Are you desperate to play on the pristine sandy shores of Phuket? The Tourism Authority of Thailand has implemented a program named "Phuket Sandbox." It will allow international travelers to have options to stay on some of its islands from October 2021 before the Thai borders completely open, with no quarantine period applicable. So your dreams of splashing your feet through the Indian Ocean may be a reality very soon.
Of course, there are conditions attached to this Phuket Sandbox mandate, some of which are unclear and totally confusing, with, as usual, a massive amount of paperwork:
- A valid passport and Thai visa
- A Certificate of Entry which is a letter from the Thai Embassy or consulate—you can fill this form out on-line
- International travelers must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 at least 14 days prior to arrival and a certificate of verification
- Children under 18 years who are not vaccinated must be traveling with fully vaccinated parents
- All non-Thais are required to have health insurance that covers COVID-19 for a minimum of $100,000
- A Health Declaration Form
- A negative RT-PCR test—you know, the swab up your nose trick—within 72 hours before you get on that plane to Phuket
- Arrive from an 'approved' country under the Phuket Sandbox scheme, where you should have stayed for at least 21 days
- Must download the ThailandPlus alert app on their mobile phone
- Travelers must have a booking to stay at a Safety & Health Administration (SHA certification) approved hotel for 7 days straight. Approved hotels will have a QR code unique to their establishment. When booking, if there is no code, it means that the hotel is not approved.
- Pre-pay RT-PCR COVID-19 tests that you will be required to have in Phuket
Other issues to consider:
- You must fly direct into Phuket with no transit via Bangkok
- If you stay in Phuket for less than 14 days, you must fly to an international destination out of Phuket
- If you stay more than 14 days in Phuket, you will be able to travel to Samui and Krabi
The typical Thai way of doing things: sloppy submitters of documents, or if you happen to have a moment of madness and forget to submit all of the documents required, your application will be summarily rejected. The red tape of the bureaucracy of Thailand has always been a minefield that is constantly changing with little warning.
In fact, the Bangkok Post editorial equated the Phuket Sandbox program to that of a 'prison vacation.' In my mind, at least you will be able to walk a stunning foreshore, swim pristine waters, and indulge in a delectable authentic green Thai curry overlooking the now empty beach. Unfortunately, the Phuket that most travelers remember is not the Phuket that will greet you. Shops and entertainment venues are closed, and usually bustling streets are deserted, as are the beaches. Many locals have struggled with the loss of income due to zero tourism, and it's predicted that 60% of hospitality businesses will close by the end of the year.
The island of Phuket has basically been cut off from the rest of Thailand in an attempt to keep the virus out. When you consider that daily recorded cases in Thailand have soared and less than 6% of its population is fully vaccinated, it's a bold move to reinstate tourism in an isolated Phuket that may pay off.