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Reopening of Thailand - Dispatch 1

Richard Barrow's Letters from Thailand
Richard Barrow's Letters from Thailand
This is the first of a series of short dispatches about the reopening of Thailand to vaccinated tourists on 1st November. This week, I am preparing to leave Thailand for a short work trip and will then come back during the first week of reopening in early November. These dispatches will reflect on what I am learning during this process.

The Thailand Pass Lane at Suvarnabhumi Airport
The Thailand Pass Lane at Suvarnabhumi Airport
Today, I was invited by Khun Thapanee Kiatphaibool, the deputy governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand for domestic tourism, to observe the inspection of the operating procedures at Suvarnabhumi Airport and a hotel in Bangkok in advance of the reopening of the Kingdom for vaccinated tourists on 1st November 2021.
The first thing I want to say, is that this is still not the opening of the flood gates. This is just signalling that Thailand is ready to reopen without quarantine. In many ways, we should label this as a soft reopening as not everything will be in place on day one. The first week will most definitely be a transition period where we go from one system to another.
Unless your journey or holiday is really necessary, I would strongly urge that you delay your trip until at least week two. This is mainly because the Thailand Pass system will only go online on 1st November. Up until that point, you still need to use the old cumbersome COE system. Which might not be ideal as it might not have all of the new rules in places such as the need to only book one night at a hotel. So, you would then need to book seven nights and then ask for a refund from your hotel.
Realistically, I don’t think the first travellers will receive the Thailand Pass until around 7th or 8th November. This would then mean the first travellers wouldn’t arrive with it until around 12th November. Which is a shame, as I was hoping to test this out next week and share with you, my findings. The Thailand Pass is apparently meant to simplify everything. From what I understand, you don’t need to show any of your documents at the airport, such as vaccination certificate, health insurance, hotel bookings etc. Just the QR Code on the app. All of the processing would have been done in advance by the consular department at the Thai embassy where you applied. Once I get more information on this, I will let you know.
When people land at Suvarnabhumi Airport, they will come to this section where officials will check your documents. The COE lane will remain, as there are some groups of visitors that will still need it. Once the Thailand Pass is up and running, all you have to do here is show them your QR Code before moving onto Immigration. They say this will be much faster than what people are experiencing in the Phuket Sandbox at the moment. I guess lessons have been learned. Unfortunately, like I said already, for the first week or two, it will be slower as everyone must use the COE system.
Next you have to head to Immigration. Where again they say it will be a lot faster than Phuket. Then you go to baggage claim and through customs as normal. However, that is where it all changes from a normal arrival. This is where I need to remind people that this is NOT a full reopening of the country with no restrictions. There are still conditions which I will explain in a moment. One more difference between Suvarnabhumi airport and Phuket is that the RT-PCR testing is not done at the airport. This helps speeds things up and you will be out of the airport very quickly.
Several people have asked me if their girlfriend can meet them at arrivals and go with them to their SHA Plus hotel. No! This is what I mean by saying it is not a full reopening with no restrictions. When you come out into arrivals you are still a potential Covid patient. You cannot kiss and hug anyone. When you book your SHA+ hotel, you are also booking a compulsory transfer to the place of your RT-PCR testing. The driver will most likely be in full PPE suit and the interior of the car will be covered in plastic.
For bigger hotels, like the Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park, which I inspected this afternoon, they will have their own on-site medical team to test you. The Marriott is teaming up with Samitivej Hospital to do this. For smaller hotels, you will first be taken to a swab center to do the test and then to your hotel. Which will obviously take longer depending on traffic. Once you have checked in at your hotel, you will be taken up to your room where you must stay until you get the results of the test.
Swimming Pool at the Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park
Swimming Pool at the Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park
Several people have asked me, what happens if you arrive early in the morning, do you still need to stay the night there. Yes, it is compulsory for vaccinated people from countries on the list to pre-book in advance one night at the hotel. Some people also asked what happens if it is a very late flight. The answer to that is not clear but it is possible you might have to book two nights in that case.
I cannot tell you how long the test results will take to come back. Obviously, hotels with partner hospitals will get the results much quicker. Also, some hotels might do your testing while you are checking in. Other hotels might set a certain time later in the day. So, one answer cannot fit all situations. Either way, once you get your negative test results, the group of people from the approved list of countries are then free to check-out in the morning and go anywhere they like in Thailand. The TAT is calling this “Test and Go”. However, if your test results are positive, the only place you will be going is straight to hospital!
Group two are the people taking part in the Sandbox. These people are fully vaccinated, but they don’t come from a country on the list. You must fly into one of the international airports on the listed 17 tourist provinces. For most people, that will probably mean Bangkok. These travellers must book a SHA+ hotel in advance for seven nights. The arrival procedure for Bangkok is the same as the first group of people. I’m also told, that both of these groups don’t necessarily have to stay in Bangkok. They could, in theory, go straight to a SHA+ hotel in say Pattaya or Hua Hin. But they must have a hotel transfer booked in advance as part of the hotel package. My advice for the first group is to stay in Bangkok for the first night. Then go where you like.
For the second group, there was one thing I didn’t fully understand before which I have just learned. I thought that these people had the freedom of the 17 provinces and could switch to hotels in different provinces. I just learned today that you have to stay in the first province that you picked. So, if these people want to go to Pattaya, they should try and arrive in Thailand during the day and book a SHA+ hotel in Pattaya with a hotel transfer. So, basically, these Sandbox people are stuck in one province, much like in the Phuket Sandbox. But after seven days, and after the negative test results on the last day, you then get the freedom of all 77 provinces.
This was meant to be a short dispatch and so I will try and wrap this up now. I think what I learned today is that they are signalling that the country is opening up to vaccinated tourists who don’t want to do quarantine. But don’t rush to come. If you come during the high season in December and January, it will be a much smoother experience and everyone will know what to expect. In addition, by that time, there could be transit flights from Suvarnabhumi airport to places like Chiang Mai where you can then spend your first night. Something like that might be difficult during the first month while demand is still low. Just take a look at the transit flights to Samui. Bangkok Airways must be running at a loss with only half a dozen people on each flight. Or they are flying really valuable cargo in the hold.
I have received literally hundreds and hundreds of questions today and I will do my best to get them answered in future dispatches. I was able to interview the deputy governor of TAT today which helped me a lot. But, like she said, not everything has been ironed out and resolved. There are so many different departments involved in the reopening of the country. It is not just the TAT alone. For example, the Consular Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are in charge of the Thailand Pass. I will need to ask them questions to learn more about that.
Useful Tweets
Richard Barrow
🔴 TAT Newsroom has just posted an official press release about the re-opening of the country. Lots of good details here. Follow them on @Tatnews_Org for updates.

