By Barry Kenyon

Anything and everything about Thailand
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Indian arrivals lead the charge to reignite Pattaya tourism

By Barry Kenyon

March 29, 2022

Even before Thailand removes the requirement to have a pre-departure RT-PRC health test from April 1, the number of international arrivals is growing apace. But the largest contingent is from India, assisted by a travel bubble scheme agreed earlier in the year. IndiGo Airlines, Spice Jet and Go First all said they were now running daily flights from New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Bengaluru to Bangkok and Phuket. Meanwhile, Thai Smile, a sister airline of Thai Airways, flies to Kolkata three times weekly.

In pre-pandemic 2019 India annually provided almost 2 million Thai tourists, coming in third place behind China and Russia. But China has not restarted its zero-sum package tours and individual visitors are heavily discouraged with two or three weeks state quarantine required on return. Russian overseas tourism has slumped since the war in Ukraine with flights badly disrupted between Bangkok and Moscow.

Anil Punjabi, chairman of the Indian Travel Agents’ Federation, said that almost one thousand Indian tourists were entering Thailand every day, a number expected to double or even triple in the next two months. On average, Indian tourists spend about seven days in Thailand and spend about 6,000 baht daily. According to Thomas Cook, the global travel group, Thailand is in the top three overseas vacation spots for Indians.

In Pattaya, the noticeable signs have been more diners in the more popular Indian restaurants, such as Ali Baba and Madras Darbar, and the re-emergence of some tour buses visiting the more popular tourist shrines. The Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT) plans to participate in the South Asia Travel and Tourism Exchange, to be held in New Delhi May18-20, to keep the Land of Smiles high in the popularity stakes.

TAT is also focusing on Indian special interest groups with high spending potential. These include weddings and honeymoons with Pattaya already a popular choice for rich Indian families, golf, millennials and a growing number of digital nomads. If the Thai Cabinet agrees the proposal of the Ministry of Tourism and Sports to dismantle entirely the Thailand Pass bureaucracy from June 1, Pattaya will be back on the road to recovery.

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Re: By Barry Kenyon

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I remember when it seemed as if Thailand was on the verge of at least approving the next best thing - civil partnerships. That was in 2020.
See: viewtopic.php?p=101994#p101994

So far, nothing ever came of it, so I'm not exactly taken aback by surprise that we're still probably years, if not decades, away from Thailand ever approving gay marriage.
______________________________________

Gay marriage may be too radical in Thailand

By Barry Kenyon

March 30, 2022

The Thai Cabinet has referred back to Parliament the draft marriage equality bill proposed by the Move Forward Party. The move is seen as a delaying tactic by high level government ministers as there is an ongoing debate about civil partnership for gays as opposed to full marriage. A civil partnership bill received the support of the Cabinet as early as last year, but progress on both versions has stalled in a complex bureaucracy.

The country’s constitutional court ruled last December that full equality for gays would require a change in the law. To limit same sex unions to civil partnership status would mean that some rights would still be denied or ambiguous, for example social security and pension rights, adoption and emergency decisions about terminal care in hospital. The debate about full or partial equality has rumbled on ever since.

On Valentine’s Day, earlier this year, a district registration office in Bangkok actually registered same sex marriages but, of course, the paperwork is not legally binding. Some Buddhist temples have also agreed to perform ceremonies for gay couples, but they are technically blessings without state-sponsored documentation.

Although Thailand has an international reputation for being gay friendly, there is still substantial opposition to any legal changes. The constitutional court, in its decision last December, controversially offered the opinion that gay unions could not offer the same family bonds as heterosexual marriage. Legal discrimination against sexual minorities in employment matters is still a strong disincentive to coming out publicly.

If any legislation is actually passed before the next general election is held (not later than March 2023), observers say it is likely to be the civil union version. However, other macro issues such as the struggling economy could drive the subject off the agenda for the time being. Legal gay rights have not made the same progress in Asia as they have in Europe. Taiwan is the only Asian country currently to have pioneered gay civil unions and then, in 2019, to have legislated for same sex marriage.

