As of July 15th, the welcome mat is officially out for any eligible travellers who’d like four covid tests and plenty of paperwork to feature in their holiday. Or perhaps you’ve been waiting for a way to return to Thailand without 14 days’ hotel room quarantine. Settle in (no seriously, get a drink if not an entire bottle … there’s a lot of detail) for your step-by-step guide to Samui Plus (the slightly stricter sister programme to Phuket Sandbox). Enjoy and – as always – subscribe for updates as Thailand’s covid travel regulations continue to change and, hopefully sometime soon, return to normal.
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Hotel photos: credit Booking.com | top photo: The Lamai SamuiSubscribe to updates
Phuket Sandbox Updates
Phuket Sandbox? Start here
The Phuket Sandbox began on July 1 as a way to welcome fully vaccinated international travellers to the island as safely as possible. You can find all the details, including how to qualify and apply, with hotel recommendations here:
- Your Total Guide to the Phuket Sandbox
- The 45 Best Phuket Sandbox (SHA Plus+) Hotels
- Lonely Planet Thailand’s Islands & Beaches (Aug 2021)
After two weeks of the Phuket Sandbox – how’s it going?
So far, approximately four thousand people have arrived in Phuket, the majority of whom are foreigners – a mixture of tourists, expats and those with family links to Phuket. Of these four thousand, there have been
six – updated – ten positive covid cases and three jailbreaks. Yes, everyone’s favourite type of pandemic participant – three of them – found their way to Phuket and had places to be and people to see. Tracking and restrictions have been tightened as a result – no word on whether the naughty three were returned to their really nice SHA Plus+ sandbox hotels … or put in the stocks.
From Phuket Sandbox … into quarantine
In practice this means you decamp to an Alternative Local Quarantine (ALQ) hotel at no notice, at your own cost. Yep, straight back in time to spring 2020: four walls of a hotel room for 14 nights. Note as well that choice is limited for ALQ hotels – no promises you’ll love those four walls. On Phuket, ALQ options start at THB3400 per night (US$105 or £75) … times 14 nights … for somewhere you don’t want to be. Of those quarantined in one of the Phuket cases, 12 of the 13 have requested to leave Thailand and return home.
In sum, Phuket Sandbox is going well for 99.85% of its participants … minus the very unlucky few spending fourteen days inside a hotel they didn’t choose, following potential covid exposure from total strangers.
Meanwhile, Phuket schools have closed for the next two weeks as both Beta and Delta variants have been confirmed on the island. And it’s rainy season.
Vaccines in Thailand
Good news! Those that were fully or partially vaccinated with Sinovac, particularly medical and other frontline workers, will receive an AstraZeneca booster shot. Vaccine drives have been underway on Samui for the past few weeks and have begun in Bangkok as well. First shots are ongoing and second doses will hopefully begin in September. As mentioned, Japan has donated AstraZeneca doses and the U.S. has donated Pfizer supplies. It’s slow, but it’s happening.
July 2021 – Covid Update
While Phuket and Samui put out the welcome mat to overseas visitors, the covid situation is as dire as it has ever been in Bangkok and surrounding areas. Case numbers this week (over 90,000 active cases) are at an all-time high. Rather than a return to tourism, a new terminal at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport will be a temporary covid field hospital.
“There were 992 deaths in June, more than 15 times Thailand’s total for all of 2020.” – Associated Press
This week, Bangkok and its five surrounding provinces went into lockdown (or lockdown-lite). Restrictions include a nightly curfew (9 pm to 4 am), with shops, markets and public parks closed at 8 pm. Residents are allowed to grocery shop, attend a vaccine or doctor’s appointment but are otherwise asked to stay at home. Bars, clubs and other forms of “fun with fellow humans” remain closed nationwide.
In prior lockdowns, people left the city which led to countrywide spread. This week, 80 military checkpoints are in place to prevent people from leaving Bangkok for non-essential travel.
AirAsia has cancelled domestic flights through July. This won’t affect Samui Plus as those flights are sealed routes with Bangkok Airways (details follow below).
