After the 35-hour journey from India to Thailand, I had to prepare for the next long part of my Covid trip — the two-week lock-in quarantine at a hotel in Bangkok. It was another strange and surreal experience.
Many nations enforce a compulsory quarantine for foreigners entering their country, and Thailand has been doing it for a long time, which is why it managed to impressively curtail the pandemic last year. The current rule for all foreigners entering the country is a 14-day quarantine, irrespective of the passenger having taken both doses of the Covid vaccine.
(The rule will change in the “sand-box” programme of Phuket, when it opens to international tourists, on July 1.)
And so, immediately after my documents were cleared by the immigration officials at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhoomi airport, I was whisked to the waiting car of my ASQ (alternative state quarantine) hotel for the last part of my long Covid journey.
There are more than a hundred ASQ hotels to choose from in Bangkok, and one can pick them from many ASQ websites. They not only enumerate the facilities of the hotels, but also the experiences of the foreign travellers who stayed there.
One makes one’s choice, according to the price, location, room, food, service. When one stays in a hotel for 14 days, all of these factors matter. The prices (for 14 days) range from about 35,000 B to 100,000 B, depending on the size and style of the rooms, the amenities, views etc. The ASQ hotels are located in different parts of Bangkok, from the downtown areas to riverfront spots, as also the beach town of Pattaya, an hour away from the city.
My chosen ASQ hotel was the Belair Bangkok, a hotel noted for its Indian restaurant Tiffin. I had selected it without much thought, as I had left India in a hurry, impressed by the fact that its helpful manager had been super-quick with my booking, and also offered to upgrade my room.
I had no regrets with the hotel. It was reasonably priced, my room was upgraded to a suite, the food (especially Indian) was excellent, and the service was impeccable. Here again, one needs to know what “service” means in an ASQ hotel.
It means “no room service”. All the “services” are carried out through WhatsApp messages on the phone, but no entry into the room. The toughest rule, in an ASQ hotel, involves your being treated like a Covid patient till the day your quarantine ends. That means no one enters your room, your food is placed on a table outside your door; and if you need anything, the staff comes in full PPP outfits, places it outside your room, and scampers away.
This is the most surreal thing about quarantine stay in Thailand .You have a comfortable room, eat great food, have all the time in the world to watch TV, read books, listen to music, work on your laptop. But when you are shut in totally like a prisoner, your reflexes don’t work at all. My main moment of happiness came when a series of Satyajit Ray docus were relayed online by the Films Division of India to celebrate the great filmmaker’s 100th birth centenary.
The big regret I had in my hotel was that it did not have a balcony or a window. My large 47-metre room had long French windows but they could not be opened. I saw the bright sunlight outside, but could not feel it or enjoy the fresh air. Future “quarantines” should definitely be mindful of this, when they select their rooms in an ASQ hotel. It’s well worth paying the extra buck for.
As far as the food is concerned, most ASQ hotels offer very good choices, as this is their only form of hospitality since all their restaurants are shut. After opting for the premium menu instead of the regular menu in my hotel, my food choices were endless. I had a choice of three dishes for every meal, from an extensive range of cuisines — Indian, Western, Thai, Italian, Middle Eastern and Chinese. And during my two-week stint, I tried out almost all the best dishes in the various menus — biryani, pasta, shawarma, kimchi, kabsa, katsu curry.
My most creative job was selecting my menu every day, and sending WhatsApp messages to the reception desk. In addition to the three main meals, there was also afternoon tea and pastries (I wished there were savouries, too). I must admit I was happy that there was no weighing scale in the room. So it was an orgy of eating, drinking, sleeping, during my two-week quarantine stay. I tried hard to work on my laptop, but my “imprisoned” environment dulled my brain.
To knock out of my lethargy, I asked for cleaning materials to sweep and swab my room, detergents to wash my clothes, a line to dry my clothes, all of which were produced in a jiffy. When I wanted a particular brand of coffee, they bought it from the supermarket, and left it at my door. I asked for a yoga mat and got it immediately, requested for a microwave, and got that too soon. A quarantine stay means you get what you want, when you want, as along as it’s within your closed door. After all, you are a Covid suspect throughout your stay in the ASQ hotel.
You need to record your temperature twice a day. You also need to do three Covid tests, during your 14-night stay at the hotel. The Covid tests were rough, which further dampened my mood. But they were the only time when one could step outside one’s room. The tests were done in the lush lawns of the swimming pool. I looked longingly at the pool, but was not allowed to stay longer than five minutes.
By the way, in case any of the Covid tests turning out to be positive, one is immediately shifted to the hospital attached to the hotel. Every ASQ hotel is attached to a hospital, and the insurance policy of $100,000 that one takes before flying to Thailand is used for the Covid treatment in the hospital. The hotel usually refunds their money if the traveller is moved to a hospital.
I always feel that the first Covid test done in the quarantine hotel, on the second day of one’s arrival, is the trickiest, as one could have picked up the virus on the flight. I was particularly worried about myself, as I had taken three flights to reach Bangkok. I had also taken my second dose of the vaccine on my day of travel. So I was very worried indeed.
I was lucky that my three Covid tests at the ASQ hotel were negative. However, I was not allowed to step outside my room, even after my third negative test.
Day 15 was freedom day, and I was packed and ready to leave, well before the PPP-clad hotel steward came to collect my luggage. The reception area of the hotel was sealed, so I waited outside the hotel’s porch for my husband to pick me up revelling in the hot sun and warm air.
I was given a “quarantine certificate” in recognition of my two-week quarantine stay in the ASQ hotel. To me, it was a certificate of survival.
The strange, surreal Covid travel experience had ended finally.