Readers' Submissions

Returning to Thailand as a “Normal” Tourist Part 3



 

  1. Thailand’s vs. my definition of “Reasonable”… 

 After I had returned from Thailand in February of 2020, Thailand quickly shut down. Around June/July another problem related to returning to Thailand started to emerge. My passport was set to expire in early 2021. You need a passport validity of 6 months to get virtually any type of visa, and that’s also true for a Thai visa. I couldn’t use my old passport to return to Thailand, it was time to renew my passport. As with everything in 2020, this process is also effected by Covid. Around the middle of July, I completed all the requisites to get my passport renewed and I sent it all in. The passport renewal site said to expect 10-12 weeks to get the new passport. Three months just to renew a passport… and that was just the estimate… thanks Covid. Fortunately our friends in the CCSA/TAT were engrossed in “brain hurricanes” on how to jump start tourism again. The “Phuket Model”, Travel Bubbles, STV. Nobody was coming to Thailand because the “brain trust” was not coming forth with any “reasonable” path to re-open. There is no rocket science to get people back to Thailand, easy entry, reasonable visa lengths, and reasonable visa renewal times. What is reasonable? Well, we can come back to that after I get my new passport back.   

I didn’t even look on the passport status website for a month, then I started looking weekly, then every other day… then I gave up looking. I finally got my new passport in Mid October, It had taken 2.5 months of “processing” and another two weeks of “receiving and sending”. Finally  I was eligible to start seeking a Thai visa… unfortunately those brainiacs in charge of the Thai Visas still had no viable options… not for those “high risk Americans and Europeans”… STV for China was the only option so far… and nobody showed up for that party… well, maybe after a month 45 people finally showed up?… and we can’t even be sure that they actually arrived on the STV. Oh yeah, now I remember… it’s now after my passport… what is reasonable?  

Coming to Thailand on an STV, and having a balance of 500,000 baht in a bank account ($15,000 USD) for 5 months are “mutually exclusive events”. If I had $15,000 just laying around in a U.S. bank account, it’s most likely because I had never discovered Thailand in the first place. I’m pretty confident that’s not just true for me, but it’s true for most of the people reading this submission. I think we can consider $15,000 with 5 months of bank history as “not reasonable”. I believe the 500,000 baht restriction is still a requirement for the STV (as of the time of this writing). It was not a requirement for the Medical Visa, in fact I investigated that option, but as previously mentioned, simply did not want to be stuck in a “hospital room”. That was probably a stupid presumption. Most “medical tourist” hospitals probably have some type of “Apartment option” for people and their families. You can’t exactly have an operation and fly back the next day. Medical tourist entry is for 90 days instead of 60, and I can extend for another 90 days, instead of 30. Hospital quarantine (HSQ) was not much more expensive than ASQ quarantine. I believe Samitivej quoted me 55,000 baht and Bumrungrad quoted 74,000 baht. I ended up paying 55,000 baht for a hotel which was partnered with Bumrungrad. Had the hospitals made their HSQ brochures as attractive as the ASQs did, perhaps I may have chosen a different path. The Golfing quarantine (GSQ) looks interesting, if GSQ were the same price and I could just walk around on a golf course all day, I would much rather do that. However, I have the feeling those GSQ rates are going to be a bit out of my price range… plus I have no desire to golf. 

I would like to take just a moment to ponder the 500,000 baht requirement in the first place. Do you think the TAT/CCSA really believes that most westerners have $15,000 just sitting in a bank account drawing all of 0% interest? First of all, that money invested in TSLA would turn $15,000 to $30,000 in 5 months. $15,000 re-directed to an IRA or 401K retirement plan would instantly produce returns of 20% in tax deferred savings alone… plus any appreciation or dividends on those investments. I honestly don’t “save” shit. I max out my 401K contributions which my employer matches. I max out my Health Savings account every year so I can come to Thailand and be treated for ED. In fact, I have to snap-shot the money I have in the bank account immediately after payday in order to be sure I can show more than $700 in there. I find it amazing, that even in “hard times” the TAT/CCSA can be so far “out of touch” with the people that they should-be-targetting/catering-to.