Your Total Guide to Samui Plus (July 15)
And on that note – let’s learn about Samui Plus. To understand the basic concept, start with your total guide to the Phuket Sandbox. Though the names differ, the two programmes are similar from application through to arrival. The specifics of the hotels vary slightly, explained below.
To reiterate your risks as a Samui Plus or Phuket Sandbox traveller: Even though you’re fully vaccinated and have tested negative before departure, you will still be hotel-quarantined (at your expense) if you’ve had contact with any positive cases. Even if it’s a guy somewhere on your flight who you didn’t even see. If you’re the positive case … you won’t like it one bit. Samui’s covid patient quarantine is not plush. Not. Plush.
Who is eligible for Samui Plus?
Countries: 69 countries are eligible for Samui Plus including Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, Sweden, UAE, UK, U.S. (Countries that Thailand deems low- and medium-risk). Note that while Thailand might list your country as eligible, the reverse might not be true. Japan, for instance, has just banned arrivals from Thailand owing to the current outbreak and Brits have their Amber List memorised – with Thailand front and centre.
Fully vaccinated: As with the Phuket sandbox, you must be fully vaccinated with a WHO-approved vaccine, for at least two weeks, and you must have been in your eligible departure country for at least 21 days. (See more eligibility details in my Phuket Sandbox guide).
To apply for either programme: https://coethailand.mfa.go.th/
How does Samui Plus work?
In practice, it’s the stricter sibling of Phuket Sandbox.
If you qualify, you apply for entry and prepare a thick stack of required paperwork (which must all be in English). This includes a Thai tourist visa (if required) and compulsory covid insurance.
You book a flight to Bangkok and, on the same ticket, a connecting flight to Samui with Bangkok Airways.
Covid tests before departure and on arrival.
Install not one but two tracking apps on your phone.
Once on Samui, you spend the first day in your hotel room awaiting your covid test results.
From then (if negative), days 1-3 within the hotel grounds.
Days 4, 5, 6 and 7 offer the chance to do some limited sightseeing with an approved tour or transport company.
Another covid test.
Day 8 (week 2), if negative, you’re allowed to change to a different hotel – here you get more hotel choices and can travel from Samui to Koh Phangan or Koh Tao if you choose.
Day 12 or 13? Another covid test.
After 14 nights you’re eligible to depart Samui and travel elsewhere in Thailand.
Otherwise, you can travel home – vacation thus vacationed.
How is Samui Plus different from Phuket Sandbox?
Many aspects are the same but Samui Plus is more strict.
Island travel: Phuket Sandbox gives visitors the freedom to travel around the island following a negative covid test on arrival. Samui Plus requires a three-day quarantine period within the hotel property and “sealed” sightseeing possible starting on day 4.
Hotel choices: Phuket Sandbox requires visitors to stay in SHA Plus+ hotels, which can be booked directly or through a reservations site like Booking.com. There’s a great selection, with options at all price points. Samui Plus requires 7 nights’ stay at an Alternative Local Quarantine hotel (aka a ‘Samui Extra Plus’ hotel or villa) which must be booked directly. On day 8, you can check into an SHA Plus+ hotel, booked through your preferred method – e.g. direct or Booking.com.
What can I not do on Samui with Samui Plus?
Let’s start with transport. You can’t rent a car or a scooter. Your only means of transport, when allowed to go places, is through approved transport and tour companies. Once four negative covid tests (before departure, on arrival, on day 6/7 and day 12/13) mean freedom, you’re asked to only dine at SHA Plus+ restaurants.
Note that countrywide covid restrictions mean that bars outside of hotels remain closed and that a majority of Samui’s tourist shops, services and businesses are currently closed (get totally up-to-date details in The Koh Samui Guide).
Want an island vacation right now? Choose two hotels you love and bring a stack of books. (Then choose your plane neighbours carefully – one dodgy choice could mean this is all for nought and you’re in hotel room quarantine for 14 days).
How to fly to Koh Samui for Samui Plus?
