Thailand’s reopening – A visit to Phuket

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Thailand’s reopening – A visit to Phuket

Thailand has opened to tourists from 63 countries without quarantine restrictions under the new Test & Go Program. Travellers still need to prepare for their Thai holiday in advance since they need to apply for a Thailand Pass to enter the country. They also need to take a PCR test on arrival and wait for the test result in their hotel room, which they will get within six to 24 hours. This policy in fact means that tourists still need to quarantine in their hotel rooms for a maximum of one night until they get their test result, but individuals are free to travel anywhere in the country if their result is negative.

We have to realise that amongst South-East Asia’s cautious re-opening strategies, these are the most liberal entry restrictions of any South-East Asian country. Cambodia has followed Thailand’s lead and announced that it is abandoning quarantine for travellers who have double jabs and test negative for COVID-19. I do agree of course that countries without entry procedures are easier to travel to and have a competitive advantage. I am sure that other South-East Asian countries will eventually get to this entry point, but for now they favour step-by-step re-opening plans. Our Thailand office has the latest up-dates, so don’t hesitate to get in touch with your Asian Trails’ contact for more detailed information.

Many readers have written to me over the past few weeks to ask for my opinion on whether the Test & Go program would further ease restrictions in the months to come. I believe that the Thailand Pass application is here to stay for the coming months, technical difficulties will be solved, and that the PCR test on arrival might be changed to an antigen test with faster results and hence no need to wait for test results in a hotel room. I also believe that neighbouring countries are going to move to similar programmes since travel bubble arrangements under sandbox schemes, which some countries want to launch, will not result in any significant tourist arrivals.

At Asian Trails we have seen a clear interest in travel to Thailand since the official re-opening without quarantine announcement. Our teams are busy answering requests and as of December the booking intake is increasing on a daily basis.

What I want to highlight in this CEO story is the unique experiences tourists will enjoy when they travel to Phuket and other regions in the kingdom. They will find peaceful, almost deserted, beaches and enjoy exploration of less crowded destinations.

I spent a week in Phuket and Khao Lak recently working with our teams on re-opening procedures and inspecting tourist sites, hotels, restaurants, facilities and beaches. I was positively surprised how within weeks of the re-opening announcement, many parts of the island have sprung back to life. Travellers have to be a bit selective at the moment; some areas of the island are still quiet and feel lonely, but many others make for a wonderful holiday experience with restaurants, shops, spas and other facilities fully operational.

Another question I am regularly asked by readers is: When will the bars, pubs and discos re-open and when will alcohol be served throughout the country? Night owls seeking this type of entertainment should slightly defer their trip to Thailand as these venues are currently closed.

The latest news when I wrote this article is that these night venues will remain shut nationwide until at least mid-January 2022, according to the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA). However, patrons in establishments, such as restaurants, hotels and funky beach clubs, with Safety and Health Administration (SHA) certification, can drink alcohol well into the evening at present.

The local restaurant scene is fantastic; Phuket is a paradise for foodies and offers a true culinary experience. Many of the tourist restaurants are still closed, but there is a good choice of Western restaurants in many parts of the island thanks to the large foreign expat community.

Phuket’s beaches are a dream come true and one does not have to travel out to the islands for soft white sand and clear blue water. The abundance of open beach hotels make it easy to step out of your room and enjoy beach life on your doorstep – an ideal situation not just for families but also for honeymooners who will have many beaches to themselves.

There is already a good choice of boat trips to the islands and our Phuket-based team ensures only quality boats and reliable suppliers are used. Quality can be an issue in the existing opening environment, but since Asian Trails is on the spot, with our own managers and staff directly in locations, quality control, as well as health and safety measures, are both strictly enforced, guaranteeing safe and comfortable travel for our guests.

Many resorts have proactively used the downtime to renovate their properties. Others kept at least minimal operations active during the past one and a half years, whereas some concentrated on domestic tourists, but admittedly there are hotels that have suffered and should be avoided at the moment. Asian Trails Thailand only books clients into properties we have personally reviewed for quality and safety.

There are plenty of excursions on offer on the island of Phuket itself. It sounds clichéd when I write that the lack of tourists has given nature a chance to recover, but in parts of the island this is really the feeling I get. We hope that many visitors will join us on our community-based tours where hands-on activities are part of the experience and a lot of fun. One of the villages has offered community-based tours for three generations; we have assisted them during the peak crisis time as much as we could, but the best help we can offer now is to return with visitors.

There are lots of other activities on offer, including wellness programmes, yoga classes, foodie tours, cooking classes and one of my favourite things, a Phuket town walking tour. Sino-colonial Phuket town is very lively thanks to local residents and domestic travellers and it has so much to offer away from the idyllic coastal beach life. A coffee culture with quirky coffee shops has emerged and there are lots of restaurants and snack places for every budget.

Cultural discovery is also thriving, with excellent museums and art galleries to browse. An equally rewarding pastime is an unscripted leisurely stroll along the streets to get a feeling of what the old Phuket used to be like when people came from afar to trade goods and make their fortunes from the booming tin mine trade. Look out for the exceptional street art as you wander around. Art lovers will also be in their element in the creative enclaves that have sprung up across the island, such as the bohemian art village in Rawai on the south-east coast.

Whereas other beach paradises in Thailand, including Khao Lak, Krabi and Koh Samui, have been slower in their recovery and in opening up to visitors, the privacy and quietness – even a certain exclusivity, will appeal to some visitors. Having said that, these places are not totally deserted, there are restaurants and shops that have opened, but on a smaller scale compared to the key areas of Phuket.

The last frequently asked question I would like to answer in my story today is whether overland travel throughout Thailand is possible again. The answer to that question is yes and for clients with a bit of a pioneering spirit this will be the experience of a lifetime. To visit Ayutthaya or Sukhothai and be virtually alone at an ancient temple site, or to be a solitary explorer in a northern hill tribe village is a situation that won’t be a reality when large-scale arrivals resume.

Despite hardship and difficulties due to the COVID crisis, the Thai people have not lost their smile and visitors will be welcomed with open arms. Asian Trails’ Thailand team are happy and eager to assist all potential guests with destination, hotel and excursion selections. After the past lull in travel, we are ready to provide bespoke programmes at the best value for money.

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