♦️ Quarantine-Free Thailand Reopening for Vaccinated Tourists From 1 November 2021 https://t.co/6HSrdMDBEA #Thailand https://t.co/9Wwu0fnEVI
Richard Barrow
Full information just released by the @MFAThai on the three schemes for entering #Thailand from 1st November 2021. https://t.co/LYFUf8tHcK
Richard Barrow
🔴 BREAKING: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has just released the list of “low-risk” countries and territories that can take part in the re-opening of #Thailand on 1st November. https://t.co/aAgCy0p4tn
Richard Barrow
🔴 Official list of provinces and districts that now represent the extended Phuket Sandbox. The Royal Gazette mentioned 17. The 15 are below and also Phuket and Surat Thani (Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao). Some restrictions, including curfew, will be lifted in these places. https://t.co/JX082zayGw
More Coming Soon!
Thanks for reading this far. Hopefully I’ve given you a clearer idea of what will happen next week. I will be flying out of the country on Friday and so I expect I will be sending another special dispatch in a few days about my preparations to leave. There will also be dispatches from London where I will be attending the press conference about the reopening of Thailand and the plans for next year. And then another dispatch for the return to Thailand next week. Make sure you whitelist the newsletters so that they don’t end up in the spam folder. Thanks and see you next time.
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Richard Barrow's Letters from Thailand
Richard Barrow's Letters from Thailand @richardbarrow

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Samut Prakan, Thailand