When expat Mark Murray’s father had a heart attack in mid-July he knew he had to fly back to London. The idea of a fortnight’s quarantine in Bangkok was the furthest thing from his mind, as he planned to go back home to be with family.
Mark’s owns a business in Bangkok that develops training and banking applications but lives and works out of Chiang Mai, where he has been for two years. He is also recently engaged. Being a business owner and staying in Thailand on a Business Visa, Mark assumed that his return trip to Thailand would be simple. When he got the devastating call that his father had a serious heart attack during the COVID epidemic he didn’t think much of the new travel provisions.
“I thought they would have relaxed the rules, allowing for Business Visas to come back. I didn’t research much as to how to get back into the country,” Mark admitted about his rushed departure.
After a few weeks in London, Mark tried booking a flight back to Thailand. This is where his problems began. Mark first tried to book a flight for early August, but the limited seats on planes were booked insanely fast, “I couldn’t get back because the seats filled up. Only 50 non-Thais and 100 Thais were allowed to board each flight.” So, he had to wait for the Thai embassy to email him and notify him when a flight became available. After waiting a few weeks, the embassy notified him that a flight was available on September 3rd; without hesitation he booked it.
Though Mark had begun experiencing travel-troubles, he praised the Thai consulate for their diligent work and reliability along the way. “The Thai consulate was the best ever. They would email back in less than 24 hours. They were on point.”
With a few weeks to spare, however, he decided to take a rather bold step, for someone in the middle of a world pandemic – he booked a flight to Barbados.
“I thought I might as well go and have a good time, since I had a few weeks’ wait,” he laughed about his impromptu trip, which saw him sipping cocktails under swaying palm trees in the Caribbean for a week’s break from his visa and flight stress. That was all pretty straight forward and hassle free.
Returning to London, he said his farewell to friends and family and prepared for his trip home.
On September 1st Mark packed his bags, got through some intense airport screening and took off for Bangkok where his real adventure awaited.
On arrival at Suvarnabhumi Airport, Mark and the other passengers were quickly swept away by a group of men in plastic suits. “Our bags came really quick and we were in and out of the airport in 15 minutes tops,” Mark said. The passengers passed through loads of temperature checks and checkpoints on their way out to vans standing by to take them to their hotels.
The plastic covered van driven by a plastic covered driver drove Mark through Bangkok to his new home for the next two weeks; The Grand Richmond Hotel. Mark chose this quarantine destination for the comforts. “My two-week quarantine cost around 55,000 baht but many others cost between 30,000 – 150,000 baht. I figured, If I’m going to be quarantined then I’m going to be comfortable.”
Like something out of a spy film, the driver delivered Mark to the back of the hotel. “When you get to the hotel you’re like a dirty secret,” Mark said. “They take you in using the backdoor. They use the backend that no one uses so that no one sees you coming in.”
Once inside, Mark was quickly rushed up to his room where he stayed for interminable days. On the sixth day, however, the routine was broken when he was told some news; Someone on his plane had tested positive for COVID. This news would come to affect the rest of his stay. The positive test from another passenger would dictate that Mark would remain on lockdown for his entire quarantine. He wouldn’t be allowed to leave his room. At all.
And, there wasn’t much inside his room. Two sets of scrubs, a bathrobe, a bed, bottled water, a toaster, water heater and TV. His window view was limited to a few high-rise buildings and a bit of the BTS Skytrain; Not ideal for someone who gets out a lot. “I’m used to going out every night and being around people,” Mark said. “I’m not a loner, this is the closest thing to prison for me. 24 hour lockdown, for me it’s prison. By the second day I was going crazy!”
The only time Mark saw people was twice for a COVID test. He took his COVID test along with another guest in a small 10ft. garden. Mark described another guest waiting to the side for his test as pacing back and forth ferociously. The man was exercising as best as he could.
Mark’s food was delivered outside his door three times daily; The food was mostly generic but edible nonetheless. Someone would knock and leave the food at the foot of his door. On one occasion, Mark tried to open the door quickly to see who delivered the food but no one was there. He assumed whoever was delivering the food didn’t want to risk infection and would drop the food, knock and run. Mark’s food was almost always lukewarm by the time it reached his floor. So, Mark got clever.
To reheat his meals, Mark used what he had available. Due to his lack of a working kitchen, he used his water heater and bread toaster as makeshift reheating devices. Mark filled his water heater, laid two stir-sticks on the rim and rested his cold food atop the device. The steam from the heater reheated his food to a perfect eating temperature. As for the toaster, Mark would simply turn it on and lay his tinfoil wrapped food on top until heated.
“Being in quarantine is a rollercoaster for me. My emotions are up and down,” Mark said when I called him on his last days of quarantine. “I’m sleeping all day and staying up all night.” Mark used sleep as his main method of killing time. “I’m definitely going to have jetlag,” said Mark, “I’m still on UK time.”
Mark wasn’t the only one trying to kill time, though. Other quarantined guests were getting creative. One evening, Mark got a call on his hotel landline phone; It was his neighbour. The man explained that he was staying in the room next to Mark. He said he was an American who lives in Hua Hin and is quarantined just like Mark. The man wanted to know if Mark could hear any banging sounds coming from the wall. He explained that he had brought his racquetball equipment with him to quarantine and that he had converted his hotel room into a DIY racquetball court. The man was using the wall to rebound the ball and said he would stop if Mark could hear anything. Mark said that he couldn’t but that he enjoyed the call very much.
Mark’s quarantine experience ultimately played out like a brief stay in prison for him. While his opulent hotel room was a far cry from actual prison, the conveniences and pleasures of his home in Chiang Mai were gone. Sure, Facebook and TV kept him somewhat connected and occupied, but filling up 336 hours in limited confinement was tough.
“I’m not leaving Chiang Mai for a long time,” Mark said. Not wanting to experience lockdown and time away from his fiancé and friends.
Mark is thankful he had the opportunity to see his father but has cancelled his yearly Christmas trip to England this year. He understands that other people around the world have much harder situations but wouldn’t recommend quarantine for anyone looking to travel to Thailand anytime soon.
On September 16th, Mark’s quarantine at The Grand Richmond Hotel ended. His father’s health is improving and he’s reunited with his fiancée and dog, Ruthy.
For anyone considering travelling anytime soon, Mark has one last piece of advice for you, “If you really have to leave Thailand, please consider the cost of coming back before you leave,” Mark said. “Please consider the headache that you will be subjected to just to get on the plane before you leave.”