Peter Kowalke

I’m Back in the USA Starting July 21

By on July 9, 2021

Bangkok is dangerous with no vaccines in sight. It is time for a trip to the US.

When Covid-19 hit the world last March, nothing was certain. All we had were the odds when making decisions.

Because the whole world is my home and I’ve been working remotely since 2010, I decided that Bangkok, Thailand was the best place to wait out the pandemic. I didn’t know for sure, and many friends told me to race home to the US before it got bad. But I suspected Thailand was a better bet.

This decision proved startlingly good.

How We Got Here

For most of the pandemic there effectively was no Covid in Thailand, and we lived like normal as the rest of the world struggled with lockdown and mass infection. While others went crazy in their home or fell sick, me and my friends socialized at restaurants and took beach vacations. Thailand was rated #4 in the world for best place to live during the pandemic.

Then everything changed in April, 2021. Bangkok had a serious Covid outbreak, and it spread during the biggest Thai holiday of the year. The government decided to wait for mass vaccination instead of lockdown, so Bangkok became like the USA in 2020 just as the USA became like old Bangkok thanks to mass rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine. The situation completely flipped, with the USA becoming one of the best countries and Thailand becoming one of the worst.

My bet at the start of the pandemic was that Thailand would remain a good location until vaccines were developed.

What I didn’t bet on was a shortage of vaccines in Thailand even six months after the rest of the world began getting them. The Thai government largely didn’t get in line for vaccines because we were safe and had our own Astra-Zeneca manufacturer in-country, and they also wouldn’t let private industry do it. So now there is only a small quantity of vaccines available in Thailand, and new vaccine orders will start arriving in November and early next year.

I’m particularly exposed. Nationalism means that Thais will get the vaccine before “foreigners,” and the US embassy explicitly said they won’t help their citizens abroad. Once there are vaccines for foreigners, those under 60 without an underlying health condition will be at the back of that line. So not only is Thailand at the back of the line for getting vaccines, I’m also at the back of the line within Thailand.

The most optimistic scenario for me is getting a Covid-19 vaccine in November, but realistically I probably won’t get a vaccine in Thailand until around March, 2022. This is more than a year later than expected.

Making matters worse, the highly spreadable Covid-19 Delta variant is starting to overwhelm Bangkok with infections, and it only will get worse. Those found with Covid-19 must spend 14 days in the hospital according to law, and Thailand now is rated a “dangerous” country so my health insurance won’t cover Covid treatment (yes, amazingly my insurance can do that).

My USA Plans

So clearly it is time for the USA. You win the lottery if you get a vaccine in Thailand right now, but in the USA you get a vaccine and entered into an actual lottery (or are given a free beer, I hear).

With that in mind, here are my USA plans. I’ve already booked tickets, so this is official.

When: July 21-Nov 1, 2021

I’m flying to the US in less than two weeks, and the plan is leaving the USA for Thailand on Nov 1. If the government’s plan to let vaccinated foreigners enter the Kingdom in Oct does not happen, I will take advantage of the Phuket Sandbox (a beach vacation quarantine, basically). If the sandbox breaks, I will pay for the mandatory 14-day quarantine in Bangkok so I can re-enter. If all hell breaks loose, I will stay in the USA longer and take advantage of my flexible airline tickets.

Where: Cleveland, Ohio (and San Francisco)

I will spend most of my trip with family in Ohio, since I haven’t seen them in more than 2 years. I also probably will take a business trip to San Francisco in September or October. Contact me if you’re in either of those locations or think I should add a new location to this trip so I can see you.

Why: Pfizer vaccine and many other reasons

The most important reason is getting the Pfizer Covid vaccine, the gold standard right now. I also will see family and handle a long list of USA tasks that have been delayed the past year as a result of the pandemic.

How: 30-hour flight (with mandatory mask the whole trip)

I’ll fly from Bangkok to Cleveland on Qatar Airways by way of Doha and Philadelphia. Qatar Airways is one of the best and most reliable airlines during Covid-19, with an unmatched flight-change policy. It will be a crazy three-flight relay, but there are no direct flight from Thailand to the USA, let alone direct flights from Bangkok to Cleveland.

My Wild Flight from Bangkok to the USA During Covid

A video of my Wild Flight from Bangkok to the USA During Covid. Click to watch.

Nothing is Certain So We Play the Odds

There are no certainties yet in the Covid world. All we can do is conduct intelligent research, make informed decisions based on the odds, and enjoy the present moment.

So far, I’ve made good choices. Very good choices, actually; I’m a little proud of how I’ve handled the pandemic thus far. This sudden relocation feels good and consistent with those previous decisions.

Things could still go bad, though, such as getting Covid during transit, facing unnecessary airport hell, or having trouble returning to Thailand (which would be a pretty big disaster since I have staff, business, and both an office and an apartment here in Bangkok). There also are the “unknown unknowns,” as the late Donald Rumsfeld memorably put it.

So everything is a gamble right now, a game of probability. But the odds have shifted, and they now say go to the USA.

Let’s see how this bet pays off.

Should We Meet While I’m in the USA?

After I’m vaccinated, I should be in the US for several months. If you want to visit me in Ohio or have me come visit you, let’s talk! My next US visit after this probably will be early 2023.

Reach out so we can start the conversation about seeing each other again.



Peter is a relationship coach, writer/producer, and R&D monastic. He splits his time between San Francisco and Asia. Read more about Peter.