge and the drawer above it were stocked with free drinks and snacks in the spicy, lemony, sweet, and fishy flavors of Thailand. There was an electric kettle and supplies for tea, instant coffee, hot chocolate, and instant noodle cups, and two cases of bottled water. There was a toaster, two sets of metal silverware, and a fruit plate with fresh tropical fruit.
A drawer in the main room held masks, alcohol spray, laundry bags, tissue boxes, toilet paper, red “hazardous materials” trash bags, and a bag of rubber bands.
My school had dropped off some welcome gifts for us, too: a bag of western snacks including a loaf of sliced bread, jam, peanut butter, crackers, and granola bars, and another bag with stationery supplies and a school T-shirt so I can feel like a part of the team. There was also a school laptop so I could do my job (or as much of it as is possible from a distance).
Alas, no alcohol allowed in the quarantine hotel. I read in the news that for a time during the early COVID weeks all alcohol sales were banned in Thailand. Bars and shops have reopened, but a law has just been passed outlawing online alcohol sales and home delivery. I suspect a powerful teetotal faction in this country. Maybe these rules cut down on the kinds of bad choices that contribute to spreading the virus, but I am glad we made a stop at the duty free in London. They’ll never know about our after-dinner dram.
Smoking isn’t allowed either. Fortunately we are not smokers, because no one is permitted to leave the room and there are no balconies. We have a window that opens a few inches but it wouldn’t be fun trying to blow all the smoke through the crack.
The hotel provides four sets of blue hospital scrubs for us to wear during our stay. If we put a set outside in a laundry bag they will bring us a clean one the next day. We can wear our own clothes if we prefer, but if we want the hotel to wash them there is an extra fee. Plus they wash everything for quarantine guests in near-boiling water, which isn’t usually what you want. I have plenty of comfortable clothes with me so I am mostly wearing my own things, but Andreas likes the scrubs. He says he is going to buy a set as a souvenir.
There’s a washtub in the bathroom, a dish towel, and small bottles of laundry detergent and dish soap. Quarantined guests only get one visit from housekeeping staff on day 7 so we’ve got a swiffer to clean the floors. There are lots of towels and we can always request more if needed.
Many people in Thailand use an app called LINE to communicate. It’s similar to WhatsApp. The information booklet in the room had QR codes that we used to connect with the hotel’s and nurse’s station LINE accounts. The hotel used LINE to send us links to google forms for ordering our meals and for getting replacement amenities if we run out.
We have to report our body temperatures twice a day to the nurse’s LINE account. The hotel issued us two thermometers to use. She calls to remind us if we forget.
Three meals a day are delivered to a small table to the left of the door and announced with a light knock. We order what we want using a google app. We could also order extra things from 7/11 but you have to pay with a bank transfer and as we don’t have a local account it wouldn’t be worth the bank fees. Besides, the hotel meals are tasty and more than ample so there isn’t really anything more we want. We tie up the trash and leave it on a marked square on the floor to the right of the door.
On days 5 and 12 we put on masks and go for COVID PCR tests. Someone came on day 5 to escort us down to the ground floor where there is a nurses’ testing station set up outdoors. They swab your throat then stick long Qtips up both nostrils.
Having been tested once already in Cairo we knew what we were in for but we were still pretty keen to take the test. If the results come back negative on the first test, you get to sign up for a half hour of supervised outdoor time each day. After 5 days cooped up we were pretty jazzed to breathe some outdoor air. We had the test and got negative results but unfortunately the news came in that another passenger on our flight had tested positive. That put us in the high risk category: our day 7 housekeeping appointment was canceled, and we weren’t eligible for any outdoor time until further notice.
This evening the hotel called to say we’ve been cleared to book “relaxing time” outside in the yard on the 8th floor. I actually have too much relaxing time; what I want is active time. We’ve signed up and will see what the outdoors offers tomorrow.
All in all it’s pretty good here, for jail. But I am completely cured of any romantic notions of retiring to a tiny house one day. I need a little more space to thrive in the long term.