You know everyone’s favourite covid phrase “hopefully soon”? Use it here. Then smile, and stare with hope, patience and beady-eyed determination at the near future. Soon is coming. Read on to see what’s new in Thai travel regulations, what’s changed … and how to swap quarantine for a Phuket sandbox.
June/July Thailand Travel Updates
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Hotel photos: credit Booking.com | top photo: TrisaraSubscribe to updates
Updates to previous posts
14-Day Alternative State Quarantine (ASQ)
For a brief moment, Alternative State Quarantine (ASQ) periods were reduced from 14 days to 7 days if fully vaccinated and 10 days for most other travellers (excluding many African countries). With the rise of the Delta variant and a third/fourth wave ongoing in Thailand, this has been reversed.
ASQ is now 14 days for everyone (both Thai and foreign) who comes to Thailand and either has to, or chooses to, stay in ASQ rather than the new Phuket Sandbox option (keep reading – it’s detailed below). Additionally, “Outside Leisure Time” has been stopped for ASQ
inmates guests so you’ll have to make your own entertainment for all 14 days within your room. Were you feeling nostalgic for March 2020? ASQ awaits, with three mandatory covid tests per stay.
- The 70 Best Alternative State Quarantine (ASQ) Hotels in Thailand
- Agoda ASQ quarantine packages
- ‘ASQ Paradise’ ASQ packages
Golf Quarantine has been cancelled until further notice. No word on Yacht Quarantine, though the requirement to supply your own Bezos-style mega yacht may have limited its subscribers.
Many Thai hotels in major tourist hubs remain “moth-balled” or shut to guests while major refurbishments take place during this understandably quiet period. Just 38% of Thai hotels continue regular operations and, in June, nationwide occupancy was 6%. If you’re desperate to travel, my best suggestion is to start window-shopping for 2022. Those that have been closed to tackle maintenance projects will be so excited to welcome you back – truly better than ever. I’ll have plenty of suggestions and updates on the way in due course (join my email list to get them all).
June 2021 – Covid update
Vaccination in Thailand
As of today, 2.6% of the Thai population has been fully vaccinated. The other 97.4%, which includes many expats, wait in the “Hopefully Soon” bracket. (@RichardBarrow has the latest from various embassies on their plans to vaccinate expats – or not). The Bangkok Post reports that covid hospital beds in Bangkok are full or nearly full so … let’s hope these vaccines get going.
Much of this 2.6% (1.8 mililion people) has been vaccinated with Sinovac so … we watch and wait from a distance of your choosing. Japan just announced that it will donate an unspecified number of AstraZeneca vaccines to Thailand, likely in July. Meanwhile domestically produced AstraZeneca is coming … hopefully soon.
Case numbers and variants
After months of successful containment, parts of Thailand have been experiencing waves of higher infection since April, ongoing today. Today (June 22), there were just over 4,000 new cases nationwide with approximately 35,000 people currently receiving medical treatment. While the majority of tested cases (88%) were the Alpha variant (what no one calls “good old regular covid”), the Delta variant was reported in 400 Bangkok cases as of last week.
Yellow, orange and red zones
Thailand’s covid strategy is divided by provinces into five zones (only four are currently in use), depending on the severity of a province’s covid case numbers. Rules and restrictions vary by zone, though many are nation-wide.
Bangkok: Dark Red Zone (Maximum and Strict Control)
Chiang Mai: Yellow Zone (High Surveillance Area)
Koh Samui (Surat Thani): Yellow Zone (High Surveillance Area)
Pattaya (Chon Buri): Red Zone (Maximum Controlled Area)
Phuket / Krabi: Yellow Zone (High Surveillance Area)
A Green Zone (Surveillance Area) exists on paper, but it hasn’t been assigned to any lucky provinces yet.
Domestic travel between zones
Currently, if you want to travel from a red/dark red zone to a yellow zone (e.g. from Bangkok to Koh Samui), you must quarantine (at home or a hotel of your choosing) for 14 days, with daily reporting by phone.
Domestic (inter-province) quarantine is not required if:
(A) you’re fully vaccinated and have proof of such and/or;
(B) you’ve received a negative covid test (RT-PCR) within 72 hours of arrival to the destination province. Elective covid tests are approximately THB 2,500 to THB 4,000 (US$80 to $125) and can be arranged at Bangkok hospitals.
