Thailand Trip : Want to Quarantine on a Beach?

Insight Online News

Vacations in Thailand come with strings: obligatory R&R on the island of Phuket or other beach destinations

THAILAND, one of the few Asian countries currently open to American tourists, has an unusual entry protocol. The name itself conjures fun and sun: Phuket Sandbox.

Fully vaccinated visitors are allowed into the country—once a few administrative hurdles are cleared—but must first fly to Phuket, Thailand’s largest island or, as of Jan. 11, to one of three other seaside provinces, and stay at one of several designated hotels, including luxury resorts. Those hurdles include submitting paperwork for a visa and certificate of entry, showing proof of a negative RT-PCR test and paying for Covid-19 insurance (a minimum coverage of $50,000 is required).

Once travelers get the green light they must stay put on Phuket or the other provinces for seven days—but can roam around as they please. Only if they test negative again can they travel elsewhere in the country. Sure, a seaside swimming pool at a luxury resort such as Trisara, Six Senses Yao Noi, Anantara Mai Khao, Como Point Yamu or V Villas Phuket makes the hang time luxurious, but those eager to get to Bangkok—with its reclining Buddhas, golden temples and street-food stalls—must bide their time.

That idea runs counter to the norm, said G.W. Ferguson, owner of travel planner Asia Desk. “Unless it’s a honeymoon, people who come to Thailand for two weeks want a cultural experience in Bangkok first; beaches are their end-of-trip relaxation,” said Mr. Ferguson, who walks his clients through the entry process and suggests SquareMouth, a travel insurance aggregator, for comparison pricing for that requirement.

The program was originally implemented last July. In November, when Covid cases had declined significantly, the government introduced a Test & Go protocol, which let foreign travelers fly directly to Bangkok. But in December, due to the rise in Omicron variant cases around the world, Thailand paused the Test & Go program and reverted back to the Phuket Sandbox plan.

Fortunately, Phuket has its own allure, especially now, said Daniel Fraser, CEO of luxury travel company Smiling Albino. “Visitors experience the [smaller] crowds of the 1960s, the amenities of 2021 and prices somewhere in the 1990s,” said Mr. Fraser. Smiling Albino rolled out a number of cultural and culinary tours in Phuket last year. Their “beyond-the-beach” diversions include a day trip to Old Town, in the island’s interior, for its art and architecture and lunch at a southern Thai restaurant, or an evening at a rum distillery in Chalong Bay to drink in the traditions of spirit-making. There’s also a tour to a 200-year-old Muslim community in the mangrove forests of Northern Phuket to learn about its traditions.

Philip Cornwel-Smith, author of the travel guide “Very Bangkok,” notes that Phuket’s Old Town is a worthy cultural destination in its own right. “The lattice of streets are lined with historical Sino-Portuguese shophouses converted into boutiques, galleries and restaurants.” said Mr. Cornwel-Smith. Pre-pandemic, most visitors tended to stick to Phuket’s beaches and upscale resorts, he added. “Now that they have to stay longer, the province provides much more to explore.”

Courtesy : Wall Street Journal

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