I always wanted to go on a backpacking trip across Asia but somehow, did not get the time or did not have a budget big enough for my dream 20 days travel. Due to coronavirus, tourism markets took a hit & suddenly my South East Asia trip became more affordable. I could get a luxury traveller’s experience at a budget traveller’s price.
My company soon eased their work from home policy to avoid the epidemic and a perfect window of opportunity arose. I now had both the time and money needed for my travel. Of course, it was difficult to convince those around me that it was safe to travel but I was committed to going anyways.
Although this article is a departure from all the doom and gloom surrounding coronavirus, it does not mean that I am advising you to take the pandemic lightly, but an attempt to look at the bright side & use the paranoia around travel industry to your advantage. Read this article to know how I was able to catch a flight to Langkawi at just $4.
At the time of this writing, Bangalore had 4 coronavirus cases & one case was just 3 km away from where I live. So it is not safe anywhere and I would rather quarantine myself on a beach than be stuck at home.
Reasons for Planning My Trip During Coronavirus Scare
A recent poll by Today.com showed that 78% of the readers would take a travel deal during coronavirus. If you are turn off the TV and ignore the media’s fear-mongering, the world is not as bad as it sounds as long as you take the right precautions.
I took a calculated risk here since I was not sure when in the future I would have both the time and money to go on this trip during coronavirus hit the economy. Might as well make the best out of this grim situation.
Flights were Cheaper Than Usual Due to Coronavirus
With airlines slashing flight ticket prices due to coronavirus, the flights were far cheaper than usual. I could travel to Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand or anywhere else for under INR 10,000 ($140). I simply could not resist. HECK, There was also a round-trip flight to Rome for just INR 26,000 ($363) but I did not want to take it since I need to go through the whole Schengen visa process. Maybe next time :).
The flight prices were unbelievable, I was even able with upgrading my tickets for the premium economy for more legroom, meals & no cancellation charges.
So below is the breakup of the flight cost for my trip during coronavirus hit travel market.
The “recovery time” for travellers to feel comfortable flying again is dependent on the “period of disruption.” In the case of the 2003 SARS crisis, which lasted about six months, it took a few months for travel to pick back up to the level it was before the outbreak. So airlines are looking at keeping themselves afloat for the next 6 months.
I decided to book a flight from Bangalore to Kuala Lumpur as my first destination. The total flight price was INR 8,900 sweet deal, I had paid similar fares for a domestic flight !!.
I could choose almost any day in the month and I would roughly have to pay the same amount.
Next, I wanted to visit Langkawi and the flight price was an unbelievable INR 298 ($4). I love to travel !!
My next stop was Bangkok from Langkawi. Again, the flight was just INR 3207($44). Usually, this flight goes for INR 5000 ($70).
From Bangkok, I went to Siem Reap to see the amazing Angkor Wat. This route cost me just INR 2500 ($35), almost INR 1000($14) cheaper than usual price.
Next, I wanted to visit Singapore and the flight ticket from Siem Reap was about INR 4000($56), Cheaper by at least INR 1500 ($21) when compared to normal times.
I spent around 5 days in Singapore before departing to Kuala Lumpur Airport (KLIA2) via bus which cost me just INR 690 ($9) to catch my return flight back to India.
Hotels were cheaper & included free breakfast because of coronavirus
Coronavirus has been devastating for the entire hotel industry with prices falling 30% to 70% off. So the good news for me is I was guaranteed to get awesome deals. Also, I wanted to get a nice hotel with a view this time since I wasn’t sure I want to be visiting too many crowded places. Maybe spend a day in one of the resorts with a private beach, or sit at the rooftop infinity pool overlooking the Petronas Towers.
So below are the hotels that I picked to stay during my trip during coronavirus along with the cost of each hotel. I will share both the current price as well as the average price for this hotel at the end of this list.
