Rows of empty stores, closed garage doors and deserted streets. Thailand is eerily quiet right now… which means it’s a great time to go.
The odd little food cart, usually without customers. Street dogs sniff in the gutters, sometimes outnumbering people.
The Koh Samui of 2022 is Thailand like you’ve never seen it before.
The tiny island off the east coast of the mainland, about a 90-minute flight from Bangkok, has been hit hard by Covid lockdowns and border closures.
In a normal year, Thailand welcomes around 40 million tourists, which represents 11% of its GDP. The country is a firm favorite of Australians, with around 800,000 of us visiting each year, before the pandemic hit.
And for islands like Koh Samui, usually buzzing with music, cheap and delicious food and beer, nightclubs and hostels, the effect of the tourism shutdown has taken its toll.
“A lot of people just couldn’t stay in the cities; they went back to their family farms and lived very simply,” one resident told me. “It was absolutely devastating.”
Thailand, like so many places in Southeast Asia, is just beginning to recover from the effects of the past two years.
But the borders are now open to Australians – you must be vaccinated, apply for the Thai pass and take a Covid test on arrival and self-isolate until you get a result (in my case less than 12 hours, which is standard) but otherwise there is no quarantine.
And that’s exactly why you should consider traveling to Thailand right now.
It’s the only chance any of us will ever have to see and experience this beautiful country without its usual crowds.
And it’s a way of doing your part to help Thai people – who are always so welcoming to people from all over the world – get back on their feet.
Mohamad Hawass, a German software developer, and his girlfriend Nadine, a psychologist, moved to Thailand in December 2021.
They currently live on Koh Samui at Crystal Bay Beach, near the popular tourist town of Lamai. Mohamad says the Koh Samui of today is very different from what he remembers from previous trips before the virus hit.
“If you compare it to the time I came in 2018, I’d say it’s about 30% full,” he says. “Back then, you couldn’t walk down the street without seeing other tourists.
“Now there are hardly any tourists or expats. It’s very noticeable. So many restaurants are closed or abandoned – I even saw one place that had collapsed. It’s really a shame. »
My journey took me along the east coast of the island, through towns like Lamai and Cheweng. I am told that other parts of the island are a bit more lively. “Most people are staying on the north coast – Bang Rak and Bang Por for now,” a local told me.
While empty streets are a sign of great loss, there is also a quiet beauty in Thailand today. We will never see Koh Samui like this again.
The absence of shouting, littering and drunken tourists shows another side of Koh Samui, perhaps similar to what it looked like decades ago.
“It’s a great time to be here,” Mohamad said. “A lot of people prefer not to be surrounded by crowds. It’s all very easy going and laid back right now. It’s very peaceful.
This peace may not last long. “Lamai feels like the buzz is back,” says Nualyai Theppitak, who runs the Destination Detox wellness center at Lamai Beach. “Many businesses have closed but many (are) under construction.”
As I wrote in a previous post, many flights between Australia and Thailand are currently operating at low capacity, which means you can stretch out and have whole rows or even sections to yourself. And although you have to fill out a bit of a form to get the Thailand Pass for entry, once that’s done, and you make sure you take all your documents with you on your trip, the Thai authorities couldn’t be more helpful in helping you. to arrive safely.
Thailand and the Thai people are excited to start welcoming tourists back and your accommodation and airport staff will do everything in their power to make your trip to this tropical paradise as pleasant as possible.
Mohamed and Nadine make sure to spend money every day with local vendors to do their part to support the residents who have been through so much.
“We walk 2 km every day to the local market to get our coffee and breakfast,” Mohamed explains. “We try to support and engage with the community as much as possible.”
And he, along with other Koh Samui residents, is urging Australians to start coming back to do the same.
Australians are naturally generous; we have stepped up to support businesses after our own 2019-2020 bushfires and Covid lockdowns, and now is the time to show the same kindness to our Thai neighbours.
“If you come here, stay and eat locally to help local businesses stay afloat,” says Helen Taylor of Ban Tai River Gardens on the island’s north coast.
It’s time. Thailand awaits you.