travel

'I just went to Thailand. Here's everything you need to know about travelling there right now.'

It was one of those pinch-yourself moments.

I was standing at the airport, suitcase in tow, about to board my first overseas flight in two years. 

Last week, I went to Phuket, Thailand for five days. It was different, yes - there were far fewer people at the airport and way more rules to leave the country and arrive in another - but it was familiar, in some ways normal, and so exciting.

Watch: The horoscopes at the airport. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia.

Much like travelling to anywhere else overseas in 2022 (like Fiji or Hawaii), there's much more involved - documents, COVID tests, rules - to actually get there and have a holiday. 

From someone who's just done it, here's everything you need to know about travelling to Thailand right now.

What do you need to do before you leave Australia?

Before leaving the country to go anywhere right now, there's quite a bit of prep to do. I'm going to list it all here, but feel free to skip down ahead to the fun bit if you just want to read about my holiday and circle back later!

First things first: rules are often changing so check Smart Traveller, Phuket entry requirements and your airline’s COVID information before you go. This is what you need to do before travelling to Phuket:

Obtain a Thailand Pass.

Right now there are two schemes allowing fully vaccinated international travellers into Phuket: "Phuket Test & Go" and "Phuket Sandbox".

Phuket Test & Go allows tourists to travel all over Thailand after they've received a negative PCR test on their first day. However, on the fifth day they must do a "self-test ATK" (rapid antigen test) and report it on the MorChana app. 

There are currently only eight approved hotels to stay at for Test & Go in Phuket.

Phuket Sandbox (the program I went with) allows tourists to stay in Phuket quarantine free. You must stay at a SHA+ hotel and undergo a PCR test on day one. 

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It's important to note that with Sandbox you can travel to other parts of Thailand but only after seven days in Phuket. If you wish to go elsewhere earlier than that, you need to fly to an international destination.

To obtain your Thailand Pass (under either program) you need your passport, vaccination certificate, travel insurance with minimum coverage of $20,000 USD (I'll get to that) and paid reservation confirmation for your SHA+ or Test & Go approved hotel - including the fee for one RT-PCR test, one ATK self-test kit and your airport transfer.

The process to get your Thailand Pass (which is free) takes three to seven days. Once you're approved, you'll receive a Thailand Pass QR code.

Book a SHA+ accredited hotel.

Like I mentioned before, you can't just stay at any hotel in Phuket under the Sandbox program; you have to choose one that's SHA+ accredited. 

This means the hotel has been given a certificate to say it meets pandemic-level safety and health standards, and their staff are all fully vaccinated.

There are over 1000 hotels already involved across Thailand - you can see the full list here.

Also make you arrange a transfer to your SHA+ accredited hotel from the airport before you go, you'll need it. 

Organise travel insurance.

Not only is it crucial to get travel insurance in case you get sick over there, but you also need it to obtain your Thailand Pass.

You'll need to choose an insurance policy that covers medical expenses including treatment for COVID, with a minimum cover of $20,000 USD. The policy must cover the entire period of your stay in Thailand.

I stayed at the Club Med Phuket, who actually offer complimentary COVID-19 Insurance for anyone departing before December 2023.

Pre-book a PCR test for on arrival.

From March 1 2022, you need to get a PCR on arrival under both the Test & Go and Sandbox scheme. You must book it before you go, which you can do here

Get a PCR test before you leave.

You also need to do a PCR test in the 72 hours before leaving Australia. 

What they don't mention about this (or at least I wasn't aware of) is that once you get your negative result, you need to get a "COVID Travel Clearance Report". 

When getting my PCR, I mentioned it was for overseas travel and they gave me a slip with instructions. Basically, I had to call the hospital that did my test and get them to email me a report showing my negative result. It cost $110.

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What documents do you need printed out?

The recommended documents to have in a folder before flying are:

  • International COVID Vaccination Certificate.
  • COVID Travel Clearance Report - make sure you have this printed out. I got to the airport with everything printed on my phone except this and the people at the airport were not happy and had to print it for me.
  • COVID-19 Travel Insurance Policy with coverage no less than US $20,000. 
  • Flight details.
  • Accommodation details and confirmed payment for SHA+ Hotel / AQ Accommodation, for day 1.
  • An approved QR code of Thailand Pass.
  • A pre-payment of a RT-PCR test.