When the 500,000 baht restriction on the Normal Tourist Visa (NTV) was removed, within a week I was dedicated to the task of returning. The only reason the NTV is viable is due to the cost savings that occurred over the summer… when my summer NTV trip to Thailand was cancelled, it gave me a budget to pay for the ASQ. Honestly, I can’t say that a 14 day quarantine is “reasonable” from a travel requirements perspective, and I’m pretty sure 80% of the people reading this submission would fully agree with that statement. However, for someone already stuck in a “working from home in sub-zero temperatures” quarantine, I don’t have to “fooly” agree, I just have to justify the cost involved for ASQ. Additionally, it’s not “just about money”, paying for ASQ buys me 75 to 90 (25-30C) degree weather for the next 90 days, I’ll be able to cure my ED and test and re-test the treatment over and over again. I’ll be able to go into a bar and order a beer… or to a restaurant with friends… go see a big screen movie at a Cinema. The “old normal” will be my “new normal” again… at least until my visa ends. 

Unless Thai Immigration becomes dramatically friendlier, my tourist visa will only last for 87-90 days (depending on when I renew the 30 day extension). I do have the option of splicing on a Medical Visa to the end of my stay afterwards (for reasons discussed earlier), but that’s three months away. I may be called back to the office by then… or I may be bored of a “closed Thailand” by then. That is a decision for another day. As the saying goes in three months when I have to test the work and immigration waters again, perhaps it “Won’t be the same river, or I won’t be the same man”. 

 

  1. Return to Thailand Part 3, flying to the land of Siam.

Friday, my last day in the U.S., was smooth and un-eventful. Again, my Covid results arrived around 9:00AM and I went to pick them up promptly. I made sure to request the Wednesday test results. I made a backup copy and packed them away in my new “Thailand travel dossier”. At 11:00 AM my neighbor took me to pick my rental car for the drive to Chicago. I packed it, unplugged everything in the house, lowered the heat, filled up my plant watering buckets, sent out my itinerary to family members and I was on my way about 2:00 PM.

By 5pm I was giving my documents to the ticket attendant and she checked each document off her list. Along with each document, she checked that each document had what her list said was required. For example, Covid test with RT-PCR test issued within the last 72 hours. Everything checked out ok, two bags to check-in, normally I would only bring one… actually one half-filled. However, normally I would be checking into my apartment in Thailand when I arrived, this time I would be checking into a hotel…an ASQ hotel… with no access to anything I did not bring. That included computers, keyboards, razors, mouthwash, snacks, dental floss, Fire-Tv stick, iPad, clothes, books. Anything you can think of that might help you maintain your sanity for 2 weeks in Thailand needs to come with you. I had one carry on and that was not a problem. All-in-all, check-in was normal, other than the document review. (Spoiler alert) Upon arrival, I realized that I had forgotten antiperspirant, a razor and a power cord. While in the hotel, my laptop keyboard failed but luckily the IT dept in the hotel had an old keyboard and mouse that they lent to me.

Now, I did not know this, but alcohol is forbidden in the ASQ rooms. Not by hotel choice but by law. Like the local Thai people, if alcohol is available for something like “an election day”, then everyone will just get drunk and not vote. That’s why there is no alcohol sold during elections in Thailand. Well, if you can drink during your quarantine, then you might not actually “quarantine”, you might enjoy yourself? That wouldn’t be any good now would it? Actually, I think it’s because of the suicides that have been happening in quarantine. Alcohol (or drugs) might lead a person down such a path. As such, I will explicitly tell you “DO NOT BRING ANY ALCOHOL WITH YOU”!!!. But, if you did, then I think you can only bring it on-board via duty free… and then you would have to slip it in your luggage in the luggage hall after you picked it up but before your hotel driver picked YOU up. If you were to check-in at the hotel with a duty free bag with any of the restricted items, it would be confiscated until you checked out. Anyway, back to the check-in.

The departures/check-in hall actually looked pretty “normal” to me. Mind you, I flew on the Friday before the Christmas week. I suspect earlier or later would have been less crowded. I’m a Silver Member, so I got to queue in the Silver/Gold line and only had one other person ahead of me. I was through document review and check-in within 5-10 minutes. There were only about 10 people ahead of me for immigration departure and only one immigration officer was working there. Normally immigration is a 20-30 minute wait with 5-8 immigration officers, and that’s when it is NOT the weekend before Christmas. Security was equally painless, two people ahead of me, already stripping their shoes and computers out. Done in less than 5 minutes. Three Security lines open, that’s usually at least a 10-15 minute exercise at O’Hare. Once in the gate area, I looked at the large diagonal TV screens. Normally there are 3 screens next to each other, all filled up, cycling the long list of flights. Meaning 4 to 6 screens full of flights. This time there was just one screen of the 3 screens filled 2/3 of the way with flights.

