Losing my job during the pandemic in Thailand


When the pandemic struck the world in early 2020, it hit the tourism industry really hard. News about Covid-19 constantly sparked immense fear and confusion globally – this forced many airlines to cancel their flights and eventually, countries to go into lockdown, including Thailand. 

With travel being impossible, tour operators like myself lost our jobs almost immediately. As a result, I got stuck in lockdown with no income – here’s how it went, and how I bounced back.

Check out other Thai perspectives:


Laid off during lockdown


 I consider myself blessed to have realised my passion for being a tour guide at an early stage of my life, and I decided to follow my dreams by joining a bicycle tour company after university. 

This was how I ended up as a bicycle tour guide for 2.5 years, where I led cycling tour groups and took travellers to different spots around the country. I was initially based at home in Bangkok for a year, but spent the remaining 1.5 years in the beautiful island of Phuket.

But two weeks into March 2020, I was laid off. After years as a bicycle tour guide, I never would have expected the tourism industry to disappear overnight. 

I Lost My Job During Covid-19 In Thailand & Was Stuck On An Island With No Income Or Easy Way HomeOn an interprovincial bike tour for work
Image credit: Prowd Issarasena

 Naturally, I was in a state of anxiety and confusion – not only in regards to my job, but also whether or not I should go back to Bangkok, which is where I’m originally from and where my family lives.

WIth people flocking back to their hometowns, all modes of travel and transport hubs were filled to the brim, and going back to Bangkok meant I would risk getting infected, because of overcrowding and the city being a Covid-19 hotspot.

I Lost My Job During Covid-19 In Thailand & Was Stuck On An Island With No Income Or Easy Way HomeA snap of my customers and I from when I worked full-time as a bicycle tour operator
Image credit: Prowd Issarasena

However, that decision was quickly made for me as Phuket went into lockdown just one week after I was laid off. Phuket officials made it impossible for non-government officials to leave the island; travelling across districts via land, sea, and air were all out of the question. 

In addition to interprovincial travel being impossible, the lockdown timeline was continuously changing, making me unsure if I could ever leave the island.


Two and a half months in Phuket with no income 


I was stuck in Phuket from late March until early June. Anxious to get back home to Bangkok and orient myself after getting laid off, I searched for flights every week and would try booking them several days after the many set dates for Phuket’s reopening. 

Unfortunately, my flights kept getting cancelled or postponed, hinting that the island was going to be closed for a long time. Additionally, because cancelled flights didn’t mean I was getting a refund, I was stuck with airline credit and even less money than before. 

I Lost My Job During Covid-19 In Thailand & Was Stuck On An Island With No Income Or Easy Way Home
One of the many flight cancellation emails I received
Image credit: Prowd Issarasena

Land travel was also impossible, as the administration restricted vehicles from crossing from the mainland into Phuket and vice versa.

In the midst of these happenings, I was trying to find mental and financial support on the island – I contacted my friends living nearby and asked if I could couch surf at their places, as I was worried about diminishing my finances because of my apartment rental costs. Unfortunately, they were either unreachable or were unable to host me. 

I continued to stay in my rented apartment, where I’d been since early 2019. Luckily, I had a good relationship with my landlady, who generously agreed to reduce my rent due to the circumstances. 

I Lost My Job During Covid-19 In Thailand & Was Stuck On An Island With No Income Or Easy Way Home
My apartment in Phuket
Image credit: Residences

Throughout these months, I had no income. So, I was relying on my savings whilst searching for jobs on social media as well as within my community – I looked out for positions that would allow me to work remotely, such as freelance writing, translation, tutoring, and transcribing.

After browsing online forums, I was able to land a short-term writing gig. 

I Lost My Job As A Tour Operator During Covid-19 And Was Stuck On An Island With No Income
I had 30 eggs, no tissue paper, no soap, and no trash bags – something very similar to these supplies. Image is for illustration purposes only.
Image credit: Line Today

The Phuket government was also trying to ease some of our burdens: they distributed dry and canned foods throughout the community once a week. They were also making their rounds doing temperature screenings to detect any infections. 


