‘Can you travel to Thailand at the moment’, is the questions on many travellers who are missing the joys of exploring this wonderful part of the world.
As with many things in Thailand the answer the answer is ‘yes’ but it’s not all as straight forwards as you may think – and if you blink you may well miss and update or a change in the way things are operating!
At the top level you can travel to Thailand, and in fact you have been able to do so for many months, albeit with number of hoops to jump through and restrictions in place.
As of September 2021 there are three ways to travel to Thailand as a holidaymaker:
- The Phuket Sandbox
- The Koh Samui Plus programme
- Quarantine in Bangkok
The Phuket Sandbox
This scheme allows fully vaccinated travellers from a large number of countries spend 14 days on the island and then to travel ‘freely’ (subject to any local travel restrictions in place in different provinces) around the country. It’s not quite as simple as that but is a great way of getting ‘into’ the country and much better than having to quarantine in a hotel in Bangkok which, until July, was the only option.
There are a few things to note however:
- There is a lot of paperwork involved pre-travel – you need a ‘Certificate of Entry’ from your local Thai Embassy, a negative COVID test and insurance covering you specifically for COVID-19 treatment / hospitalisation
- You will need to pay for 3 COVID tests that take place whilst you’re in Phuket and these are not cheap – currently around 8,000THB for the three (+/-£180). And do note that should any of these tests come back positive you WILL be transferred to a hospital for 14 days (at your own expense) – this applies even if you are asymptomatic.
- Do also note that should someone who sat near you on your flight into Phuket test positive with the first test, you may well be considered ‘high risk’ and also transferred to a hospital for 14 days – obviously something that you can’t control and a bit of a concern if you’re heading for a ‘short’ holiday.
- Bars on Phuket are currently closed and restaurants are not allowed to serve alcohol. So, whilst a beer or a glass of wine aren’t the be all and end all to life, do be aware that you won’t be able to have a drink with dinner or relax with a cocktail in hand at a beach bar as the sun goes down
Options around the Phuket sandbox scheme
- Whilst you can spend 14 days in Phuket enjoying the island and beaches you can also, after 7 days, transfer to other beach locations under the current scheme. These include Koh Samui, Khao Lak, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Yao Yai, Koh Yao Noi and Railay Beach amongst others. Whilst the same restrictions apply regarding tests, hospitalisations and alcohol this could make for a relaxing beach / island experience if you’re really keen to head to Thailand.
There is some great information around the Phuket Sandbox scheme here
The Koh Samui Plus programme
- So far this has been far less popular than the Phuket Sandbox but runs in a pretty similar way with one or two changes. Essentially you can fly into Koh Samui (be careful, you can only use set Bangkok to Samui flights) and spend 14 days on the island before travelling freely in the country. To change things up a bit, after 7 days you can then travel to Koh Phangan and Koh Tao, so again, an interesting way to enjoy 14 days of beach life.
- However, do note that the rules around testing positive still apply regarding hospitalisation for anyone testing positive.
For more info on the Koh Samui programme have a look here
- This is the only option for people who aren’t fully vaccinated – although fully vaccinated people can also choose this option. As with the other two set ups, there’s quite a lot of paperwork pre-travel but then, on arrival, you are taken to your Bangkok hotel (which has to be part of the Alternative State Quarantine scheme for 14 days. The big difference here is that you aren’t allowed out of your room for the 14 days. After 7 days you are meant to be allowed into certain areas outdoors for an hour or so a day but each hotel seems to interpret this differently.
- The scheme includes food but you’re not allowed to order from outside and you aren’t allowed any alcohol during the 14 days. And, if you test positive at any time, then you’re taken to a hospital for 14 days at your own (or your insurance!) expense.
- Not really what anyone would term a holiday but the only option for people who aren’t vaccinated but have to travel to Thailand.
Pro’s and Con’s of the above options:
- The Bangkok option really is only worth considering if a) you aren’t vaccinated and b) have to travel to Thailand for work / family reasons. We can’t see why else you’d choose this option unless you have a huge list of things to watch on Netflix and really enjoy the idea being cooped up in a room for two weeks!
- The Phuket and Samui options are in theory fantastic if you enjoy beaches and islands and really do want to travel to Thailand. However, the risks around being hospitalised if testing positive are a worry – not a great way to spend your holiday and very tedious to be in hospital if you’re asymptomatic and don’t actually need treatment (before we even consider that then you’re taking up a bed that could be used for someone who’s actually unwell!)
