PATTAYA — His journey began like any other traveler who arrived in Thailand amid the coronavirus pandemic. Dunyawit Phadungsaeng landed at Suvarnabhumi, got on the bus headed to a quarantine hotel, and probably felt even a little excitement.
But the experience at Ambassador City Jomtien Hotel soon took a nightmarish turn – Dunyawit would later call it “the worst 14 days of my life.” In the order of inconvenience, his stay reportedly included a Wi-Fi network that didn’t reach his room, a bed sheet with suspicious black spots, water dripping down from the ceiling, armies of cockroaches, and even bugs inside his food.
And that may not even be the end of it – the hotel management is threatening to take unspecified legal action after Dunyawit’s reviews of his ordeal went viral on social media.
“All individuals should cease and desist all actions that damage the Ambassador City Jomtien and violate the laws,” the hotel said in an online statement. “Or else, the Ambassador City Jomtien will be forced to pursue criminal cases to the fullest extent.”
The statement did not mention Dunyawit or any individual by name, but said it would report the wrongdoers to the police for “spreading false information on Facebook to damage the Ambassador City Jomtien’s reputation.”
Travelers to Thailand, whether they are foreigners or Thai nationals, must agree to spend 14 days in isolation at the state quarantine (SQ) or alternative state quarantine (ASQ). The former is free and only available to Thai citizens, while the latter is more luxurious in general and comes with a costly bill to match.
When Dunyawit flew from San Francisco to Bangkok on Jan. 28, he chose to try his luck with the state quarantine. Writing in his post, Dunyawit said he wasn’t worried too much; Ambassador City Jomtien was a reputable hotel, and he’s read that many travelers enjoyed the SQ experience to a certain degree.
To his mild annoyance, the discomfort started to creep in. The Wi-Fi network was non-existent. The TV in the bedroom was too ancient to use Netflix. The bathroom door shows signs of disrepair.
The rest escalated in a flash.
Water leaked from the ceiling. Spots of fungi were found on bed sheets. Hordes of cockroaches and mosquitoes invaded his room. When he complained, Dunyawit said, the hotel told him to buy his own broom and insect spray.
“Breathing in the fumes right now. Let’s see whether the cockroaches or the quarantine resident dies first,” Dunyawit wrote on his Facebook.
But all Thais forget half their grudges at mealtime. Unfortunately for Dunyawit, his meals did little to soothe his misery.
“Every day, we ate stinky fish. Many people tossed it and opted for Mama instant noodles. There were so many scales, no matter if it was stir-fry or tom yum. You needed to spit out the scales while you chewed. It was filthy, sometimes raw,” he wrote in the review. “I want to puke just thinking of it.”
If he needed to wash away the taste, he could only drink from the two free water bottles given a day, or buy one for 30 baht each from the housemaid via Line chat. A “coffee” was a cup with a pack of instant coffee, priced at 65 baht – water not included.
A 129 baht somtum came with two lumps of alum, an empty salt packet was pasted to his breakfast sausage, and his panang curry came cooked with flour beetles. Worms were found inside salad leaves.
Almost at his wit’s end, Dunyawit called the local health department and said, “Please, save my life!” The officers arrived and had a chat with the chef, who said he would improve.
Yet on the last day of his hell, Dunyawit found half a cockroach in his stir-fried macaroni.
“I prayed that it was a piece of egg or spring onion, or any spice. But looking closely, it was my nightmare,” he wrote. “Puke rocketed out of me. I cried, shaking all over. For hours, I cried and puked in turns.”
He scrawled, “I found a cockroach leg in my food,” on the hotel stationery and left it outside the door.
“I literally wept. I can tell you, as a man, I wept,” Dunyawit wrote in the closing portion of his reviews.
Paying for an alternative state quarantine can cost tens of thousands of baht, but he said he would have done that, in hindsight. “I regret not paying for my quarantine. It’s one of the biggest mistakes of my life,” he wrote.
Defense Ministry Enters the Chat
As of publication time, his scathing review of the “worst 14 days” of Dunyawit’s life has been shared nearly 30,000 times.
The post remains up despite the hotel management’s vague threat to sue. The hotel did not mention what charge they would pursue, but some businesses and influential people routinely use the defamation law to silence negative comments directed against them.
In September, an American expat spent two nights in police jail after he was charged with libel for writing harsh reviews of a resort on Koh Chang on the TripAdvisor. The charge was later withdrawn, but TripAdvisor added an unprecedented disclaimer on the hotel’s account to warn other users about the incident.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Tanee Saengrat said his agency is aware of the complaints and will pass them along to the defense ministry, one of the authorities who run state quarantine operations across the country.
But in a confounding move, the Ministry of Defense appeared to defend Ambassador City Jomtien on Wednesday. Speaking to reporters, ministry spokesman Kongcheep Tantravanich urged Dunyawit to “have some sympathy” for the hotel.
“You cannot expect it to function like a normal hotel since people are in their room for 24 hours for 14 days,” Lt. Gen. Kongcheep said.
“As for the food, it is in accordance with the standards of quality, portion size, and hygiene,” he said.
Calls to the Ambassador City Jomtien management for comments were unsuccessful. An employee said by phone that the hotel is now closed, and none of the managers were present.
The employee also said the hotel has withdrawn from the state quarantine program since Feb. 12 – possibly to the sigh of relief from so many future travelers.