Will We or Won’t We?

It’s been quite a while since I have had anything travel-related to post! I don’t know about you, but when the pandemic hit, I never thought that its after-effects would drag on this long. Last winter was a long, depressing one. Where we live, in the state of Washington, winter can be a dreary affair. It is rainy, cold, and dark for months which is why we always travel during that time. We knew travel would be out of the question, so hunkered down for the season. Where we live, we had quite a few covid-related restrictions, so normal social activities were curtailed or eliminated completely. But, when the vaccines were approved, there seemed to be light at the end of the tunnel.

We both got our jabs as soon as we were eligible and had high hopes that things would be returning to normal. So, what did we do? Booked a trip, of course! Our plan was to go to Chiang Mai for a couple of months before heading to South Africa. If you regularly read my blog, you know that we were on a cruise to South Africa when Covid shut down the world in March of 2020. We were given an enormous amount of Future Cruise Credits that needed to be used, so booked a 14-day round trip cruise from Cape Town as well as a 14-day land trip around South Africa. We booked our flights and made hotel accommodations. I started to set up independent tours for the cruise portion of the trip. We were quite excited to be “on the road” again! There was such a sense of hope initially.

Unfortunately, the vaccines turned into a political hot potato and there was much resistance to vaccination in the United States. I must say, I was shocked. I really thought that everyone would jump at the opportunity for protection from Covid and the return to normalcy in our everyday lives. That didn’t (and still hasn’t) happened. Then, the Delta variant took over and it seemed that the vaccine wouldn’t provide the protection that we had hoped it would. On the positive side, Covid restrictions eased and so life returned to more normal. We are still not fully back to normal, but more so than that long, dreary winter of 2020/2021!

By the end of last summer, it became clear to us that South Africa would not be a safe place for us to go. The vaccination rates were abysmally low and Covid was rampant. There was a chance that things would straighten out before our trip, but we were not willing to risk it. The last thing we wanted was to end up on another cruise like the last one! Additionally, Thailand was making it really difficult to enter the country. Even as a fully vaccinated person, they were insisting on either 14 days of quarantine in Bangkok or spending a couple of weeks at one of their islands in what they referred to as the “sandbox” scheme. Neither alternative was that interesting to us; we simply wanted to return to Chiang Mai for a couple of months. So, we made the decision to cancel all our plans.

Fast forward to November. Thailand announced a “Test and Go” scheme for vaccinated tourists that would only require one night of quarantine until a clean RT-PCR test came back. After a negative test result, one would be free to travel anywhere in the country. In order to enter the country, a person would need to apply for a Thailand Pass which involved uploading proof of vaccination, proof of booking (and paying for) an approved Test and Go Hotel, flight details, proof of a minimum of $50,000 insurance that would cover Covid treatment, and passport information. In Thailand, if you test positive, you are quarantined in a hospital for 2 weeks, so we opted for Thai insurance to make sure that was covered. There have been instances of tourists testing positive and their home or travel insurance policies not covering their hospital stays because they were asymptomatic, and their stay was not medically necessary.

So, we decided to book a two-month trip to Chiang Mai for December and January. We plan on spending a few days in Bangkok so booked a lovely suite overlooking the Chao Praya River at the Chatrium Riverside Hotel for both the initial test and go night, as well as for several days following. From there, we will fly to Chiang Mai and stay in an apartment just outside the old city walls for the remainder of our trip. We can enter Thailand on a 30-day visa free entry and then extend our stay another 30 days at the local immigration office. If we choose to stay longer, we can apply for a visa.

In typical Thai fashion, there were all sorts of problems with the new system initially. We fully expected this, so applied a week after the system opened for business. We figured that if there were any issues, we would have plenty of time to sort them out. Many people had their applications approved immediately. But one of the requirements was that your vaccination certificate have a QR code. In the US, we do not have a national system for vaccination proof and our state certificate had no code. In other words, our application would have to be hand-processed which could take up to a week. Exactly a week after applying, we were approved!

We had everything lined up for the trip. Given that, it was time to start all our pre-travel arrangements – notifying banks and credit card companies that we would be out of the country, securing travel medications, contacting a travel nurse to make sure that we had all necessary vaccinations, etc., etc., etc. We found that our typhoid vaccination had expired. No big deal, except that due to Covid, people have not been traveling and so the companies that make the oral typhoid pills (good for 5 years and fairly economical) were not producing them. The only option was to get a typhoid shot, good for only two years and quite pricy! But better safe than sorry so we went ahead and got the shot.

We are 100% set to go. So, what could go wrong? Why, another Covid variant! Omicron was just identified a few days ago. And, I must say, we are certainly glad that we canceled our South Africa trip! I do feel bad for the people I know that had planned on taking the cruise. I somehow doubt that any port in Africa will be allowing a ship to dock. The cruise prior to the one we had booked was supposed to go from Dubai to Cape Town. They have reworked the itinerary to focus on Middle Eastern ports and will go to India rather than Africa. And the cruise will return to Dubai rather than going to Cape Town. I only know this because a cruising buddy has a friend on the ship right now; the cruise line has not published the new itinerary yet. But they are allowing people to cancel and get a 100% refund. Who knows how long it will take for people to get their money back on the cruise, not to mention all the other travel arrangements that will need to be canceled? I have no idea what will happen to the cruise that was supposed to start and end in Cape Town…

None of this should affect us, but it still may. I read this morning that Japan is closing its borders which will most likely prevent transiting through the airports there on the way to Thailand. Our flight goes through Seoul, South Korea so my fingers are crossed that South Korea does not do the same thing.

So, will we, or won’t we? Only time will tell. We are flexible which is a necessary attribute these days when it comes to travel. If we can’t, it will be fine. This winter is not as restrictive as last in terms of Covid. We are quite cautious, but I do go to the gym daily, go to church weekly, and participate in a hiking group weekly. We live in a beautiful part of the world and at least we can get out and enjoy it!