After much deliberation I decided that I would cut my backpacking trip short and come back to the UK. I had only just made it into Vietnam by the skin of my teeth which you can read about here, but the country was shutting down and there was nothing left to do as all the tourist spots had closed. I was looking at a flight back to London via Bangkok and the Thai Airways website told me that, at that exact moment, 120 other people were looking at the same flight as me. I panicked and so bought it as quickly as possible. I breathed a sigh of relief as I was coming home.
On the 21st March I boarded an overnight train back to Hanoi so that I could catch my flight back to London on the 24th. I can’t remember what made me look, but I was looking at the UK Government travel advice and came across some new information on the Thailand page saying that the government has introduced new ‘additional screening measures’. The measures applied to all passengers travelling to Thailand from all destinations, including those in transit.
It said that before check-in I had to present a negative corona virus test and a medical certificate signed by a doctor, confirming no evidence of the corona virus symptoms in the previous 72 hours, and also present evidence of medical insurance of no less than US$100,000 which covers COVID-19. I panicked. If I could not supply this then disease control officials may decide that I be subject to a 14 day quarantine or self-isolation period within Thailand. I panicked even more. I had to get a corona virus test done within 48 hours of my flight to or from Thailand, I wasn’t sure which because it was unclear.
Luckily my Swedish uncle’s sister-in-law works for the Swedish government and lived in Vietnam for many years and put me in touch with a colleague called Hanna, who lives in Vietnam and speaks Swedish. She says she will help me get out of Vietnam.
I arrive at the hospital and ask where I can get a Corona Virus test done. I am directed to another ward. I show the doctors there the form I need to have signed to show at the Thai border. They say that they can do the test for me but that they would be unable to sign the form. I ask why and the doctor points at the sentence on the form that says that the doctor would ‘examine’ me and says that she would not examine me and that is why she cannot sign it. She also says that because this is a children’s hospital and I am an adult that they cannot help me like that. I am in despair, it sounds like the most stupid thing in the world, like a catch 22.
In any case I have to come back tomorrow to get the test done so that it will be valid by the time I show it to Thai officials.
The receptionist from my hotel calls me in my room. He says that because I arrived in Vietnam on the 15th March that I am required to be in quarantine in Vietnam for 2 weeks. He starts saying that they will provide me with three meals a day for free if I want to stay in this hotel. I say that I have a flight booked home in two days time. He asks to call me back, he is evidently talking to someone down there.
He calls me back to say that in that case they want to do a blood test on me, and if I test negative three times then I would be allowed to leave Vietnam. He also informs me that there is police downstairs in the reception area making sure that I do not leave my hotel room. I ask how long the blood tests will take. He says five days. I tell him that is not possible as I leave in two days and that I had planned on going to the hospital tomorrow morning to get a Corona Virus test done in order to board my flight home via Thailand, and I explain the situation with Thailand. He says okay I am allowed to go and have the test, but that they want to see the test results when I get them. But he tells me I am not allowed to leave my room and reminds me that there are police.
I am terrified that police in Vietnam know my name and I am worried that I have broken the law in some way. I can’t believe this is happening. I do what any self-sufficient and independent traveller would do, I call my mum. I tell her what has happened and she says that there is a flight that leaves that evening to London via Dubai. Dubai does not have the same health screening measures that Thailand has, so I would not have to go through the stress of trying to get a paper signed that nobody wants to sign.
I call the receptionist and ask him if I would be able to leave tonight. He says yes.
I start packing up my things to prepare for a James Bond-style getaway.
My parents inform me that the price for the flight home via Dubai has jumped up to £2,600. So that is a no-go. Back to Plan A then.
I order some food via Grab and leave instructions for the driver to leave it at reception. The receptionist brings it up to me.
Receptionist calls to tell me there is a delivery outside my door. I open it to see a bag. Hanna has sent me a bag of food including ham, water, biscuits, tomatoes, blueberries, a surgical mask and some antibacterial wipes. I well up. I can’t believe that this stranger who I have never met before is being so nice to me when nearly everyone else is treating me with contempt.
I come downstairs wearing my mask to eat my breakfast before leaving for the hospital. The receptionist angrily tells me I am supposed to be in my room. I point out that I have to leave my room anyway to go to the hospital, he seems satisfied by this and I am allowed to eat in the empty restaurant.
I arrive at the COVID hospital ward. The waiting room is full today with westerners. My heart sinks as I had hoped it would be as quiet as yesterday. But it seems that most people there are collecting their test results. It’s like receiving your exam results. They call your name out and tell you whether you passed or not and everyone claps. I wonder what the reception would be like if you had not passed the test… A tumbleweed rolling past and everyone taking three steps away from you.
I manage to make myself understood that I am not here to collect results, but in fact to have the test done. I am given a form which is totally in Vietnamese, luckily there is a boy there to have the test who speaks English but can understand Vietnamese and he helps me fill in the form. I am so thankful.
I am directed to another office to pay 2,200,000 dong (around $95) for the test. Once I have paid I am shown to the test room. The nurse takes a very long Q tip out and asks me to open my mouth wide. He sticks the Q tip down my throat, very far and twists it around. I gag. Then he gets another one out and sticks that one really far up my nose and spins it around. It is the most bizarre feeling and I laugh. I am told that I can come back at 3 pm to get my test results. I really hope that the test results will be clear, and that I can also get someone to sign my certificate as well.
I return to the hospital to collect my results. The test is negative. I am so relieved. I am informed that I have to go to a different hospital to get a medial certificate. But for now I have to wait whilst they change my gender on my form as they said I was a man… This is the case with everyone getting their results.
I see a doctor at the Family Medical Centre and have to pay an additional $130 to see him. I am super relieved though because I now have everything I need to board my flight back to London tomorrow. I skip into the lobby of my hotel to show the receptionist my negative test results. He takes a photocopy to send to the government.
After another sleepless night I log into the Thai Airways app to check in for my flight to find that I am on standby for my flight from Bangkok to London. I am in utter despair.
Hanna knows someone at Thai Airways and so calls them and makes sure that I am taken off standby.
I meet Hanna for a celebratory drink and she wishes me luck on my home journey.
I glimpse the rolling fields of England and it brings tears to my eyes. I am so relieved to be home.
I am waiting in line for the ePassport gates and am standing two metres behind the guy in front of me. I hear some people joking about keeping 2m away from others but notice that they aren’t observing this advice themselves. When I see my parents in arrivals we do not hug, we do the elbow bump.
Just to be sure, I am keeping my distance from my parents because even though I tested negative for Coronavirus and I would have thought everyone on my flight home from Bangkok to London had too, any one of us could have picked up the infection between receiving the test and boarding the flight.
Unfortunately, coming home has been a huge anti-climax, especially as I could not hug my parents when they picked me up from the airport and the fact that I couldn’t have a reunion with my friends now that I am back. Who knows how much longer we will have to keep to ourselves, but the main thing will be trying to stay upbeat and sane. I have registered to become a Coronavirus volunteer to support the NHS as I now have a lot of time on my hands and I want to do my bit to help. Coming from having so much freedom to being confined and on lockdown is awful and I just want everyone to have their freedom back!