Getting to Koh Phangan through Samui Sandbox Scheme - Cyrus comes back again!

26 Aug 2021

Back in August 2020, we spoke with Cyrus to make the article Successfully coming back to Koh Phangan from the UK - Cyrus's Story. In that instance, he had returned to Koh Phangan through the Bangkok ASQ (Alternative State Quarantine) and since then the Phuket and Samui Sandbox schemes have been running as well as the ASQ in Bangkok. Well, he has left and come back again! This time returning through the Samui Sandbox, he had to go back to the UK for work and was away this time for 3 months. Let's hear first-hand what it's like coming to the island in this way.

What made you choose to come through the Samui Sandbox rather than Bangkok or Phuket, apart from it being closer to home?
In Bangkok, it’s still a full quarantine system.  You are only allowed out twice a day from your room, plastic cutlery and lots of other hygiene theatre based on the idea you can catch covid from surfaces which is highly unlikely. So, it’s not a particularly pleasant stay, but I’ve heard from friends on Phangan it’s still better than prison. Also, I think for ASQ you don’t have to have been vaccinated before you come.
Phuket Sandbox is cheaper than Samui, there are more options, and more things open, but then you have to get a flight from Phuket to Samui and at the time I booked I think they were suspended.  Flights have now resumed, but who knows.
So for me, as I live here, being as close to home as possible was the least risky option.  Worst case I could swim over.

How was the entry process this time?
This time around everything was much slicker, from requesting the CoE process to the processing at BKK.  The system for CoE was actually quite impressive.  It’s an automated software system, whereas last time everything was email-driven.  I think from start to finish the CoE process took me 3-4 days.

Do you think it is accessible for tourists to enter in this way after your experience?
Maybe in Phuket, but not really the Samui Sandbox scheme.  Once I arrived the rules were changed and further restrictions were placed on what I could do.  Considering sandbox tourists are double vaxed, and have had multiple PCR tests we are in the lowest risk group. However, there is still a perception in some Thai circles that the increase in covid numbers on Samui / Koh Phangan was because of sandbox tourists.  This is obviously not the case.
I think it’s a much better option if you are returning home or coming here for a longer stay as it’s much more pleasant than ASQ in Bangkok, and no more expensive if you stay in Phuket.

How were your 7 days on Samui?
It was ok.  My hotel was on the beach and I was allowed to go swimming in the sea every day, but I couldn’t leave the hotel and the promises of trips and being able to go to other restaurants didn’t materialize.  After my negative test result on day 7, I was able to leave the hotel but wasn’t supposed to rent a scooter.  Again, unnecessary restrictions for the lowest risk group on the islands.

Did you have to travel in a ‘special way’ to move to Phangan?
Yes, a special minibus was provided from my hotel and I was picked up from Thongsala pier by my Koh Phangan Sha hotel.

It seems there is a lack of Sha+ Hotels on Phangan, how did you decide on which one to stay in?
Yes, I would agree.  It seems only expensive options are available.  I made my selection based on the risk that if things got locked down again (which they now have) I was near a beach and the food would be ok.

And how have these 7 days been here?
Great, my wife came to stay with me after she did a PCR test before arriving at the hotel, so we treated it as a mini holiday.

What are your first impressions of Samui and Phangan since being away then back, any changes positive and negative?
Samui is still very quiet. There were a handful of places open near the hotel I stayed.  I’ve not seen any of Koh Phangan yet apart from Thong Nai Pan.  It’s super quiet here like it was before I left.  

What are your thoughts on the UK compared to Thailand with the situation now?
UK was opening up as I left, and things seem to be getting back to normal.  I see the numbers are starting to drop in Thailand, but it’s been nothing like as deadly as the UK.  So that is good to see, the real test will be how easily people are willing to let go of control, and how quickly life will get back to normal in Thailand.

What advice would you give for people wanting to travel to Koh Phangan?
It’s a great time to come, the place is empty, there are great deals to be had and you get the beaches to yourself.  I think it’s still a great option if you want to come for an extended stay if, for example, you are a digital nomad.  Now the government has changed tack and is advising people they need to learn to live with covid and treat the disease as endemic you’d be making yourself an unpopular politician if you decided to unilaterally ignore that message and keep everything locked down for another extended period if the science didn’t justify that.

Apart from seeing your wife, what are you most looking forward to doing now you’re back?
Seeing my dogs and chickens!!