Thailand isn’t quite ready for the mass tourism of 2019, but its endlessly beautiful islands depend on visitors. If you want to visit, nine more islands now allow you to do so quarantine free, once again – if you’re fully vaccinated.
To stoke opportunity for locals, and allow visitors from around the world to reconnect with the beloved Thai Islands, Thailand launched the ‘Sandbox’ program in July, which balances tourism and public health by keeping all visitors on islands, rather than major cities.
After a somewhat successful launch of Phuket and Koh Samui, the Southeast Asian gem is expanding the program, meaning delights like Koh Phi Phi, Khao Lak and Koh Yao are all part of the experience for those who make the trip.
Thailand Expands Sandbox Islands
Thailand has a multi-phase plan to welcome back visitors, starting with remote areas where any virus concerns can be mitigated with greater ease and all visitors must be fully vaccinated.
Islands provide a perfect way for Thailand to balance the needs of tourism with easy isolation, but many early visitors were less than thrilled about being “stuck” on Phuket. Many restaurants and activities closed, due to the sad economic realities of more than a year without visitors.
In response, Thailand has accelerated plans to open neighboring islands, which now are all a part of the ‘Sandbox’ program, including: Khao Lak, Koh Yao Noi, Koh Yao Yai, Phi Phi Island, Railay Bay, Koh Ngai or Koh Samui.
It sounds easier in practice than reality, and a 7 night stay in Phuket is still a must, but for many, it *might* be worth it.
Under the new “7 and 7” program, visitors can spend a full 7 nights in Phuket, then test to leave their hotel – covid-19, not mathematics. Guests are then able to visit any of the above islands, provided they stay in that second location for 7 days.
It’s not exactly island hopping, but it’s a fresh change of scenery after 7 days, perhaps in a more secluded or extraordinary hotel makes the option more appealing. After a further test on day 14, visitors are then free to explore the rest of Thailand.
That “free to explore” is caveated by a series of current local lockdowns, which restrict travel between many Thai cities, such as from Phuket to Bangkok, but are expected to be lifted once vaccinations reach higher levels.
After lengthy delays, Thailand is finding more success with its vaccination programs. The sandbox is a vital lifeline of hope to many tourism businesses in the islands, but remains a far cry from “stress free” travel. Thailand hopes to have the entire country open by December, for peak season.