Know Phuket’s Awesome Hidden Gems. Sawadee Ka and Welcome Back, Thailand! Since the 1st of July 2021, Thailand has officially opened Phuket to international travellers again! It’s exciting news and a glimmer of hope on the horizon of international travel and tourism. If you are getting itchy feet, a Thailand holiday might now be on the cards! But how does Phuket’s so-called sandbox scheme work? Is it really a viable option for the average tourist to enter Phuket? Let’s have a closer look at the sandbox and what Phuket has to offer – no matter if you travel now or a little later!
What is the Phuket Sandbox? – Know Phuket’s Awesome Hidden Gems.
The slow introduction of tourism to Thailand is called the “Phuket Sandbox”, a model that allows vaccinated travellers to enter Phuket without quarantine. For a start, about 1350 tourists registered to enter Thailand under the Sandbox scheme. The Thai government expects about 100,000 tourists to enter Phuket by the end of quarter three while the rest of the country is due to re-open by October 2021 under similar conditions.
This allows Thailand to welcome tourists slowly back, reviving the suffering tourism while keeping the rest of the country as safe as possible from too many new outside infections. About 75% of Phuket’s local population has already been vaccinated coming close to the desired herd immunity. Unfortunately, the opening of the Phuket Sandbox coincides with Thailand’s most severe Corona outbreak since the start of the pandemic. It might also be questionable if the sandbox scheme will work for a majority of travellers given the relatively strict regulations around the entry for applicants. It’s not as easy as booking a flight ticket and taking a PCR test. There is still a lot of red tape around the entry procedures. So far, most applicants have been people who have family or loved ones in Thailand, using the sandbox as an entry port.
Are you eligible for the Phuket Sandbox?
Instead of just seeing the obstacles, let’s rather see the opportunity it brings to tourism. It is a starting point for any travel into Asia. The conditions are not unreasonable, but there are a few additional regulations to look at before entering Phuket.
- A valid passport with at least 6 months validity
- You need to have been in a country approved by the Thai CCSA for at least 21 days before your arrival
- You need to be fully vaccinated at least 14 days before entering Phuket with a vaccine approved by WHO or the Thai Ministry of Health
- You have booked and paid for your return air travel
- You have booked and paid for your SHA approved accommodation in Phuket, including the needed PCR tests
- You need to have purchased medical insurance with COVID 19 treatment coverage of at least 100,000 USD
- You need to present a negative PCR test on departure not older than 72 hours.
You can find more detailed information on the requirements and the link to the application form here!
Arrival in Thailand – Know Phuket’s Awesome Hidden Gems.
Once you have all of the above arranged and your application has been successful, it’s time to start looking forward to your holiday! But before you can finally hit the beach, there are still a few more hoops to jump through.
On arrival at Phuket airport, you will undergo a screening process that includes a fever and vaccination check. To track if you got exposed to COVID 19, you also need to download the Thailand Plus and Mor Chana apps. Once you went through immigration and customs, you’ll need to do another PCR test before you can finally get to your hotel. Here, you’ll have to wait for 24 hours to receive your negative test results. If all is clear, you are now free to go anywhere on Phuket island. If your test comes back positive, you will be taken to a hospital, where you will be quarantined for 14 days.
If you are looking to travel to other regions in Thailand, you’ll need to stay in Phuket for at least 14 days and take three PCR tests during this period. Once your 14 days are complete and all PCR tests came back negative, you are free to travel anywhere in Thailand.
Would You Travel under the Sandbox Scheme?
What do you think? Would you be willing to go on a holiday under these regulations? Is it too much or do you feel that it is not much more to organise in addition to your usual holiday preparations?
The two big questions are if you have been vaccinated with one of the approved vaccines and if you depart from one of the CCSA recognised countries. Everything else is probably not too different, because you’ll always need flights, accommodation and travel insurance.
