After spending pretty much all of 2021 in Thailand I returned to the UK in mid December so that I was able to spend Christmas with my wife Sharron and three kids Sarah (36), Lisa (34) and David (32) because ever since Sarah was born in 1984 the three, then four and then five of us had spent every Christmas together.This was in either the UK, Canada or Switzerland and once each in Australia when Lisa was completing her PhD and could not get away, and once in Staunton, Virginia in the USA where Sarah and I had friends. This was just after my mother died and we wanted to go somewhere that had no associations with her to remind us of our loss.
We were really keen to meet this year as we had a new grandchild Finley to meet and welcome in to the family and other than Zoom meetings I had not seen any of our kids since February.
Meeting up was always going to be a challenge but David and Amber moved out of London into our home in Somerset in December, Sarah and James flew back from Canada and could stay at our home for quarantine and thereafter and Lisa and James with a newly born Finley were in a support bubble with Sharron, so it was possible and complied with the applicable Covid rules and it was great that we were able to keep our tradition going for one more year, catch up and of course meet Finley.
I had initially planned to stay in the UK until mid January and, once Christmas and New Year had come and gone, and Sarah and James had returned to Canada, I had come to the conclusion that Michael and an English winter had very little in common and I was keen to return to Thailand asap which was now possible as the rules relating to entering Thailand had been relaxed in the second half of 2020. I now qualified on two counts, firstly by holding a Thai Retirement Visa and secondly by being a Thai property owner, for which I qualified by purchasing a large two (soon to be converted to three) bedroom condominium overlooking the townhouse that I bought in 2013. Technically this was owned by a Thai company of which I am the controlling shareholder as foreigners can only own apartments and not land or houses.
However my departure was delayed so I could undertake a small heart procedure (a cardioversion) 48 hours before my departure when we discovered my Atrial Fibrilation had returned after five years.
Before leaving Thailand I had commented to several friends that I was planning to return and all expressed surprise that I was leaving warm, sunny and safe Thailand in the first place let alone for the cold and damp UK, where Covid was on the rise again in what turned out to be unprecedented numbers. I guess not everyone is as keen to see their families as I was!
And secondly people expressed surprise that I would be prepared to be quarantined in a Thai hotel room for 15 days. I was told there were even reports of people committing suicide but I found that hard to believe!
In truth quarantine did not bother me one iota as I grew up as an only child used to my own company and I have often considered going to a Monastery or retreat so I could work without interruption on a project or projects.
So for me two weeks on my own with no distractions sounded like bliss and something I would willingly pay for!
However, whilst Thailand was allowing foreigners who met the agreed criteria to return, the administrative procedure in itself seemed to deter many expats as the process was too ‘complicated’. Before commenting that that is more a reflection on their own inability to follow a fairly straightforward set of instructions, I must admit I had the help of my assistant Linda, who did all the legwork online!
A lot of people also seemed to consider quarantine a personal affront or restriction on their liberties.
I am sorry but I have zero sympathy for such viewpoints.
For those who had not noticed, we are living amidst a worldwide pandemic with a virus that is easily and speedily transferred from one person to another. Health systems in one nation after another were and are in danger of being overrun and the way virtually every government has decided is best to combat this is by lockdowns and restricting international travel to prevent the introduction of new or existing strains into a vulnerable population.
If people want to travel and are fortunate enough to be in a position when they can do so, they have a duty of responsibility to not put local populations at risk and quarantine is both sensible and a small price to pay.
This was a lesson that the UK government was slow to learn, as it was only in mid February that the UK introduced compulsory hotel quarantines for visitors from a select list of about 30 nations. Talk about closing the barn door after the horse has bolted! This was a full 9 months after many Asian and Australasian countries had introduced mandatory hotel quarantines and was yet another example of the delayed measures that the UK was eventually forced to introduce rather than doing proactively and partly explains why at the time of writing, with similar populations the UK has had 126,515 Coronavirus related deaths and Thailand has had just 92!
Anyway for me to start the process I had to submit a copy of my passport and Retirement Visa to the Thai Embassy in London, together with proof that I had purchased $100,000 of medical cover from a Thai insurance company in case I was hospitalized with Covid – 19 after my arrival.
