A Filipino expat shares her quarantine experience in Thailand—and why it should be your first travel goal when the borders reopen.
By Karen Hutcheson
Filipinos who live in Thailand tell great stories about how the country successfully beat Covid-19. One of the first countries to end their quarantine period and reopen areas of commerce and business to bolster the economy, Thailand’s “new normal” gives most businesses the chance to function and, more important, its citizens continue working and living life inside and outside their homes, albeit with strict safety measures that ensure their health.
Currently, Thailand has successfully reached a number of zero local active cases for the past 21 days (as of June 15). The country has also achieved an impressive recovery rate of 96 percent, with the number of total cases in Thailand relatively low compared to other countries at 3,125. Thailand sits at low 85th among the 211 countries infected with Covid-19.
During Thailand’s quarantine period, which they termed a “soft lockdown,” essential establishments, food establishments, and public modes of transportation continued to operate. Now that low active cases have deemed it possible for the government to allow most outdoor activities once again, Thailand has beefed up its safety measures, from strict mask-wearing policies and disinfection of hands and of public spaces at every turn to, quite impressively, close monitoring of entrances and exits in different establishments through QR codes and pre-entrance registration for more stringent contact tracing.
While life post-lockdown still feels different, Thai citizens appreciate that they are allowed more freedom due to successful safety measures imposed by the government. Expats and overseas workers living in Thailand feel the same way as well.
I am a Filipino expatriate who has been living in Thailand for over a year. I initially had worries being apart from family based in the Philippines. Thankfully, the situation in Thailand did not add to the worries we were already feeling. In Bangkok, things were quite calm. We did not sense any form of panic since the beginning of this Covid phase in the first week of March and even now.
My husband Shaun, an Australian, says, “The Australian government was being quite explicit in telling Australians overseas to ‘come home now,’ due to impending border closures. We, however, really didn’t need to put much thought in our decision to stay as we felt that Thailand was doing a good job in dealing with the pandemic, and going back to Australia might also mean we can’t return to Thailand for a period of time.”
Like many people all over the world, we initially underestimated the threat of Covid-19 pandemic—but seeing cases of overloaded hospitals and fatigued medical frontliners encouraged us to do our part and stay home. During the times we had to go out for essential needs, we followed the example of Thai people as they exercised discipline in curving the spread of the disease. We find that the Thai people practice great hygiene and already have a habit of wearing masks in public pre-Covid. They are also disciplined in terms of following public guidelines. We did not experience or witness any form of panic buying, crowding in supermarkets, and/or groups of people gathering. We truly feel confident staying in Thailand to ‘ride out’ this pandemic.
Measures for everyone’s safety
Throughout quarantine, we, along with the rest of Thai citizens, followed tightened measures in the country: a curfew from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. (with imminent plans to lift the curfew altogether), temporary closure of areas that require people in close proximity such as gyms, schools, parks, and cinemas, an alcohol ban in April, and currently, socially distant dine-in options at restaurants and food establishments, a development from a strict pick-up/take-out system a few months back.
In addition, the Bangkok Sky Train (BTS) and MTR continue to operate with temperature scanning and mandatory mask-wearing. Just recently, foreign workers started flying back into Thailand because domestic flights have resumed.
I think that the best thing was that the government didn’t just simply “shut everything down.” They instead trusted business and people to do the right thing. The Thai government was quick to act on dealing with this pandemic by making swift decisions on the guidelines to implement.
At restaurants and coffee shops
Before entering you need to have your temperature taken and register your details. Staff are all wearing masks/gloves, and we can see them regularly disinfecting menus, door handles, and seating areas. Customers need to be at least 150-centimeters apart from each other, meaning that people may need to sit on separate tables. Restaurants aren’t allowed to serve alcohol yet—only food.
Golf driving range
Your temperature is taken and you need to register your details. Golfers must wear face masks at all times and no alcohol is served.
Parks follow a no mask, no entry policy. Initially people were only allowed to enter parks to exercise, but we’re increasingly seeing people enjoying the park to relax. Park benches all have one seat roped off so only one person can sit down to ensure social distancing.
Public transport / route to work
Before entering the train systems, you’ll need to have your temperature taken through a thermoscan. There are also markers on the ground to stand on to ensure you are spaced away from other people while waiting for the train. Once on the train, every second seat is marked with a big red ‘X’ to ensure no one sits there and keep people evenly spaced. It’s great to see that everyone is disciplined in following the guidelines.”
Every building or every office requires all employees to go through a temperature check before entering the premises. We are also required to sit 1.5 meters apart, and not to conduct meetings with several people face to face.
Domestic travel has also been re-opened in Thailand, allowing people to take trips within the country, to reunite with their families and be at leisure after their time in quarantine.
For now, Thai citizens, as well as foreigners such as us, are doing their best to be as disciplined as possible, waiting until they reach the light at the end of the tunnel. In the current situation where we can only be with our loved ones from a distance, we’ve seen the value in constant communication as the pandemic gets better around the world.
What has been surprising is that we seem to be spending more time connecting with our friends and family all over the world via Zoom and Skype calls. It feels like we’ve all taken a pause from our hectic daily schedules and now have the time to sit down and enjoy a virtual coffee or wine or beer with people.
Hotspots for first time travelers
There is so much to see and do in Thailand but it’s good to start with the Grand Palace, Chatuchak weekend market, the Chao Phraya river, as well as a few rooftop bars to take in the city from above with a cocktail in hand.
A great day trip itinerary includes seeing the ancient capital and exploring the many ruins of the ancient city’s temples, or “wats” in Ayutthaya. If you want to see the Thai mountains, a fun way to do it is to catch an overnight sleeper train to Chiang Mai and explore the northern area—famous for its culture, food, wildlife, and outdoor activities such as hiking.
Though not as many as the Philippines, Thailand has almost 1,000 islands to choose from as well as famous beaches, which are mostly accessible by plane or boat. Some of the more popular spots are Phuket, Ko Samui, Khao Lak, Phi Phi Island, Krabi, Koh Chang, Ko Pha Ngan, and Hua Hin.