There is no denying that there will be extra costs involved, especially if you travel as a family. The travel insurance as well as PCR tests before and after your trip can add up quickly. On the other hand, you might have Phuket island nearly all to yourself without the usual hordes of tourists crossing your path. It really makes for a unique holiday, getting to know the island as it used to be 20 years ago. The question is, if Phuket is worth a visit?
Is Phuket Worth A Visit?
Thanks to its stunning beauty, Phuket has been a favourite on the tourist circuit for a long time. But with the popularity also came crowded beaches and overrun tourist attractions. Now is a chance to see Phuket’s authentic beauty again. A chance to get to know the Phuket of the past with pristine beaches, untouched nature and exciting sights without stepping on anyone’s toes! There is so much to discover, tackling the extra measures might be worth it after all. No matter if you travel now or if you travel a little later, Phuket is always worth a visit. Let’s explore this beautiful island and some of its highlights.
Welcome to Phuket! All You Need To Know About The Island!
Phuket is located in Thailand’s South West in the Andaman Sea. It’s not only the largest island but is also one of the 77 provinces in Thailand. Surrounded by Phang-nga province to the North and Krabi province to the South-East, Phuket is best known for its stunning beaches and natural beauty.
The most popular beach areas like Mai Khao, Patong, Kamala, Kata and Karon can be found all along the West Coast of the island. To the North, the Sarasin Bridge connects Phuket island to Phang-Nga province where you find breathtaking limestone rock formations protruding from the sea as well as dense jungle of Khao Sok National Park.
The island is quite big with about 576 km² and close to half a million inhabitants. Around Phuket, you’ll find 32 smaller islands, some big enough to stay at, some can be visited during a day trip. The interior of the island is quite mountainous with thick jungle areas.
Phuket is situated closely to the equator which means temperatures vary little throughout the year. The average high is around 32°C and the average low is around 25°C. The tropical climate divides the year into the dry season from November to April and the wet season from May to October. Travelling during the wet season is usually no problem, with high temperatures and heavy but short rain showers. September and October are usually the wettest months with the occasional heavy storm which might affect ferries and boat excursions.
Generally speaking though, Phuket is a great all year round destination with an ever hot climate ideal for a beach holiday!
Where Best to Stay on the Island?
As you see, Phuket is quite a sizable place with plenty of amazing options to stay. As always, it depends on your personal preferences and travel style. Therefore, let’s get an overview of what’s what and what’s where!
Phuket International Airport – your starting point – is situated in the North-West of the island, not too far from the Sarasin Bridge! Making our way from North to South, let’s have a look at the different beach areas in Phuket!
Situated only about a 15-minute drive north of the airport, this quiet, long stretch of beach is ideal for families and for those who like to relax mostly at their resort. Even though quite a few luxury resorts have been established here, most of the beach is still natural and untouched by beach beds, umbrellas and noisy vendors. You can walk along the 11 km of stunning beach without seeing more than just a few fishermen. Mai Khao is Phuket’s longest beach, but it has less of a town area around than some of the other places. If you like to do several day trips to explore the Phang-Nga area or Khao Sok National Park, it’s the best location to stay at in Phuket.
This area has some of Phuket’s most beautiful stretch of beach around, which has some of the most expensive luxury resorts attracted to settle here. Situated about a 30-minute drive south of the airport this former tin mining area has grown to become a popular tourist spot. You can find anything here as it comes to shops, restaurants and beach bars. While the Bang Tao area is more geared towards tourists you, Layan Beach to Bang Taos North is much more local and relaxed. It’s in easy walking distance along Bang Tao beach.
Only about 8 km north of the famous Patong Beach, Kamala is the more relaxed little brother. The Kamala area is great for families and professional sunbathers, thanks to its beautiful main beach area and tranquil surroundings. There isn’t too much tourist craze around, yet you can find enough restaurants and bars by the beach to get you into holiday mode. Along the main road you’ll find a local market, shops, a Big C supermarket as well as some more local restaurants. A good mix of tourist amenities and local authenticity.