I was then issued with a provisional Certificate of Entry and the next step was to book a flight and accommodation. The former was no problem, as I did not want to change flights in the Middle East and increase the risk of infection and the only direct flights to Bangkok were once a week on Sundays with Thai International.
Accommodation was a different matter. The Thai embassy provided links to three websites authorised to book quarantine packages in designated hotels for 16 days/15 nights. My initial preference was to choose a hotel in Pattaya, as I understood one of the hotels barely 400 metres from my home was being used for quarantines, but this turned out not to be the case and there were only four designated quarantine hotels in Pattaya but over 60 in Bangkok.
To be authorised for quarantine status, hotels had to provide daily temperature monitoring, covid tests on Days 5 and 12 and breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Most of the hotels were 3 – 4 star and charged around 35,000 – 50,000 Baht (£850 – £1200 or $1200 – $1600) for 16 days and 15 nights but I decided there were two important criteria to consider in selecting a hotel.
Firstly I was looking for free cancellation up until 24 hours before arrival, because with new strains rampant in the UK, the Thai government might block entries from the UK (and hotels would not refund) and there was always the chance my heart procedure which was set for February 12 could be cancelled or postponed.
Secondly I decided that I wanted a two room suite rather than just one large bedroom so that I could walk around and have some change of scenery, even if it was only changing one room for another!
So once I combined a full refund for cancellation with a two room suite I did not have so many options (and none in Pattaya!) and eventually booked my quarantine at the Royal President Hotel, Sukhumvit Soi (Street) 15 in Bangkok. My 16 day/15 night stay with two tests and 3 meals daily came to £1460/$2000.
This was an area of Bangkok I was very familiar with (not that I would be leaving the hotel!) as it was half way between the hotel on Sukhumvit 19 where I normally stay when I am in Bangkok and the hospital where I go for an annual check up.
Once the hotel and flight were booked my assistant Linda forwarded the details to the Thai Embassy who removed the provisional element from my Certificate of Entry, but it was still subject to my obtaining a negative Covid- 19 test in the 72 hours prior to departure, a fit to fly certificate, a Declaration form with contact details and the completion of a T8 questionnaire, downloaded from the Thai Embassy website.
My biggest concern was actually whether the Fit to Fly Certificate would be difficult, in that in this age of litigation some doctors might be hesitant to sign the same without a battery of tests. In the end on February 11 I travelled two hours west to a travel clinic in Exeter for my Covid test and the nurse (not a doctor!) signed the Fit to Fly certificate.
The following day I underwent a general anaesthetic for the cardioversion and the cardiologist had no problems in letting me fly 48 hours later as long as I was not driving myself to the airport and was happy to sign another Fit to Fly Certificate so I had insurance if anyone picked up my first one was only signed by a nurse and not a doctor!
The cardioversion worked and my heart is back in rhythm (so far – fingers crossed) and on Sunday February 14th my wife Sharron dropped me off at London’s Heathrow Airport with the 7 separate documents I required in addition to passport and visa all safely packaged in a ring binder
– Certificate of Entry
– Fit to Fly Certificate
– Covid 19 Test Result
– Copy of Insurance policy
– Copy of Hotel Quarantine booking
– Declaration Form
– T8 Form
And in addition the ‘ThailandPlus’ track and trace app was meant to be downloaded on my phone but was not checked at Heathrow. However every other document was carefully checked.
My flight was uneventful and I slept on a couple of occasions for an hour or two and watched all 8 episodes of the third season of ‘Killing Eve’ which I had downloaded onto my Ipad. Interestingly enough although the flight was only about a third full it was clearly Thai Airways policy to put everyone in the rear section seated next to each other and leave the front sections of the plane completely empty. I assume this was something to do with balancing baggage, fuel and passenger weight for maximum fuel efficiency?
I think the best way to describe my 16 days is in a chronological basis which was easy for me to rebuild and this account is largely based around Whats App messages I sent to family and friends.
Day 1: Monday February 15 – Arrival and Checking In!
At a time when reports were saying it was taking up to five hours to get through immigration in London I was really impressed at how organised everything was upon arrival at Bangkok.