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Thailand’s tourist entry rules aren’t worse than her regional rivals

By Barry Kenyon

April 2, 2022

Almost all south east Asian countries are anxious to recruit cash-laden international tourists after two years of near-total absence. Domestic critics of Thailand’s latest entry policy, which started April 1, argue that the country still has more onerous entry rules and regulations than those of her neighbors. However, a comparison suggests that this is a gross over-simplification.

Thailand and Cambodia are the only regional countries to have abandoned the need for a pre-flight Covid test for vaccinated travellers. Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam all require pre-flight evidence of negative Covid status 72/48 hours in advance. This is usually the RT-PCR version but, where a lateral flow test is permitted, it must have been submitted for a professional laboratory report. It is a myth that these countries allow you to test yourself before going to the airport.

Criticism has been leveled at Thailand for the laborious nature of her Thailand Pass system. But neighboring countries have a similar pre-arrival registration system. For the Philippines, entrants have to register online with the Bureau of Quarantine to receive a QR code and, later, have to update the information with their seat number and RT-PCR test result on the actual day of departure. Singapore insists on registration via an “automated tool”, whilst Vietnam requires you to complete a computerized passenger declaration form just 12 hours ahead of departure.

The requirement for compulsory medical insurance for Covid infection is not unique to Thailand. Her US$20,000 floor requirement is less than the Philippines’ US$35,000, whilst the Malaysian government website requires “a relevant insurance policy” without elaboration. Singapore has a US$30,000 requirement for non-vaccinated arrivals whilst Cambodia requires a bond to cover hospitalization for anyone testing positive for the virus.

There are also specific restrictions by individual countries. Visa on arrival in Vietnam is restricted to 13 countries and 15 days and other nationalities must proceed through a prior visa screening process. The Philippines is particularly strict about having an onward flight ticket before being admitted to the country. All neighboring countries warn arrivals that extension of a tourist visa is not automatic with several stressing there is no “right” to stay once the permission has run out. Extending a visa in Thailand is far and away the easiest procedure in the whole of south east Asia.

It is, of course, true that Thailand is the only regional country insisting on a RT-PCR test on arrival – with a pre-booked hotel quarantine mandatory until the result is available some hours later. There is also a requirement, from April 1, for entrants to take a self-administered lateral flow test on day five and send the result to the same hotel. Whether this works well in practice remains to be seen. The Philippines, Cambodia and Vietnam all emphasize the need for new arrivals to test themselves in the first week of stay and report to health authorities if sick.

All in all, the generalization that Thailand is more bureaucratic in entry procedures and is less tourist-friendly than other regional countries is at best a moot point. But the country which has taken the biggest leap forward in the encouragement of international tourism is Cambodia which has vaccinated 93 percent of its population. For vaccinated travellers, there are no Covid tests of any kind before or after arrival in the kingdom, whilst visas on arrival without any prior online registration are back. For the time being, that’s too radical a solution for the larger regional countries.

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Re: By Barry Kenyon

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Not me. Thanks to this violent junta, on my list of places where I would want to travel, Myanmar is way down at the bottom. And even before this junta, Myanmar's persecution of ethnic minorities was not something that would attract me as a tourist or anything else. Include me out.
_____________________________________________________

Myanmar opens up in two weeks, but the detail remains scant

By Barry Kenyon

April 5, 2022

Myanmar’s military rulers say that the country is back on a near-normal course with the issuing of 28-days online tourist visas as early as April 17. Government websites point out that there are literally thousands of places to visit, admittedly mostly temples and pagodas, with hotels and restaurants nationwide keen for your custom. Particularly recommended is a hot air balloon ride at sunrise in UNESCO’s world heritage site in Mandalay. And don’t forget to drink a can or two of Mandalay Spirulina which apparently has anti-ageing properties you’d scarcely credit.