What was the flight like?

The flight time from Sydney to Phuket is 8 hours and 30 minutes (roughly) and masks must be worn except for when eating and drinking.

I wore an N95 mask, took my disinfectant wipes to clean surfaces and used my hand sanitiser often. 

Smiling from ear to ear underneath. Image: Supplied.

I flew with Thai Airways and besides wearing the mask, it felt like any other flight pre-COVID. The only difference? Empty seats!

I ended up with an entire row to myself on the way there and back which has never happened before. I spread out and got comfy. Sadly, that won't last.

At the moment there are limited flights from Sydney to Phuket. Mine left Sydney at 9.30am and arrived at 2.30pm local time - which ends up working out perfectly with all the steps you need to follow once off the plane.

What are the restrictions like in Thailand right now?

Thailand has stronger restrictions than we do here in Australia - masks must be worn at all times indoors and outdoors, except for when eating, drinking or swimming.  

Before I got to do any of that, I needed to do my PCR straight after my flight. 

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Once getting off the plane, passengers were ushered to immigration. They checked our Thailand Pass QR code, negative PCR from before leaving Australia and the Thai immigration form we got on the plane.

This took 10 minutes all up, which if you've been to Phuket before you'll know is seriously quick.

Once I got my suitcase, I needed to show my receipt for my pre-booked PCR test and boarding pass. The staff (who are scrubbed and masked up) gave me a vial with my name and date of birth on it and sent me outside for a PCR test.

After the test, I went to my hotel transfer - the drive to Club Med Phuket took about 45 minutes. Once I arrived, I got my room key, chose my meal for dinner and went straight into isolation.

My view from isolation. How terrible... Image: Supplied.

My results took 4.5 hours to come back negative (some people I travelled with got theirs back in three, others waited up to six). 

I then ate my iso dinner in my room and passed out, hard.

Where did you stay?

I spent my holiday at the newly renovated Club Med Phuket.

The 61-acre resort (yep, it's huge) is located across the road from Kata Beach - a very central location in Phuket.

The adults only zen pool. Bliss. Image: Supplied.

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The resort has been closed for two years, and the week I went there was days after it opened for the first time since the pandemic began. 

As it was my first overseas trip post-COVID and I still haven't got the virus, I worried about getting it over there. So, despite wanting to explore, I aimed to spend most of my time at the resort. 

Clearly disappointed about hanging out at the resort. Image: Supplied.

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The good thing about Club Med was I could actually do that - all the meals were included, there were over 20 activities to do (including trapeze, archery and a golf course) and an open bar (very dangerous). 

And when I wanted some fresh air but didn't want to go too far, I could cross the road and head onto the beach or walk up to some shops on the other side.

The beach across the road. Image: Supplied.

The trapeze (on the only overcast morning). Image: Supplied.

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And the seven-hole golf course. Image: Supplied.

As an SHA+ hotel, they had smart safety protocols that kept my mind at ease - whenever I went for a meal I had to check my temperature, the staff I interacted with were always wearing masks and as it's only recently opened, it's not nearly at capacity.

It was just as safe when leaving the resort.

On the day we went snorkelling (all organised by the hotel) we were taken to the pier where we had to show our Thailand Pass and get our temperature checked before going out on the boat.

They checked both again before we could get back on the bus to the hotel. 

What's Phuket... like?

Phuket is coming back to life.

As it's only early days, it's not the same as you'll remember if you've been - that's simply because there aren't the amount of tourists that are usually there. There are fewer people around and not all the stores are open.

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But there are still the same smiley locals, great food and epic weather.

Image: Supplied.

What do you need to do to get home?

To get home right now, the airline requires you to get a PCR before flying. So don't make the mistake of thinking you only need it to arrive (like various travellers at the airport did). 

We booked ours through the hotel - they had an on-site infirmary - and got it done in the morning and our results back to us that same evening.

Once you get your (hopefully) negative result back, print it off and complete the new Digital Passenger Declaration.

You can do it in the app or online, but there's quite a bit there it so I suggest filling it out before you leave for the airport.

Do I recommend travelling to Thailand?

That's an easy one: 100 per cent yes. 

Get the admin out of the way, then go! Eat the food, swim in the water and enjoy a well-deserved tropical holiday overseas.

You won't regret it.

Feature image: Supplied.