Current rules and restrictions
Mandatory masks (nationwide)
Masks remain mandatory and must be worn in any public place (even outside) as soon as you leave your house or accommodation. Fines are steep (as this guy will tell you).
Alcohol, pubs and bars (nationwide)
Pubs and bars remain closed nationwide, including karaoke. Also – read this twice – no alcohol sales or consumption is allowed in restaurants (except restaurants at SHA Plus hotels – explained below – which can serve alcohol to guests. I think.). As Bangkok’s April outbreak and subsequent third wave began in nightclubs, this regulation is expected to remain in place for awhile, at least through July.
Restaurant restrictions vary depending on the zone.
- Yellow Zones (e.g. Samui, Phuket): Business as normal* – normal hours and inside dining is allowed (except alcohol cannot be served … unless – maybe – it’s a SHA Plus hotel).
- Orange Zones: Inside dining allowed.
- Red Zones: Inside dining allowed until 11pm.
- Dark Red Zones (e.g. Bangkok): Inside dining allowed until 11pm but only at 50% capacity in air-conditioned spaces.
*’New’ normal – Note that in areas that relied primarily on tourists (e.g. Koh Samui, Phuket), many restaurants are closed (either permanently or moth-balled temporarily to save expenses). You won’t starve – there’s still plenty of choice and wonderful delivery options if quarantining, but expect fewer choices and a generally quiet island.
New and upcoming travel options
July 1: “Phuket Sandbox”
July 15: “Samui Plus” (Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Koh Tao)
October (maybe?): Krabi, Phang Nga, Pattaya, Chiang Mai and Buri Ram hope to re-open, then Bangkok – provided they have reached a 70% vaccination rate.
Both “Phuket Sandbox” and “Samui Plus” are the first phase of Thailand’s reopening to fully vaccinated international tourists without quarantine. But let’s get to everyone’s favourite part of tropical travel: the fine print, the paperwork, the forms and certificates…
Phuket Sandbox (July 1)
As of June 22, the Phuket Sandbox plan was approved by the Thai Cabinet and will be signed-and-sealed as official once published in The Royal Gazette. However, as with anything/everything covid – it could all change with little notice depending on case numbers. As we’ve seen with ASQ duration, golf quarantine and other best-laid plans, things change.
This sandbox scheme will be paused if there are 90 new covid cases in a week on Phuket (for reference, this week had 5). If you want to play in the sandbox, please triple-check that any reservations can be refunded and/or rearranged.
Also – note that an estimated 75% of Phuket tourist businesses are currently shut. This is phase one of “bushwhacking our way towards to the Future Times” – it’s not normal (yet). My suggestion is that the sandbox model will suit (A) anyone who has to be in Thailand and prefers going outside to 14 days of ASQ and (B) holiday-makers who will enjoy two weeks of laziness within a resort … but can deal with last-minute changes if necessary. (If that’s not you – no worries – let’s plan for next year).
Who is eligible to come
Fully vaccinated visitors from low- and medium-risk countries.
- Your vaccine is WHO-approved (for example Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Sinovac, etc)
- You had the final dose of your vaccine at least 14 days ago
- You’re flying from a low- or medium-risk country (see below)
- You’ve been in that country at least 21 days (if you’re not resident there)
Low- and medium-risk countries include: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Sweden, UAE, UK, USA
High-risk (excluded) countries currently include: India, Japan, Malaysia, Netherlands, Philippines, South Africa
For the current lists of low-, medium- and high-risk countries, see this website and click on the latest PDF. It’s in Thai but Google Translate will get you there. The last page of the PDF is divided into three columns and reads low- to high-risk from left to right.
Is it that simple? Nope. Take the UK, for instance. Thailand’s on its Amber List: “You should not travel to amber list countries or territories.”
Children: Under 12s don’t need to be vaccinated. Kids ages 6-18 will be required to have Rapid Antigen Test on arrival at Phuket Airport (at extra cost, typically THB2,500-4,000). Children under 6 are allowed if travelling with fully vaccinated parents.
