The island of Phuket, a major tourism hotspot in Thailand, has opened to vaccinated travellers without quarantine under what’s known as the “Phuket Sandbox” program.
Meanwhile, Koh Samui and its surrounding islands have also opened their borders under the “Samui Plus Sandbox”.
Thailand is the one of the only countries so far employing this phased approach to opening borders, making it the only destination in South East Asia to welcome tourism. It’s an experiment of sorts – and the entire region is watching.
Thailand’s “Sandbox” Style Travel Restrictions
As of July 1, 2021, fully vaccinated tourists from a select list of countries can enter either Phuket or Koh Samui without quarantine.
However, travellers must arrive directly into Phuket from an international destination. This is referred to as the “Phuket Sandbox”.
As part of the Phuket Sandbox, there also exists a 7 + 7 Extension Program, in which tourists who have been in Phuket for at least seven days can move to approved extension areas.
In addition, the Samui Plus Sandbox exists independently of the Phuket Sandbox, which we’ll discuss in more detail below.
How Can Canadians Enter Phuket?
All Canadians are allowed to enter Phuket by flight directly from an international destination, without transiting in Bangkok or any other domestic Thai city.
Travellers must fulfill all of the following criteria prior to boarding for entry without quarantine:
- Present a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken 72 hours prior to departure.
- Be fully vaccinated at least 14 days prior to entry.
- All World Health Organization (WHO)-approved vaccines are accepted.
- The vaccination card from your provincial health authority will suffice.
- Unvaccinated children are exempt.
- Complete the multi-step Certificate of Entry.
- Step 1 involves registering and entering passport information.
- Step 2 and 3 involves uploading proof of your flight booking along with a confirmation for booking approved hotel accommodations. This must be completed within 15 days of approval of Step 1.
- Travellers must book at the Phuket Safety and Health Administration (SHA)’s approved SHA+ hotels. This is fairly easy to check, as SHA+ status is listed on most hotels’ websites.
- Confirmation of sufficient COVID-19 insurance.
- Coverage must include medical treatment of up to US$100,000.
- Present evidence of remaining in Phuket for 14 days, or an international flight prior to 14 days.
- Travellers can also remain in Phuket for seven days prior to moving to approved extension areas, including Krabi, Phang-Nga, and Surat Thani (7+7 Extension Program).
- Present evidence of prepaid COVID-19 PCR tests in Phuket.
- Travellers must book three tests, which cost 8,000 THB ($307) in total.
How Can Canadians Enter Koh Samui?
The Samui Plus Sandbox works similarly, except there are approved “sealed” flights which allow for a transit in Bangkok without quarantine.
However, these flights must be booked on the same ticket as your international flight to Bangkok in order to quality for quarantine-free travel.
The Samui Plus Sandbox destinations include Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao and are subject to the following allowances:
- Days 1–3: Visit designated areas in hotel.
- Days 4–7: Travel within approved routes outside of hotel and go on tours with approved tour programs.
- Spend Days 7–14 within Samui Plus Sandbox destinations.
All travellers who have remained in the aforementioned approved areas for a minimum of 14 days can subsequently travel within all of Thailand restriction-free.
Note that travellers who have been in Phuket for at least seven days can visit Koh Samui (part of the Surat Thani province) as part of the 7+7 Extension Program, but not vice versa.
Testing & Quarantine Upon Arrival
As alluded to above, both the Phuket and Samui Plus Sandbox programs require three separate prepaid COVID-19 PCR tests:
- Upon arrival
- On Day 6 or 7
- On Day 12 or 13
Guests must remain at their booked accommodation until they receive a negative upon-arrival test result.
Should any of the three tests return a positive result, a mandatory self-paid 14-day quarantine will be required, and can be carried out either in government-approved facilities or Alternative State Quarantine (ASQ) facilities.
Testing & Quarantine Upon Return
Travellers must complete a negative PCR test within 72 hours of boarding their flight back to Canada.
PCR tests do appear to be readily accessible in Phuket and throughout Thailand, with all major hospitals offering testing.
There are also private third parties who arrange a test on your behalf, with prices falling in the US$90 ($115) range. I assume these tests will be cheaper if acquired directly from the lab; however, ease of access and your language skills may make a difference here.
Of course, it’s also worth inquiring with your hotel or resort directly to arrange testing, as they may offer more convenient options for taking the mandatory on-arrival and Day 6/7/12/13 tests.
Fully vaccinated Canadians can return to Canada by air without undergoing quarantine, upon completing a negative test at the airport on arrival into Canada. Canadians are considered fully vaccinated if they’ve received a full series of one of (or a mix of) Health Canada’s approved vaccines – Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, or Johnson & Johnson – at least 14 days before entering Canada.
Canadians who are not fully vaccinated must undergo a 14-day quarantine at home and a self-administered test on Day 8.
Where to Stay in Phuket
Known for an abundance of resorts, the points options in Phuket are plentiful, no matter your budget.