Kuala Lumpur – WOLO Kuala Lumpur
WOLO hotel is a 4-star hotel at the heart of Bukit Bintang, the best location in Kuala Lumpur for shopping and street foods. I got 67% off deal on this hotel and it was walking distance for me from here to Petronas Towers. Also, had a lot of Indian restaurants too which was a plus. I got a breakfast inclusive deal for just INR 3300($45).
Langkawi – Berjaya Langkawi Resort
Berjaya Langkawi Resort was a beach facing property in Langkawi. It had amazing views and seafood, the pool overlooking the ocean and things to do in the resort kept me busy the whole time. I could get some office work done just chilling out around the pool. Location was a bit far from Pantai Chenang but overall it was great. I got a 75% off deal at just INR 6000 ($84).
Bangkok – Best Western Premier Sukumvit
Excellent location, great breakfast spread & I could get some work done or just chill out at the rooftop pool of this hotel. It is in a fairly central location and the metro was always close by. Enjoyed my stay here.
I got an amazing 75% off on this hotel deal and booked at INR 4277 ($60).
Pattaya – Hard Rock Hotel Pattaya
Pattaya was my next stop, Known for its beautiful temples (wink wink) and beach activities. I chose to stay in the legendary Hard rock Hotel with breakfast lunch and dinner included. Best deal in my whole trip. I got 81% off at INR 3738 ($ 52) for full board rooms.
Siem Reap – HARI residence & Spa
A great hotel located in the central Siem Reap area overlooking the city. Good breakfast and awesome gym which I never used. Booked at 85% off at just INR 2477 ($ 35).
Singapore – Furama City centre hotel
I expected Singapore to be the most expensive city for me. But at least, hotel wise it was not as expensive. I got a whopping 90% off deal on a 4-star property in Singapore and was voted one of the best hotels in Singapore in 2019. I paid just INR 3541($ 50).
So here is the breakdown of my entire hotel and accommodation cost. I have made a comparison between normal and coronavirus pricing.
So I paid a total of just INR 78,230 ($ 1093) for 20 days of 4 or 5-star accommodations in Asia. Normal pricing for the same would have cost me INR 2.03 Lakhs ($2846)
Activities were cheaper to do in Asia due to the lack of tourists during coronavirus.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many tourists are cancelling their trips and quarantining them at homes. Everyone knows that you should buy when the market is weak. But I realised how much of a bargain I could get once I landed in Malaysia.
Kuala Lumpur – Food markets were almost empty, I was able to shop at bargain prices at Bukit Bintang. Especially the pub street with happy hours throughout the day.
Langkawi – I was able to hire a local boat for an island hopping tour at just INR 1000 ($14 ), Panoramic skycabs all for myself and tourist souvenirs at just INR 200 ($10).
Bangkok – Local tuk-tuks were friendly for a change and I could hire one at fair prices throughout my trip. No one was haggling me and massages at just INR 100 ($2).
Pattaya – Water activities were a bargain this time around where I was able to rent out a JetSki boat at just INR 1000 ($14). Foot massages at just INR 100 ($2).
Siem Reap – The quiet and happy hours throughout the day. Pizzas at just INR 150 ($3)
And so on, Everything was cheaper or I could upgrade at cost prices.
Schools declared holidays & exams postponed due to coronavirus
Being a dad, I was freed from my daily duties of picking up my daughter from school when the government decided to give her indefinite holidays, also her exams were cancelled and I did not want to stand in her way for unlimited TV time!!. I was tempted to take her with me but decided against it when the family would not agree with me.
Enjoy the peace and Quiet with Very Few Tourists
WHO has suggested that we maintain at least 1 m distance from each other and avoid contact. This was not difficult to do when there is hardly anyone at the airports and tourist spots.
Most of my flights, I had a full row for myself & in the ones that did not, it was not hard to switch seats after the flight took off. I refrained from ordering anything from the inflight menu though.
