Friday morning and the streets here are getting emptier every day.
Fewer and fewer people are venturing out; a combination of the smoke and the fear of Covid19. There’s still the odd Westerner about, but we’re definitely the minority now – the rowdy groups of backpackers and lovesick honeymooners are largely gone. The usual streetscapes of street markets, food trolleys and crowded bars have been replaced by closed shops and empty footpaths; sidestreets now jammed with a proliferation of food delivery services; masked or helmeted riders zooming around on brightly branded motorscooters taking up every available parking space. Thais are going about their daily life as best they can – what else can you do, really?
As of Wednesday this week, Thailand ordered the closure of entertainment venues, bars, cinemas. Gatherings of large groups are banned. Temples are becoming impossible/risky to access and even the Government are struggling to come to terms with the practical reality of “social distancing” in Thai culture. For travelers, whispers abound of a Thai Visa ‘relaxation’ for the 500,000 or so foreigners in the country who will technically overstay their Visas if Thailand goes into lockdown and they are stuck here. This hasn’t happened. Yet.
As of today, flights out of the country are drying up fast as punters preempt the Stage 3 announcement – full lockdown of the Kingdom. This hasn’t happened yet but the media are grumbling “Why not?”. They’ve just today introduced some new restrictions on travelers into the Kingdom, affecting Thais and foreigners alike – a “Covid-Free” health certificate issued within 3 days of the travel date AND Covid19 Travel Insurance for +$100,000 USD (both virtually impossible to get). This comes into force midnight Saturday coming.
The signs for a big change in policy are there though, as the infection count rises. Media attention and community concern is growing. It just topped over the +200 count recently, and this seems to be the tipping point, especially looking at what’s happening overseas. Luckily (?) this seems to be concentrated in the South of the country. Changes in policy will have to come soon or it ill be too late.
Serious backpackers that haven’t left (or unable to leave) are starting to prepare for the long haul here and settling into wherever they can find accommodation.
Luckily my panic booking home hasn’t been cancelled yet and I’m scheduled to leave on the 5th April (hopefully Thailand will resist the urge to shutdown before then.).
Another win. Getting into the dentists early on Sunday (instead of two weeks time) so at least the trip hasn’t been a complete waste.
If I get out, great. If not – well at least I’ll have something to write about for the next 6 months.
Who knows where the world will be by then.
Up here in the North, we’re seen to be a long way from the bustling metropolis of Bangkok (Ground Zero for most Covid19 infections in this country) and the general attitude is still positive and hopeful for the most. Regional Governors are adopting a measured approach, implementing closures and restrictions incrementally rather than panicking – giving the people and business time to adjust. Some of the businesses Ive been talking to are concerned about mandatory closures but nothing like that has happened yet. Many have transitioned to the home delivery services – Food Panda, Uber Eats and the like – to keep their businesses afloat with the virtual disappearance of the tourist market practically overnight.
That measured approach may change very soon as the numbers of infected escalate and the health system is tested.
Plans for the day? A quiet, solitary and masked 13km wander around the Old City again – listening to my 20 hour audiobook of “The Worst Journey In The World” by Apsley Cherry-Garrard (a most absorbing and well written account of Scott’s doomed Terra Nova expedition to Antarctica in the early 1900’s) – then find a quiet secluded nook to finish my new Jack Reacher novel, and try to relax a bit. Checking the news here once a day is enough, as any more than that just raises the stress levels far too much.
The choking smoke from the plantation fires in Myanmar and Thailand is back today – Chiang Mai once again taking the dubious honor of “Worst Air Quality On The Planet”. Its hard to know wether the person across the room is coughing from that or the virus.
I read something online the other day that posits that, planet-wise, this virus is the best damn thing that’s happened to the Earth since coffee was invented (that’s my spin). Global pollution levels are dropping, air quality is improving, greenhouse gas emissions lowering at a rate we haven’t seen.
Crazy thought! – maybe someone’s or some group (hmmm Greta, I’m looking at you) gone all “12 Monkeys” on us globally; released something deadly into the wild to save the Earth and it’s critters. Stranger things have happened and we all love a good conspiracy eh?
Social distancing seems to be working though – people aren’t clumping around in groups, everyone seems to have lifted their hygiene game considerably, and life here is visibly changing day by day. I’ve always been a sit quietly and watch kinda person, so this whole experience is not a hardship in any way so far.
As long as my cafe stays open I’m happy for now as every day has a Sunday feel.
*these are just my uninformed opinions and random thoughts – don’t get all up in my face about it. It’s my travel diary – remember? – and there’s always that Unfollow button.