We have been hiding from the wrath of COVID in a small town which until recently had less than 5 cases… lucky us! In October we had moved into our little apartment out in Lister, BC and expected to continue working on the van. Unfortunately the universe decided to continue the spread of COVID and it was becoming even harder to get items we needed. Sure we could get a few things but it was turning into more of a struggle, delays were longer and costs increasing. The weather was also changing… which is a big factor when you don’t have an indoor area for the van.
We continued trying to plan and arranged with a friend of Paul’s Dad to help with the cabinetry. That wouldn’t be until he had finished his current project, in November sometime. To be honest we were getting a little frustrated… I know first world problems. We are very lucky that we are able to be in a safe environment and have a roof over our heads.
We are even luckier because our landlords, Jack and Emmy, are great. We stayed in their big RV for the first 2 weeks and then moved into their basement once their renter moved out. They have two smaller older dogs, George and Maggie, as well as my personal favorite, a sweet little kitten called Molly. The ground floor apartment is fantastic. Big windows, so lots of light, a well appointed kitchen so we can cook, a washer/dryer for laundry, living room, one bedroom and a big bathroom. It’s a lovely set up and very comfortable. They also have chickens who seem to be staring in our window whenever we look out. We save the kitchen scraps for them and they come running over when they hear the door open. They had 3 cows, Sirloin, Tenderloin and Rump Roast but they have “gone on” to serve a different purpose.
We can go for a nice 5km walk around the area, with loads of horses and shaggy big horned cows. We’ve connected with 2 black horses down the street. They come to the fence as we approach and let us feed them carrots and apples. It’s been a great place to live… even with the mice. Yep, we’ve caught 2 of them so far and hopefully that’s it. Edit: total count caught was 4
October passed by quickly and then we hit November. We had planned to finally go and see my Mom, who we haven’t seen since late May. A couple of days before we planned to leave, my Mom called and said she didn’t think it was wise for us to come. Calgary was seeing huge increases in cases and she didn’t feel that it was safe. She said she would worry the whole time, which would ruin it. That was disappointing as I really miss her but we do talk on the phone at least once a week.
So… what to do? We had arranged with our landlords to stay until the end of December so we needed to start considering what’s next. Do we ask if we can extend our stay? Do we look for another place in Creston, where decent ones are few and far between? Do we move locations entirely? We started to look to see if any of the countries that we enjoy are opening up for travel? Well, Thailand has an elite visa but it was very expensive. Cambodia and Vietnam are still closed. I joined some groups about Thailand to do more research about the Elite Visa… because we go often would it be worth it? There was a long process involved so we would need to be committed to it. There was also a Special Tourist Visa for low COVID countries, but Canada didn’t qualify as our case numbers are going up, not down.
Then around November 4th, I happened to see something on a forum that indicated maybe Thailand was an option. Some countries were being allowed to start issuing Single Entry Tourist Visas! You get 60 days with the possibility to apply for an additional 30 day extension while there. Wait, what!?! This immediately triggered our spidey senses and so we decided to look into it.
Turns out that Canadians, if they meet specific requirements, could apply for this visa! Did we meet the requirements? Yes, turns out we did. The question now became should we apply and consider travel at this time? After several days of pretty intense discussion, soul searching and research, we decided to go for it. At worst we would be denied, at best we get the visa and could look at next steps. We sent off the documents to see if we would be approved on November 12.
Despite being eligible, Thailand has not made getting the visa easy… and I don’t blame them. You had to be able to provide proof of a minimum amount of financial means for the past 6 months, get an insurance policy that covers COVID for the duration of your time in Thailand and agree to quarantine for 15 days when you arrive in Thailand. Once you receive the visa you then have to apply for the Certificate of Entry. In order to get this you had to provide your passport, visa, proof of insurance, proof of a booking at an approved state quarantine facility (ASQ) and inbound/outbound flight tickets. You also had to agree to provide a certificate from a physician stating you were fit to fly and a negative COVID test result within 72 hours prior to your departure.