Everyone had face coverings on at O’Hare… from the time I left my rental car until the time I boarded the plane. Emirates also served us food and drinks on-board. There were also numerous announcements and signs along process reminding people to keep the masks on.

Upon boarding I heard that there were 114 people on a Boeing 777 which has a capacity of around 350, so 1/3 full. As hoped, I had all 4 center seats to myself, a large number of people did. If you boarded alone (not with friends or family) I would say that over 80% of those people had 3 or 4 seats to themselves. Normally Emirates has daily flights between Chicago and Dubai, at this time it does not have flights on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Meaning there are about 25% fewer flights/capacity at this time. So even if the flight was 1/3 full, actual demand is probably closer to 15 to 25% of normal. In a normal year, this flight would have been fully packed 7 days a week at this time of year. Masks came off during food and drinking, but everyone religiously kept returning the masks to their faces. Flight attendants reminded anyone who was not eating or drinking, to put their masks on. My good buddy Juan, said people would “slow slip” drinks so that they did not have to put their masks on, but fortunately that was “pure conjecture”, at least for everyone in my seating area. It’s a 14 hour flight from Chicago to Dubai, so 4 seats and the ability to lie down was very nice. I only got two hours of sleep during the flight, but that would pay off later when I flew from Dubai to Bangkok. Food, Drinks, Wine, Jack Daniels, etc was all normal on the Emirates flight. One think I would add though, you might want to bring a “light duty mask” and a “heavy duty mask”. I had never tried to sleep with a mask on before. My N95 mask made me feel like I was being suffocated (when I tried to fall asleep), the cheap “airline provided” mask was much lighter (and probably less protective) but it did not give the feeling of being suffocated. My advice is to try and sleep with a mask on one night before you go on a flight. Just so you familiar with the feeling.

The Dubai connection was as “normal as 2020 could provide”. The many foreign workers were noticeably missing at the “connection security scans”. The business class lounge was busy, but not anything like before. It was probably running at ¼ capacity. Food was served from behind acrylic screens, but other than that, everything was quite normal. I got to enjoy seven “Happy Hours” before I departed for Bangkok. There were no document checks for the connections, I assume such checks are a “ticket counter” thing and not a gate thing. Pleasantly missing were the “gate security thugs” who want to ask you a slew of questions, rummage through your carry-ons and run a swab test anyway. I had a 7 hour layover instead of the normal 4 hour layover. This is because only ONE Emirates flight is currently flying to Thailand from Dubai. Normally Emirates has 3 flights daily from Dubai to Bangkok, and at least one of those flights was an Airbus A380, so we are talking some pretty serious capacity/demand cutbacks on this route. Additionally, the one flight that is operating goes on to Hong Kong after Bangkok. I believe it also arrives from Hong Kong and flies to Dubai. The flight from Dubai to Bangkok was about 2/3 full. Again, a Boeing 777 with a capacity of 300 (shorter range). I had one end, and another lady was at the other end of the middle 4 seats, nobody sat between us. I started to watch Blade Runner 2049. After take-off the pilot must have pulled some pretty strong G forces, because I blacked out for 4 hours. Seven “happy hours” and no sleep had cured my “sleeping in a mask suffocation fears”. I had to fill out the normal Immigration arrival card on the plane. It was great to see the rice patties while on the approach to Suvarnabhumi. I estimate only 50-75 people got off in Bangkok. Many more were continuing on to Hong Kong than were departing in Bangkok.

I had a total of 5 Covid tests performed before I left the U.S., so I’m pretty confident I did not have Covid when I got on the plane. If I do test positive to Covid in quarantine, it will be safe to say I got it during the flight. One thing that I really hated about the flights (especially with connections) is that you DO NOT know what the Covid testing requirements are for anyone else on the flights. For example, from what I’ve heard, Thai citizens do not need a Covid test to board a flight to return to Thailand… and the rest of the people on the Chicago to Dubai flight could be going anywhere…Just like the Dubai to Hong-Kong passengers. I was very diligent about keeping my mask on… that last thing I wanted to do was end up in the hospital for a 30 day quarantine, 16 at the ASQ was already bad enough.

