One family’s pandemic travels

Braving international travel, uncertainty and quarantine, one family’s tale of soon-to-be arrival in Chiang Mai from Switzerland

By | Mon 31 Aug 2020

We are an International expat family, very used to living abroad. So when my husband was offered a promotion at an international school in Chiang Mai we did not hesitate! We have made moves to Asia in the past and knew everything there was to know about how to make a move across the globe; or so we thought…Then Covid-19 struck. The first conversation I had with anyone about Covid-19 was my boss in Switzerland. They had heard news of a virus in China and they hoped it wouldn’t affect our plans. I laughed it off, thinking it would blow over. By March our schools in Switzerland had closed and borders began to close like a game of global dominoes. The tiny niggle in the pit of my stomach became a knot as Thailand too closed its borders and cancelled all commercial flights.

By June the realisation that this move would be like no other we had ever experienced, began to sink in. All of the normal tasks I would tick off with great efficiency, shipping, visas etc. ground to a halt. No shipping companies could give us a quote as there were no containers in the ports to fill, and no borders open to deliver even if they could. Visas were halted whilst new protocols were developed. All we could do was sell our belongings and wait for news. By July we had sold everything, and had to move out of our school accommodation. So we were free of possessions, homeless and with no clear plan on how to get to our next destination. We began to wonder whether we should move back to the UK for a bit and see out the storm there. We decided to stay in Switzerland where Covid-19 numbers at the time were low.

Once we heard news that we were on the list of people allowed to enter Thailand we began to process all of the documents needed to make our move a reality. Our Thai Embassy in Bern was efficient and began to get the wheels in motion, and after a couple of nail biting weeks and trying to marry up flights with an Alternative State Quarantine Hotel (this is not recommended for the faint hearted!) we were able to pack up our suitcases one last time. The flight would leave from Munich mid-August.

The Waterman family en route to Chiang Mai

Entering Munich airport, face masks on and grasping our documents tightly we started to queue. Expats in one queue and Thai nationals in another. All documents would be checked and re checked before we would make it to Thailand. All this went smoothly except for one heart stopping moment when the Thai official inspecting our last document stopped in her tracks and said our daughter’s covid test was out of date! The laboratory had sent her June test, not her August test results. After a frenzied five minutes of calling Switzerland they sent the correct results through. With our documents approved we could now check-in. We did not mind queuing up a second time as we were just so happy to have the seal of approval. And at last we could actually believe we would make it into Thailand.

Thai Airways greeted us with what I can only assume with a smile, as all the cabin staff were in full protective gear. We collapsed into our seats and began to look around at everyone in their masks and relieved eyes. I set about disinfecting everything screens, remotes and arm rests and gave my children a talk about how to remove face masks safely, explaining to them that we would change our masks every

three hours. Paranoid? Maybe. But after the last few months I was not about to take any chances. The flight passed quickly, I spent the overnight flight awake spotting my children’s face mask creeping down their faces as they slept and pulling them back over their noses.

Entering Suvarnabhumi airport was like being on the set of a movie. We moved quietly and quickly and sat where we were told to in order to have our documents checked again. All staff in full protective wear and all with their own purposeful agenda that needed to be met. Paperwork approved, we moved to the next station, temperature check. Again we were stopped. Our daughter had a slight temperature and would have to see the doctor. Trying to stay calm and cool under our masks we waited. Her temperature was re-checked and had come down. We were good to go.

We had worried so much about getting into Thailand that we hadn’t fully considered what two weeks in quarantine would actually be like. Arriving at the Clover Hotel, Asoke, we had to take our shoes off and put them in a red bin bag and then put hotel slippers on before even entering. The lobby was sparse with no decorative embellishments left, and the floor covered in a grey plastic lino. We are a family of two adults and two children and for our quarantine we had split up, boys together and girls together. We would not see each other at all for the first week and then in the second week we could spend 45 mins together per day (socially distanced) on the hotel’s roof terrace. So we waved goodbye to the boys. Looking around the room the hotel had supplied a yoga mat and ball, water and enough toiletries to see us through our first week. Meals came three times a day and we could tell by the shuffling sounds outside the door when it was coming! All meals are served in disposable trays and we have to bag them up and leave them outside when we have finished. After the initial jet lag we filled our days playing cards, watching movies and drawing. The staff were always friendly, professional and kept to protocol and this made you feel safe. Guidelines were followed but it was all done in a personable way.

No on my final day of quarantine I am reflecting about my time in this one room for two weeks. It is a strange feeling to have your freedom taken away and being completely reliant on people you have never met before. And although it is a strange experience it is a time that I will cherish, and look back with pride at how well my children coped and how much my daughter made me laugh every day and the phone calls and photos sent from my son next door. And my husband who was working nonstop through it all! My advice would be try not to focus on the days ahead. Focus on every day as it comes. Be kind to yourself, and think about how much you will appreciate the small things in life when you do leave.

Jane Waterman and her family are an expat family who have lived in many countries over the past decade, from a Swiss mountain resort to Hong Kong. Jane set up when she lived in Hong Kong when she realised the need for a website to help families looking for hotels that cater for their needs. After taking a break from Asia her family decided to return this summer and are soon to arrive in Chiang Mai.