Whereas Phuket offers direct international flights, Samui Plus is served with Bangkok Airways connections from Bangkok. Only three daily flights (three in each direction) are available for Samui Plus and they’re supremely sealed from gate to gate:
From Bangkok to Koh Samui
10:05 depart BKK / 11:35 arrive USM (PG 5125)
14:35 depart BKK / 16:05 arrive USM (PG 5151)
17:10 depart BKK / 18:40 arrive USM (PG 5171)
From Koh Samui to Bangkok
12:15 depart USM / 13:45 arrive BKK (PG 5126)
16:45 depart USM / 18:15 arrive BKK (PG 5152)
19:20 depart USM / 20:50 arrive BKK (PG 5172)
To book your flights, it will probably be easier to use a travel agent as both your international flight into Bangkok and your Samui connection (on one of the three flights above) need to be issued on the same ticket. (Thai Airways offers an online booking option if you love internet-DIY).
Note that you’ll collect your bags in Samui and will see not one inch of Bangkok.
What’s the schedule for Samui Plus?
Note: Day 0 vs Day 1. If you arrive on Samui between midnight and 6 pm (on flights PG 5125 or 5151), that’s considered Day 1. If you arrive after 6 pm (PG 5171), that’s considered Day 0.
Day 0: Arrival and covid test
Arrive in Samui and receive cold lemongrass towels? No. How about a covid test. Go straight to your Samui Extra Plus hotel or villa (aka Alternative Local Quarantine) with approved transport (included with your booking) – no independent arrangements and no stops allowed. You’ll stay in your hotel room until the covid test results – for the sake of this example schedule, let’s assume it’s negative. (Once again: Not. Plush).
Days 1, 2 and 3: Hotel days
With a negative test result, you’re allowed to wander around your hotel and use its facilities. Do check in advance what’s open and available – photos of lavish buffets or extensive spa services might not represent current options. For reference, AVANI+ Samui offers floating yoga, guided meditation, kayaking and paddleboarding.
Days 4, 5, 6 and 7
Still covid-free? ‘Sealed activities’ are now available to you. A trip to Angthong Marine Park is likely as it’s an easily contained outing and perhaps visits to a small Samui Plus beach. If you love following a flag, this is your moment. Wherever you go, you’ll get there with an approved tour guide and/or transport company. Again, no car/scooter rentals and no ‘fun and flouncy’ independent island adventures until released on day 15. You can see Samui … but you can’t touch it. (That’s next week).
On day 6 or 7 you’ll have your penultimate covid test and a negative result here means you can change hotels on day 8: departing a limited range of ‘Samui Extra Plus’ (ALQ) hotels for the greater choices of SHA Plus+ hotels (see below for details).
Days 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14
In your second week of being certified covid-free, you can stay at an SHA Plus+ hotel or villa on Koh Samui, or, take an approved ferry service to Koh Phangan or Koh Tao and stay at an SHA Plus+ hotel/villa on either of those islands.
After 14 nights you’re able to depart any of the three islands and travel to other parts of Thailand – but remember Bangkok is currently in lockdown so … maybe stay put.
Where can I stay on Koh Samui for Samui Plus?
There’s a key distinction to make. Samui Plus is 14 nights total (or 15 nights if you arrive after 6 pm), but your options expand in the second week.
Nights 0 (if applicable), 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 must be spent at a Samui Extra Plus hotel or villa (aka Samui Extra hotels aka Alternative Quarantine aka AQ hotel aka Alternative Local Quarantine aka ALQ hotel) on Koh Samui.
Nights 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14 can be spent at an SHA Plus+ hotel on Koh Samui, Koh Phangan or Koh Tao.
Samui Extra Plus hotels
You have to stay at one of the following hotels or villas through night 7. Only these ones. It must be booked directly. Packages will include airport transfer, covid tests galore and are typically full board (meals included) with tax and service also included. As a price reference, AVANI+ Samui Resort’s package starts at THB 51,000 per person for 8 days/7 nights (approx US$1560, £1130 or €1325). A second adult or child sharing the room costs THB 31,000 or THB 24,000 respectively. Packages increase for upgraded rooms including those with private pools.