Upon arrival in BKK, as was previously documented on the internet. Lots of chairs lined up in different places and Thai people in masks reviewing documents, asking questions and shuffling people around. A temperature check or two. A new “Form 8 or 18” had to be filled out. I did not have a print out for my ASQ reservation (not required on my checklist), fortunately there was an “ASQ boy” handing out “ASQ name tags” and I was on his list. So I got my ASQ name tag and nobody asked me for the ASQ document after that. I would say that these “document and temperature check” took no more than 10 minutes, we were then sat down in another line of chairs which left almost as soon as we sat down. We were off to immigration. There was a pre-immigration COE check, with immigration officers looking at the COE certificate and looking at some app or picture on their phones. I assume this was the consolidated list of approved COE people who were supposed to arrive today. I got a stamp on my immigration arrival card and I was off to the normal immigration counters. Nobody in front of me at my station. No picture or hand scan was taken this time, at least I didn’t see the camera move. Pop Bang, Pop Bang, I got my stamps and a “Welcome to Thailand”. I asked politely “Hok sip wan, chai mai krup?”. Sixty day stamp correct? “Yes” was the answer, and “Yes” was the answer I was looking for. The time from departing the plane to arriving in the baggage area seemed to be less than the pre-Covid “normal” time required. First of all, the flight disembarked right next to immigration. I didn’t have to walk two kilometers (like it seems I normally must). Other than a minor queue after disembarking, everything went amazingly fast. I assume a lot of the kinks must have been worked out of this part already. I previously read about considerable confusion in document inspection arrival area, but I saw none. Perhaps the repatriation flights have considerably more people and thus longer queues and processing.

I did not see anybody having any problems with the document check process. I was towards the beginning of the line and had all but one of my documents in order (my ASQ reservation was not printed out). Most people who have made this journey report some people being rejected or hassled due to the document checking process. I was quite happy to be at the head of the lines and saw no issues whatsoever.

All baggage was out, I got a cart, grabbed my bags and drifted through customs drafting the Emirates Stewardesses and Pilots. Customs appeared normal, one or two people sitting down looking for dark skinned foreigners or turbines. That’s a bit sad to say, but it’s a fact. Outside the customs’ maze you are herded directly through the exit doors (no changing floors or going to the ATM). Just outside the exit doors are the hotel representatives, vans, etc. I saw my hotel number and my hotel number saw me. They gave me a plastic “bread bag” for my shoes, and he called me a proper AOT limousine with ASQ written on it. The ASQ taxi driver knew the drill well. A thick acrylic sheet had been placed between the front and rear seats. It was a pretty tight seal. It was so nice to see the sun, tall green palm trees and jungle like trees that grew so jungle-like in Bangkok. The U.S. is so cold, gray and barren right now. As we exited the tollway he pointed to my hotel to indicate where we were going. I responded with: “Mai Chai, Cowboy gawn” (not yet, let’s go to Cowboy first). He smiled and continued to the ASQ hotel. The driver drove me up 8 or so levels of the parking garage, to a back door of the hotel. My luggage was sprayed down and I was ushered into the back service elevator of the hotel.

My transit was over, I had arrived in Bangkok.

Last week when I wrote this section of the readers’ submission, the above comment was the end. However, this week I feel a need to change the above comment and discuss some recent events… so here goes…

My transit was over, I had arrived in Bangkok, and just before a new shutdown?

With the new “highly contagious” strain of Covid just announced in the U.K…. and the recent influx of Covid contagious Burmese, is another shutdown imminent? A “perfect storm” scenario could be brewing. With a combination of Burmese spreading covid and a more contagious strain of Covid, it is possible that Thailand could lose the precarious “balance of control over the virus” that it is currently struggling to maintain. To have this happening just months before the vaccination program begins would be a true disappointment. A twisted and nefarious ending to the fairytale success story which was being published just over a month ago when the borders were finally being re-opened. Thailand has thus far blocked only UK flights (according to timeout.com) https://www.timeout.com/news/flights-are-now-banned-between-the-uk-and-these-countries-in-europe-and-beyond-122320 but will this be enough. A number of other countries have completely stopped international flights (Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia). Japan has barred non-resident foreign nationals from entering its boarders and has actually created the first “Travel Bubble” with Thailand… “However, the Japanese government says students and business people from 10 countries, which include Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan and South Korea, would not be affected by the suspension policy”. As the more contagious strains become the “new, new normal” for Covid, and as those strains become more predominant in the other countries, only time will tell if our friends at the CCSA implement another travel shutdown in Thailand.

One thing is for sure though, this mouse is now going to be on the cheese side if another shutdown does occur.

The author of this article can be contacted at : [email protected]