After walking towards the normal immigration area, there was a line of about 100 socially distanced chairs either side of the moving walkway and an army of administrators coated in plastic protective gear who, once everyone was sitting, proceeded to check that all their documentation was in order and then allowed you to stand and join a queue to have everything checked again by officials from the Quarantine and Health Departments.
Then it was on towards immigration, when my passport and visa and all other documents were pre checked, before I went for a fourth and final check as I went through immigration and was then clear to collect my bags and make my way into the terminal proper of what is the world’s largest single terminal airport and indeed normally one of the world’s busiest airports, but on this occasion 90% of the terminal was closed and sealed off and all arrivals who were due to be transported to their quarantine hotel were herded to a seated waiting area, where another attendant coated from top to tail or rather head to feet in plastic, twice took details of the hotel where I was to be quarantined!
The entire operation of getting through the airport and multiple checks was seamless and indeed much quicker than normal and there was zero risk of any transmission from incoming travellers to local staff. It was all quite a contrast to the up to five hours that it was taking incoming travellers at times to get through London Heathrow, although to be fair the Thais (by being proactive) had at least 6 months of operating their quarantine procedures and had clearly honed the operation to a fine art!
Within ten minutes I was ushered to a large suv taxi, my bags were put in the rear and I was directed to sit in the rear seats. Like everyone I saw at the airport, my driver had plastic head gear, mask, gloves, plastic cape and was protected from me by a plastic divider.
At the time Thailand with a very similar population to the UK had around 70 deaths from Covid-19 and Britain was well over 100,000 and I could not help but think what could be achieved when governments imposed tight controls as they had done in Thailand and Australia, whereas in the UK there was so continual incessant moaning from right wing politicians about restrictions to liberty and freedom etc, implying that everyone had the right to ignore controls and put others at risk.
Many people in the UK did not appear to realise how they had got off lightly (and suffered accordingly in consequence!) as far as quarantines, lockdowns and controls were concerned and that governments imposing restrictions was not unique to the UK but common all over the world. However, if there is one thing quite clear to me about the UK’s national persona, it is that, as an island state, at least half of the population has little interaction, understanding and empathy with the rest of the world and thinks the UK should be above rules and regulations ‘as we know best’. Hence Brexit and turning our backs on our neighbours in Europe!
Indeed as our eldest daughter Sarah messaged me from:
‘Glad you finally got there ok. Enjoy your quarantine. I’ve had four phone calls from the government and a police visit to check I’m staying put and able to get the necessities. Though I guess you’ll have armed guards doing a similar thing for you………..’
Before pulling away, the airport attendant used his mobile phone to take a picture of my negative test certificate, of me sitting in the taxi and of the taxi numberplates, presumably in case I either went missing, absconded or hijacked the taxi! Or because the government insists that every step of the operation is recorded and to confirm the airport had done their task and safely dispatched me to my hotel where I arrived about 35 minutes later in the famous Sukhumvit area of downtown Bangkok. In normal times this is perhaps the most popular part of Bangkok for tourists.
And after a lifetime of travelling this was a check in like no other.
To start with, as we had landed at around 0630, I was at the hotel by 0800 which has to be my earliest check in ever!
My taxi pulled into what looked like the rear courtyard of the hotel and a plastic covered attendant advised me to stay in the car because the car in front had also arrived from the airport. After 5 minutes, when the passenger had disembarked and disappeared into the hotel, my bags were unloaded by a plastic covered baggage porter who disappeared with a trolley and my bags and I was finally allowed out of the taxi and the plastic covered receptionist (who I later deduced was the resident nurse!) checked my details, gave me a key, told me to enter the hotel and then take the lift straight ahead of me, go to the 4th floor, take a left out of the lift and my bags would be waiting in room 404 and she was the last person I saw for five days!
My room was a corner suite on the 4th floor and my initial impression was it was somewhat tired and dated. The windows were dirty but only because they were not able to be easily cleaned from the outside and, as a result, they had months of accumulated grime. Whilst the lounge area had a parquet floor, the bedroom appeared to have a linoleum floor which was not glued very effectively and was bubbling up in places. Disappointingly I was not high enough for extensive views, but there was a fairly expansive view looking east towards Soi 19 and I recognized some of the surrounding buildings.
