After a year of lockdowns and social distancing and two weeks hotel quarantine, the first days in a country where things are almost back to normal felt really strange. I have been feeling as if I was jetlagged, or hungover, or even both at the same time. The days have been blurring into another and I fell asleep exhausted at 9 pm every day. As I wrote last week, it is probably a lot to process.
I met friends for long overdue catchups. When I had to leave last year, we did not even have the chance to say good-bye properly. I guess even if we had had the time to do that, we would not have done it either because nobody was expecting what was ahead of us. But when we met again, it felt as if I had never left.
When I walked into my favourite café, the staff still recognised me and immediately came over, happy to see me after such a long time. It was nice to be able to sit down, enjoy a cup of coffee and catch up with everyone. Thailand was in lockdown for two months in 2020 (end of March until May). Like in so many places, it was a tough year for restaurants and hotels. Up until November things were almost back to normal but then Thailand was hit with a second wave of infections and people decided to stay at home more again since then.
Walking through Bangkok without tourists is surreal. Every year, more than 30 million tourists come to Thailand – from Chinese tour groups, to Korean golfers, to European and American backpackers in elephant pants. Even though the country has started to issue tourist visas for certain countries, international tourism is negligible – probably also due to the mandatory hotel quarantine for two weeks. From a personal perspective, it is nice to be able to explore the city with less traffic (a bit at least) and visit the sights without the usual crowds. From an economic perspective, it is sad. Shops, hotels and restaurants had to shut and those who have survived hope that the economy will open up for tourism soon again.
Every morning, I ventured out for a walk. I explored the Khlong (the canal) along Petchaburi Road, the small lanes in the Thong Lo and Ekkamai areas and went back to Lumpini Park to spot some monitor lizards.
It still feels a bit strange – after a year of social distancing, I feel nervous in crowded spaces. I try to walk as much as I can and avoid public transport and taxis. I guess it will take a bit of time to adjust. At the same time, I do think that it is better to be safe than sorry. In a city of more than 8 million people, social distancing is just not possible in many places. At the same time, I have the feeling that almost everyone here is very disciplined. Masks are worn without any discussion – with the odd foreigner having their nose hanging out… Because places are really crowded, masks are also worn outside. Hence, I am now walking with my mask every morning. It is funny, in Austria people would probably complain about having to wear a mask on a walk. Here, I get weird looks, when I forget to wear it outside.
When I walked down the small lanes, I took it all in. The past year has taught me to appreciate the little things. Before the pandemic, I would probably not have noticed the sunshine reflected in the canal, the flowers on the roadside or the street vendor selling ice cream. I would have been caught up in my thoughts, walked past (or more likely, driven by in a car because I hardly walked in Bangkok) and paid little attention. Maybe I would have noticed them in passing, but I would, most likely, have not actively taken it in. Last year, I made a promise to myself to not take everything for granted and enjoy the moment. I also venture out not only with my phone but also my camera to capture these moments – of course, I am also trying to share as much as I can with you here and on my social channels to take you on virtual trips in times where travel has become a rare commodity. I hope you enjoy it!
Have a great week ahead!