I’ve linked these to Agoda and Booking.com so you can easily compare rating, facilities and room choices, however, Samui Extra Plus hotels (nights 0-7) must be booked directly.
AVANI+ Samui (8.7/10)
Baan Hin Sai Resort & Spa (7.2/10)
The Briza Beach Resort Samui (8.0/10)
The Fair House Beach Resort & Hotel (7.8/10)
Fair House Villas & Spa (8.4/10)
The Lamai Samui (9.2/10)
The Samui Beach Resort (7.8/10)
The Spa Resorts Samui (7.5/10)
Koh Samui SHA Plus+ hotels
As with SHA Plus+ hotels available in Phuket Sandbox, you’re welcome to book these hotels through your preferred method – whether directly or on Booking.com. The “Plus” designation indicates that ≥70% of the hotel’s staff is fully vaccinated, so expect these options to expand as vaccine supply increases.
For now, my top 5 recommended SHA Plus+ hotels include:
Four Seasons Resort Koh Samui (9.6/10)
Bo Phut Resort and Spa (9.5/10)
Melia Koh Samui (9.5/10)
Banana Fan Sea Resort (9.4/10)
The Sunset Beach Resort & Spa (9.4/10)
So, what do you think of Samui Plus?
As an alternative to Alternative State Quarantine (ASQ), it absolutely appeals.
As a casual tourist happy to enjoy some slightly restricted hotel time – aware of the potential for quarantine – go for it.
Otherwise? If you’re just starting to get a sense of safety, real-life and associated freedoms in your own country, perhaps stay put for the time being. Especially while bars and schools are shut, and parts of Suvarnabhumi Airport house covid patients. Send your support, jump into travel research and take the time to save up for some truly lavish experiences.
To support Thailand in the meantime, please consider sending some help. Whether your preferred cause is people and food banks, dogs, cats or elephants, the environment or education, this list offers nine ways to help and it’s genuinely needed:
More to follow soon – subscribe to updates.Subscribe to updates
Resources and Further Reading
- 12 Sandbox travellers in quarantine request to leave Thailand
- 2,500+ in Phuket Sandbox, flight and hotel numbers increasing
- 3 travelers arriving via ‘Phuket Sandbox’ fled from hotels: Authorities
- 5,000 beds will land at Suvarnabhumi Airport’s new terminal turned COVID hospital
- 6 “Phuket Sandbox” travellers have tested positive for Covid-19 since July 1 reopening
- 80 Bangkok roadblocks to curb Covid-19 spread before lockdown
- After Phuket, Koh Samui reopening on July 15 on track
- All Phuket schools closing for 2 weeks amid Covid-19 fears
- All Thai AirAsia July flights cancelled; airlines cope with lockdown
- Asia Pacific sees sharp rise in Covid infections as Delta strain threatens new wave
- AstraZeneca approved as third “booster” shot and as second dose after Sinovac
- Effective on Monday, 10 Thai provinces impose overnight curfew, bans gathering of 5 people
- Japan adds Thailand to travel ban list, some exceptions
- Koh Samui Opening To International Tourists Under “Samui Plus” Program From July 15, 2021 – LoyaltyLobby
- Monday Covid Update: 8,656 new cases; provincial totals
- Monday Covid Update: 8,656 new infections and 80 deaths
- Phuket daily Covid-19 hits 10, 3 short of Sandbox threshold
- Richard Barrow on Twitter
- Richard Barrow on Twitter
- Samui ‘Plus’ islands ready to reopen, say operators
- Samui & Phangan reopening: bars open, 5,000 baht Covid tests
- Samui Plus FAQs
- Samui Plus Plan: Thailand without Quarantine
- Sandbox tourist forced to stay in ASQ hotel after fellow passenger on her flight tests positive
- Thai News Reports on Twitter
- Thai virus surge prompts concern over ICUs, vaccine supply
- Thailand gives green light to Sinovac, AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine cocktail
- Thailand reports record Covid-19 cases as concerns mount about vaccine shortages
- The Sandbox Guarantee – taking the ‘what ifs’ out of travelling to Thailand