- The fact you can’t enjoy a relaxing drink with dinner or as the sun goes down seems like a small thing but on the flip side, unless you’re taking part on the schemes to then have a long trip in Thailand, why would you head somewhere with such restrictions and closures in place when there are other countries (and many will be much closer to home) without these sort of restrictions.
- Our view is that if you’re just looking for a short holiday then it’s probably not worth taking part in the sandbox schemes. After all there are beaches in lots of locations you can travel to at the moment without needing to do 3 tests at a high price, where there are no restrictions around alcohol and where there’s no risk of ending up in hospital for 14 days if you are asymptomatic but test positive
- However, if you’re looking to spend two or three months in Thailand then the sandbox schemes are a great way to enter the country and offer you a couple of weeks to enjoy the beaches and islands before heading out to explore the rest of the country.
Notes on current restrictions in other places in the country – once you’ve completed quarantine
- We understand that wearing facemasks for some around the world has become a very emotive issue. Please do be aware that the law in Thailand is that you must wear a mask at all times when you’re outside your ‘home’ and not wearing a mask can result in a fine and won’t go down well with local people. If you aren’t able to wear a mask or follow the rules, don’t travel to Thailand currently would be our advice
Are things open
- The only honest answer here is a very Thailand, yes and no. The rules on opening are different in every province but as of September places like shopping malls etc are open throughout the country. However, many other shops or sites may still be closed. The rules are set by each province and then by each district within the province so they can be confusing and communication of local rules is not good at all – there is no English language site that covers everything.
- Bars are not open anywhere in the country and you can’t drink alcohol legally in public (although you can buy it to consume at home)
- Bangkok and surrounding provinces currently have a curfew from 9pm to 4am – with bars closed not the end of the world but….
- Some National Parks remain closed, others are open – we have no idea at all how / why this is the case but it’s expected that all will re-open ‘soon’.
- You can travel relatively freely around the country but do note that each province has different restrictions in place. Some provinces require visitors to self-isolate on arrival, others don’t if you are fully vaccinated or have a negative test in the last 72 hours. The only real way to answer this is that it’s confusing and if you’re travelling independently it’s a good idea to have a friend who can translate the provincial rules that are published in Thai. People are travelling but that doesn’t always mean that they are meant to!
- And, do please note that some communities, irrespective of rules in the Province, are ‘closed’ to all outsiders (local and international). This is decided by village heads and can change on a day by day basis. Not usually places that many visitors head to but worth noting that you can come across barriers across roads blocking all entry.
Do you need a vaccine to enter places in country
- As it stands you don’t by law need to show vaccine proof to go to a restaurant etc. But, recent pronouncements seem to indicate that as from October, in many areas, you will need to show evidence of being vaccinated or having a recent negative test to go to a restaurant / shopping centre. No-one really knows at this stage how this will be implemented or even whether it will but the safest policy is not to travel if you aren’t vaccinated!
So can you really travel after you’ve done the ‘sandbox’?
- Yes, but you just need to plan ahead and check each provinces regulations. All good travel companies will be able to help you with information. And you should be aware that the provincial rules can and do change at very short notice. Whilst you’ll always see people ignoring the rules, it’s never a great thing to have to deal with the police when you’re on holiday so please do take care to make sure you follow all and any restrictions in place.
- Please be very wary of reports in the press or companies telling you ‘Thailand is open’. Yes, technically it is – as long as you follow one of the routes into the country as above – but there are lots of restrictions in place, lots of fear of the virus in the country and travel is not as easy as it used to be at this time. It’s a bit disingenuous of the media or travel companies to imply that things are back to ‘normal’ – they aren’t. But, that doesn’t mean you won’t have a great visit of course.
Is The Tuk Tuk Club open?
- This is a very simple one – YES. We’re open and able to run adventures for both people here in Thailand who are fully vaccinated and who meet all local travel requirements AND also for people who’ve completed the sandbox / other entry schemes.
The fly in the ointment!
If there’s one thing we’ve all got used to over the last 18 months, it’s the fact that there’s always something else to consider when it’s related to the pandemic, and travelling to Thailand is no exception. In this case it’s considering where you are from – and where you’re travelling back to after your time in Thailand. If you’re from the UK or from the US there is one more fly in the ointment regarding heading to Thailand.
Thailand was placed on the UK’s ‘red’ list for travel three weeks ago meaning that you need to entre the UK’s quarantine system for 10 days when you arrive back in the UK. As this costs over £2,000 and takes up 10 days of your time to say it’s a major pain is an understatement. On the upside, there have been reports of high level meetings between Thai government officials and their counterparts from the UK trying to ensure Thailand returns to the ‘amber’ or even the ‘green’ traffic light status before too long and everyone’s fingers are crossed
The US State Department currently has Thailand on it’s ‘do not travel’ list with regards to COVID-19 putting US travellers off the destination totally until this changes. Again, fingers crossed it won’t be too long…
What’s the state of play regarding COVID-19 in Thailand at the moment?
