If you’ve ever longed to visit Thailand or, like most people who’ve been there, you long to return – now is a great time.
After a few false starts upended by waves of Covid, Thailand is removing barriers and welcoming back foreign tourists. Covid is still very active in the country, but the South Asian kingdom is shifting to a strategy of “learning to live with Covid.”
I’ve been in Thailand for most of the pandemic, with five months out of the country on a job in Sudan. A few years ago, I chose Thailand as my retirement home. I’ve bought and renovated a condo in Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand and have acquired a Thai retirement visa.
During the pandemic, I’ve enjoyed the privilege of exploring the country and some of its festivals without hordes of foreign tourists. Thailand generally handled Covid well and during much of the pandemic, the Thai government promoted domestic tourism.
The lack of international tourists, though, has been disastrous for the country’s tourism industry.
In June 2021 Thailand began its first, cautious moves to open up to vaccinated foreign tourists. They started with an initiative called the Phuket Sandbox. Phuket is a popular tourist island in the southwest of Thailand that welcomed over nine million tourists in pre-covid times.
The plan then was to gradually open the rest of the country to tourism by mid-October 2021. A rise in local cases within the country and then the emergence of Omicron temporarily stalled these plans, but now the country is back on track to relaxing entry requirements for foreign tourists.
It’s a great time to be in Thailand while you can still relax on nearly empty beaches and enjoy festivals and markets with the locals.
Phuket is the largest island in Thailand. It’s on the west coast, in the exquisite turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea. It is well known for its natural beauty and its young party scene.
Usually, Phuket is not a place I’d spend time in. I prefer quieter locations. But recently, I took advantage of the peace imposed by Covid and spent two months on the island. It’s a stunningly beautiful place. Endless beaches, mountains and jungle. Not far offshore is an exquisite chain of islands to explore with local boat guides.
I stayed near Patong Beach, normally one of the most developed and crowded beaches on Phuket. I shared the nearly empty beach with local families and a few long stay foreign expats.
It’s probably going to be some time before the crowds return to Phuket, so now is the perfect chance to enjoy all it has to offer in peace.
As I write this, there are two main ways fully vaccinated tourists can gain entry to the country. Whatever entry program you choose, you will require a Thailand Pass which you can get online.
You’ll need to have proof of vaccination as well as proof that you have purchased insurance worth $20,000 USD and a negative PCR Covid test. The pass is free, and responses and approvals are generally pretty quick.
The first program is called The Sandbox. You either must fly directly to one of the Sandbox regions or connect in Bangkok to a “sealed flight” for a couple of the destinations. For a few of the Sandbox locations, you can travel via Bangkok by prearranged vehicle on a “sealed route.”
Honestly, I would choose a Sandbox location that you can fly directly into, like Phuket. There are direct international flights into Phuket.
Once you land in your location and test negative for Covid, you can explore the area freely if you return to your hotel every night. On day five, you will need to do a Covid self-test. After seven days and no positive results, you can travel freely throughout Thailand.
The second program is called Test and Go. Again, you will need a Thailand Pass to access this program. You can arrive by any direct international flight. You must get a Covid test when you arrive and stay at an approved hotel for the first night. On the fifth day you need to do a self-test and report the results on an app from anywhere in the country.
I re-entered Thailand in early December after being in Sudan for five months. I had planned to enter the country via the Phuket Sandbox program. Unfortunately for me, days before I was booked to return to Thailand news of Omicron broke and the Thai government quickly determined that anyone arriving from Africa needed to quarantine in a hotel for 14 days.
Even with this inconvenience, the whole process was incredibly organized and simple. I received approval for my Thailand Pass within hours and everything at the quarantine hotel was efficient and staff was kind and solicitous.
The people of Thailand are waiting for tourists to return. You can expect an extra warm welcome when you arrive in the Land of Smiles and any hoops you jumped through to get here will be quickly forgotten.
Is Thailand on your post-Covid travel list? Have you been before and are dying to return? Drop me a note in the comments and let’s chat!
Editor’s Note: Images courtesy of Deborah Tobin.