UPDATED 04/10/2021 – It was announced a few weeks ago that Khao Lak has now been included in the Phuket Sandbox Extension Scheme. Simply put, fully vaccinated international arrivals can now holiday in Khao Lak without the need to quarantine.
It has now been announced that starting from 1st October 2021, fully vaccinated tourists can travel directly to Khao Lak after arriving in Thailand. Upon arrival in Khao Lak, arrivals are required to stay within the Khao Lak area for a minimum of 7 days before moving to other destinations in Thailand.
Khao Lak and the COVID Crisis
Thankfully since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in 2020, there has been no officially confirmed cases of the virus in Khao Lak, or the surrounding area. Khao Lak remains to this day unaffected and one of the safest places not just in Thailand, but in the world.
Economically and socially however, Khao Lak has taken a battering.
It has been reported that 90% of Phuket’s economy relies on tourism. Since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, borders have been closed and that 90% all but disintegrated. Phuket Airport was left empty and quiet, with only but a few half empty flights arriving and departing daily.
In Khao Lak however the problem is possibly even worse. Phuket is a much larger town, with a scattering of other industries that do not rely completely on tourists, even if those industries do only make up 10%. Phuket is also much more well known and popular with domestic tourist. Meaning that although the tourism income has taken a massive beating, there is still some hope. Meanwhile in Khao Lak I would guess that the tourism industry makes up a much higher percentage if the local economy than even in Phuket.
Back in March 2020, when the pandemic took hold almost every business was forced to close. Thailand closed the borders to incoming foreigners and banned all non-vital inter-provincial travel. Alcohol sales were banned and a 10pm curfew was put in place. The whole country went into hibernation. After about a month of this people started poking their heads out if their houses and blinking in the sunlight. Some of the rules were relaxed and people began to go back to work.
But in Khao Lak there was no work to go back to. The majority of people living here had come to work in the hotels and tour offices that had become the backbone of the Khao Lak economy. With the borders closed and no tourists in town the hotels and tour companies remained closed. Almost the entire town remained unemployed.
There were many reports in the media about potential government support packages, soft loans and stimulus packages soon to come. Few however ever saw the light of day, and of the few financial support packages that did make it further than being just a media rumor, the vast majority of people and small businesses in Khao Lak soon discovered that as they were previously employed in the tourism industry and had no immediate prospects of further employment, they were not eligible for any help as there was no way they would be able to pay it back. Leaving them to wonder who exactly were these support packages aimed at helping?
The government did however set up a few initiatives aimed at supplementing basic necessities for a select number of people and for limited periods. This was based on a first come first serve basis, with quotas often being filled within the hours of the announcement.
Similar initiatives were set up, aimed at boosting domestic hotel stays and the number of people eating in restaurants. Unfortunately, in a time where many are unemployed inter-provincial is highly regulated, these initiatives provided very limited results.
Around this time the population of Khao Lak fluctuated massively as people returned to their family homes in hope of finding an income through farming or setting up a food stall. Many of the expats and foreign retirees who had called Khao Lak their home, in some cases for many years, and formed a small but crucial customer base for many local shops and restaurants were forced to leave Thailand. As there was no longer any work in the hotels and dive centers their visas and work permits had been cancelled. Many of them found it all but impossible to fulfill their visa requirements after having lived off their savings for so long without work.
Khao Lak became a ghost town.
What have we been doing?
As one of the smallest tour operators in Khao Lak we were hit hard! We went from having trips every day to nothing overnight. Although we could no longer offer full time employment to our team, we supported them every step of the way. We made sure they received all social security benefits and government support they were entitled to. We helped them buy essential groceries when times were tough. And we donated the use of our beloved boat, Explorer 1, to enable local families to find food and income through fishing.
Today, after over a year, Khao Lak has become a few rows of empty shophouses waiting to be reclaimed by the jungle. Many once successful businesses have been forced to close for good.
There are however small pockets of life and a sense of expectation is in the air. Many of the remaining businesses are now starting to tentatively prepare to re-open. The Similan and Surin Islands are open again. Although the visitor numbers are nothing compared to previous years, the tour boats are starting to bring employment back to the area. Further up the coast Memories Beach Bar has become the “go to” place for Thai surfers. A handful of hotels have started to open up with a skeleton crew in the hope that tourism, be it domestic or international, will begin to return soon.
Khao Lak Is Open to Tourists – Phuket Sandbox 7+7 Extension
Many countries, including Thailand are now planning to re-open. Thailand has already taken the first big step towards re-opening with the Phuket Sandbox and Phuket Sandbox 7+7 extension schemes.
Fully vaccinated tourists are now able to visit Thailand without quarantine. They must stay the first 7 days in Phuket before they have the option to transfer to a hotel in either Khao Lak, Koh Yao or Krabi for the next 7 days. After 2 weeks they are free to roam the country as they please. The Samui Sandbox project is also now in operation.
This is a massive step forwards along the road to recovery. The scheme started in July, and at the time of writing there has been no major disasters, outbreaks or adverse effects as a result.
There is now talk of relaxing the rules even further and making it even easier for tourists to travel within the Sandbox area. The number of required COVID tests could potentially be reduced and the inter-provincial travel requirements could be relaxed. Making it easier and more stress-free to travel between Khao Lak, Phuket and Krabi. 3 key tourist destinations.
Plans to open up additional destinations are also now being discussed and the details being sorted.
It is the continued hope that Thailand will be fully opened with almost normal entry requirements by the end of the year. With further reduced requirements in operation from October onwards.
How can you help?
It will take many years for Khao Lak to recover and for the people to find their way back to full time employment. But there is hope. Surveys by companies such as TripAdvisor and messages we have received from some of our previous customers indicate that the demand for international travel is still high and people are looking to travel as soon as they are confident of their safety.
You can help to re-build peoples lived here taking a few easy steps.
- Book your holiday with an agent you trust. Before you book be sure to ask…
1. What happens if the flight/holiday gets cancelled at the last moment?
2. What if the entry requirements or rules change at the last moment?
3. What if you are told you have to go into unexpected quarantine?
Make sure you know all the conditions before you book and get yourself some good travel insurance just to be sure.
- Use local services. When booking your airport transfers check out local taxi drivers and tour operators. Using a local taxi driver helps to feed his children.
- Eat in local restaurants – DON’T GO ALL INCLUSIVE! Locally owned restaurants are often much cheaper that in your hotel. The food is usually excellent and the restaurants are mostly family owned. Your hotel is already getting your room rate and employing several staff. By eating in a different restaurant each night, you are providing income and employment for many more people, while often saving money!
- Experience the local area. Sitting by the pool is a great way to relax. But getting out and about is the only way to truly experience a country. Take some tours, go on a day trip, rent a taxi for a day. See the beautiful country side and help local people support their families.
- Enjoy your holiday! Take the time to recommend and review local goods and services.
A short recommendation or review costs nothing and can often be the decider for other people looking to book.