A Morning in Phuket
The fourth day of our trip to the island of Phuket, Thailand started with me losing my passport. Panic set in quickly. Being in possession of my passport was an essential precursor to a 10am Covid -19 PCR test we had in Patong, a town about 40 minutes from our hotel. My husband, a planner to his core, had arranged for a car to pick us up at 8:30am for our required appointment. It was now 8:10am. I circled from the room safe, to my purse, to my carry on bag and back again, muttering repeatedly, “It has GOT to be here! Where could it be? Where would I have put it?”. Some profanity was also uttered as my husband looked on worriedly.
I was hoping against hope that what seemed increasingly obvious wasn’t true: that I had left my passport in our Airbnb rental (an hour away in an inconvenient direction), when we returned to the hotel last night.
We don’t typically rent two locations simultaneously while on vacation, but our trip to Thailand was an exception in many ways. When we arrived at the airport to check in for our flight, having diligently printed out copies of our PCR test taken the day before, we were surprised to learn that something called a “Thai Pass” was needed to board our flight to Singapore that connected us to Phuket. This mysterious pass had a list of specific requirements: in addition to the PCR test taken 24 hours before our flight, we also had to agree to be tested once we landed in Thailand. And have a second test taken within a few days of arrival. We would also need to quarantine for 7 days at a certain type of hotel. And show proof of payment for these new tests, and our approved hotel booking. As well as buy Covid -19 insurance. Much paperwork, poorly translated was involved. And also? As of 4 days prior, the Thai government was no longer issuing Thai Passes.
After four tense and expensive hours, punctuated by numerous pleading phone calls and emails and the reserving of testing times and a second hotel room that I was now destroying in search of my missing passport, we were ready to board the aircraft. The following day; we had missed our flight, having received email confirmation of our hard won Thai Pass bequeathment an hour after the Singapore Airlines check in counter had closed for the night.
I was not exactly surprised I had lost my passport- things happen, what can I say?- but I was surprised that I would have been so casual with it, and left it behind in a beach house that closed with a quaint lock and a lot of trust. Suddenly I remembered: jetlagged, I had tucked it away in my zippered jacket pocket for “safekeeping”.
Passport in hand, we strode to the waiting car, and less than an hour later arrived at the Tourist Center in Patong where brightly lettered wall signs boasted a variety of perceived and debilitating ills its staff could address from labiaplasty to gastrointestinal distress (and, lucky for us, PCR testing!).
Behind us in the line that wound down the stairs and around the block, were a young Black couple. She was exquisitely attired in a long, black flowing cotton dress that bared her shoulders and encased her upper arms in matching black puffs of fabric. Her long hair was twisted into a topknot, and her eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses. Her companion looked ready for a casual day at the beach. They remained behind us as other couples wandered off during the 45 minute wait to be seen, and discretely averted their eyes as we were turned away without the desired test. Instead, we were given a scrap of paper. This scrap contained a copy of some woman’s passport on one side (with a thin wavy line drawn through some, but not most of her pertinent information, obscuring none of it) and the name of a mall on the other- where we were promised the PCR test would be administered to us.
We walked through the streets of Patong, normally bustling with partying crowds, now clean and quiet to the mall, which despite appearances to the contrary, had not been abandoned at the start of the pandemic, or earlier. Outside of its greying walls, we ran into a group of three tourists who also seemed to be wandering aimlessly as they, too, looked at a piece of paper. Yes, they answered when asked, they were also in search of the PCR test location. Feeling as if we were in one of those reality competitions, but with a painful prize, we circled the shopping center, trying to figure out where medics would set up shop. I felt a fleeting moment of victory as we found the testing location on the 3rd floor of a parking facility a few minutes before the Group of Three arrived. Two hospitals had commandeered the open space for testing. Neither one would accept us.
The name of another hospital was mentioned: Mission. We researched the lead. Thank goodness for Google! Another car was summoned. Off we went! To a hospital that for reasons we still couldn’t quite understand, refused to test us. They instead referred us to a QR code that they had taped to the side of a plastic booth in the hospital’s driveway. Helpfully, someone had also written the name of a hotel below the pixilated code. THAT was the location for us?
Discouraged and wilting in the heat and humidity, I tapped on the link, only to be led to a place that looked like a shack hidden by a tree on the side of the road. Reading further, the address was that of a café.
Now confused, discouraged, wilting, and sticky, I was not surprised to see Beautiful Woman and Boyfriend alighting from a taxi. After exchanging pleasantries and exhortations of good luck like old friends, we parted ways, hopping into yet another car to take us to the café. Or the hotel. Or anywhere that would be able to give us a nasal swab, 5.5 hours after we had set out for it.
It was not a shock to find that the café had indeed closed some time prior to our visit. Decades, at least. We pushed on, phoning various name iterations of the hotel listed next to the QR code in the belief that if nothing else, they would be able to more quickly direct us to the next place where we would be again be turned away. Our hopes were low.
But they did still exist. With waning determination and phone battery, I continued to look up PCR testing locations. Bingo! I found a place that, if nothing else, was in an area that was filled with great restaurants. After getting our tests, or being redirected to the next spot, there still might be time for a lovely lunch.
When our car pulled up to an area that was flanked by neat rows of white plastic chairs, filled with dejected people holding paperwork, I knew we had arrived. No lottery winner was happier than I when I spotted my magic markered name (not Keith’s, of course- nothing is ever that easy) on a whiteboard proclaiming my eligibility for testing. Hallelujah!
As we go forward in the adventure that promises to be 2022, I wish you a year of renewed hope, despite the many obstacles you may encounter.