Greetings from Thailand!
In a word, I'd call it 'eerie'.
On Thursday I took my first flight in over seven months, travelling from Koh Phangan in the sunny south of Thailand to Bangkok. I put together a few short clips I made of the journey, which was certainly a different experience from every other trip I've made here in Thailand.
No matter how predictable it was that the airports would be mostly empty, it was still deeply jarring to see firsthand the suffering of the travel and tourism sector here. Thailand ranked 8th in 2019 for international tourist arrivals, with nearly 40 million visitors coming to explore the renowned 'Land of Smiles'.
But for long stretches of this trip, I was one of just a handful of travellers. The unique little airport in Koh Samui was a ghost town apart from one gate, with hardly anyone waiting for flights and far fewer flight announcements booming across the intercom system.
The flight itself was moderately full, due to the decreased number of flights and the smaller-than-usual planes they've been using to cut back on costs. Apart from having to wear a mask for the entirety of the flight, the whole experience didn't feel all that different than it used to. And because of the dramatic decrease in passengers, it was as swift a process as I've ever experienced anywhere.
Wearing a mask for the whole flight was not what I would call pleasant, so getting a comfortable mask that fits you well is an absolute must if you're doing any flying in the coming weeks and months.
Apart from that, the whole experience wasn't terrible, just...different. Eerily different. I couldn't help but think of the millions of people whose livelihoods depend on tourism here in Thailand and elsewhere in the world, and how the calm airport scenes belie the tumultuous impact this situation has had on so many people. Often we talk about the importance of 'tourism dollars' to an economy, but on this trip it was far more apparent to me the human aspect of it all - the way travellers bring money, yes, but also energy, emotion, and life to a place.
Bangkok itself is noticeably quieter than usual - there's less traffic and the energy of the city feels much calmer than its normal chaotic character. I'm sure you've seen some of the protests here in the news as of late, but at least since I've been here the mood has been calm and people seem to bearing these challenging times with the smiles the Thai people are known for.
I'll share some more from my experiences wandering around Bangkok next week, but in between now and then, we have our launch webinar for our Israel & Jordan program! Join us if you're able for a virtual walk-through of our plans to explore these fascinating countries in the Middle East.
Otherwise, stay safe, keep positive, and let's keep envisioning the times when we can get back on the road again.