How to get to Phuket
Air France, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, El Al, Emirates, Etihad, Qatar, Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways will all offer international flights to Phuket. Singapore Airlines will offer seven flights per week while Thai will fly from six European hubs. If you want to be on a plane, you’ve definitely got options (but do note that you need to have been in your flight’s origin country for at least 21 days if you’re not a resident of that country).
Where to stay
You may have previously read about Thailand’s Safety and Health Administration certification (aka ‘SHA’, denoted with a circular blue badge). SHA Plus is the new standard, available to establishments with a ≥70% staff vaccination rate (and other rigorous safety and cleaning protocols). All Phuket Sandbox hotels must have SHA Plus certification.
You have hundreds of choices for SHA Plus Phuket Sandbox hotels, at all price points. Many include villa options with private pools as well as family accommodation with bunks, etc.
Top 10 Phuket Sandbox SHA Plus Hotels
- Anantara Mai Khao Phuket Villas
- Babylon Pool Villas
- Hotel Indigo Phuket
- Island Escape by Burasari
- The Naka Island
- SALA Phuket Mai Khao Beach Resort
- The Shore At Katathani – Adult Only
- Twinpalms Phuket
How to book your Phuket Sandbox hotel?
Booking is possible through any ‘normal’ way you’d book a hotel – e.g. Booking.com, or a similar site. You must note in your reservation that it’s a “Phuket Sandbox” booking. You’ll then receive a “SHABA” booking confirmation, which you’ll need to get your Certificate of Entry (COE).
For an idea of price ranges, 14 nights (double occupancy) start at ฿9,450 (US$300) for a standard double bed room up to ฿373,490 (US$11,800) for an big ocean-view pool villa (240m²/2600ft²). Some rates include taxes, daily breakfast and airport transfer but exclude other food and drink – check the fine-print of each listing.
Note that your airport transfer must be with a SHA Plus certified transport company, so it’ll likely be easier to book this directly through your hotel.
Length of stay and other options
Also note that, if you just want to travel to Phuket and then return home, you don’t have to stay 14 days. So there’s the buried lede – a one-week, quarantine-free Thai vacation IS possible as of July 1.
More options? As long as you’ve made your reservations before arriving in Thailand, you can change from one Phuket SHA Plus hotel to another after seven days.
How long is it? Can you leave Phuket?
You! Have! Options!
If you just want to come to Phuket
You can stay fewer than 14 days if you only visit Phuket and then take an international flight leaving Thailand from Phuket Airport. (You might have to quarantine when you return to wherever you came from … but that’s your problem). To reiterate – this does make a one-week Thailand vacation possible as of July 1.
If you want to travel elsewhere in Thailand
Putting the “box” in “sandbox”, you’ll need to stay in a Phuket SHA Plus hotel for at least 14 days before you’re eligible to travel elsewhere in Thailand. It’s likely there will be restrictions (tracking apps? wristbands?) and/or penalties to deter any rule-breaking but these haven’t yet been announced.
Entry requirements and paperwork
1. Get travel insurance with COVID-19 coverage (minimum coverage of US$100,000)
2. Determine if you need a tourist visa. Many countries are eligible for a 45-day stay without a visa (including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Singapore, UAE, United Kingdom, U.S.) – see the full list. Otherwise, you’ll need to apply for a tourist visa at your local Thai embassy or consulate. Recall that, if you want to come to Thailand with the Phuket Sandbox scheme your country needs to be low- or medium-risk. Otherwise you’ll need to come through ASQ in Bangkok.
3. Get your Certificate of Entry (COE)
4. Book your flight (see details above for Phuket Sandbox flights and 21-day stay requirement for non-residents of the departure country)
5. Book your ASQ or Phuket Sandbox Hotel. ASQ hotels must be booked through an official channel (linked above), whereas Phuket Sandbox hotels can be booked via Booking.com or similar.
6. Get a negative covid test (72 hours before departure)
7. Fly to Thailand, present all the above paperwork (and fill out a little bit more)
8. Complete 14 days’ stay at a SHA Plus Phuket Sandbox hotel (OR Bangkok ASQ) in order to travel elsewhere in Thailand. If you’re fully vaccinated, you won’t need to quarantine inter-provincially.
Then what happens? What do you do?
Once you’ve arrived in Phuket and your arrival covid test is negative, you’re welcome to travel around the island like you’re having a real live vacation. The only two stipulations are mandatory mask-wearing at all times outside your hotel room and staying in SHA+ Sandbox hotels.