If you heard of Phuket, you have heard of Patong! With a stunningly beautiful beach, Patong is the biggest tourist hub on the island. You can find any type of accommodation here from luxury resorts to cheap and cheerful hotels. The infamous Bangla Road with its seedy bars and late-night craziness attracts tourists from all over the world. In Patong you can get anything you could possibly need, usually within walking distance. It is, generally speaking, very busy and quite touristy, with vendors lurking at every corner and overpriced bars and restaurants catering to more of a party crowd. I have stayed here a few times and it was nice enough. If I had my time again, I would choose a different, less busy area though. But – each to their own.
With a great location nestled between Patong and Kata Beach, Karon has all the tourist amenities of Patong without the crowds. A beautiful 3 kilometre stretch of beach caters for all your beaching needs, while the area around Karon is jam-packed with cultural sights. The famous Big Buddha statue is located just a few kilometres up the hill, you find several view points here and for the culture-vultures, you can visit Karon Temple – or Wat Suwan Khirikhet as it’s officially called.
Just a few kilometres South of Karon you’ll find Kata Beach, a 1.5 kilometre stretch of beautiful white sand beach. After Patong, Kata is the most visited area in Phuket. The town stretches for about 2 kilometres along the main road with plenty of shops, bars and restaurants. As one of the few places in Phuket suitable for surfers, you’ll find quite a few surf shops and schools here as well. Enjoy life by the beach and make sure to visit the Karon Lookout Point. Situated south of Kata Beach, you’ll get some of the best views over the beaches and surrounding area.
Nai Harn is situated closely to the most Southern tip of Phuket. Nestled away between the lush green hills and the sea , Nai Harn is the most popular beach for ex-pats and locals. You’ll find enough restaurants and bars for a great time, yet you don’t have too much of the tourist crowds compared to other places. December and January, in the height of tourist season, the beach can get quite busy and cramped, but most of the time it’s a lovely more local beach. There are quite a few lookout points around Nai Harn well worth exploring for some great views over the area.
It’s the only beach mentioned on this list facing East. It is also the only beach on this list not suitable for swimming due to the many longtail- and speedboats are parked along the beach. Nevertheless, it’s a great starting point for day trips to several of the surrounding islands. From here you can explore the Southern end of Phang-Nga bay and its islands. Nai Harn Beach is only 2 kilometres away if you prefer to spend the day at a beach close by. Otherwise, you can book yourself into one of the many beautiful resorts located in the area. You can find some excellent beach restaurants and a lively fish market in Rawai, so don’t discard the idea of staying here just yet.
Did you know…? 5 Random Facts about the Island
Phuket is a fascinating place, way beyond the beautiful beaches and what the tourism brochures show you. If the beaches haven’t convinced you yet, maybe the following 5 random facts might push you over the edge!
1. Did you know… Phuket’s pronunciation is poo·ket – not fuck·it?
Yes, the PH in Thai is pronounced P, not F. Working at a travel agency in Bangkok, I came across a shockingly big number of tourists asking for flight tickets to Fucket, Koh Fi-Fi or Koh Fangan. There is no shame in not knowing the intricacies of the Thai language, but if you want to impress your peers with your skills, go with a hard P in Phuket, Koh Phi Phi and Koh Phangan! The word Phuket, by the way, means ‘mountain jewel’, thanks to the fact that 70% of the island’s interior is covered with mountains!
2. Did you know… About Phuket’s Tin Mining History?
Since the 16th century, tin-mining was Phuket’s main source of income and attracted fortune hunters from other parts of Thailand as well as Malaysia. Due to the proximity to Malaysia, the island always had strong Malay influences. The success of the tin-mining however also attracted immigrants from further away. By 1890 about 50,000 inhabitants of Phuket were Chinese, outweighing the comparatively small Thai and Malay population of about 2000 people.
