Now that the Phuket Sandbox has been approved, it opens options for those of us living in Thailand as well as Thai residents returning from overseas summer trips, or even as a meeting point for those of us unable to leave Thailand, yet desperate for family reunions.
Would you, could you, should you? That’s the question many have pondered as they look at the documentation required for the Phuket Sandbox.
Much is at stake and not just for the local economy. The Phuket Sandbox is being touted as a model for reopening Thailand’s tourism industry. Roughly 85% of Phuket's population relies in some form on tourism income. If you thought Phuket was quiet in 2020 without international visitors, you should see it now, devoid of all domestic tourists. Depleted and hungry doesn’t even begin to describe it.
On a recent weekend the local #onephuket community rallied to a call to action from 5 Star Marine, a luxury speedboat tour operator, turned humanitarian aid champion, to help pack 5,000 Life Bag food parcels. In the past 14 days, they have delivered 46,800 meals to those in need in Phuket.
Starting this month, Phuket is waiving quarantine requirements for foreign arrivals who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 under the new scheme, enabling returning Thai residents to be free to enjoy the island instead of spending 14 days in a locked hotel quarantine in Bangkok.
How will it work?
As far as I can see, everyone is still working out the finer details! Expect this to be an ever-developing story, as we know plans do change in Thailand.
Phuket Sandbox at a glance
• International arrivals must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with a registered MoPH vaccine, or approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
• All arrivals are required to stay in certified accommodation registered with Amazing Thailand Safety and Health Administration (SHA) Plus certification.
• Travellers wishing to visit other Thai destinations must stay in Phuket for 14 nights before continuing their travel.
• The first seven-night reservation must be at one hotel, on day eight after a negative PCR test you can move to another hotel.
• All ‘SHA Plus’ hotel bookings must be fully prepaid for the first fourteen nights, unless you plan to stay in Phuket under fourteen nights.
• Travellers are allowed to engage in tourism activities but are advised to strictly follow the DMHTTA precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19: D – Distancing, M – Mask wearing, H – Hand-washing, T – Temperature check, T – Testing for COVID-19, and A – contact tracing application (Thai Chana and Mor Chana).
WHO IS FLYING DIRECT TO PHUKET?
Seven airlines are resuming direct flights to and from Phuket in early July - Thai Airways, Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airways, El Al, British Airways, and Air France.
Yet unconfirmed, but it may be possible to transfer in Bangkok.
An island vaccinated
The plan is to have 70% of the island population vaccinated before opening. Those in tourism rushed to be vaccinated, while initially the wider population felt left out.
The vaccine offered in Phuket has mostly been the Chinese SinoVac, with its lower 51% efficacy rate. The advantage is that it is available and the two jabs are administered three weeks apart.
Without tourism, decimated businesses are closed, many permanently, or are working with skeleton staff. Many employees returned to the provinces are not here to receive the vaccine.
Phuket News on June 21st reported that as of June 18, of the targeted 466,587 people 75% had received at least one jab. These vaccination numbers are ahead of elsewhere in Thailand.
Who will come?
It looks like the administrative hurdles for the Phuket Sandbox entry could be off putting to many tourists. For instance, I don’t see many families arriving with unvaccinated kids.
So to answer the question posed would you, could you, should you look at the Phuket Sandbox as Thailand returnees or for family reunions?
My simple answer is yes, if you have the budget for it. I would however suggest the following:
• Do your research - look at recent Trip Advisor, Google, and hotel booking site reviews. Older reviews are irrelevant.
• Join relevant Facebook Groups such as: Phuket Sandbox Better Thailand by I Asia Thailand
• What are your Phuket Sandbox requirements? Are you a returnee who needs to work remotely? Do you want a holiday after your overseas trip, or are you looking for a fabulous family reunion holiday? A warning, Phuket is not how you remember it.
However, the island now shows its natural beauty after years of over-tourism, it is golden. Nightlife is, how should I put it, subdued. Many restaurants remain closed, and many rental cars were taken off the island, things have changed and it will take time to gear up for tourism again.
• Choose your location carefully! If you are looking for an 'away from it all' experience and see amazing Phuket as it hasn't been seen for over thirty years, stay up north close to the airport. Or choose Kata and Karon beaches, just be aware much is closed. If you want a choice of restaurants, spas, and activities, choose areas popular with expats such as Rawai, Nai Harn, Bang Tao, Surin, and Kamala.
• Choose a hotel that has (mostly) remained open. You shouldn’t expect all services to be fully functioning after an extended period with minimal staff. Choose a hotel with a backup generator; we lost power on several occasions here in Phuket.
• Look at hotels with privately owned residences. They had generated income through management fees even without tourist baht, and have generally maintained their standards.
• Check out the hotel's recent updates on social media. Ask questions that are important to you AND ring the hotel front desk or concierge team directly, not reservations who sometimes are remotely situated.
• If budget allows, book a private villa for space and options in case a subsequent lockdown may be required. You will want your own air con after sharing air with the rest of the plane!
• Your contingency planning would ensure a room with a great view, just in case of worst case scenario and a Phuket lockdown occurs. The authorities have stated that should the COVID cases on the island reach 90, they will.
• If you plan to work, ask questions about adequate desk space and especially comfy chairs for all day. Most hotel rooms were not set up as remote working spaces. Some families have rented a second room as a workspace.
I hope I have provided some insight into Phuket Sandbox and how it could apply to your family. It is a wise decision to choose to return to Thailand through Phuket whilst Bangkok still requires 14-day hotel quarantine. The worst that can happen, you’ll have a 14-day hotel quarantine in Phuket.
For me it is still too early to suggest a family reunion in Phuket. We will watch, wait and hope that this will be possible in the European winter.
Whatever you choose, you will support Phuket as it reopens its doors. Phuketians will be very grateful to you. They will cheer you for leading the way and bringing hope to their island. The chances are, that you will be walking on a glorious beach in Phuket after July 1st, saying it was definitely worth it.
I do hope so, and when I meet you on the beach, I will be the first to say 'nice to meet you. Welcome (back) to Thailand!'
Little Wandering Wren is an TAT award winning travel writer who has been based in Phuket since December 2020. For more on her writing about the Phuket Sandbox and more, please visit her website www.littlewanderingwren.com