Marriott Bonvoy‘s presence in Phuket is very strong:
- Four Points by Sheraton Phuket Patong Beach Resort: 15,000–20,000 points per night
- Courtyard Phuket Town: 15,000–20,000 points per night
- Westin Siray Bay Resort & Spa, Phuket: 20,000–30,000 points per night
- Le Méridien Khao Lak Resort & Spa: 20,000–30,000 points per night
- Le Méridien Phuket Beach Resort: 30,000–40,000 points per night
- Phuket Marriott Resort & Spa, Merlin Beach: 30,000–40,000 points per night
- Phuket Marriott Resort and Spa, Nai Yang Beach: 30,000–40,000 points per night
- Renaissance Phuket Resort & Spa: 30,000–40,000 points per night
- JW Marriott Khao Lak Resort & Spa: 30,000–40,000 points per night
- Casa de La Flora, Khao Lak, Phang Nga, a Member of Design Hotels: 30,000–40,000 points per night
- The Naka Island, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, Phuket: 40,000–60,000 points per night
- JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa: 40,000–60,000 points per night
Hilton Honors has a comparatively weaker portfolio, consisting of:
- Hilton Phuket Arcadia Resort & Spa: 14,000 points per night
- DoubleTree by Hilton Phuket Banthai Resort: 27,000 points per night
In addition, you can also leverage Marriott and Hilton’s Fifth Night Free benefit to unlock maximum value for your points.
World of Hyatt also has a handful of hotels to choose from, including three Small Luxury Hotels of the World properties:
- Hyatt Regency Phuket Resort: 12,000 points per night
- Twinpalms MontAzure: 25,000 points per night
- Twinpalms Phuket: 25,000 points per night
- Keemala: 30,000 points per night
Where to Stay in Koh Samui
Like in Phuket, Marriott Bonvoy’s portfolio in Koh Samui is extensive:
- Sheraton Samui Resort: 20,000–30,000 points per night
- Renaissance Koh Samui Resort & Spa: 30,000–40,000 points per night
- The Ritz-Carlton, Koh Samui: 50,000–70,000 points per night
- Vana Belle, a Luxury Collection Resort, Koh Samui: 70,000–100,000 points per night
- W Koh Samui: 70,000–100,000 points per night
Hilton only has one property, but it’s quite a famous one: the Conrad Koh Samui goes for 80,000–95,000 points per night depending on the season.
At all the above resorts, you can still leverage the Fifth Night Free benefit to make the most of your points.
With World of Hyatt, you can choose from the following locations:
- Hyatt Regency Koh Samui: 15,000 points per night
- Cape Fahn Hotel: 20,000 points per night
- Tongsai Pool Villas: 30,000 points per night
Current Health Requirements in Phuket and Koh Samui
Like most of Asia, health and safety requirements are abundant in Phuket and most of Thailand, including mandatory masks in all public spaces, the beach, the pool, and inside vehicles.
In Phuket, entertainment venues such as pubs and massage parlours remain closed. Gatherings are limited to 100 people and public alcohol consumption is currently not allowed.
Stories and restaurants are open as usual, but selling alcohol is forbidden. Indoor sports venues require all staff and customers to be fully vaccinated have a capacity of 50% in air-conditioned venues and 75% in open-air spaces.
How to Get to Phuket
There’s no shortage of ways to travel to Phuket in greater comfort using your rewards points.
Using Aeroplan, flights from Canada will cost 85,000 Aeroplan points one-way in business class, regardless of your routing. The most convenient one-stop options from Canada include Turkish Airlines, Etihad Airways, or any combination of a European layover followed by a flight on Thai Airways.
If you’re interested in flying First Class, consider the following routings:
- Etihad Airways 787 First Class via Abu Dhabi for 130,000 Aeroplan points one-way
- Emirates First Class via Dubai for 178,750 Emirates Skywards miles one-way
- Cathay Pacific First Class via Hong Kong for 70,000 Alaska miles one-way
How to Get to Koh Samui
Getting to Koh Samui using points is a more complicated affair, simply because the “sealed” Bangkok Airways flight must be on the same ticket as the international arriving flight.
This means that travellers can’t simply book an award ticket to Bangkok, before using either Etihad Guest miles or cash to book the Bangkok Airways flight separately. Furthermore, travellers cannot connect anywhere else in Thailand other than Bangkok.
Through October 30, 2021, these approved flights include Bangkok Airways flights PG5125 and PG5171 from Bangkok to Koh Samui and PG5126 and PG5172 in the opposite direction.
Given that Bangkok Airways isn’t the easiest airline to book on points (besides through Etihad Guest), perhaps the simplest option is to book a ticket on cash that includes one of sealed Bangkok Airways flights from Bangkok to Koh Samui.
With their complex and multi-layered travel restrictions, the Phuket Sandbox and Samui Plus Sandbox make things just about as complicated as travel gets these days.
However, there’s little doubt that it’ll be worthwhile for those who opt to stay in Thailand following the 14-day period in Phuket or Koh Samui or their surrounding islands, especially as it’s currently the only place in Southeast Asia open to tourism.
As always, you can refer to our Travel During COVID-19 Resource for Canadians for the most up-to-date information on travelling in the pandemic era.