Although the junta has taken a lot of flak for the February 2021 coup and the now-familiar catalogue of human rights abuses, the revival of Myanmar tourism has its international fans. Indian newspapers in particular are suggesting that tourists will be perfectly safe, whilst their rupees will help to restore the Myanmar economy. The Chinese government is anxious not to upset the administration of senior general Min Aung Hlaing, but can’t for the moment promote international tourism whilst simultaneously ordering its own citizens to holiday at home. The internet reveals many international tour-escort companies promoting Myanmar right now. Their customer numbers may be a different matter.

Any European thinking of venturing into Myanmar faces some very high hurdles. Fully vaccinated tourist candidates must pay US$50-US$56 online for the e-visa, although the site does warn that you might be refused and won’t be told the reason. But you may be informed you are on “the watchlist”. On arrival, you will be taken to a quarantine hotel for a compulsory sojourn of seven days and two extra RT-PCR virus tests. Once let out, you will quickly discover that some cities and regions are off-limits to foreigners and that electricity brownouts are commonplace even in downtown districts.

It is not exactly crystal clear which airlines will be flying to Yangon. Prior to the Covid pandemic, there were 30 foreign flights daily from Asian cities, but flagged travel suspension notices for April 2022 suggest that commercial flights will be very thin indeed on the ground. Of course, Myanmar Airways is offering repatriation flights from Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai and Kuala Lumpur, whilst Thai Airways does operate an ad hoc service. Maybe a few stray tourists will be able to book seats on these semi-commercial flights. If so, they will likely be Asean nationals from Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines, the governments of which have said they are “neutral” about the legitimacy of the coup. But the numbers will be non-consequential.

As Michael Isherwood, chair of the Burma Humanitarian Mission puts it, “the attempted revival of tourism is simply a ploy to benefit the junta and not the country as a whole”. He has little to worry about on that particular score. Yangon airport is likely to remain semi-deserted for as far ahead as the eye can see. The Myanmar international tourist game is going to be very short of players. Very short indeed.

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Chinese tourists likely to kickstart Pattaya in October 2022

By Barry Kenyon

April 9, 2022

The Thai tourist industry is abuzz with rumors that the Chinese authorities will allow tour groups to Thailand as early as Golden Week, an October holiday and festivity. Vichit Prakobgosol, vice-president of the Tourism Council of Thailand, said the rumors were strong but needed the formal assent of the Chinese Communist Party’s national congress.

However, there is little chance this year of Chinese arrivals amounting to 800,000 or more per month as in the pre-pandemic era. The tour groups are likely to be closely monitored by Beijing to ensure that Chinese tourists do not bring back Covid with them alongside their duty-free bags.

Pattaya entrepreneurs are not getting carried by the prospect of a renewed tourist avalanche. A staff member at Tiffany’s, the leading transvestite cabaret in the resort, said all mass entertainment venues depended on Chinese customers to make a profit. She said she saw “no prospect this year of thrice-nightly shows seven days a week.”

Most Chinese tour groups are zero-sum vacationers, that is they pay for the entire trip in China in advance of arrival. It has long been a bone of contention that only favored hotels, restaurants, retail units and entertainment venues benefited from the mass influx. Although zero-sum holidays attracted a lot of hostile publicity in Pattaya in the past, no concrete steps have been taken to open the overall market to a fairer playing field.

One limiting factor is the future of immigration policy. The Thai authorities have not agreed to dismantle the Test and Go entry bureaucracy, the need for some anti-Covid medical insurance nor the requirement to have some kind of post-arrival health test. Ken Roache, from Pacific International Tours, said he would be surprised if Thailand abolished all entry requirements on top of a passport and an airticket any time soon.