One of the reasons I had booked a suite was I deluded myself into thinking I could continue exercising with my daily 8km walk, but after calculating it would take 400 ‘laps’ of the suite to amass 8km and that at some point I would almost certainly trip over the uneven linoleum, I quickly put that thought to one side!
Whilst the room was dated, one could not make that claim for the bathroom, which was modern and had an electronic Japanese type WC with a built in bidet that washed one’s rear end without the need for a hose. After a few days I took photos and sent to my wife Sharron and assistant Linda, suggesting three of these would be a great addition to our house in the UK!
My room(s) overlooked the normally busy Soi 15, with a 7/11 next door, and the lounge had an excellent view into the multi storey parking garage next door! All of the windows were screwed permanently closed except one that I could push slightly open, but the rooms were fine and spacious with TVs in both the lounge and bedroom and, as well as a kitchenette and dining table in the lounge, there were good sized desks in both the lounge and bedroom, which was all I needed!
I immediately unpacked the separate bag I had packed for my stay, rather than unpacking the big bag, and made a list of where I was putting everything so I had a checklist for when I packed up in 16 days’ time. I am notorious for leaving things behind, so whenever I stay anywhere on an extended basis always list what I am unpacking.
I unpacked 5 of the 20 books I had brought with me, which turned out to be ambitious, and found out my breakfast had been delivered and was sitting on a coffee table placed outside my room. I am not a great egg eater but soon got used to a morning omelet most days!
I discovered there was a quarantine instruction manual left in my room which explained how everything worked. Breakfast would be delivered between 0730 – 0800, lunch between 1130 -1200 and dinner between 1730 – 1800 and I was advised that all communication would be by messaging using ‘Line’ – an Asian equivalent of ‘What’s App’- which is the number one messaging service in Thailand.
I had to scan two QR codes so I had instant communication with both Reception and the hotel nurse. I had to take my temperature twice a day and send a photo of the digital thermometer reading to the nurse and if I ever forgot, she would send me an apologetic message chasing me up. When meals were delivered Reception would message me that the food was outside my room and I was advised that there would be three menu choices for every meal and I would be sent a Google Document every afternoon with the choices for the following day for me to complete and return. All in all not unlike being in hospital and all very digital!
The instruction manual advised me I had been given about 20 garbage bags so that I could put my trash out every evening. The manual advised that I would have covid tests on days 5 and 12 and after day 13, if my test was negative and if I gave them 24 hours’ notice, I could have 30 minutes per day out of my room in the public area around the pool (no swimming allowed) after the area had been cleared for me. That was not high on my priorities!
There were also copious supplies of coffee, tea, sugar, coffeemate and about 24 bottles of water.
I had long since realized that this 16 days of quarantine without distractions was going to be an excellent opportunity to catch up on many tasks and I also like to be organized, so I spent most of the morning making a list of what I wanted to achieve over the next 16 days, which was primarily completing several articles for my website, catching up with outstanding emails, reading several books, watching a couple of Netflix series and trying to rebuild/restore data onto a replacement external hard drive, as my previous drive had broken on my birthday and the data was unable to be retrieved . The good news was 95% was backed up and already restored onto replacement solid state drives but the bad news was inadvertently my data had not been backed up either manually or in the cloud since September, so I needed to retrieve data from emails and my phone back-ups and then rebuild the last five months of data, folders and images.
Fortunately I had several back-ups of all my 300,000 digital images 2000 – Sept 2020, but everything from Sept onwards (maybe 10,000 images) had not been backed up so needed to be retrieved from my phone and then re-edited and re-indexed which was going to take several days. I was already wondering if 16 days was going to be long enough for all that I wanted to achieve!
I slept from 1500 – 1900 to be awoken by the phone ringing to remind me I had to take my temperature and send the nurse a picture of the thermometer as proof and there was a message that dinner had been left outside my room at 1700! That was easily rectified by the microwave in the kitchen area, although it crossed my mind that I should have brought some packets of instant soup in case I wanted to ‘snack’.
I had managed to lose 21 lbs (10kg) in the previous five weeks and I was concerned about putting it back on with three meals daily after honing myself to being quite satisfied with an intake of 800 -900 calories a day, which was just a light breakfast and dinner and also a daily 5 mile (8K) walk whenever possible.
