Escape from China

I had worked on my trip through South China for months, talking with everyone in my office who had travelled there, with my travel agent, and going through countless web sites to create the perfect trip. The SARS dilemma surfaced several weeks before my vacation was to begin, but it seemed at first to be mainly a Hong Kong-Singapore phenomenon. Then the Guandong Province situation was revealed, and suddenly the Beijing nightmare began. I still thought our trip would be relatively unaffected, as I was going only to “SARS-free” regions, remote from Beijing. I never thought the government would suddenly forbid all travel to China’s countryside.

When my travel agent called frantically to tell me the hotels she booked for me had closed, I knew I had to change plans fast. My friend was with me, and this was supposed to be a very special time for us. We still had 20 days together, but China was becoming impossible to deal with, with its closed restaurants and hotels and tourist sites, and very little to do. We finally decided to skip over to Thailand, despite the pounding heat, and we have been having a great time here.

One interesting comment on SARS and Thailand: We had trepidations about coming here because Thailand has issued very strong statements about their stringent anti-SARS policy, which calls for medical check-ups every 3 days and/or wearing a mask constantly, under pain of a six-month prison sentence! I told my friend I couldn’t imagine the Thais actually enforcing such draconian measures. When we got there, all they did was take our temperatures, ask some questions, hand us a surgical mask and wave us goodbye. No mandatory anything. This was a great relief for us, but if it becomes common knowledge the Thai government is going to look might silly.

We are off to Chiang Mai in a couple of days. Being out of China is an indescribable relief, even if it’s hot and noisy here in Bangkok. The last couple of days in China were pure hell, and there were moments when I thought we simply wouldn’t be able to get out. It’ll all be in my book.

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