Phuket Sandbox Program: Travelling to THAILAND in 2021
Travelling in 2021 is not easy due to restrictions, especially to exotic destinations. Thailand, a popular holiday destination, is not an exception. But since July 2021, Thailand has become more accessible to tourists. Tourists can now travel to Phuket under the Phuket Sandbox program.
Phuket is the largest island in Thailand. Located in the Andaman Sea in southern Thailand, the island is one of the most popular destinations in the country. Tourists from all around the world come to Phuket to enjoy the sun and sea. But Phuket has more than just beautiful beaches. Beautiful temples, delicious and spicy Thai cuisine, postcard-perfect surrounding islands, viewpoints and so much more!
Read on to learn more about the Phuket Sandbox program and the island itself.
Phuket Sandbox Program
Tourists currently can’t fly to Bangkok and, from there, travel freely to other destinations in the country. There are only a few places that are open to tourists. One of them is Phuket.
You can travel to Phuket, an island in southern Thailand, under the Phuket Sandbox program. We wouldn’t say it’s a straightforward and very easy process, but it’s possible.
There are a few things you need to know before planning your trip to Phuket in 2021.
If you are a tourist coming to Phuket, you have to fly straight to Phuket. You aren’t allowed to fly to another destination in Thailand (e.g., Bangkok), and, from there, take a domestic flight to Phuket. Thai Airways operate flights to Phuket from Europe. There are only a few foreign airlines that operate flights to Phuket.
There are a number of requirements for those wishing to travel to the Phuket Sandbox Program.
- You must be fully vaccinated (at the latest 14 days after the last dose) with any of the authorised COVID-19 vaccines (e.g., Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech, Janssen (Johnson & Johnson), AstraZeneca).
- You must obtain COE (Certificate of Entry) issued by the Royal Thai Embassy or Consulate + visa (if required).
- Provide a return ticket.
- Provide a negative PCR test result which was conducted 72 hours before departure.
- Purchase a COVID-19 health insurance policy with a minimum coverage of 100,000 USD.
- All travellers must download and use 2 contract tracing apps: ThailandPlus and Morchana.
- For the first 14 days, travellers are only allowed to stay at a SHA+ certified hotel (prices starting at 20 USD per night). Upon arrival in Thailand, you must show the approved booking with a QR code. You are allowed to move between SHA+ hotels during the first 14 days of your stay.
- You must do a COVID-19 upon arrival in Thailand. While waiting for your test result, you must stay at your hotel for a few hours until the test result is ready. When you receive a negative COVID-19 test result, you are allowed to leave your hotel and explore the island.
- You must do a COVID-19 test on Day 6 of your stay.
- You must do a COVID-19 test on Day 13 of your stay.
To obtain COE (Certificate of Entry) from an embassy, you must:
- Fill in the special form;
- Provide proof of vaccination;
- Provide a COVID-19 health insurance policy with a minimum coverage of 100,000 USD;
- Have a confirmed return flight (only certain airlines that operate flights to Phuket);
- Provide a paid and confirmed stay at a SHA+ certified hotel (first 14 days);
- Provide a receipt stating you have paid for 3 COVID-19 tests (pre-paid) which will be conducted on arrival, on the 6th day and on the 13th day.
During the first 14 days, you are allowed to engage in tourism activities and go on excursions. You are allowed to dine at restaurants, visit markets, use local transportation and taxis. The Thai government recommends that you use only SHA+ approved services (taxis, excursions, travel agents, etc.), but you are also allowed to use non-certified services. To know more about Phuket Sandbox Program updates, check https://www.thaiembassy.com/
After 7 days, it’s possible to leave Phuket and travel to a few nearby destinations such as Khao Lak, Ko Yao islands, Ko Phi Phi, Railay, Ko Samui, Ko Ngai (using government-approved routes and modes of transport). You need to obtain a “Transfer Form” from your hotel and provide a negative test result.
After 14 days, travellers (tested negative for COVID-19) are allowed to leave Phuket. You will receive a “Release Form” from your hotel and you can travel to other Thai destinations.
5 best things to do in Phuket
Travelling to Thailand in 2021, and wondering what are the best places to visit in Phuket?
Here are some of our favourite tourist attractions on the island.
