Travelling to Thailand during COVID-19
If I had to describe what flying under the new normal is like, it would be ‘stressful’. Not a word most would generally associate with travelling. But this was no ordinary flight.
The borders to Thailand had finally reopened to work permit holders a few months prior, and after a very stressful application process, I managed to secure myself a spot on one of the few chartered flights between Singapore and Bangkok on 21 August 2020.
What made the entire process so nerve-racking was that back then, resources were lacking and conflicting information was aplenty. So whether you’re looking for a guide on how to enter Thailand or you’re just simply curious, here is what flying under the new normal is like.
Requirements to enter Thailand
Excited to finally fly back home to Bangkok, where I’m currently stationed for work
Note that the information in this section only pertains to work permit holders.
Different visas pose different requirements. So if you’re planning on travelling to Thailand for non-work purposes (example: Special Tourist Visa), you will have a different set of requirements to meet.
1. Confirmed ASQ (Alternative State Quarantine) booking
The first thing you’ll need to know is that not all hotels qualify for the ASQ (Alternative State Quarantine) programme. The second thing you need to know is that competition for an ASQ was fierce.
After I got confirmation from the Royal Thai Embassy on when my chartered flight would be, I started emailing hotels on their availability almost 3 weeks before my scheduled flight. To my surprise, every single ASQ that I contacted was fully booked. Thankfully, the universe took pity on me and a spot at Hotel Clover Asoke opened up after a last minute cancellation.
Competition for an ASQ is probably less intense now that borders have been reopened for some time. But I would still strongly recommend that you secure an ASQ booking as early as possible.
Tip: Follow Alternative State Quarantine on Facebook for incredibly useful information with regards to ASQ availability and updates in Thailand.
2. COVID-19 insurance coverage of US$100,000
If you have an existing insurance policy that meets this requirement, you will need your agent or insurance company to provide a letter/document that explicitly states that your policy provides COVID-19 insurance coverage of US$100,000.
3. Certificate Of Entry from the Royal Thai Embassy
It has been a while since I flew so to err on the side of caution, I would advise you to email the Royal Thai Embassy directly on what the requirements for a COE would be. They are incredibly responsive and generally reply within 24 hours.
4. Negative COVID-19 test results within 72 hours before your flight
If your test turns out positive, you will be quarantined immediately and in most cases, the money that you already paid for the ASQ and flight is non-refundable. As such, it’s best to avoid risky situations like visiting crowded locations or being in groups before your COVID-19 test.
You will also need a fit-to-fly certificate. Simply schedule a quick health check-up at the clinic that you are doing your pre-departure COVID-19 test at.
My flight from Singapore to Bangkok
I was first asked to book an open air ticket via SIA. Once I got my Certificate Of Entry to Thailand, the Royal Thai Embassy coordinated with SIA to charter a flight to Bangkok, which set me back by S$209.
Truth be told, I was expecting the check-in process to be long and tedious. To my surprise, the check-in process was relatively normal.
Apart from the need for social distancing and mask wearing, the check-in process was not that different from pre-COVID times.
Not your usual in-flight meal packaging
Passengers were required to be masked up at all times, except for meal times. Don’t expect the familiar sight of the cabin crew going up and down the aisles with their food carts either – our meals were already at our seats when we boarded the plane.
Similarly, the flight crew was masked up at all times. And since they had to refrain from interacting with passengers, I barely saw them.
These care kits were a nice surprise, and contained essentials such as face masks and hand sanitiser.
The ASQ programme
The second you land in Bangkok, you will be shepherded through a very strict immigration process. The airport staff will check your documents and temperature again. At no time was I left unsupervised.
After clearing immigration, I was escorted to my ASQ programme at Hotel Clover Asoke, a 4-star boutique hotel that cost me ฿47,000 (~US$1,550).
There are currently over 120 different ASQ facilities in Bangkok and Phuket. The cost for an ASQ programme ranges from ฿26,000 to ฿120,000+. While the costs vary greatly, the requirements for a hotel to qualify for the ASQ programme are the same.
My biggest piece of advice? Don’t scrimp on your ASQ room.
As you will be spending the bulk of your time in your room, it’s important to get a large enough room that you will feel comfortable to stay in for 15 days.
Yes, you read that right. The day you arrive in Thailand is considered day 0, so you will essentially need to quarantine for 15 days.
Regardless of which ASQ programme you choose, you will be provided with 3 meals a day, which is included in the total ASQ cost that you pay for.
For the ASQ programme that I went through at Hotel Clover Asoke, my meals were left outside my door at specified times in the morning, afternoon and evening.
For the first half of my quarantine, I was allowed to pick my meals from a set menu. But midway through my ASQ programme, the hotel changed its policy and I no longer had that luxury. But since I’m not a fussy eater, the change in policy wasn’t an issue for me.
Hotel staff cleaning the rooms
I was required to undergo two COVID-19 tests during my hotel stay, one at the beginning of my ASQ programme and one towards the end of my quarantine. The tests were conducted by nurses from the nearby hospital.
In addition, I was also required to report my temperature twice a day. If I forget, the hotel staff would actually remind me via text and on some days, even calls.
After I cleared my second COVID-19 test, I was allowed to use the hotel’s dedicated facilities for other guests under ASQ.
Maybe it’s just bad luck. But since the swimming pool was closed during my stay there, there weren’t many facilities for me to enjoy. So I spent my entire ASQ programme in my room.
The hotel had a gym, but it was not air conditioned and it did not have any weights that I was looking forward to using
They did provide me with a yoga ball and mat for workouts though
Flying to Bangkok under the new normal
In total, the cost of flying to Bangkok for me amounted to a whopping ฿72,813 (S$3,216), not inclusive of visa fees. So be prepared to fork out a similar amount if you’re looking to re-enter Thailand under the current conditions.
With Thailand easing up on travel restrictions, travellers – whether Singaporean or others – are eager to resume vacations once again. However, it goes without saying that travelling amid COVID-19 is an entirely different process. But oh well – such is the new normal.
Only time will tell what changes 2021 will bring.