After all the preparation, now was the big moment. Would the Thailand Pass give me automatic entry into Thailand? Would I test positive for Covid-19 and be sent to hospital for ten days? There were a lot of worries and uncertainties before I arrived in Thailand. But it wasn’t over yet. I keep asking myself, what kind of tourist would put themselves through this kind of thing? Surely it is the opposite meaning of a holiday?
I must admit that the arrival went much more smoothly and quicker than I thought it would. I disembarked from the airplane at 6:05 a.m. and was in the van heading to my hotel by 6:49 a.m. I arrived at my Bangkok hotel at 7:31 a.m., did the check-in and Covid-19 test and was in my room by 7:43 a.m. So, about one hour and 45 minutes from the airplane to my hotel room. Some people told me they did it quicker than me. Others said they were unlucky as several planes landed at the same time and it took more than two hours just to get out of the airport.
I arrived in Thailand on 4th November. At that time, not many people had the Thailand Pass. I think most were still using the Certificate of Entry. Arrival with a COE is more time consuming as they must go through all your documents check every detail. The idea with the Thailand Pass is that they just scan the QR Code and then they get a verification message that all my documents were in order. That was the theory anyway.
When I went up to the counter, I flashed the QR Code and said I had the Thailand Pass. But I was kind of saddened that he didn’t seem that interested, nor did he scan it after all that effort. I handed him my passport together with my TM6 arrival card and boarding pass. I also gave him the negative Covid-19 test results. He then asked me for my vaccination certificate. I told him it was on the QR Code but for some reason he still didn’t want to scan it. So, I gave him the vaccine certificate given to me by the hospital. But that was it. He let me pass. For those coming with a COE, he checked all their documents including insurance which he didn’t for me. I am presuming as it was still early days, they weren’t scanning the QR Code yet. Maybe they are doing so now. I would hope so, otherwise it would be a bit pointless.
Next was Immigration which was completely empty. Like when I departed, I had to put my hands on the fingerprint scanner. But someone cleaned it for me before I did that. I would have been in and out of here in a minute but there was a problem with my re-entry permit. The Immigration officer who stamped this for me last week got the date of issue and date of expiry stamps the wrong way round. So, she had to call her supervisor and it took about 10 minutes for them to sort out. I always tell people to always double check the stamps in their passport as they do make mistakes sometimes. Once they gave me a two-year extension of stay. If I had waited two years before I went back, they made it clear to me that I would have been fined for overstay, deported and then probably blacklisted. So, check and check again.
After Immigration there was another delay with the bags and then out through customs. They seemed bored and so asked many people to have random bags x-rayed. I am not sure what they were looking for. Then out to the arrival lounge where people in PPE suits were sitting at tables holding names of hotels. Someone asked me before if their girlfriend could meet them here and go with them to the hotel. The answer is definitely no, as this is a restricted area. Plus, you are basically under quarantine until you get your test results back. My hotel had organised a shared van as part of the package. You could also pay 2,000 baht extra for a private limousine service. Our driver wore a PPE suit and there was a plastic screen between him and us. I noticed that he had the recirculating air button turned on which meant after a while, I was starting to breathe in air that had been in the lungs of the other passengers. So, I quickly asked him to turn this off.
Not all hotels are the same. The bigger hotels had partnered up with local hospitals and they have a nurse on standby to do the RT-PCR test at the hotel. Smaller hotels use a swab centre at a hospital or medical clinic. The driver takes you there first and then to your hotel. In my case it was done at the hotel after I had checked in. I was then escorted up to my room where I was to remain until the results came out. They didn’t give me a keycard. They also told me that the lifts wouldn’t work without one. Which meant that when I wanted to check out, I would have to call down to the lobby to ask someone to come and take me down. Obviously, I could leave the room in case of a fire and go down the fire exit.
The amount of time you need to wait also varied from hotel to hotel. My hotel told us during booking that if we arrived before 8:00 a.m. then the results would be back by the evening of the same day. Meaning you could check out if you want to and go home or continue on your journey if you are a tourist. But when we arrived they said the results wouldn’t be back until the following day. In the end it took 28 hours for me to get the telephone call to say that I had tested negative and could check out. I can tell you, that was a really long 28 hours. Particularly as I was hearing from people on the same plane as me, at a different hotel, being released much earlier than me. This is definitely something that needs to be sorted. In Phuket, it is much faster and more efficient.
When I arrived in my room, I scanned a QR Code to order my three meals and to choose the time that I wanted it delivered. Again, the three meals were part of the package. When the meals arrived, someone knocked on the door. When I opened the door, there was no-one in sight, but the food was on a table. They had a TV on the wall with international channels. The mini bar was empty, but I had brought some snacks along with me and some beer from the plane. I had also brought my Firestick so I could watch Netflix and Disney Plus on the television.
I got the call from reception at 11:28 a.m. that I had tested negative and was free to go. That was a big weight off my mind. I was being careful in London but you never no. Just because I am vaccinated, it doesn’t mean I am immune. This morning I tweeted the statistics that said out of the 12,810 people that had landed at Suvarnabhumi airport over the last seven days to do the Test and Go program, three people had tested positive. What happened to them? Well, one of them contacted me already to tell his story.
They are a family of four who came here for a 13-day holiday. The father tested positive and was sent to a hospital for ten days. The mother and the two children, aged two and four, are close contacts and so were told to stay in the quarantine hotel. Obviously at their own expense. He believes they will have to do another test on day 3 or 4 and if they test negative, then they might be able to go. But they would have to go without him as he is expecting to stay in hospital for at least ten days. He doesn’t have any symptoms and he is really hoping his insurance will cover the cost. He thinks it will cost him around 350,000 baht. What a nightmare and not really a good advertisement for coming to Thailand.
I think quite a few people will rightly decide not to take this gamble. Particularly if they are coming with children. If you are not desperate, then maybe it would be better to wait until more of the rules are eased. Or at least wait for the Covid-19 situation to stabilise more. Which might mean waiting until January or so. If you do come, then come with your eyes open and be prepared for this gamble. Though admittedly, the odds are in your favour. Out of 28,832 people who arrived in Thailand over the last week, only 0.09% tested positive. Those are good odds.