Therefore, Phuket still has a strong Chinese heritage which you can find all over the island in form of temples and traditional Chinese shophouses. Today, tourism, agriculture, horticulture and fishing have replaced tin mining as the main source of income for the island. If you want to learn more about the tin mining history in Phuket you can visit the Kathu Mining Museum.
3. Did you know… that Phuket’s Old Town is a Must-Visit?
Forget about the beaches and take a day to explore Phuket’s Old Town. The historical part of the town, along Thalang Road and Soi Rommanee, is lined with Sino-Portuguese colourful shophouses. They are living witnesses of the aforementioned Chinese settlements that came with the tin mining. Today, the beautiful historical shophouses are home to modern shops, artisanal ice cream parlours, cafes and funky little boutique hotels. If you need an Instagram moment, you’ll have the best time in Phuket Old Town. Join a guided walking tour to learn more about this fascinating place or spend some time perusing the streets by yourself for some shopping and food experiences. Try one of the traditional Chinese restaurants for their delicious dumplings and other traditional delicacies! Yum!
4. Did you know… About Phuket’s James Bond Island?
One of the 32 islands around Phuket is called James Bond Island because it featured in the 1974 James Bond movie ‘The man with the golden gun’. The island is to this day one of the main attractions in Phang-Nga Bay with its impressive limestone rocks sticking out of the Andaman Sea. There are a plethora of island hopping trips offered that include a visit to James Bond Island. If you visit Phuket, make sure you book a day trip around the stunning Phang-Nga bay and James Bond Island.
5. Did you know… that Phuket has a Big Buddha statue?
An impressive 45-metre tall marble Buddha statue is seated atop Nakkerd Hill in Chalong, overlooking Karon and Kata beaches. The so-called Big Buddha is one of Phuket’s big attractions and impressive sight! The views from the hill over the island are breathtaking with the Buddha presiding over the landscape. It’s easy to book a trip to the statue or if you feel like a bit of a daredevil, rent a scooter and explore Big Buddha and the island by yourself!
What’s Your Conclusion on Phuket and the Sandbox?
Ihope you got excited about a trip to Phuket! It is obviously entirely up to you, if you decide to travel now or if you rather wait a little longer. It is a wonderful place with fascinating sights beyond its beaches. I hope that this little mountain jewel in the Andaman Sea will make it onto your travel list!
As all tourist destinations over the past year, Phuket had time to breathe, reset and get ready to welcome back visitors. Only time will tell how the Phuket Sandbox scheme will be taken up by international travellers.
I believe the most important thing to get tourism back on its feet, is to give travellers confidence. Opening countries to international visitors signals that tourism is slowly but surely returning back to normal. The extra requirements ensure not only the tourists’ safety but also the safety of the locals. Meanwhile, you might have to spend more money and organisation to travel right now, you’ll also get to experience the destination in a way you’ll never get to experience again. Phuket has come back stronger than ever after the devastating Tsunami in 2007, it will come back from COVID in 2021, too!
Since Thailand had been my home for 4 years, it’s still close to my heart. So, why not celebrate with Thailand-Appreciation Month here at Slow Trail Travel?! Thailand has so many beautiful destinations and hidden gems that are worth exploring. Join us getting off the beaten track, discovering unique experiences and meeting the truly fascinating people, I was lucky enough to get to know. It’s going to be an exciting month cruising around Thailand, so come and join us.
Next week, we’ll explore a different part of Thailand so stay tuned for some more slow travel inspiration!
Hi, I am Miriam. I am originally from Germany. I love travelling, food & wine and I never leave the house without my travel buddy, a small plastic shark!
Over the past 16 years, I have worked in tourism and lived in Africa, Asia and Australia and have travelled to 51 countries. That is until a little pandemic hit and shattered the tourism industry as we know it. It made me think about travel differently and I feel it’s time to slow down and travel more consciously. Let’s stop rushing and start enjoying this beautiful world! I’d like to introduce my favourite destinations, unique experiences as well as help out with travel tips and insights. Hopefully, I can inspire you to go and explore yourself!Miriam – https://slowtrailtravel.com