Explore Phuket Town
Phuket Town is the main town of the island, and one of the best places to visit in Phuket.
There are several interesting things to do in Phuket Town. Walk around Phuket Old Town and explore the colonial architecture. The lovely colourful 19th-century shophouses and Sino-Portuguese buildings are the highlights of the historic neighbourhood.
Do not miss Weekend Night Market which is open Friday night to Sunday night. Hundreds of vendors sell delicious local food, fresh fruit, smoothies, cakes and other tasty foods.
Visit Monkey Hill — a forested hilltop home to roaming monkeys. There’s also an observation platform offering panoramic views of the area.
Visit the Big Buddha
Phuket Big Buddha is one of the largest Buddha statues in Thailand, and one of the best places to visit in Phuket.
Sitting atop Nakkerd Hill, the Buddha statue is 45 metres tall and 25 metres wide. It is made of concrete and covered with white marble. Nakkerd Hill offers spectacular 360-degree views of the area.
Phuket Big Buddha can be seen almost from anywhere in the southern part of the island.
To reach the statue, drive the winding road or hike to the top.
Relax on Kata & Karon beach
Kata and Karon are among the most popular beaches in Phuket.
Quieter than the much busier Patong Beach, Kata and Karon are located in the southern part of Phuket, some 9 km from Patong.
Both are golden sand beaches and are located next to each other. When the weather is calm, both of these beaches are perfect for swimming. Kata beach is great for snorkelling — there are good snorkelling spots at both ends of the beach.
Do not miss Kata Noi beach — it’s a small, even quieter, beach adjacent to the larger Kata beach. Hike up to Karon Viewpoint. Located south of Kata Noi beach, this viewpoint offers sweeping views of the three beaches (Kata Noi, Kata and Karon Beach).
Marvel at Wat Chalong
Wat Chalong is the most important temple in Phuket.
The temple complex was built in the early 19th century and features numerous buildings, golden Buddha statues and gardens. A fragment of a bone of the Buddha is kept in Wat Chalong.
The most impressive building is the pagoda. It has three stories and it contains many Buddha statues. The walls are covered with paintings that tell the story of Buddha’s life.
The pagoda offers beautiful views of the temple complex.
Go island hopping
One of the best things to do in Phuket is to go on an island hopping tour.
Local travel agents offer a variety of island hopping tours. The most popular excursions are to Phi Phi islands, Ko Yao islands and Phang Nga Bay.
Phi Phi is an archipelago of several islands, and the two main islands are Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Leh. Phi Phi islands are known for their party scene and sandy beaches. Maya Bay, the location for The Beach movie, is located on Phi Phi Leh.
The Ko Yao islands are not as well known as Phi Phi islands. They are low-key and offer beautiful sandy beaches. The islands are noted for their mangroves, rubber plantations and small fishing villages. Head to Ko Yao islands if you are looking for a quiet refuge away from the bustling Phi Phi and Phuket. Some of the best things you can do on the Koh Yao islands include boating, kayaking and snorkelling.
Phang Nga Bay is a great place for boat trips. It is known for the spectacular scenery — its many islands and picturesque limestone cliffs that jut out from the emerald blue waters. The most popular islands of Phang Nga Bay are Floating Muslim Village (Koh Panyee) and James Bond Island which was featured in the James Bond movie “The Man with the Golden Gun”.
You can go island hopping once you’ve spent 7 days in Phuket and your test is negative.
Phuket travel tips
- It’s easy to get around in Phuket if you know how to ride a scooter or have a driver’s license.
- People drive on the left side of the road, just like in the UK. Be prepared for that.
- Bring mosquito repellent as dengue is endemic in Thailand. There are occasional reports of travellers getting dengue.
- Be a responsible tourist. Do not ride elephants and bypass other animal attractions!
- Don’t pet, feed and play with the monkeys! They might look cute and friendly but they are not. They are wild animals that can bite and act aggressively. Also, hide all your shiny stuff in your bag. Everything that glistens and shimmers, and rustles. The sneaky monkeys can steal these things from you.
- When visiting a temple in Phuket (and in Thailand), do not forget that there’s a dress code. You need to wear clothing that covers your knees and shoulders.