Day 3: Wednesday Feb 17
I had been concerned about putting on weight in quarantine as I had lost 21 lbs in the previous five weeks and had brought some mobile scales with me to maintain the discipline of weighing myself daily as a form of motivation.
Breakfast was arriving around 0800 and lunch, which I do not normally eat (nor have I done so for years) less than 4 hours later, so unless the breakfast was unappetising and I felt hungry, I would put lunch in the fridge and eat it later. As dinner had normally arrived by 1730 I was still fasting for almost 16 hours overnight with just instant coffee and coffeemate, of which I brought copious supplies!
Today I tucked into the Pea soup that came with lunch only to discover it was a sweet rice pudding and my first dessert of the year!
Just like in hospital one (or at least me) always forgets what I have ordered the previous day so opening the three plastic bags left daily outside my room every day was a bit like opening a Christmas present and wondering what I would find inside!
And clearly the opening of the food parcels was one of the highlights of my day!
My big news today is that the hotel reception has agreed to deliver an armchair to my suite as well as the settee so that I can sit by the window in my bedroom and gaze at the view down Soi 15 as I read. I can also place it in front of the bedroom TV, which will be more comfortable than sitting on the bed. I had advised reception that there was an armchair showing in the website photos and reception messaged me to say they found one in the storeroom but it will take 24 hours to clean it if that is okay. I replied that was absolutely fine
It’s amazing the sorts of things you find you wish you had brought when you are stuck in one location for 14 days and the obvious things that I am missing are a pair of scissors to trim my beard and moustache and an extension cord so as I can make more flexible use of the location of the power points.
Day 4: Thursday Feb 18
I am getting into a routine – breakfast arrives, temperature check and photo messaged to the nurse. Today’s breakfast was a little cheese on a big lump of toast, (Thai cheese on toast!) and also a croissant, fruit, yogurt, milk and orange juice. I tend to put the juice and milk in the fridge in case I want a sweet drink or milky coffee as a treat during the day and often save the fruit and yoghurt for a mid afternoon or evening snack.
Stir fried broccoli for lunch meant just that – a forest of broccoli and nothing else (as I am not eating rice) so I left some to embellish the salad that I think I ordered for dinner tonight. The jelly or was it tofu that also came for lunch tasted like tarmac so went straight down the toilet.
I also have two soups that I saved from earlier meals in case I need to snack at any time.
I’m getting pretty good at rationing and suspect I would have made a good prisoner.
I rang reception to make sure they had not forgotten my arm chair and I was told it was being cleaned and would be with me tomorrow.
However my request for someone to go the nearby 7/11 and buy a pair of scissors to leave outside my room or indeed to borrow the same from reception was met with a less than enthusiastic response. I was advised they would await a management decision on my request, because some people struggle with the mental challenge of quarantine and might be requesting scissors to harm themselves (!).
Other than check to see if any of the channels get Premier League football from the UK I have not switched on either of the TVs.
Whoops they just called me as I forgot to send my temperature. As requested I have to send them a picture to prove I’m not lying.
The nurse sends me a cute thank you emoji every time I send my temperature to her!
Day 5: Friday February 19
4 Days down and 12 to go and I have been quite productive so far although yet to read a book.
Most of my time has been spent putting all the images I took from September to February back into daily folders and then selecting images for two articles for my website. It’s not unusual to find I have been sitting at my desk for 3 – 4 hours and really should be getting up to walk around more frequently.
Reception calls to advise my armchair has been left outside my room.
Wow! – the quality of lockdown is about to rise dramatically with the delivery of an armchair so I can watch films on usb drives on the bigger TV in my bedroom in comfort!
The arrival of the comfortable armchair was surely the highlight of my first week!
Today I finished my first book – ‘Winning against the Odds’ by Stuart Wheeler, an idiosyncratic multi-millionaire who funded the Brexit movement in the UK, but of more interest to me was also the originator of the Spread Betting concept in the 1970s. Spread Betting is still relatively unknown to most people but basically it is like buying futures or stocks and shares and basically the more you are right the more you win and the more you are wrong (until you close your position) the more you risk losing. As I found out to my cost!
I have zero sympathy for his dated views on the UK and his support of Brexit but as someone much involved with spread betting in the 1980s and 1990s, I was intrigued to read his life story. In truth it was not that interesting!
