A continuation of previous posts about a Thailand trip in November 2021.
Phuket is one of the most popular of Thailand’s diverse resort areas. I’ve visited Phuket several times over the years. The island’s beaches and tourist areas have always been very lively. The trip in 2021, however, was unlike any other.
Thailand has a population of about 70 million. It has only recorded just over 25,000 Covid deaths. Covid success has come at the expense of the tourist-dependent national economy and even more acutely in resort areas like Phuket.
After closing to almost all international tourists for months, Thailand experimented with a variety of schemes to allow foreigners to visit under controlled circumstances. I visited under the Test & Go program for fully vaccinated travelers. Among other things, it required a pre-departure RT-PCR test, a one-night quarantine and another RT-PCR test on arrival, an antigen test on day 5 and $50,000 in medical insurance that covered Covid-19.
Entry requirements that protected the population kept the overwhelming majority of potential tourists from visiting. For tourists who made it to this picturesque island on Thailand’s Andaman Sea coast, that wasn’t all bad. There were still a few things to do and accommodations and tours were even cheaper than normal.
Lower prices allowed me to sample luxuries that are usually beyond my budget. I stayed at the five-star Hyatt Regency Phuket Resort and enjoyed free breakfast buffet and evening hors d’oeuvres and drinks. The resort is situated in a lovely but isolated location on Kamala Beach.
Because of the hotel’s location, I rented a car in Phuket for the first time. Renting a car turned out to be a good choice. I rented from a local company at Phuket airport. It charged about half of what major rental companies were charging online. I used a credit card that provided primary collision damage insurance (but not personal liability insurance). Insurance is important especially in a foreign country. Closely check the coverages provided by your personal insurance or a credit card.
The hotel had free valet parking, which is common for resorts on Phuket. Compared to relying on tuk tuks and shuttle buses, a car was a more expensive but much more convenient. I’d recommend renting a car in Phuket unless you are staying in a major tourist district.
Bangla Road is the heart of Patong, the largest and most vibrant Phuket tourist areas. In the evening, Bangla Road closes to vehicular traffic and becomes a walking street lined with beer bars, night clubs, discos, fast food spots, and go-go bars of various types and persuasions. It is almost exclusively an adult entertainment area. Even so, it is common to see families with young children taking in the nighttime sights.
In November 2021, Bangla Road was deserted as bars and clubs were closed by government decree and many restaurants and shops closed due to lack of customers..
The rest of Patong was similarly unusually quiet. Jungceylon Mall, a multilevel oasis of familiar brands, stores and restaurants, was completely closed as was Bangla Boxing Stadium, a famous muay thai boxing venue.
Even some outdoor venues were closed. Banzaan Fresh Market is night market devoted to seafood. You select from a wide variety of live seafood and have it prepared on the spot.
It was surprising that massage spas were open. I normally enjoy a Thai massage or two. They are inexpensive (as little as $10 for a 60-minute massage). A full-body massage or a foot massage is just what the doctor ordered to soothe tense muscles, clear the mind, and relieve stress. Employees aren’t sex workers although negotiating a “happy ending” is not unheard of.
Patong is loaded with spas and massage shops. The masseuses sit outside and ask passersby to stop in. Knowing how much the ladies’ incomes had suffered because of Covid, not being brave enough to try a massage made me feel a little guilty.
Instead of being packed with people, the streets of Patong were empty.
The Yorkshire Hotel is a 3-star hotel with 2.5-star rooms and a 5-star pool and fitness center. This hotel is located on Sansabai Road one block from Bangla Road and just around the corner from Jungceylon Mall. This street is often nearly as crowded as Bangla Road.
Beautiful beaches, which are normally packed with tourists, were sadly vacant.
Construction was the only part of the economy that seemed to be clicking. Many hotels closed temporarily or permanently. Well financed ones like my hotel, the Hyatt Regency Resort, used the down time for extensive renovations. There was also new construction in progress.
Outdoor attractions remained open. Wat Chai Thararam is the largest, most famous and most visited Buddhist temple complex on Phuket. Its Chalong Temple is noteworthy for its display of a bone fragment from Lord Buddha.
It was a pleasure to pay my respects to Phuket’s Big Buddha and take in the vistas from one of the highest points on the island.
I tried one of the zipline course in the treetops at Hanuaman World.
Even though Thailand is experiencing a resurgence in Covid cases, it recently announced that it is relaxing entry requirements effective on April 1, 2022. Now there is no pre-arrival test requirement, and the requirement for medical coverage is reduced to $20,000.
Phuket was just a shell of itself, but I did have a short reunion with a couple of friends. That will be the next post.
Did you visit Thailand during Covid or plan to in the near future? If you visited, what was your experience?