Most farang expats ponder the possible resurge of Chinese tourism with well-known apathy. The prospect of the return of hundreds of tour buses clogging the Pattaya highways, whilst long queues form at popular retail outlets or ferry transit points, are not causes for celebration in most western eyes.

So far in 2022, the biggest numbers of international tourists to Thailand have been Indians from the sub-continent following quasi-travel bubble deals with several airlines. Around 500,000 Indian tourists are expected in Thailand this year, generating 24 billion baht. Niche markets such as Indian weddings and a boom in cargo service have also contributed to the economic uptake. Meanwhile, the Russian war in Ukraine has jeopardized European tourism and made British and European Union nationals nervous of long-distance travel.

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Re: By Barry Kenyon

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Barry Kenyon wrote:
Sat Apr 09, 2022 12:33 pm
The Thai tourist industry is abuzz with rumors that the Chinese authorities will allow tour groups to Thailand as early as Golden Week, an October holiday and festivity.
It depends under what conditions China allows tourists to visit.
For example, if Mr Xi persists with his zero Covid policy, the only way they let tourists out would be with 2 weeks quarantine upon return. We all know what that does to tourist numbers.

Only if they have abolished all travel restrictions would numbers start getting back to serious levels.

In order to abolish all travel restrictions, they must firstly abandon the zero Covid policy.

Would they want to risk abandoning the zero covid policy, considering their vaccine status ? 130 million elderly Chinese have received less than 3 doses of their vaccines, which are not particularly effective at the best of times.

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Jun wrote:
Sat Apr 09, 2022 3:34 pm
It depends under what conditions China allows tourists to visit.
I have been saying I believe many businesses, hotels, tourist attractions, etc. catered exclusively to Chinese tourists - and I believe that was a huge mistake.

If enough Chinese tourists return to Thailand for some of those venues to reopen, it will be interesting to see if they continue doing that or start trying to cater to everyone.

I had an experience with that myself. A few years ago I spotted a Chinese restaurant on Pattaya Tai. A farang friend and I wanted to give it a try. When we got there we were told sorry, but we serve only Chinese customers arriving on tour buses. If they reopen, I'm going to see if they are going to do the same or serve anyone who wants to eat there - even farang walk-ins.

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Pattaya is being knocked down before your very eyes

By Barry Kenyon

April 10, 2022

The busiest businesses these days in Greater Pattaya are the bulldozer and demolition crews as the city’s skyscraper future unfolds more clearly every day. The pandemic created a ghost town image in the city and encouraged land owners to sell out during a recession. Now it is difficult to find anywhere in the popular districts without seeing vast tracts of empty terrain awaiting the necessary rebuilding permits from the Division of Public Works.

Of course, it’s not a new phenomenon. The city’s first high rise, Center Condominium on South Road, opened in 1991, was boosted by foreigners keen to own a unit in their own name. Currently the tallest building in the region is Reflection Jomtien Beach Oceanfront Tower, standing 827 feet tall and completed as early as 2013. And not all developments are majestic condominiums. Over at Mabprachan Lake, a near one million square meter (or 566 rai) medical city is currently under construction thanks to investment by the Eastern Economic Corridor, American universities and others.

Amongst the many developments now in early tow is the private-sector, mega project Aquatic District Pattaya to be wedged between Hard Rock Hotel on Beach Road and Central Festival on Second Road. Five major international hotels are planned there as well as a host of magnet-attractions such as amusement parks and a wellness center, though no opening date has been published. One of many projects now approaching completion is the 500 room mixed-use hotel and condominium block on Second Road opposite Central Festival. It is being promoted as a MICE feature (meetings, incentives, conferences, exhibitions) in accordance with City Hall’s five year plan called BLUE (business, leisure, ultimate experience).

Old Pattaya, the bachelors’ paradise, is shrinking even as the bars and massage parlours that have opened again report a pickup in business: the Covid threat is hopefully diminishing and the immigration bureau is requiring fewer entry documents. Much attention is being paid to the future of Walking Street as an emblem of what Pattaya used to be. No final decisions appear to have been taken, but the profit margins had shrunk dramatically long before coronavirus descended. Parts of Pattaya’s most famous landmark are already derelict or even demolished. The pressures for the resort to move on are becoming irresistible.