Day 6: Saturday February 20
Shit I have to be up at 8:30 for a covid test.
They called me yesterday to advise that they would ring me around 0830 to confirm that it is ‘safe’ for me to leave the room and indeed the nurse does so.
She tells me to walk to the elevator and go to the ground floor, take a right and walk to the swimming pool area where she will be waiting to do a swab test.
She (I think the nurse was a woman) was quite literally covered in plastic gear from head to toe and told me that my blood pressure was high and I told her that was her fault – I stayed up late working until 5am and it was hardly worth going to bed if I had to meet her at 0830!
I was out of my room for all of 6 minutes and other than the nurse I saw nobody.
I gather there is someone in quarantine in the room opposite mine as I see there is food and trash bags left outside their room when I open my door.
I feel I have achieved nothing today but in fact I have managed to re-organise all the miscellaneous images that I have on my hard drive sent to me by others, as well as images of mine that I had specifically used for brochures, exhibitions, lectures and articles. I have put them all in a much improved and more logical layout for easier access but it has taken me the best part of eight hours! Hopefully it will pay dividends in the future by making it much easier to find images that I need to illustrate a specific article.
Day 7: Sunday February 21
I can’t get my sleep right here but last night I felt really tired after a whole day editing images so I went to bed at 8 o’clock but I woke at 1 o’clock this morning so I’ve done some more editing for four hours until 5am and now I will go to bed again and try and get a second four hours.
My friend Steve from California was also in quarantine, having returned to Thailand from the USA. He was in a quarantine hotel near the airport and we sometimes messaged each other to compare notes.
Day 9: Tuesday February 23
8 Days down and 7 days to go!
I am editing images taken Sept – Feb so I am putting my quarantine to good use although not much time for reading or Netflix. On a positive not the food is usually so bland I have not put back on any of the 21 lbs I took off in the five weeks before departure.
So all in all nothing to complain about at all!
Day 10: Wednesday February 24
My body clock is screwed – I just slept 1800 – 2400 but six hours is good for me!
Day 11 Thursday February 25
Omelette for the 11th consecutive day and I never was a big egg eater!
Oh – and my daily mini croissant!
I have built up one of the great collections of unused disposable cutlery that comes with each meal as, waste not want not, I have been washing and reusing my original set!
I ordered potato salad for lunch and potato salad means a gargantuan order of potato salad, filling all three sections of the plastic meal container, potato and not much else!
But I can save half of it and have with whatever I ordered for dinner.
It’s a bit like hospital in that you put your order in online the day before and then one always forgets what one has ordered. It’s still a bit of a surprise unwrapping the package to discover what’s inside! (and a sign of senility to repeat the same comment on separate days?)
The fridge is bare but I can gorge up on accumulated and unused sugary orange juice! I managed to go the first 6 weeks of the year giving up on OJ completely so it makes a pleasant and occasional change from coffee.
Occasionally all three of the meal options were meat (I have not eaten meat since 1996) and if I did not like anything on the menu I just ordered potato salad, which I could make last over two meals and some fruit with yoghurt. The fruit was usually pineapple, papaya, watermelon or apple.
I have just watched ‘The Salisbury poisonings’ which I had downloaded from BBC iPlayer. And I’m now on their five part documentary series about Mrs Thatcher. I have to say, although I never voted for her, the series is excellent.
At this point I had just five days of quarantine remaining.
I was sleeping about 5 – 6 hours a day which is good for me but at strange times.
As I just had 5 days left I made a new list of all I wanted to achieve to get the most out of the last 5 days. My original list was far too optimistic but I am a great believer in lists and targets. Better to make a list and hit three of your ten targets rather than let your day have no structure and waste one’s time wondering what to do.
Having said that trust me that I write better than I practice and can also be one of the world’s great procrastinators!
I had at least finished editing all my 2020 images (for the second time as this was most of the work lost on my unbacked up external drive which had failed) which is good and means I can instantly find and access images.
I can’t understand people complaining about quarantine – it’s such a great opportunity to catch up on so many tasks without distractions other than chatting with people on What’s App!
Of course I recollect that I once read an article that said it was an early sign of mental instability when one starts sending out messages about the food one is eating!
No surprises there then!