Managing my mental health throughout the ordeal


When restrictions started to lift, I was able to go out for a walk along the beach, see my neighbours and occasionally have a meal out. Whilst the isolation wasn’t all too bad for me, I was riddled with anxiety and desperation about making it back to Bangkok.

I Lost My Job As A Tour Operator During Covid-19 And Was Stuck On An Island With No IncomeAlthough one of my priorities was to stop depleting my savings, I made sure to go out to enjoy a cuppa or a meal almost everyday to relieve my anxiety.
Image credit: Prowd Issarasena

I also reached out to my family for advice. It was through a conversation with my grandfather that I was reminded that I had relatives in southern Thailand, and a potential way back to Bangkok. 


My odyssey back to the City of Angels 


By the time my grandfather connected me with one of my relatives – whom I’d never spoken to before – we were allowed to travel outside of Phuket at certain hours during the day. 

I Lost My Job As A Tour Operator During Covid-19 And Was Stuck On An Island With No IncomeMy relatives and my grandparents’ friends at my grandfather’s birthday party during pre-Covid times
Image credit: Prowd Issarasena

Together, we came up with a plan. My distant uncle would drop me off at Saphan Sarasin, a bridge that connected Phuket to the mainland in Phang-nga. My other relatives would then pick me up there and drive me to Trang province.

I Lost My Job As A Tour Operator During Covid-19 And Was Stuck On An Island With No IncomeScreenshot: Google Maps

Just a week after we hatched the plan, my relative and I started the odyssey back to Bangkok from Phuket. After breakfast, we drove to the Sarasin bridge. What would typically be a two-hour journey was almost halved due to the sheer emptiness of the roads. 

I Lost My Job As A Tour Operator During Covid-19 And Was Stuck On An Island With No Income
Drone shot of Sarasin Bridge
Image credit: Freepik

The lack of other cars on the streets paired with the Covid-19 temperature screening points manned by the military made the drive seem like something out of a post-apocalyptic zombie movie. 

My relatives from Trang drove roughly three hours to pick me up at the bridge, and the journey continued almost immediately after they arrived. 

The second I arrived at their home, I instantly booked a one-way ticket from Trang to Bangkok for the next day. 


Permanent changes from a temporary lockdown 


The several provincial Covid-19 safety checkpoints we passed confirmed what I had already known – tourism was never going to be the same ever again. As dramatic as it sounds, I grieved over my career in tourism for almost a year – it was an industry I was passionate about and had given a lot of heart to. 

I Lost My Job As A Tour Operator During Covid-19 And Was Stuck On An Island With No IncomeMy customer and I on a day tour in Koh Yao Noi Island
Image credit: Prowd Issarasena

However, the experience taught me that changes don’t always have to be for the worst. After moving back to Bangkok, I continued freelancing as a copywriter for various companies. When I saw a job opportunity at The Smart Local Thailand, an international media company, I decided to try my hand at a full-time corporate job as a writer. 

Whilst different from my old job, I’ve found to enjoy the work so much that I sometimes forget about my days cycling through Phuket. 

I Lost My Job As A Tour Operator During Covid-19 And Was Stuck On An Island With No Income
Working as a writer fulfills my passion of sharing my stories and interests with our readers
Image credit: Prowd Issarasena

I’ve also made it a point to stay connected with my relatives – some of whom I didn’t know existed before, but kindly helped me make it back home to Bangkok. It really put into perspective how important family ties are, as well as how big my family actually is. 

For those whose livelihoods were affected by Covid-19, I understand that it can be difficult and confusing. However, it’s through embracing change and the unfamiliar that I was able to find my footing after leaving a career I thought I would continue forever. Who knows? You might end up enjoying it a lot.

If you’re looking for employment help in Bangkok, you may check out the following Facebook groups, which have strong online communities: 


Featured images adapted from: Prowd Issarasena

Enjoying The Smart Local Thailand? Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more stories like this.