Travel and Tourism

Time to dream of Thailand

As of December 2021, Thailand will be open for tourists.

Restrictions and conditions apply, and you can get all the details here.

I could not think of a better place to rejuvenate than in The Land of Smiles.

Rayong, Thailand
Rayong and check in for the ferry to Paradee Resort on the island of Koh Samet.

Before the virus disrupted the world.

Exactly nineteen months ago on 11th March 2020 I departed for my first ever trip to Thailand, as part of a small media group.

At this point South Africa had seven Covid 19 cases, and Thailand had 53.

 Because of this trip we were probably talking about the virus more than most. We were getting regular updates from the Thailand Tourism Authority and Singapore Airlines via the PR agency facilitating the trip. None of us took the decision to travel lightly, but back then Africa barely featured in the Covid 19 story, and the Thailand numbers were not worrying at all.

On arrival in Thailand we quickly adjusted to regular sanitizing and temperature checks, but mostly we existed in a bubble of excitement, new cultures, experiences, and adventures.

LIT Hotel, Bangkok, Thailand
The funky LIT Hotel where we spent our first night in Bangkok

The day everything changed.

On the 15th of March the South African Government announced the State of Disaster. It also released the first list of restrictions and regulations.

As another perfect day dawned on the island of Koh Samet, we awoke to frantic and frightened messages from home. These included detailed lists of the restrictions and the new reality in South Africa. It was the first of many new, and sometimes incomprehensible dictats that would rule our lives.

Breakfast that morning was a noisy affair as we debated our options and shared information. Given the choice to return home, being travel writers we unanimously agreed to stay.

Our experience fluctuated between intense conversations and updates from home, and scuba diving, boating, oceans swims and beach side feasts. At times it was almost impossible to conceive the very real threat of COVID 19.

The beach was mere steps from my suite at Paradee Resort, ideal for sunrise swims before breakfast

We left the island to return to Bangkok, all feeling a little concerned as to what to expect. Safety precautions had been ramped up, a few experiences cancelled. Although we kept up with the news, hungry for updates, we were still in a bit of a travel bubble. Masked up, we explored the unusually quiet streets and attractions of the city from our ultra-luxurious base, 137 Pillars Hotel.

I pushed the real world to the back of my mind until the day dawned for our flight home. It started when we checked out. Our hosts told us we were the last guests at this 27 story hotel. When we departed 179 rooms were empty and the hotel closed its doors.

The impressive Bangkok skyline from the 27th level of 137 Pillars Hotel

A changed world.

Reality hit us at Bangkok airport.

Long queues, stressed people, and for the first time, masks everywhere. Temperature checks and stickers to prove health at every turn, fearful eyes above every masked face. Little did we know, this airport would close 24 hours later.

Singapore provided another reality punch in the face and I nervously took in this bizarre scene.

A massive airport, almost deserted. The few people I saw looked somber and anxious. It was nothing like the vibrant, buzzing space I knew and loved. The shuttered shops added to the gloom. No last minute retail therapy here.

Flying back to the unknown

Fortunately, our flight back to South Africa was not even half full. We all managed to get seats with a row to ourselves. The only time we removed our mask was to consume the packaged food and bottled juice or water. The food was nice enough, but nothing like the restaurant style fare we enjoyed on our inbound trip. It was a long, fearful flight. None of the usual banter and chatter that follows a media trip.

When we touched down in Johannesburg, my anxiety levels rose a bit higher as a team dressed in Hazmat suits boarded the plan to deep clean and sanitize it.

Landing in Cape Town I was greeted by another ghost town airport. My footsteps echoed in the silent halls as I went in search of a taxi. The drive home through deserted streets was un-nerving as I contemplated the mandatory 14 day quarantine.

Three weeks of lockdown followed and I relived my experience through my photos. Little did I know that three weeks would stretch to months of a world disrupted by this insidious, mutating virus.

A new way to travel.

The soothing gardens at the THANN Wellness Hotel and Spa in Aytthaya.

Eighteen months on we and we are learning how to navigate life with the virus. We accept that we will never return to life as we knew it before March 2020.

The stress is ongoing and I need something to look forward to. Like a holiday.

I would choose Thailand in a heartbeat.

Although its a travel hotspot, Thailand chose to protect its citizens. It adopted a sensible, science based reaction to the ever changing situation. They have erred on the side of caution regarding to tourism. This gives me confidence in their ability to welcome guests safely now.

I have added PCR tests, N-95 masks, vaccine certificates and bottles of sanitizer to my travel check list. Now I am more that ready to visit Thailand again.

Island life in Thailand.
One of the countless and fascinating temples in Bangkok

Disclosure. My visit to Thailand was as a guest of Thailand Tourism SA and Singapore Airlines. Hosted and facilitated by Lesley Simpson PR.

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