Day 12: Friday February 26
Every morning at around 6am about two dozen green shirted workers gather on the sidewalk outside the 7/11 at the foot of the neighboring building. They drink their coffee, chat and then drive off on their motorbikes in a convoy. For some reason I assume they may be construction workers.
I see them whenever I wake up early or if I have worked through the night and am still up.
The internet is slow but serviceable. There is a router in my room and I can also log onto several other routers with the same password on this and neighboring floors.
Reception called me to advise that, due to a change in Thai health regulations, my second Covid test was being moved from Saturday February 27 to Sunday February 28. As long as the result was negative, I could leave from 6am on Tuesday March 2.
I am already getting anxious about whether I will get as much done as I want over the last five days. Most people are counting the days down to the end of quarantine, whereas I am almost wishing I had a few more days to get everything done!
There may be an element of the ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ to my thoughts in that it is well known that people kidnapped develop a bond/comfort/feeling of security and familiarity with their captors and surroundings.
They are often reluctant to leave and return to the uncertainties of the world with which they were previously familiar. I guess Patty Hearst, when kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974, was one of the first examples of this mind set. Prisoners are often reluctant to leave their cell and prison life and, in a similar manner, if for any reason I had to extend my quarantine stay it would not have been a problem.
Day 14: Sunday February 28
I was able to leave my room again today for my second covid–19 test. In fact given that I had one in the UK 72 hours prior to departure and another for the pre–op for my cardioversion procedure, this was my fourth in a little over 4 weeks! Mildly uncomfortable for a second or two it certainly beats a visit to the dentists!
Because I had seen and heard no one else, I assumed I was one of a handful of guests segregated in perhaps the oldest wing of the hotel.
The nurse told me there are 60 of us in the hotel which I later deduced was only being used for quarantines and the only other person I saw in 16 days was the guy due to have a test after me and who was waiting on the far side of the swimming pool.
The nurse was very nice and again concerned that my blood pressure was too high but I told her if I slept a bit more it would come down and indeed it was likely a rogue reading as it was lower when she took it for a second time and again when I checked it for myself back in the room.
So I was all set to get out after another 48 hours although, just like a student revising before an exam, I could not help but think if I had a third week I would get more done of what I wanted to achieve. Once I get to Pattaya I will be walking every day which will take up 3 hours with preparing and showering afterwards and probably tempted to read around the pool.
Our son David asked me if I could stay on longer?
At £100 a day? I could check out and check back in to any top-class Bangkok hotel for probably £35-£50 a day.
I just need to discipline myself to do say 5 hours a day in my office when I get to Pattaya, before I start thinking about reading around the pool or watching Netflix.
I finally watched ‘Train to Busan’ (a well received and quite realistic Korean Zombie movie) – I am not sure if it is the kind of movie I should watch on my own in solitary confinement because now I can hear all sorts of creaking noises from the apartment. It was quite realistic and very sad.
And after this pandemic I guess anything is possible!
Day 16: Tuesday March 2 Departure Day
My last breakfast was delivered!
And it was soon to be farewell to my home for the last 16 days and 15 nights – I must be suffering from ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ as I feel like I am losing an old and familiar friend!
The suite, despite my initial comments about it being tired and dated, had been absolutely fine and my decision to pay extra for a two room suite was as far as I was concerned totally vindicated. Just walking from one room to the other, looking at the view from a different window or taking a break and sitting in a different room or working from a different desk was a valuable change of scenery.
I had done most of my packing the previous evening and it was only my laptop, files and toiletries to gather this morning. One of the benefits of flying Thai Airways was the generous 30kg baggage allowance and I had taken the opportunity to bring out a heap of books, odds and sods so together with my carryon had the best part of 40kg to take to Pattaya.
I also packed the 7 bottles of unused water (waste not want not again!) but left the 35 plus packets of plastic eating utensils despite Ampai’s entreaty to bring them back to Pattaya. She is even more frugal than me!
I had arranged for my usual driver and oh so reliable Vee to collect me from the hotel and drive me to my house in Pattaya which would be around two hours. He was due to arrive at 0930 but Ampai called me at 0900 to say as per usual he was early and outside but they would not allow him through the gates into the hotel courtyard. He always calls Ampai as is English is generally limited to ‘Hi Boss How are you?’ and ‘You want to stop for coffee?’
