**Since I wrote this, Thailand has now moved onto the UK red list meaning you’ll need to quarantine in a hotel for 2 weeks on arrival – cases are dropping in Thailand though so hopefully it will be moved back to amber in the not too distant future!**
International travel, remember that? For many of us, it’s well over a year since we got on a plane outside of Thailand.
Until recently, travelling out of Thailand has been impractical to the point of impossible – limited flights, expensive hotel quarantine on one or both ends, and heavy restrictions wherever. Having experienced the joys of ASQ last year when coming back into Thailand, it’s not something we’d be rushing to do again.
But since the launch of the Phuket Sandbox scheme in July and the few commercial flights heading in and out of the country, it has become a little more viable to get out of Bangkok for a while.
So with a slightly easier path out, more ability to see loved ones in the UK and being in the fortunate position of being double vaccinated in Thailand, we decided to gamble on getting out for a few weeks, and here I’ll share what we did for anyone planning this kind of trip.
Getting from Thailand to the UK has been surprisingly straightforward. Before I started looking into leaving, I was concerned about flights, about prices, about requirements and about getting back.
But it’s been a fair bit easier than we imagined, albeit not particularly cheap to get back in via the sandbox.
Flights were quite easy – Thai are running two flights a week between London and Bangkok on Tuesday night (technically Wednesday morning) and Saturday night (likewise).
Even better, for the first time in my experience it’s easy to burn airmiles online against flights – we had a fair few sitting around and managed to book two seats on airmiles at just 4 days notice using Royal Orchid Plus. Worth looking into if you have some old points.
This meant the flight for two of us was only about £100 in total.
For the UK, the requirements are fairly achievable. While Thailand is on the UK’s amber list, you need:
- a negative Covid test taken within 72 hours before departure
- a passenger locator form filled in online from 48 hours before arriving – NB we didn’t know our flight seat number in advance so left it blank in the form, this was fine
- to book Covid tests in advance of getting to the UK.
PCR Covid Tests
In Bangkok, there are any number of clinics offering fast turnaround Covid PCR tests, and it looks like antigen tests are accepted too. We plumped for Facebook expat group legend Dr Donna’s Medconsult clinic down by K Village on Sukhumvit 26.
This was very well-organised, with quite a large space reserved in what is normally a dance studio. We were in and out in 5 minutes and results came back in under 12 hours, although their promises turnaround is 24 hours. For 2,600 baht we couldn’t have asked for much more.
Some friends also had good things to say about Bangkok Hospital and their same day service, which was upwards of 4000 baht. I personally want to pay as little as possible for somebody to poke my brain.
UK Covid test providers
You also need to book Covid tests for when you get to the UK. There’s been quite a bit of bad press about overpriced services and to be honest the government list is an absolute minefield.
There are very few UK Covid test provider reviews online and prices seen to vary quite a lot. A friend recommended Source Bioscience and they worked well for us – with home testing kits sent for day 2, day 8 and an optional test to release on day 5, all sent and returned via post.
At the airport
Suvarnabhumi, as you might expect, is a bit of a ghost town. The check in hall was quite busy when we arrived but we were ushered straight to a desk to drop our bags. They will also check your UK documentation at this point so it’s worth having printouts to hand.
Having arrived some 5 hours early to avoid any mishaps with Bangkok’s ongoing 9pm curfew, we had plenty of time to explore what’s happening at Suvarnabhumi’s international section, and it’s not a lot.
Almost everything past security is closed within the international section, with a few exceptions. As you might expect, the restaurant section is entirely mothballed as are the majority of the shops.
If you’re looking for sustenance, Gloria Jean’s coffee is open over by (I think) the E gates.
A very few of the souvenir shops are also still going, otherwise your choices are vending machines or one of the lounges, most of which were still open and looked to be serving food and drinks. From memory you can buy into the Miracle Lounge which may be a decent option if you have time to kill.
I cannot overstate the oddness of being in a mothballed international airport during Covid. It is simultaneously freaky, intriguing and boring, like being stuck on the set of a horror film after hours.
The main entertainment we found was spotting the lone guard blasting around the place on a Segway.
Back into the UK
Given that we took off at 1am there’s limited information I can give you about the flight itself, but the start and end I was awake for were pretty normal.
Unlike when we came back to Thailand last year, meals were served as normal but the staff were still rustling along in full PPE for 12 hours.
I’m reliably informed by Frankie that we had two temperature scans in flight and that she had photos taken of her temperature scan, presumably to fulfil the traditional Thai requirement of photographing people doing menial tasks.
One thing of note is that if you’re not going to stare at the back of your eyeballs for 10 hours, the film selection on Thai at the moment is quite limited, so get on your Netflix downloads running now!
Despite stories of multi-hour queues at UK immigration, we were through in a matter of minutes – they follow up on your quarantine via phone later. The quarantine at home is easy assuming you’ve got a friend or relative to stay with.
And if Thailand spent much of the last year on relative normality while the UK was under rolling lockdowns, the polar opposite is now true.
The UK in August 2021 is way beyond new normal, it’s basically normal normal. After a year of mask-wearing and distancing, it’s been something of a culture shock to see everything open, limited masks (mainly indoors) and crowds of people enjoying the things crowds of people have always enjoyed.
It may end up being a little early for the UK but you can absolutely see the transformational effect of a strong vaccine rollout. Considering the dire straits Britain was in during the early part of the year, the turnaround is staggering, and hopefully we’ll be saying the same of Thailand in a few months. Being here certainly gives a bit of hope for Thailand in a strange way.
As for us, we’ve been keeping cautious and dodging the crowds where possible as we hope to come back to Thailand shortly – hopefully more on that later – but this has been a great trip and more achievable than we had first thought. Hopefully the info here helps a few more folks plan and do trips over the coming months!
That’s very interesting, we haven’t been home to Thailand since before the pandemic, it would be great to hear of your experience going back
Thanks Steve, we’re (hopefully) heading back this weekend so will write up how that works out soon – Mark