(Polite reminder that all bars and pubs are shut nationwide, and that many typical tourist businesses are closed on both Phuket and Samui. My suggestion is to choose a resort or two that you’ll love and bring a big stack of books).
Between now and July 1
A lot of vaccinations need to happen. Approximately 30% of Phuket is fully vaccinated (62% have their first dose). The aim is to get to 70% by July 1.
Samui Plus (July 15)
As with the Phuket Sandbox, the “Samui Plus” scheme will be available to fully vaccinated foreign visitors from low- or medium-risk countries (described above).
You’ve perhaps read of early drafts of the plan, variously called “Samui Sealed” or “Safe and Sealed”. It’s been in at least five of my blog posts in the last year, usually along the lines of “here’s a thing that might happen but probably won’t so hold on, eat more carbs and pray to Pfizer”. Sixteen months later … a possible path back to Samui is nearly (maybe) here.
Note: Samui Plus has been approved by Thailand’s Cabinet but has not yet appeared in the Royal Gazette so it remains one step from being signed/sealed/delivered. The scheme covers Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao.
How does Samui Plus differ from Phuket Sandbox?
Whereas Phuket Sandbox affords you playtime (and free will) across the whole island, Samui Plus is more cautious.
Thailand entry requirements and pre-arrival paperwork is the same – see details above
Days 1, 2 and 3: You must stay on the property of your Alternative Local State Quarantine (ALSQ) hotel (you can leave your hotel room but not the hotel itself). No idea how this is enforced. As Samui is currently a Yellow Zone, dining is available as usual, though hotel bars might be shut.
Days 4, 5, 6 and 7: You can go to “specified routes and destinations” on the island. No details available so far, but will probably include a
Days 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14: You can go to Koh Phangan and Koh Tao (or stay on Samui and work your way through The Koh Samui Guide).
Day 15: You’re allowed to travel elsewhere in Thailand (again, you’re fully vaccinated to qualify for Samui Plus so you won’t need to quarantine if travelling to another province).
Which hotels will be eligible for Samui Plus?
… No actual details yet … but the following hotels currently have SHA Plus certification:
Fair House Beach Resort
Banana Fan Sea
That’s all I know so far! Stay tuned. (Join my email list to get all future updates).
Then what happens? October?
The big goal from Thai government and tourism is that “normal” resumes in October: quarantine-free Thailand travel available to fully vaccinated people.
For a destination (like Bangkok or Hua Hin) to reopen in October, it should have 70% of its population vaccinated and 20-30 (or fewer) new covid infections per day. Everything depends on the vaccine rollout picking up some serious speed in order to get a first dose to 42 million more people.
Crossing fingers that the Phuket Sandbox offers those interested – on both the traveller and supplier sides – what they want. Me? No plans to travel yet, but I’m excited to offer you lots of ideas for “hopefully soon”. Stay tuned.Subscribe to updates
Resources and Further Reading
- Airports of Thailand president says tourism won’t pick back up until October
- CCSA: Bars to stay closed for now, drunk customers risk the spread of Covid-19
- ‘Devastated’ Phuket in race to vaccinate 70% of islanders in time for holiday season
- Hotel occupancy, Phuket beaches hit with tar balls
- Japan to donate AstraZeneca vaccines to Thailand
- Monday Covid Update: 3,175 new cases and 29 deaths
- Officials predict 600,000 tourists to Phuket following reopening
- Proposed start date now July 15 for “Samui Plus” reopening
- Refinements to the Sandbox as the countdown continues to Thailand’s reopening
- Reopening details for Phuket, Samui and beyond laid out
- Samui joins reopening queue
- Sandbox latest, CCSA says all regions reopening must reach 70% local vaccination
- Thai tourism set for sluggish reboot as Phuket stutters on ‘sandbox’
- Thailand COVID-19 Situation as of 22 June, 2021, 12.30 Hrs
- Thailand further relaxes COVID-19 measures from 21 June 2021
- Thailand postpones ‘Golf Quarantine’ until COVID-19 situation improves
- Third wave of Covid-19 devastates Thai hotel industry – May/June only 6% occupancy
- Twitter – Richard Barrow