I called Reception, gave them his car number and asked them to let Vee and his vehicle in to pick me up.
They told me they would send a porter up as soon as possible but at present someone else was checking out and there could not be an overlap. It turned out the whole hotel was quarantine only and they still would not even let my car onto the premises to pick me up as there could be no risk of infection! So I was not allowed to see or pass anyone else as I made my way down the elevator, across the courtyard, through the gates to my pick up car and a smiling Vee waiting on the street.
I was called back to the security post by the hotel gates to collect my Quarantine Certificate and the printed results of my two Covid tests and then finally on the 16th day after my arrival on my way to my home in Pattaya.
I was really impressed at the attention to detail and how rigorously the Thais applied the rules because I am a believer that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
And it is because the Thais have been both rigorous and pro-active in combatting Covid–19 from day 1 that they still only had 83 deaths after one year, despite having a bigger population than the UK (120,000 plus deaths).
When the evidence is so starkly obvious, I am struggling to understand the mindset of those clamoring for lessening restrictions in various parts of the world.
On a personal level it was absolutely zero hardship or feeling of restriction at all and that was partly because I had lots to do and was determined to keep occupied.
I am also an only child and not someone who needs company and as my wife Sharron commented
‘Quarantine is not a problem for you as you are someone who likes to concentrate on a task for however long it takes without being distracted. You are often happy to stay in a room working for 12 – 15 – 18 hours and do not get worried about what you eat or do not eat. However I would not enjoy the lack of fresh air and a repetitive diet and most people would not find it so easy.’
So perhaps I should not be so critical of those who do not want to do quarantine, although in truth, when much of the world’s population is struggling to feed itself let alone hold down gainful employment, there is not much to moan about in being restricted to a 3 or 4 star hotel room for a couple of weeks.
In truth I do not think quarantine should be a problem for most people if you are happy to read a few books and have a project or two to keep one occupied at your computer!
Indeed I only read one book which was far fewer than I anticipated given that I am a voracious reader and read 63 books last year, but I was easily able to spend between 12 and 18 hours most days writing and editing images.
And this may well not be the end of quarantine for me this year in any case and I suspect that I may be back here later in the year if it is possible to return to Europe in the summer.
I think quarantine will be here in Thailand for most if not all of this year at least. I have read a lot of bullshit written about how the Thais need the tourists back but that’s not the full story and often written by those who are overseas and wish to return to Thailand without a quarantine stay or those who have an interest in travel and tourism for their livelihood.
As far as I am concerned anything that protects host populations from the risk of infection by visitors is a no-brainer. After all it is the local population’s hospitals and work force that will suffer if infections are introduced.
Thailand has approaching 40 million overseas visitors per annum and this is estimated as being responsible for almost 20% of the GDP.
However many Thais are comfortable with 80% of the economy humming along and few risks to their health and if they have to sacrifice 15 – 20% of their economy for a few years so be it.
And as for me, as soon as I returned to Pattaya I started unpacking, went to the beach for a beautiful sunset and had dinner at my favourite Vegan restaurant.
Parts of Pattaya were sadly even more shuttered and closed down than when I had left 11 weeks previously. I penned a new list of tasks to achieve in the coming weeks, including a daily exercise regime, reverting to my 800 calories per day fasting and diet and a new list of tasks and projects to complete including those I did not get to in quarantine!
Postscript: April 14 2021
I have not been anything like as productive out of quarantine as I was in it (no surprise there!) but walking 5 miles a day and restricting my daily calory intake has reduced my weight by another 10lbs over the last month and I have now lost 33lbs or 14 kilos since January 11.
And subject to getting 70% of the population vaccinated, Thailand is hoping to abolish quarantine for vaccinated arrivals by October 1 this year. They have already announced a planned reduction of the quarantine period to 10 days and for fully vaccinated arrivals are hoping to reduce it to seven days.
However, as with everything relating to Covid – 19, hopes and realities do not even correspond, as there are often policy changes and mass vaccinations in Thailand have yet to begin. And as new infections have risen to almost 1000 a day and bars and places of entertainment closed for 14 days, any further easing of restrictions is beginning to look problematic.
© Michael Bromfield