This article perfectly sums up what I had seen during my trips, the before-after pics are a stark contrast during tourist seasons with usually packed tourist spots like Angkor Wat being so empty and you could enjoy it without bumping into each other and get amazing pics.
In Kuala Lumpur, I found that most streets were empty with just locals moving around and I could get a seat in the usually busy pub streets of Bukit Bintang quite easily. I do not remember even one place where I had to stand in a queue and got through most of them within 5 minutes.
In Langkawi, I almost had the whole beach for myself. There was more than 1 m distance from anyone and I had a peaceful stay which I doubt I can ever experience if ever I take the same trip again.
Angkor Wat was empty too with just a few tourists here and there. I would walk at my place and explore without bumping into other fellow tourists.
Overall I had a quiet & peaceful trip during coronavirus which was one of the reasons I chose to travel during coronavirus. I hate the touristy vibes and got to see Asia at it’s best.
Is it safe to take a trip during coronavirus?
No. Especially if you are struggling with ailments & respiratory issues in the past. I am a healthy 31-year-old and according to the statistics I was at a lower risk than many others so there was a minimal risk even if I brought it back home. Also, my daughter is just 5 years old and she was under lower risk than others. According to the statistics
Another important reason I chose to travel was that there were no 40+-year-olds that live with me. So I was not putting old sick ones at risk.
I took all the precautions as recommended by WHO & much more which I will list in the below section.
25 Precautions I took while backpacking during Coronavirus outbreak
I took all the precautions as recommended by WHO & much more which I will list in the below section. When even astronauts in the space station as taking precautions against COVID-19, you need to take it very seriously
Get the best travel Insurance I could including flight cancellation, trip cancellation.
This is a very important step for both your health and peace of mind. Many countries are now closing their borders and going into self-quarantine mode if at any point I need to extend my stay and cancel my flight & accommodations I need to get the best insurance possible. I paid around INR 5000($70) for all-inclusive travel insurance, this was the only thing for which I overpaid in my trip since the usual pricing is just around INR 1000($14).
Picked hotels which are known to have good reviews of clean rooms.
You do not want to check in to a room which was not thoroughly cleaned & the hotel maintains a certain standard in cleanliness. While I was looking for accommodations, I read all the reviews and only booked hotels which had ratings of 8 & above for cleanliness. Many governments such as Singapore have now launched SG Clean Campaign which certifies hotels of being cleaned during coronavirus are now subsidising hotel cleaning.
Get a fair understanding of all the travel visa’s validity and your maximum stay period.
If at any point I had to stay back in any country I needed to ensure that I had enough time to leave the country. So instead of getting a Malaysia eNTRI visa which has a maximum stay period of 14 days, I applied for Malaysia Multiple entry eVISA which gave me 30+ days of stay.
All the countries I visited gave me at least 30 days of stay so I need not worry in case I had to be quarantined.
Avoided touching rail bars, pillars & door knobs, took escalators without leaning on the support
We are always on the habit of holding onto rails, or generally touching everywhere. I made a conscious effort to avoid this by keeping my hand in my pockets. Also while opening the doors of washrooms, I pushed the door at the top to enter and waited for someone to open the door to exit. But sometimes it is unavoidable.
Most of the precautions involve better hygiene that would be recommended even if there was no epidemic.
Got some flu shots before I travelled
Before I travelled I visited a local doctor and got all the vaccines and flu shots which he recommended. I have been vaccinated as a child but just in case my immune systems are not up to date, they are now
Carry Flu Medication
I did carry a mini medi-kit with all the possible medicines I would need including multivitamins & antibiotics. Of course, there are check-in restrictions so visit the airline website to get an understanding of the same.
Took Bath Every Day After I Reach My Room
I hit the shower every day once I reached my room after my trip. The added advantage was I slept like a baby fully recharged for the next day.
