The Phuket Sandbox and Samui Plus programmes are pioneering projects, being closely watched by other countries in the region
After the Phuket Sandbox tourism programme, it’s now the Samui Plus programme, for international travellers to Thailand. Ko Samui in the Gulf of Thailand is noted for its silvery beaches, lush foliage, emerald green waters, and is today almost as well-known and popular as Phuket.
According to Cholada Siddhivarn, director of the TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand) office in Mumbai, Koh Samui has become very popular with Indian tourists. She informed that it attracted high-end tourists, honeymooners, and also budget travellers from India, because the beach destination has diverse choices of accommodation, from luxurious five-star hotels, to comfortable resorts, budget hotels and bungalows.
Ko Samui is noted for its neighbouring islands of Ko Tao, famed for its world-class diving school, and Ko Phangan, famed for its yearly full-moon party. There’s no full-moon party thanks to Covid, but both these islands have also opened up to international tourists.
Apart from its lush beaches, Samui has many other attractions — a giant Buddha, pagodas with Chinese images, uniquely shaped rocks (including some with phallic shapes), waterfalls, jungle safaris and a wonderful marine park. One can go boating, kayaking, hiking, not to forget diving and scuba diving. Chaweng beach is the busiest, with its diverse restaurants, bars and shows. There are other popular beaches like Mae Nam, Lipa Nam, with their own beauty and charm.
The Samui Plus programme has given Samui’s many attractions a new lease of life. All the hotels, restaurants, sightseeing spots, tour companies have gone through stringent checks and been “certified”, in order to welcome international tourists.
As with the Phuket Sandbox programme, the Samui Plus programme has targeted tourists from low and medium-risk Covid countries. India is not on the list at the moment, and there are no flights from India to Thailand as yet. But the names of the Country-Lists will be modified, according to the improvement of the Covid-situation in the countries.
The varied documents needed for the Samui Plus programme, are the same as for Phuket Sandbox (https://coethailand.mfa.go.th). Apart from a visa, overseas visitors need to book in advance, for a 14-day stay in the beach destination. The first seven days need to be at SHA Extra Plus hotels, which have been particularly earmarked for international tourists (SHA stands for Safety and Health Administration, and covers many areas, including the vaccination of the staff.) The next seven days could be at SHA Plus hotels and these could be in Ko Samui or in the neighbouring islands of Ko Tao and Ko Phangan.
The other documents needed for international tourists, are a travel insurance inclusive of Covid-19 treatment, for US$100,000, a vaccination certificate indicating that they have had two doses of the Covid-vaccine at least two weeks before their flight, a flight ticket, and finally a Covid RT-PCR Test, 72 hours before departure. Once all this is completed, they are eligible to get the all-important COE (Certificate of Entry) certificate from the Royal Thai Embassy.
As there are no direct flights to Samui, like with Phuket, the foreign tourists would need to fly first to Bangkok, clear customs and immigration there, and then take a connecting flight to Samui. Bangkok Airways has several flights a day to Samui from Bangkok.
Once they land in Samui, the international tourists would need to do a Covid test immediately at the airport, after which they would shift to their SHA Extra Plus hotel. If their Covid test is negative, they would be free to move around Samui, in the designated areas (these are fully vaccinated areas.) After their second Covid Test, at the end of one week, the tourists could shift to a SHA Plus hotel in Ko Samui, or in the neighboring islands of Ko Tao and Ko Phangan. After two weeks in Samui, and two more Covid tests, the traveller would be free to travel to other parts of the country.
Anchor In fact, the lush beach-destination of Krabi will open up for international tourists, later this month, and it is only an hour’s flight from Samui. All these programmes are part of the Island-Tripping initiative that has been launched in the country, to boost tourism. In the first month of the Phuket Sandbox programme, at least 14,000 international tourists visited Thailand’s best-known beach destination.
At the moment, flights to many parts of Thailand, including Bangkok, have been temporarily stopped, due to the increased Covid cases in the country. But special road-arrangements have been made for the international travellers of the ‘Samui Plus’ programme, to go to their next destination after their two-week stay in Ko Samui.
Phuket and Samui are part of Thailand’s unique ‘Bubble and Wrap’ tourism scheme, whereby the beach-destinations are almost wrapped in a bubble and separated from the rest of the country. The main reason, of course, is to protect the foreign tourists from any exposure to the pandemic.
The Phuket Sandbox and Samui Plus programmes are pioneering projects, which are being closely watched by other countries in the region. If successful, they will be implemented in the rest of Thailand, including popular destinations like Chiangmai, Chonburi, Pattaya, and others.
For more details, check https://www.tatnews.org/2021/07/samui-plus-faqs/