Covid Conquered: A Thai Expat De-patriated

July 19, 2020 By bangkok7

Covid Conquered: A Thai Expat De-patriated

Greetings from a quarantine hotel in Bangkok, everyone. Yes, I am back. The bitch is back. Back in the old BKK. It feels good. It feels right. The room is small, and the windows don’t open, and the air-con makes the room either freezing cold or balmy as balls. But the coffee is free and the bed is big. That and wi-fi are all I need. But let me tell you about the trip—the long, strange, sterilized trip.

When I first landed in LA in March to visit my mum, my planned two weeks there sounded like an eternity. It’s hard for me to leave my harem for even a weekend, so I knew the holiday would be arduous. Then Covid hit, and the world went insane. Prayut cancelled my late-March return flight, and I started crossing days off the calendar with a shaky hand. In April, when there began to be talk of a forced 14-day quarantine on arrival for returning expats, I practically puked at the thought of being so close to my harem yet not being able to see them. Now, after a torturous 4 months and 3 days in the hellscape of California, the idea of 2 weeks alone in a Bangkok hotel room sounds like child’s play. Here I am on day one, and I’m so ecstatic at the thought of hitting the gogo bar by August, I feel I could do this half-month hiccup while standing on my head.

I don’t want to describe the months-long arduous process of obtaining permission to fly home. Suffice to say, it was a nightmare involving hundreds of emails back and forth with the Thai Embassies in LA and DC, obtaining over a dozen documents meant to justify my return, weeks of anxiety waiting for approval, and $6,000 worth of FedEx, plane tickets, quarantine hotels, Covid tests, and a doctor’s fit-to-fly certificate. Things didn’t start to smooth out until after receiving the Certificate to Enter the Kingdom of Thailand (the coveted CoE) from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Once that came through, the Embassy provided the email address of a travel agent who put me on a Thai repatriation flight. A week later I was packed and headed to the airport, not completely sure I’d be permitted to board the plane.

LAX was eerily traffic-free. I grabbed the Flyaway and so got dropped off right outside the International Terminal (I was the only one to exit the bus there). On entering, I encountered thermal temperature scanners and scores of security blocking every route except the one that led directly to the check-in counter. Only two planes were departing that morning—Korean air 18 to BKK via Seoul, and an Air France flight going….I don’t know where. I was the only farang in the entire group. On checking in, the lady at the counter scrutinized my paperwork (13 pages’ worth). She was especially interested in my Certificate of Entry and visa, reading every word of both of those pages. After a few nervous moments, she swiped my Passport and handed me the boarding pass. Step one—passed.

Security was a breeze. I was the only one in line. The terminal was deserted. No muzak playing over the speakers. All shops and lounges shut. The currency exchange was open. It was just some guy in shorts and a t-shrt who used a calculator to figure out how much baht to give me, didn’t ask for my Passport or boarding pass, or a signature. Just take the money and go.

 

Starbuck’s was open, with about 40 people standing around drinking coffee (there were no tables out). At the gate there was plenty of room to social distance. I did a quick head count and estimated the plane to be at around half capacity. An economy class ticket was $1140. I sprang for business class at $3,600. That section was about 1/3 full—two empty seats for every filled one. The closest passenger to me was about 12 feet away.  All flight attendants wore coveralls, shower caps, goggles, and masks. We were served two meals over the course of a 12-hour flight. After lunch, I took two Valium and knocked out until dinner, woke up long enough to eat and then slept until touchdown in Seoul.

The Seoul airport was a ghost town. The only people in it were the folks from our flight. We were ushered straight off plane one, across the terminal to plane two and practically shoved on. There wasn’t even time for a piss. I found my seat, settled in and barely stayed awake long enough to hear the captain say we’d be in Bangkok in 4 hours. Then I snored through my mask until two minutes before the wheels hit the tarmac. As my seat was closest to the door, I was the first one off. I bolted for the exit.

Suvarnabhumi was deserted, except for a small battalion of pandemic specialists, disease control staff, and cops. Just past the gate there was a desk with 40 or so socially-distanced chairs. I was directed to the desk where a lady asked for my CoE in English. I handed her all my documents. She went through all of them, then flipped back to the CoE and said “Do you have a copy? I need to keep this one.” I nodded and she directed me to move on down the line, where Thais were funneled to the left and foreigners to the right. I made it easy for them, as the only non-Thai in the airport. Officials were waving me forward from a hundred yards off. Every so often, I’d be stopped and shown a clipboard with a list of 30 or so names in Thai and one in English—mine. Each time, the clipboard holder would show me the list and look at me inquisitively. Each time, I’d wait for a disbelieving moment before pointing at my name—the only one not written in Thai. Then I’d get waved on to the next clipboard holder. This went on until I made it to customs, which was completely empty.

As I handed over my passport, two other immigration staff came over and the three of them flipped through my documents and the pages of my past and current visas, muttering and wringing their hands like Larry, Moe, and Curly. After some mild arguing, one of them stamped my passport and said “OK finish.” I thanked him in Thai and walked past a long line of police who guarded the rest of the terminal from contamination by incoming passengers. The luggage was already spinning round the lone baggage claim area, which I bypassed and made a beeline for the exit. I was stopped twice for temperature checks. Then at the door to the car park, another cop asked me which hotel. I said the name and he ran out ahead of me to a waiting line of hazmat-clad drivers, shouting my hotel name as he went. A man ran up and motioned to me to follow. Before getting on the van, he checked my temp again. Inside, the seats had all been partitioned into sealed-off bubbles using heavy plastic sheeting. There was only one other passenger, a Thai lady.

The van whisked us through Bangkok to our Asoke hotel. I was checked again for fever, and had to answer a long list of health-related questions. Then I was handed a key and directed to the elevator. The buttons were coated in plastic wrap. Outside of each of the 20 rooms on my floor was a small table. My cold dinner was sitting on mine, along with the breakfast-lunch-dinner menu for the next two weeks. Two pairs of scrubs were laid out on the bed, with a note asking that I only wear the hotel-provided garb, which they will launder every few days. Joke’s on them—I plan to be naked from now till August.

The room is small but comfortable. There’s no balcony and the view is of the hotel next door, but there’s a small window seat with a few throw pillows. I imagine I’ll practice ukulele there. Along with a desk for my laptop, a big TV, queen size bed, and coffee table, it should suffice for 15 days. I’ve been given a thermometer and told I must take my temperature twice a day and report it by Line to the front desk. After 5 days, if I test negative again, I can have 15 minutes of outside-time each day until the end of my sentence. I’ll keep you posted.

Overall, it could’ve been worse. It could be better—I could be sitting at The Paddy Field right now instead of going through this inane, unnecessary, nonsensical charade. But since the Thai government has no idea how Covid is transmitted or how to avoid it or how to treat it or how it behaves inside the body or out, I will happily endure this useless quarantine. It’s not their fault. Literally no one in any government on the face of the Earth knows how to deal with the coronavirus. So cheers, everybody, to surviving the pandemic, and 4 months in America, and a repatriation journey that would make Odysseus give a fist-bump. And cheers to two weeks alone in Asoke. Drink ‘em if you got ‘em.