There is good news here. The reported case numbers of COVID-19 are dropping pretty quickly in Thailand. Back in August we were seeing consistent numbers of around 18-20,000 a day but this is now down towards 12-15,000 a day or so. And the vaccine roll out, after a relatively slow start, is quickly picking up pace in the governments drive to ensuring that at least 70% of the population are covered. We’re still at less than 20% but the numbers are moving quickly as more and more vaccines become available throughout the country. Whilst of course we all wish we were at the 70% numbers, the above is good news and we’re heading in the right direction!
We will note that cases in Chiang Mai, where we are based and all our adventures start are very low indeed. The Province has a population of around 2,000,000 and we tend to see anywhere between 30 and 100 cases reported a day, so a tiny percentage of the population. And the local authorities have been doing very well with the vaccine roll-out and The Tuk Tuk Club team are all fully vaccinated thanks to the efforts of the local health care departments.
- This is the hardest area to be certain of but also where there’s a degree of positivity. Communication from national and provincial government here has always been ‘interesting’ and it’s not just COVID—19 that see’s statements and press releases coming out only to be contradicted the following day making it tricky for everyone, not just prospective visitors to understand what’s really about to happen.
- On the positive side there are very strong movements to ‘open up’ more and more regions in the country. Initially these regions all had different ideas and rules and regulations but in the last few days the national government have declared that all must have the same standard operating procedures which seem to be that arrivals will still need all the various documentation, and stay somewhere for 14 days with 3 tests during that period, but that you’ll be able to travel freely within set districts. We’ve not seen how this will work in practice yet – for example the move to open Chiang Mai (as an arrival option) still seems very restrictive – but it does seem that the government recognise that people do not want to travel thousands of miles to then have to be with a very restrictive group tour.
- There are news reports of Bangkok being ‘open’ in October but announcements seem to change the date and how this will happen on a daily basis which does make things tricky to plan for travellers.
- But, what I think we can say positively is that the country is pushing hard to find ways to properly re-open, to reduce the amount of time visitors need to be ‘in one place’ and also to reduce the cost of the 3 COVID tests under the entry schemes. There are many positive announcements around the country welcoming back fully vaccinated travellers in a much simpler fashion by the end of 2021 and 2022 looks, at this stage, like it will see the re-birth of proper travel to Thailand.
Some key points:
- Yes, you can travel at the moment but only under the ‘sandbox’ schemes which have some restrictions in place
- Travel in the country is allowed but some provinces are still actively discouraging visitors
- We’d recommend you don’t travel to Thailand without being fully vaccinated – it is going to be tricky to travel without proof of a vaccine
- If you can’t or won’t wear a mask, Thailand isn’t the destination for you at this time
- Everything is changing on an almost daily basis so do be prepared for this. There’s nothing you or a travel company can do about the changes and, on a positive basis, it all adds to the spice of life
Would we recommend travelling to Thailand at the moment?
- Much as it pains us to say, the answer is no. You work hard to save up for a holiday and time is precious and, as things stand, there’s too much uncertainty around the various travel schemes in place to recommend a long haul flight (we can’t get out of our heads just how devastating it would be to come on a 14 day holiday only to test positive and end up in hospital – not the holiday anyone would be looking for)
- Despite this, we are fairly confident that things will change soon and that by the end of this year or very early in 2022 we will see the re-launch of ‘proper’ travel in Thailand. We can’t guarantee the dates on this but there’s a sense that things are about to change for the better
- The best way to deal with this all if you’re looking forwards to travelling here again is to keep in touch with your trusted travel agent / company in country. The media overseas tends not to understand the nuances in place and simply regurgitate badly written Press Releases
We absolutely understand how frustrating all the above is and can imagine all rolling their eyes at the complexity. Unfortunately that’s just the way it is at the moment but we’re very optimistic about the future. Tourism is enormously important to Thailand and the last 18 months have had a devastating impact on so many people in the country and it’s clear that the government have realised that it’s imperative to allow people to earn money again.
Along with thousands of other tourism related businesses in the country we’re really looking forwards to sending out a positive message very soon allowing travel as we all love it to resume. Hang in there – Thailand will be back soon!
Whilst your waiting for the all clear to travel nice and easily to Thailand again, why not have a look at our fantastic adventures by Tuk Tuk through the mountains of Northern Thailand. There is no better antidote to the last 18 months!