Our favourite regional destination is pioneering safer tourism protocols, one glorious island at a time. Here’s how it works
In partnership with Tourism Authority of Thailand
Sooner or later, we will travel again. And when that happens, chances are Thailand will top the list for Malaysians looking for that long overdue getaway. After all, according to Thailand’s Ministry of Tourism and Sports, some 2.96 million Malaysians vacationed in Thailand in the first nine months of 2019 before Movement Control Orders (MCO) came into effect in the first quarter of 2020. And while Covid-19 brought tourism to a standstill for well over a year, the Land of Smiles is cautiously reopening, one gorgeous island at a time.
Phuket and Samui are already open to vaccinated travellers, with several more destinations slated for similar reopenings in the coming days. So whether you’re betting on a year-end holiday or a memorable start to 2022, here’s what you need to know about hitting Thailand’s fabled islands.
Playing safe in the Phuket Sandbox
It’s little wonder that Phuket was the first island to be prepared for a tourism reopening. Most Malaysians come to Thailand to visit Phuket’s stunning beaches, luxurious resorts and plentiful halal food. But there’s more to Phuket than its serenity and gastronomy; it also provides plenty of exciting adventures – think ziplining, elephant sanctuaries, jet ski tours and more – alongside cultural must-sees like Wat Chalong, the 45-metre Buddha statue on top of Nakkerd Hill and Soi Romanee.
The so-called Phuket Sandbox programme launched on 1 July 2021, and allows international vaccinated travellers from low-medium risk countries to holiday on the island quarantine-free. The only requirements upon arrival are a mandatory RT-PCR test and a stay at an SHA Plus hotel equipped with Covid-19 safety protocols. Upon testing negative, visitors are free to explore the island at will, though they cannot access the rest of Thailand.
Island-hopping via Samui Plus
Second in line after Phuket, Surat Thani province’s Samui Plus programme aims to offer the same memorable tropical getaways, but with a few more safety measures in place. As of 15 July 2021, fully vaccinated international travellers can visit specific areas on the three islands of Koh Samui, Koh Pha-ngan and Koh Tao, known for their abundant marine life, pristine waters and romantic resorts. Nightlife lovers will also recall that Koh Pha-ngan is home to the legendary full-moon parties.
Access to the islands opens up to arriving visitors in stages. Tourists must stay at a Samui Extra Plus-designated hotel for the first seven days of their trip, the first three of which must be spent on the hotel premises. From day four to seven, visitors can indulge in “sealed sightseeing” around Samui via pre-approved transport and tour operators.
After a second RT-PCR test on the seventh day, travellers can expand their exploration to include pre-approved activities and SHA Plus hotels on Koh Tao and Koh Pha-ngan. If you plan to visit the rest of Thailand, you may do so after a third and final RT-PCR test administered on day 14.
Other travel requirements
There are currently 69 countries permitted to enter the Phuket Sandbox and Samui Plus programmes, and travellers must be fully vaccinated with a vaccine approved by Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) or the World Health Organisation (WHO).
In addition to being fully vaccinated, you must have negative COVID-19 RT-PCR test results 72 hours before your travel date and valid medical insurance of at least US$100,000 that covers COVID-19 treatment should you need it. You must also possess a valid Vaccine Certificate; have confirmed flight bookings and hotel reservations; and download the necessary alert notification apps on to your phone prior to your travel date. Should you meet all these requirements, you may apply for a Certificate of Entry (COE) at https://coethailand.mfa.go.th.
Still unsure about whether you qualify for Samui Plus or Phuket Sandbox? Visit the TAT’s Newsroom for up-to-date information. In Malaysia, the TAT Malaysia Facebook page is the go-to resource for official updates and even some exciting giveaways. Alternatively, you can email your queries directly to the TAT at email@example.com.