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Need to Know: Travelling to Thailand During COVID-19

At Flight Centre, we love all things travel. But even we know that right now, exploring the world can be a bit of a challenge as we navigate different rules and restrictions. That’s why we couldn’t be more thrilled when Phuket opened its doors to international travel once more in July 2021.

We sent our expert Toni Vallenduuk to find out what it’s like – from the holiday experience to the logistics of getting there and around and, most importantly, rediscovering the joy of travel. The results were pretty exciting: she was able to visit six amazing hotels (all deemed COVID-safe by Amazing Thailand), and experience a range of the island’s landmarks – from Cape Panwa and Bo Rae village to the Big Buddha.

Read on to find out all about Toni’s time in Phuket, and what you need to know when travelling to Thailand during COVID-19:

Phuket sunset - (image: Toni Vallenduuk)

Phuket sunset

(image: Toni Vallenduuk)

Who can go to Thailand right now?

Since publishing, Thailand has been moved to England's red list, meaning travellers will be subject to self-funded hotel quarantine on their return home.

Anyone who has been double vaccinated is welcome into the Phuket Sandbox. When I visited you had to spend 14 nights in Phuket before exploring more of Thailand. However, since I’ve returned restrictions have been eased even further to a 7+7 model, which now allows seven-night stays in Phuket followed by seven nights in other beach destinations.

COVID testing at Phuket Airport - (image: Toni Vallenduuk)

COVID testing at Phuket Airport

(image: Toni Vallenduuk)

What’s it like getting there?

I flew with Singapore Airlines and they were incredible. Check-in took a little longer than usual, as the crew wanted to ensure every customer had the right documentation and met all the requirements to be COVID safe on their trip. As long as you have your documents (and a dash of patience!) to hand, you’ll be set. After check-in, everything else in the airport is fairly normal, with the addition of mask-wearing and social distancing.

Singapore Airlines requires you to wear a face mask throughout your trip, even when sleeping. Of course, this can be removed to eat or drink. All passengers are given a care pack for use onboard, which includes hand sanitiser, a face mask and an anti-bac wipe.

We transited through Singapore to get to Phuket, and at Singapore Airport were asked to wait outside the plane before being escorted to our next gate. Here we could order food, sit and use the restrooms, however we weren’t allowed to freely roam through the airport.

Mask-wearing is omnipresent in Phuket - (image: Toni Vallenduuk)

Mask-wearing is omnipresent in Phuket

(image: Toni Vallenduuk)

What’s the process for arriving in Thailand?

On arrival in Phuket staff are on-hand to help you go through your printed documents and ensure that you have everything you need, so you needn’t worry. Your vaccination records will be checked and uploaded before immigration and baggage claim.

After clearing arrivals, you’re then ‘checked in’ for your arrival PCR tests, undertaken in mobile test hubs at the airport. After this your transfer will take you directly to your hotel, where you can wait in your room until your test results are in – a great opportunity for a couple of cold Chang beers and a nap after the journey! Indeed, if you’re staying in a Pool Villa at The Shore at Katathani or the Dusit Thani Laguna, you’d hardly need to leave the room anyway! It took around seven hours for my negative result to come through, and then I was free to start exploring...

Exploring Phuket Old Town - (image: Toni Vallenduuk)

Exploring Phuket Old Town

(image: Toni Vallenduuk)

What can visitors expect in Phuket?

Shops, bars, and restaurants must be SHA+ certified – meaning the staff have been vaccinated and the local COVID policies are being followed – to open. Mask-wearing is mandatory almost everywhere, and some shops have temperature checks and sanitising stations at the door.

The Thai people are still the same fantastic, warm, and friendly people they’ve always been however, in fact even more so if that’s possible! The ‘party’ side of Phuket, Patong Beach, is now much quieter, and you can actually see how beautiful the beach is. Tourism-wise, it’s still incredibly quiet compared to how it was before, which means there’s currently very little traffic in Phuket. Journeys that used to take two hours now take just 40 minutes! The island has been given some much-needed time to reset; the water is clearer and there is much less plastic and waste around. Indeed, one of my travelling companions remarked that this was the Phuket he remembered from his first visit back in 1985.

My hope is that this reset continues, and we don’t see it go backwards once the world opens up completely. Phuket has matured gracefully and long may that remain.

Where can you go under the current restrictions?

The Phuket Sandbox and 7+7 Extension means that travellers can travel to Phuket and stay for seven

days before moving onto the islands of Krabi, Phang-Nga, or Surat Thani (Samui Plus) for seven days.

Once this 14-day period is complete, you’re able to explore all other areas of Thailand. More places are set to reopen if this proves successful and when they get 70% of the population vaccinated.

Did you feel COVID safe?

I felt safer in Phuket than I do in London when it comes to COVID, the local people are very respectful of the rules, and they are so much better at wearing masks and sanitising. At all times I felt that the safety of the people and each other was at the forefront of everyone’s minds.

What was your trip highlight?

Hard to say as there were so many! But I have to say staying in a Private Pool Villa at The Shore at Katathani for the final two nights was my absolute highlight. Just being able to wake and step out of my sliding door, into my private pool that overlooked the ocean, was true bliss.

What special documents are required to travel?

There’s a lot involved in getting yourself travel ready these days, but that’s where Flight Centre comes in. Booking through an agent in-the-know takes all the hassle and stress out of doing it yourself! With Thailand in particular, it’s a bit like how travel used to be, when you had to have all your documentation (like e-tickets), printed out. That said, it’s also quite reassuring, as you feel safe in the knowledge that Thailand is following COVID measures well. Plus, our experts are well versed in all the requirements, and can help you get prepared after booking.

Firstly, you need to have completed the CoE (Certificate of Entry). This is a two-part process with the first part being completed before you confirm your trip, and the second part when you have all your travel documents, insurance, and negative PCR test result. The whole approval process takes around six days. After that you will need to print off a hard copy of the final CoE, as well as the following:

  1. Your booking confirmation for your stay in a SHA+ Resort
  2. Your PCR test result, taken within 72 hours of travel
  3. Your vaccination proof (your COVID pass is accepted but they do ask for it to be printed out – a PDF off the app/QR codes is accepted)
  4. Travel insurance with at least $100 000 COVID cover – our Silver Leisure Policy with Cover-More covers you up to £5,000,000 so plenty!). Be sure to take the insurance certificate as well as a copy of the Benefits table
  5. Download the Mor Chana and Thailand Plus App (similar to NHS Track & Trace)
  6. Proof of PCR test booking in Phuket for arrival and day 6 (this must be booked online in advance)
  7. Complete and print out your T8 form and your declaration form for travel

Obviously there’s a lot of logistics involved in travel right now – is it all worth it?

There’s absolutely NO DOUBT that it is worth it. There’s more work involved, but the experience is so much sweeter for it! I was moved to tears on several occasions; the one I remember is when I was on the beach at Cape Panwa, having just swum in the sea, had an incredible seafood barbecue, and a massage on the beach. It just hit me with such force: the joy of travel and how desperately I have missed it. No hoops are too many to stop me from travelling again!

Written by Alexandra Cronin (Gregg)

Once a roving local news reporter and now a travel-obsessed writer/sub, I'm head-over-heels for nature, wildlife and the ocean. When I'm not getting up close to animals and sea creatures, I'm seeking out the sets of my favourite TV shows around the world. 

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