Avoid wearing the same clothes for consecutive days
I made it a point to wear new clothes every day I travelled. All the clothes of the previous day were basking in the sun on my balcony. Whenever I was running short of clothes, I brought some cheap ones on the street but never wore the same ones every day.
Dried out the clothes worn the previous day in the sun
As mentioned above. a couple of time it did rain though so have a look at the weather that day.
Carried Hand Sanitiser with me at all times
I sanitised my hand as often as I remembered. Whenever I entered a building or had an interaction I used the sanitiser, even though for my own peace.
No handing out my phone to others to capture my pic.
Since I was travelling alone, I would have usually handed my phone to fellow tourist to click a pic of myself, for memories. But this time I refrained from doing this and invested in a selfie stick. Also, the other person may not be comfortable in having an interaction with you so you can avoid the awkwardness for them as well.
Applied sanitizer after using ticketing machines, lifts and handling of money.
Many times I operated the lift with the end of my shirt sleeves. Or often used sanitizers.
Used my travel card to pay & avoided cash exchanges.
I heard that the germ could live longer on currency notes. So as often as possible I paid with my travel card and refused to take customer copies.
Carried wet wipes to wipe my phone & laptop after use
I had to get some work done often so once I was done, I always cleaned my phone and laptops like a criminal using wet wipes.
Wore a face mask in crowded places
This is a given and I was surprised with how many people were using them especially in South East Asia. It reminded me of my own country which I feel was taking this rather lightly.
Avoided touching myself (yes)
I avoided touching my eyes and nose as often as I could. I also avoided other contacts.
Know the address of the embassy in all the cities
I made it a point to have the contact information of the Indian embassy in all the cities that I visited. In case of an emergency, this could come in handy in letting your family know. I advise you to follow this on most of your trips.
Avoid crowded areas if possible
I avoided overcrowded food and shopping streets. This was especially difficult since SEA is known for its amazing food streets. Instead, I took seated restaurants or in general less crowded places. Smoking rooms are another example with people coughing and spewing all over the place. Gross.
Take a shower once I was back home before interacting with anyone
I was missing my family by the time I was done with the trip. But the first thing I did was take a shower before a hug.
Pick items which are at the end of the shelf in duty-free shops.
While shopping at the airport, I picked the items which were behind on the shelves since they had fewer fingerprints. A bit paranoid maybe, but being cautious never hurts, especially with the number of people who flock these duty-free shops.
Call your family every day
It may be your trip and you are having a great time. But make it a point that you speak to your family every day and give that confidence that everything is fine with you. They are more worried about you back home and each time there are more cases, they tend to panic.
Wear sunglasses when outside
It is clear that coronavirus can spread when you rub your eyes. So I decided to carry my glasses with me so that I would not instinctively rub my eyes and have some time to think. And it was sunny out there too.
Kept hands in my pocket to avoid instincts
Clear enough. Walk like you are in the mob.
Keep all my luggage out in the sun for some time before bringing them in
Once I was back home in Bangalore, I kept all my luggage and shoes and baked it in the sun. Took out all my clothes and put them straight into the washing machine. Just to ensure I was not carrying anything back home.
Wash my hands once I landed in any airport
Once I landed in any airport, I immediately washed my hands and face. And it was good to see many of my fellow travellers were doing the same, taking all the precautions to ensure that we do not harm ourselves and those around us.
Are passengers being checked at the Airport for coronavirus symptoms?
Yes. there are temperature checks as well as thermal cameras monitoring all the travellers as they pass the gates & passengers were also not allowed to leave the gates once they enter them to limit the number of passengers at a particular gate. If you have to use the restroom or go out for a smoke, you need to hand over your boarding pass to the flight crew and you will be given a placard. Once you are back you can have your boarding pass.
Also, many hotels that I stayed were taking temperature readings of all the guests before letting you into the guest lobby. It is good to see the whole industry taking the whole issue seriously.
If you have some questions and would like to reach out to me then drop me an email at [email protected]