Update August 2021: We’ve now used both the ASQ system discussed in this post, and the new Phuket Sandbox scheme which allows you the freedom of Phuket while you quarantine for 14 days. Check out our guide to the Phuket Sandbox which is likely to be a better option for many than ASQ! Having been through both, the Phuket Sandbox is a lot more enjoyable and we found it to be cheaper than ASQ overall.
Update June 2021: This post is a good guide on what to expect from your ASQ Thailand experience. We also had the advantage of staying in an ASQ hotel in Bangkok with a balcony, although we had to pay a lot more for it – and it was a big plus on a two week stay! The Thailand ASQ rules are still similar to what I’ve written below, however the process for getting to ASQ has been significantly streamlined and improved. For the most up to date information, check out your embassy website. The US embassy has clear info on the steps of the process – click here and it’s now mostly done online. Also keep an eye on the Phuket Sandbox which is due to launch on July 1st 2021. This scheme will allow vaccinated people to come to Thailand without specifically staying indoors. Instead you’ll have to stay in Phuket for 14 days which shouldn’t be too taxing! David Leukens at Thai Island Times has written a great piece on the Phuket Sandbox plan.
The final stage of our long and fun-packed journey back to Thailand is a two week mandatory hotel quarantine called Alternative State Quarantine (ASQ). Here’s how I’ve been finding it so far.
This is now day 6 for us, the quarantine equivalent of Tuesday – not quite close enough to see the end in sight, but not fresh enough to be novel. So this feels like a good time to tell you what the Thai ASQ programme is like, what to expect, and how my notoriously flighty persona deals with being alone in a room almost 24/7.
Thailand ASQ for beginners
All returnees to Thailand, Thai or otherwise, have to quarantine at a state facility for 14 clear days. While Thais can quarantine at state facilities at no cost, foreigners must use the Alternative State Quarantine system. There is no alternative, ironically.
The system makes sense from a ‘keeping COVID out’ perspective, and it evidently works – there is no local coronavirus in Thailand right now (update June 2021 – there is now…). Long term it’ll be interesting to see how viable this setup is for an economy so reliant on tourism, but for now it is objectively much better than in the UK, where the policy seems to be ‘come in, have a pint, lick the first ten people you meet, use our world beating test and trace app, oh shit it doesn’t work, never mind’ (Update: vaccines!). There has been the occasional mishap in the Thai policy but it’s mostly watertight.
ASQ is essentially a set of hotels at varying levels of fancy, who very politely shut you away for two weeks. By varying levels of fancy, I mean varying.
Whatever your choice, all meals are provided, they temperature scan you twice a day, you get a little bit of outdoor time once tested negative, and that’s the long and short of it.
The luxury option
Prices for ASQ range from 30k (750 GBP) per person at the lower end all the way up to 140k (a wildly unaffordable 3.5k GBP) and up for the super high end places. We are at the higher end of the middle, staying at the Anantara Riverside which costs us about 70k each (1750 GBP).
It certainly stings the wallet – especially as Frankie and I have to quarantine separately as we’re not married (update: are now married), but that is your total cost for two weeks of living, all meals included.
We had to pay a lot for our balcony rooms and appreciate not everyone will want or be able to, but on lower budgets there are still good options. Our friends stayed in a 30k ASQ and said it was perfectly fine, but there are hotels at that budget where the rooms don’t have windows, so research carefully. Or head to the Phuket Sandbox where being trapped inside is no longer an issue.
The extra money is buying better food and more space, fundamentally. We both have quite large rooms with a small sofa area and a balcony which overlooks the river. When you are restricted to your own space 95% of the day, the balcony is a godsend.
If you can stretch to afford it, having an ASQ hotel in Bangkok with a balcony is absolutely worth the investment, and I would especially vouch for the lovely riverside surroundings at Anantara Riverside.
It’s nice to be able to sit outside and watch things putter around the river with a rare flash of greenery around. The riverside is also a bit calmer than downtown Bangkok!
Food is bountiful – possibly a little too bountiful!
I was worried before we arrived that I would need extra snacks and feeding alongside the provided meals, and dear lord how wrong I was about that.
This morning’s breakfast was a large smoked salmon bagel, two different cereals, a fresh juice, a coffee and a fruit platter.
Lunch is three courses, dinner is a main and dessert. Being out of Thailand for a few months I forgot about the Thai love of a massive lunch, so when this turned up for lunch on day 1 I was a little overwhelmed:
My minibar fridge is now full to bursting with fruit platters and the odd tiramisu; I’m batting food away if anything.
Generally the food is great, as you would expect from a 5 star hotel really. Quite a lot of the time they’ll forget to bring something for whatever reason so you can never be quite certain what will show up. Menu choices are made the day before, you leave your selection outside. There’s a very wide range of Thai, Asian and Western stuff. The only disappointment so far has been a dim sum breakfast that really put the ‘some’in dim sum:
Contactless living in ASQ
They take the quarantine seriously here. Everything is done in a no touch way, making for a pretty strange existence in ASQ.
Meals are left on a table outside your door at 8, 12 and 6, creating a strong Pavlovian response where you sit by the door salivating like a dog at 7.59am, 11.59am and 5.59pm. That may just be me.
All meals are delivered in an ocean-clogging smorgasbord of single use plastic, complete with plastic cutlery – luxury. Everything that leaves your room does so in a bright red bag which screams ‘UNCLEAN!’, so post meal time you dump everything into said bag and put it back outside:
It’s probably a good idea to bring a set of cutlery with you to ASQ if you don’t want to eat with flimsy plastic for two weeks. Likewise a small bottle of detergent (we have some in a travel bottle) is a good idea for a bit of emergency laundry. I haven’t seen an ASQ package with laundry included, and I certainly don’t have a two week supply, so for everybody else’s sake I’m glad I have the detergent!
When the room is cleaned – by staff in full overalls, masks, face shields, gloves and actual wellington boots – you go to another room for half an hour.
COVID tests happened on the third day and after testing negative (or as the doctor said less reassuringly, ‘undetectable’) we can go out once a day to the ‘relaxation terrace’. This is the only time Frankie and I meet in person, normally this is my view of her from 5 doors away:
When we do go to the relaxation terrace, we have to wear shoe covers because our shoes are havens of filthy disease, obviously. It leads to some incredibly stylish ensembles:
It’s nice to have the time together and also to walk around the outdoor square like zoo animals.
The experience overall of alternative state quarantine is fine, if pretty uneventful. It’s going a lot quicker than I had feared. Having work takes up most of the time and in the evenings there are books, films, writing and the occasional half-baked attempt at exercise in a confined space. Additionally, I’ve dusted off Football Manager and that is an absolute time black hole – highly recommended as a quarantine activity (disclaimer: Football Manager is not compatible with a normal adult life involving other humans).
After taking hometown club Southend to the premiership in just two seasons, I’ve recently landed my dream job as Everton manager and am finally getting a cohesive midfield effort out of Tom Davies and Andre Gomes, you’ll all be pleased to hear. Please see disclaimer above.
I’ve also got quite good at filming the swifts that zip around towards sunset in slow mo which I am counting as a new skill.
The hotel are helpful although I haven’t needed much from them. There does seem to be a system whereby if you make a request about the following day, it gets ritually burnt overnight because whatever you requested will 100% not show up the next day. A quick prompt does the trick and they’re doing a good job in what must be a very weird setup for the staff!
The main thing is that we’re back in Thailand safe and sound, we have everything we need here and in just a few days we can go back to our actual home. Which I can physically see from my balcony in ASQ. Small world.