Before leaving her native Germany, Stefanie sold nearly everything she had to begin her new adventure in Thailand.
“I have been preparing for this day for 6 long months and now it’s here: The 1st day of my NEW LIFE,” she posted on her Faceboook page.
“My motorcycle: Sold! My furniture: Sold! My clothes: Sold! Donated! Or thrown away!
“Remaining are 1 large travel bag, 1 small backpack and 1 helmet. That’s all I own! I don’t even have keys. I’m officially homeless.
“An adventure I have been dreaming of my whole life. But sometimes dreams just have to mature, especially such big ones. The main reason that kept me from leaving home for good before? Apart from all my belongings, I also leave behind my friends & family. A decisions that hasn’t been easy. Therefore, I am all the more happy that I could see many of these wonderful people who have accompanied me in the past years during the last 2 weeks. Thank you for being - and staying - part of my life!” she wrote.
Today she is staying in a “quarantine hotel” in Phuket she didn’t book, and paying B52,000 for the privilege.
Here in her own words is her experience under the Phuket Sandbox scheme:
For the past six months, I have been preparing to permanently leave Germany. First, I want to do what I missed most during the pandemic: Travel!
Later, I will also go back to work. Fortunately, I can do my job as a freelance translator, copywriter and author anywhere as long as I have internet.
It was obvious to me that the first stop should be Thailand. Ever since I first came here 10 years ago, I have loved the country and all of Southeast Asia. Okay, there is this annoying quarantine, but *hey* what the heck? If you plan to be on the road for an extended period of time, like I do, 10 days (at that time) are nothing! Since it’s quite a hassle to dissolve my entire life and sell all my possessions, I am happy for any check mark on my To-Do list. Therefore, I looked for a fancy ASQ hotel in Bangkok early on, booked my 10 nights and put a check mark on it. Or so I thought…
What I hadn’t thought of was how quickly the regulations can change over here. First, the quarantine period was extended again to 15 days due to the rising infection numbers; followed by the first sandbox rumours a short time later. As the rumours grew, it was clear to me: I will let my prepaid, non-refundable ASQ hotel in Bangkok lapse and rebook to a SHA+ hotel in Phuket. After all, the 14 days in Phuket cost me only a few Euros more than the 5 days in Bangkok I would have had to add to the already booked 10 days.
At the very last minute I get my Certificate of Entry / COE (more about this in a separate story) and board the plane from Frankfurt via Dubai to Phuket.
Things could have been so nice! The flight with Emirates from Frankfurt to Dubai is extremely relaxed. Only a third of the seats are occupied. I have a whole row to myself, where I can stretch out and enjoy the flight. The second leg of the journey looks similar at first… until an Arab superfamily encircles me… In front of me a couple with a baby, in the two middle rows next to and in front of my row 4 people each and next to me a young man, maybe in his early/mid 20s, who is spontaneously unappealing to me with his mask hanging under his nose. I briefly consider asking the stewardess for another seat, but the plane is pretty full by now… I wish I had done that!
Once I arrive in Phuket, things continue to run super smoothly. My papers are checked 3 times, then I get my luggage, before I have the first PCR test done at the exit. The whole procedure takes less than an hour. My driver is already waiting outside the door to take me to my SHA+ hotel in Rawai Beach. Until the test result comes back, I have to wait in the room. But the room is beautiful, the balcony overlooks the pool, the minibar is well stocked and after the long journey I am tired anyway.
The next morning my test result is ready (about 18 hours later): negative. My vacation can begin! With my rented scooter I first go to Nai Han Beach and Windmill Viewpoint. In the afternoon I relax at the pool and have a delicious Chang beer with two Israelis at the swim-up bar. I am just about to get ready for dinner, when my phone rings…
High Risk Contact
…at the other end is the lady from the reception. I am a High Risk Contact of a passenger who tested positive on flight EK378 from Dubai to Phuket, landing on July 6 at 12:30. My dinner is cancelled, instead I am being told to transfer to an ALQ hotel. At my own expense, of course! The problem is that most hotels in Phuket have stopped their quarantine operations and switched to the sandbox model. Accordingly, there is very little choice.
Actually, I would have expected someone from the health authority, the CCSA, to be waiting for me at the reception. But no such thing. I was practically left to my own devices. The instruction to go to an ALQ only went to my hotel. No help from the authorities whatsoever! Null. Zero. Rien. The German Embassy and the Honorary Consulate in Phuket also remain silent.
Luckily, the receptionist was super sweet (thanks to the Rawai Palm Beach Resort!!!!) and called all the hotels for 2 hours to help me. The only option that was even remotely affordable was a hotel in Patong. And by “remotely” I mean, I first had to transfer money from my savings account to my credit card. The planned 15,000 baht became 52,000 baht for 2 weeks within 2 hours. I really wonder what they do with tourists who just can’t make an extra 1000 Euros? Do they go to jail? To the hospital?
I get 1 hour to pack up, then the security van is waiting for me at the door. The masked driver and his equally wrapped companion take me to the ALQ hotel - with a thick partition between us. Once there, I get a very nice welcome. Everybody was so sorry for me! My luggage is taken to my room, where dinner is already waiting for me. In a plastic box. Cold. That’s what I get every day now, morning, noon and night. Lukewarm food from plastic containers, which are disposed of in an "Infectious Waste" container. The room is… middle class. Far below the standard of my original hotel. At least I have a balcony. The staff are very nice and helpful, at least most of the time. I was brought a beach mat for some exercise, a fan because the air conditioning was too loud for me to sleep, and some soft drinks from 7-Eleven. The internet on the other hand is a disaster, but I was promised a SIM card with unlimited Internet. Hopefully it will come faster than the toilet paper :-D
On day 6 and 13, further PCR tests will be performed. Let’s hope that these will also be negative and that I won’t have to trade the minimal comfort of my hotel room for a hospital.
For travellers planning to stay for more than 3 weeks, the sandbox model remains a great alternative to quarantining in an ASQ/ALQ.
Tourists who want to stay for only 1, 2 or 3 weeks should be aware that if things go wrong, they will spend their holiday in the hotel room instead of at the beach. The chances are slim, but, as you can see from me, they are definitely there.
Should this occur, the costs quickly increase to three times or more!
What I really don’t understand:
a) Why was there no help at all from the authorities?
b) Why does it have to be the full 14 days? How likely is it that I, as a fully vaccinated person, will infect someone even after the second negative coronal test?