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Community members discuss how it feels to finally leave Thailand, with COVID still in the background

by Aiden

They’re leaving on a jet plane…

By Nina Phichitsingh

“…All my bags are packed. I’m ready to go.” This John Denver song has been on repeat in my mind, awaiting the day I can travel internationally. I have even developed what I call ‘passport syndrome.’ Every few months, I find myself checking my passport: is it still there, has it expired (in case I can travel impromptu if COVID suddenly vanishes), and I assess the empty space full of promise. I study my overseas immigration stamps, look fondly at my shiny visas, then put it away to do it all over again in a few months. Can anyone attest to this?

In these past confusing years, international travel for many of us has been a foreign idea, yet a true desire and hope, albeit one that is still intertwined with fear in a world where COVID is still present. Many of us have been waiting out this desire for many years now, and it may be the longest time we have ever stayed in the country this lifetime. If you typically travel internationally during the Thai New Year, this Songkran would have been the third in a row you have missed out on leaving Thailand!

However, some Thai-Indian community members decided to take that first step and cross the proverbial (and literal) ocean. We’ve interviewed some who finally did get their passports stamped at immigration this month, and they share both their fears and joys of finally leaving the country, some tips to look out for, and tales for you to live vicariously through!

27, Teacher
Travelled internationally after 2.5 years
Travelled to: Turkey

After two and a half years, I was ready to fly internationally, especially because my wedding is coming up soon and I wanted to have some family time. As much as I wanted to explore a new country with my family, having COVID was still at the back of my mind, as I work in a school. We took all the necessary precautions, such as wearing a face mask throughout the trip especially during the flight, sanitising often, and avoiding crowded places to the best of our ability.

When we landed in Turkey, we were surprised to see that everything was back to normal as no one wore a mask. Their mindset was different from ours; because they are vaccinated, they treated COVID as just a normal flu. However, despite the local mentality, we still did everything we could to avoid catching it.

My fears began when I arrived back in Bangkok on a Sunday. On Monday, I was back at work already. I’m around young children so I wanted to be extra cautious. In additional to the mandatory PCR test upon arrival, I took additional ATK tests every day of the week to err on the side of caution.

However, despite these ever-present fears, I must say that Turkey was a great travel experience as we explored two beautiful cities: Istanbul and Cappadocia. We enjoyed walking through Istanbul where East meets West with the fusion of European, Ottoman and Middle Eastern influences. The food was amazing and the shopping streets were delightful. In Cappadocia, we stayed in a cave hotel (Argos in Cappadocia) that overlooked the gorgeous city, which was truly captivating. Unfortunately, because of the weather, we were not able to do the hot air balloon excursion. Overall, the trip was definitely worth it, and Turkey was an amazing experience and we cannot wait to explore more of it!

33, Businessman
Travelled internationally after 2.5 years
Travelled to: Greece

This was the most spontaneous trip we had ever taken; it took fifteen days from planning to flying (including the visa application)! We were initially browsing domestic flights for the Songkran season only to realise this peak season would be full of crowds everywhere. The anticipation of the influx of travellers led us to expand our search, and we randomly ended up browsing international flights. We stumbled upon an excellent flight deal and chose Greece because we wanted a mix of something vibrant and adventurous, yet relaxing, and, most importantly, with goodweather.

Travel restrictions were easing up everywhere. The quarantine requirement in Thailand was just one day, along with the immediate PCR test on arrival which was reasonable. Our main concern was not to bring back any sickness and infect anyone at home, which thankfully did not happen. We also made sure to purchase COVID-19-specific travel insurance, and packed numerous masks, hand sanitisers, and medicines to be extra cautious.

Wearing masks throughout the flight (even when sleeping) was uncomfortable. However, the whole holiday was pleasant and fun. We went during the ‘shoulder season’ (between peak and off season) so we avoided large crowds. No one wore masks outdoors, but we always wore masks indoors and made sure to sanitise well. The hotels and locations we visited had good hygiene protocols which was reassuring.

Be it local or international travel, the point is to explore, relax and make it fun – that was the intention I went with. The whole holiday was magical. We had a good mix of history, culture, beautiful landscapes, nightlife and great food. The highlight of my trip was trekking up the volcano in Santorini (after swimming through the ice-cold Aegean Sea waters) towards a hot spring at the foot of the volcano!

My tip to anyone travelling abroad would be to travel worry-free, but that doesn’t mean not being cautious. Take every chance to wash your hands, always choose to be outdoors, especially while having meals, stay hydrated, and always rest well. Most importantly, stay happy and live every moment to the fullest!

25, Legal Consultant
Travelled internationally after nine months 
Travelled to: Italy

Honestly, I wasn’t afraid to fly long-haul. I had already travelled to London during the peak of the pandemic, and before vaccines were available. I felt quite at ease knowing that, this time, I was fully vaccinated and boosted. I got my vaccine booster back in January, in preparation for travelling during Songkran. Apart from the FFP2 mask (which was mandatory under Italian regulation), I did not wear any other PPE. For a smooth journey, I made sure that I had all my vaccine documents on hand and kept extra masks on me.

I suggest doing thorough research on the requirements of the country that you intend to travel to. For example, Italy required us to wear the specific type of mask when on public transport. We also had to upload our vaccine data onto a particular app (GreenPass). I felt safe due to the protocols in place: for example, on all train rides and when dining indoors, all passengers were required to show proof of vaccination, including boosters. If you follow the regulations, there should not be any hindrance to your travel.

Luckily, I did not face any issues during the preparation nor during travel, as I was constantly monitoring the regulations. I am very glad that we decided to put in the effort to fill out all the extra forms and gather the documents because it was one of my favourite holidays! I absolutely loved visiting Capri and spending the day at the beach. The days that I spent in Capri were extremely warm and sunny, so I was able to swim in the ocean – which was exactly what I was looking forward to prior to the trip!

31, Kindergarten Teacher
Travelled internationally after 2.5 years
Travelled to: Japan

My husband and I made our way to Kobe, Japan for the Songkran holidays to visit his family. It was his first trip back home since the pandemic hit in early 2020, and my first trip to see his hometown and visit his family. I was terrified of going on this trip, but I knew it was something I had to do and conquer. For someone who has a fear of flying and is claustrophobic, adding a global pandemic into the travel mix did not alleviate any travel concerns I already had. My husband, being a terrific and supportive travel partner, eased any hiccups we had preparing for our travels.

We kept our masks on the entire travel journey (even while sleeping); I double masked the surgical masks, and my husband wore the KN95 mask. We skipped the contact lenses and kept our glasses on as extra precaution. We ate our meals after everybody else had already finished, finding calm in taking off our masks while everybody else was masked up. The airline did take COVID seriously and try to minimise risk, but I felt like staggering meal times was one aspect where they could have improved on.

New anxieties appeared when we landed in Japan: Did we have all the necessary documents prepared? Will we test positive? What happens if we test positive? We knew our trip and break would have been all for nothing if one of us had tested positive. Ultimately, we did test negative and were able to enjoy a fantastic holiday in Kobe exploring the ins and outs of my husband’s home (and do lots of shopping!) As travel restrictions ease, we are looking forward to our next trip back to Kobe and elsewhere. I recommend that everyone travel internationally as soon as they can, while taking good safety precautions. It’s worth every bit!

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