As I have covered my personal experiences of applying for the Certificate of Entry to Thailand, booking and transiting to Phuket from Europe on Singapore Airlines, and my arrival experience to the country, readers have asked me several times to write about my time and thoughts whether it is worth visiting Phuket and Thailand right now.
Let me start by saying that the experience in Phuket and Koh Samui is very different from my previous visits to the country. I will be in Bangkok next week when there is still a curfew in place from 9 PM until 4 AM.
Note that the entry requirements to Thailand can change with very little advance notice. For example, there are currently talks allowing direct non-quarantined arrivals to Bangkok without going through Sandbox first. Also, the time spent in the Sandbox may be lowered from 14 to 7 days.
What we have covered previously:
- Phuket Sandbox Arrival Experience
- Phuket Sandbox “Your registration/application for COE has been confirmed”
- Thailand Phuket Sandbox Application Completed
- Thailand Phuket Sandbox COE Amendment
- Singapore Transit Experience
Pros of getting to Thailand via Sandbox:
- Thailand continues to require 14-day quarantine in a hotel in Bangkok for those arriving from overseas regardless of their nationality or vaccination status.
- Many Thais and foreign residents of Thailand arrive in the country through one of the programs that allow them to roam free within a specified area before entering other parts.
- You are only not allowed to leave your accommodation until the test result from the airport arrives. Mine came in roughly five hours (perfect to have a nap). You are then allowed to continue your business as usual but need additional PCR-RT tests on days 6 and 12.
- Businesses that cater to locals are open, and some of those catering to tourists too.
- Hotel prices are very reasonable at the moment.
Cons of getting to Thailand via Sandbox:
- The COE documentation requirements are rather extensive for those that are not used to apply for various visas. I ended up with 10 documents.
- You will end up in a hospital for 14 days if you test positive in the first, second, or third tests.
- If one of your traveling companions’ tests positive or even a person who sits close to you in the airplane, but yours come back as negative, you will end up in a hospitel for two weeks and not allowed to leave your room. In addition, you are required to pay hospital or hospitel expenses.
- You must stay and prepay for SHA+ accommodation before arriving in Thailand, and you need a certificate number issued by the hotel for the COE application. Even if you happen to own property on the island, you must pay for and stay at the hotel.
- Hotels may be open, but not all the facilities are.
Phuket has seen roughly 35,000 arrivals through the Sandbox by now and Koh Samui less than a thousand. According to the TAT, there are approximately 5,000 people on the island via the sandbox scheme at any given time.
I rented the car and drove around the island a few times. The most lively area for visitors was Patong, and there was some life also around Rawai. Karon was utterly dead.
Jungceylon and Central on the other side of the road in Patong were closed. The Big C in Jungceylon was open, however.
The massive Central Festival Phuket and Central Phuket Floresta (next to each other with a walk bridge) were open, and most shops were functioning. However, some of the F&B outlets at these two malls were closed.
Remember that bars should still be closed, and none of the “restaurants” should be serving alcohol. However, you can buy some from the stores, and hotels can sell through in-room dining.
I was saddened that there were some “dining” establishments with gogo’s serving magical beverages openly in foam cups. Also, I am not sure what the patrons were drinking from the coffee cups at the Irish Pub?
I was contemplating how many times I have been in Thailand since my first visit in 1992, and it must be around 100. Bangkok has been my base in Asia, from where it is easy to transit to other countries and to spend few nights in the city.
It won’t hurt that most major airlines fly into the country, and airfares tend to be very competitive. Even during normal times, the hotels have an excellent price to quality ratio, and now they are 50% to 70% off.
If you are after the 2019 Thailand experience with lively nightlife and shops and tourist attractions open, now is not the right time to go. I would go to Brazil or Mexico instead. However, if you are after a quiet beach scene, it is the best time ever.
You have to give Thailand credit for opening the country to international tourists without locking them up in hotel rooms for 7 to 14 days. I quit adult beverages more than four years ago, so it is not personally essential for me to whether “bars” and restaurants can serve alcohol or not, but I understand that it is for many.
I would avoid crowds until you have tested negative on the last test. You can only imagine all the variants spreading at the former gogo bars that have become dining establishments. You will end up in a hospital if you test positive, even when asymptomatic, for two weeks, and anyone else traveling with you can enjoy a hospitel.
I got into a daily rhythm quite fast. I tended to start at the Starbucks in Patong early in the morning, have a break in the early afternoon, and later drive to the Central Festival/Floresta before wrapping up the day.
If you don’t intend to rent a car, I would choose to stay in the Patong area where there is at least something open within walking distance. Although taxi prices have come down a bit and you can now use Grab, they are still double/triple compared to the similar trips in Bangkok.
It is pretty telling that there wasn’t even a single plane on the ground in Phuket when I left for Koh Samui past Wednesday.