RIYADH: Two Thai pilgrims performing Hajj for the first time have expressed their joy at arriving in Saudi Arabia after not being able to do so due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Hajj is the opportunity of a lifetime for me. I couldn’t hold back my tears when I first saw the Kaaba. If I am able to perform Hajj after this period, I intend to perform Umrah every year, God willing. Hajj means everything to me,” Arong Samae told Arab News.
Samae from Narathiwat province in southern Thailand is a businessman who is undertaking the pilgrimage with his wife this year.
“I take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks to the government of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques for their tremendous efforts through which Muslims can visit the city of the Prophet (Madinah) and Makkah again, and I pray to Almighty God to grant- him more prosperity and progress,” Samae said.
The native of Narathiwat province flew from southern Thailand directly to Medina airport. He arrived in Saudi Arabia on June 11 and left for Mecca on June 17.
“I never encountered any difficulties; everything is organized and easy. The Thai Hajj Company provides everything from start to finish, and the Thai government also provides support and facilities at all stages,” Samae said.
“The trip took about eight hours by charter flight, and I did not expect these facilities, because I heard that the pilgrimage trip is tiring and long, starting with car transfers to the capital, then waiting for the flight for two or three days,” he said.
Samae was surprised how fast and seamless the process was: “Thank God everything (was) easy…Less than 12 hours…and I was in Saudi Arabia, thank God,” did he declare.
“I prayed to God that one day I would arrive in Saudi Arabia. I also thank everyone who serves the pilgrims, whether they come from Thailand or Saudi Arabia,” he said.
He said he wanted to perform Hajj two years ago but was unable to do so due to COVID-19 restrictions. The pandemic had “changed everything” they wanted to do, he said.
Mamu Kayah, 58, from Thailand, is performing Hajj with his wife this year. He is an Arabic teacher at the high school in Yala, a city in the south of the country.
“I am very happy to have this opportunity, and I thank God for it day and night. And I am absolutely certain that every Muslim who has come to this pure land shares this feeling with me,” Kayah said.
He told Arab News it was his third time performing Hajj.
“We are very lucky to have a direct flight from the far south of Thailand, Narathiwat state, which is only about 100 kilometers from my home,” he said.
“The Thai Hajj Society and the Thai Hajj Mission have done their duty well; everything is organized and tidy, especially with the presence of electronic platforms which greatly contribute to facilitating the process from the first day until boarding the plane for Medina,” he said.
Kayah took an eight-hour direct flight from Narathiwat to Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz International Airport in Medina. He thanked the Kingdom and Thailand for providing these routes for pilgrims.
“I heard that arranging the charter plane was not easy, and it can only be done with the great efforts of the two countries, Thailand and Saudi Arabia,” he said. he declares.
Kayah and his wife arrived in Medina on June 12, traveled to Makkah on June 18 and will return to their home country on July 20.
“You could say that this year’s Hajj is very special and completely different from my previous experience,” he said.
“For example, from getting off the plane at Medina airport to arriving at the hotel, the process only took an hour. Every step is quick and orderly, starting with passport procedures, taking luggage, getting on the bus,” Kayah added.
He added that Saudi and Thai employees were available everywhere to help. “Above all, the welcome from the relevant Saudi authority has been very wonderful; we felt like one of the VIPs,” he said.
It was a moving experience for him. “An indescribable pleasure, especially for someone my age. I always cry when I stand in front of the Prophet’s Mosque and the Holy Kaaba, crying with joy, of course, and all thanks to Almighty God,” he said.
“The only issue that worries me and everyone else is the high price of everything; in any case, we understand very well that this thing is not in our hands, so that not only have the costs of Hajj increased but in everything and everywhere in the world. Other than that, there are no difficulties,” he said.
Thailand has a post-pandemic quota of 5,885 pilgrims, according to the Thai Embassy in Jeddah, of whom 3,738 have registered to do so. Before the COVID-19 restrictions, Thailand had a quota of 13,000. In 2018 and 2019, a total of 7,851 and 8,462 pilgrims respectively performed the Hajj.
As of June 20, 1,120 pilgrims have arrived in Medina on Thai Airways charter flights. Four flights arrived in the Kingdom from June 10 to 13. The other 2,618 pilgrims will travel on eight flights from June 29 to Jeddah, including five via Thai Airways and three with Saudi Airlines.
As the first groups of pilgrims arrived in Mecca and Medina on Sunday, Basri Tatif, the deputy head of Thai pilgrim affairs, praised the Kingdom for its organization and said his fellow citizens will be able to perform their rituals safely with all measures in place.