And, as I’ve found since recently returning to Thailand for the first time during the pandemic, after dozens of visits in the past 20 years, the severe rules are creating both odd (on a recent trip to Pattaya, swimmers wore masks in our resort pool) and distressing situations.
I would not describe myself as anti-mask, but even I was flummoxed when my two-year-old boy was left in tears after being rejected from a Bangkok indoor play centre because he wouldn’t, and realistically couldn’t, wear a mask. As my son stared at the slides and rides, jumping in anticipation, staff told me he would have to cover his face during his entire visit or he’d be evicted.
Like many rambunctious boys his age, he refuses to keep a hat on his head, annoyed by its presence, so the chances of him wearing a mask for an hour straight hover near zero.
While thankfully two other Bangkok play centres allow our boy in without covering his face, he is one of the very few toddlers at these facilities who doesn’t wear a mask.
The mandate that masks must be worn everywhere in public is also causing tension between locals and foreign tourists.
In Pattaya I regularly encountered Western tourists without masks. Many of them were oblivious to the angry looks they were earning from locals, who are very rarely seen breaking this rule.
In Bangkok’s biggest park, Lumpini, one Thai person finally lost their cool. In that sprawling green haven I saw more than a dozen Western tourists without masks, including a couple that argued with a Thai man who confronted them as they sat under a tree.
The rule breakers are not usually young backpackers, but mostly parents with children and couples in the 30-to-50-year-old age bracket. It seems many foreigners are arriving in Thailand either unaware of how it’s changed due to the pandemic, or unwilling to adapt.
One of the things that’s long attracted Western tourists to Thailand is the perception it has less rules than their home country. Right now, however, Thailand is far more sedate and sanitised than previously.
In some ways Thailand is now easier for travel, and in others it has become less appealing. On the plus side, everywhere is far less crowded, particularly the tourist zones within Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Koh Samui and Pattaya.