We managed to quickly find flights using our Aeroplan miles. This worked out great as we can change and/or cancel them with no penalty up to December 31st. We originally booked a YXC-YVR-YUL-ZRH-BKK flight that took us through Montreal and Zurich, but had a rethink when we started looking into COVID tests. There are none available locally unless you are showing symptoms and there is no guarantee as to when you will get the results. We had thought of going to get it completed in Calgary, bonus we could see my Mom, but everyone we contacted wouldn’t offer it for non-essential reasons. We then changed the flight to YXC-YVR-SEA-TPE-BKK with a 3 day stopover in Vancouver so we can get a COVID test. There was a 2 hour stopover in SEA but it was late at night so we thought we could handle that. The next day we received an update that Air Canada changed the flight to Seattle and we would now be subject to 9 hours in the US. That wasn’t something we were comfortable with so we got on the phone with Aeroplan to change again. It was horrible… hours on hold, getting hung up on, not even being able to get in the hold queue, then being told by the CSR that she couldn’t help as she was too busy. It was really bad timing as they were just releasing the new Aeroplan online platform as well. We persevered and managed to get the itinerary changed to YVR-TPE-BKK with the excellent EVA Air. The only problem being that there was only one business class seat instead of 2. Paul pulled a sneaky and put me in the fancy seat. We managed to get Paul in business class from TPE-BKK and were told to keep checking to see if they open any for the longer YVR-TPE section before we leave. We also booked return flights, using points again. We had originally booked Paul on a BKK-NRT-YVR-YXC and me on BKK-HND-YVR-YXC as we couldn’t get on the same flight. Then two days later we were able to cancel mine and get me on the same flights as Paul.
Getting the COVID tests arranged has also been a challenge. We need to get the results a maximum of 72 hours prior to departure from Vancouver. No one in Creston will do it unless you are symptomatic. We tried places in Cranbrook, Trail, etc. and either they didn’t do it or it was up to a 5 day wait for the results. We eventually found a place in Vancouver, CVM Medical, who would do it for a fee and while they wouldn’t guarantee turnaround the average was 48-72 hours. So we are flying to Vancouver and staying in a hotel for 3 nights in order to get the test completed to meet the timeline. We might book a secondary test just to be safe but haven’t decided yet.
So with that done we started looking into Alternative State Quarantine hotels. Upon your arrival in Bangkok you have to stay in one of the ASQ hotels approved by the Ministry of Public Health for 15 nights. All the ASQ’s are partnered with various hospitals who will be responsible for your care if something happens. They are also responsible for checking your temperature twice a day and giving you two COVID tests during your stay. You are not allowed out of the room until you pass the first negative test. This was more challenging then expected for various reasons - costs, balcony or not, size of room, food options, WiFi, laundry, etc. Thankfully loads of people have created various groups on FB, one being the ASQ Hotel Review Facebook group. People listed their experiences and shared the good and bad. We eventually narrowed it down to our top 5 and sent off some emails. We ended up going to a higher end accommodation, Le Meridien, to get the extra space, better food options including gluten free and solid WiFi. We are spending more than we originally planned but we are okay with it considering the options.
We received our tourist visas on November 20th… approved! Uploaded our first round of documents for the COE.. rejected! Minor panic occurs until we realize they 1) told us why 2) how to fix it. So we uploaded the missing item and received pre-approval. Then we had 15 days to upload our remaining information. We quickly finalized the ASQ, uploaded all the remaining documents and boom… APPROVED! Some room opened up in business class on the YVR-TPE segment so we were able to upgrade Paul’s ticket. Everything was coming together.
Throughout this whole process we have questioned are we doing the right thing? Every time it comes back as a yes for us based on where we are at. Will that change? Maybe, who knows… I hope not. We have discussed if something severe happens (positive COVID test) we are prepared to not go but we will cross that bridge if it comes to it.
So we have 2 weeks before we head to Vancouver. Things have already changed, we need to get additional bookings for our first 7 days after ASQ, the COVID place switched labs to one across the border in Washington and now does a quicker 24-48 hours turnaround. So we’ll have to double check closer to departure. It seems that Thailand is adapting and making changes as more people arrive. We are keeping in a positive mindset as we move through this and realize that until we get through immigration in Thailand that most of this is out of our control… a risk? Sure, but one we feel is manageable to the best of our ability. Things are certainly getting worse with COVID in North America while Taiwan and Thailand seem to be doing much better. The health care systems in these countries are also very good in case we actually need to use them. So all in all we might be safer there than staying here.