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Future of compulsory medical insurance for visitors to Thailand still cloudy

By Barry Kenyon

April 15, 2022

The Ministry of Tourism is already suggesting that, come next month, the whole of the prior online registration process for international visitors could become ancient history. In that proposed scenario, all you would need to enter would be your passport, an airticket, your visa (if needed) and your proof of vaccination. Maybe. The prime minister has said he will wait until after the Songkran holiday to make a decision.

What is missing from the optimistic prognosis is the future of compulsory medical insurance. At present, all foreigners (except work permit holders) must have US$20,000 anti-Covid cover, including hospitalization. Although the Tourist Authority of Thailand predicted this might reduce to US$10,000 sooner or later, no government agency has specifically stated that compulsory Covid insurance will end altogether. It is easily available online for around US$100 for a month for pre-arrivals from age 1-99.

Although government websites speak currently of the need to obtain cover for the whole of the proposed stay, it is enough for the Thailand Pass pre-registration bureaucracy and the vital QR code to have just one month of anti-Covid cover. Indeed, the Thai General Insurance Association website will register you only for 30 days, merely stating that you can renew once here if needs be. But extensions of stay in most cases do not require evidence of ongoing medical cover. So very few people bother.

Special rules apply to those retirees with an O/A annual retirement visa issued by Thai embassies abroad. They need comprehensive, not Covid only, medical insurance worth US$100,000 to obtain the visa in the first place. They will also need it on applying for an annual extension of stay at immigration offices, although the amount is much smaller – around US$13,000 or 400,000 baht for hospitalization – until October 2022. Thai Cabinet news releases last year stated that the renewal insurance minimum would rise to US$100,000 on that date. Self-insurance has also been declared a possibility as comprehensive cover, as opposed to Covid only, can be impossible for the elderly or those with pre-existing conditions.

Of course, most retirees do not live here on the O/A option, but rather have obtained the annual “O” visa awarded by Thai immigration offices to retirees and foreigners married to Thais, or have switched to the Elite 5-year visa. None of these options require any form of medical insurance at the initial or renewal or extension stage. The hardly-used Special Tourist Visa and the O/X ten year visa introduced several years ago also need ongoing medical insurance – perhaps a significant reason for their unpopularity with foreign visitors.

So the future remains uncertain. Will Thailand cancel all medical insurance requirements and return to 2019, howbeit with the barbed-wire still surrounding the O/A anomaly? Or will short-stay tourists be exempted while those with any long stay visa will be saddled with a new requirement? Or will the current policy of insurance for all be maintained to appease the country’s insurance company lobby which has benefitted (with exceptions} beyond all expectations from the Covid pandemic.

Some clues may be gleaned from Cambodia where the whole insurance issue has travelled through many stages. Late last year, premier Hun Sun announced that Cambodia was opening up for tourism, although health testing on entry and medical insurance would be required. Last month, the health insurance became “recommended” rather than compulsory and all on-arrival testing was dropped for fully-vaccinated tourists. The country now has the easiest admission rules in south east Asia and tourism is increasing by leaps and bounds.

Of course, medical insurance is common sense and should be encouraged. The issue for Thailand is in the detail. It hardly seems sensible to ring-fence a small number of expats whilst most remain scot free as it were. Although it is commonly argued that uninsured, longstay expats should not become a burden to the Thai health system, the reality is that most unpaid bills are from the short-term tourist sector. The issue then arises whether cheap insurance packages can cover all the hazards and accidents which can occur without warning. Non-payment by companies can be as big a problem as being uninsured. Time is running out for Thailand to get its insurance act together.

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Re: By Barry Kenyon

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Barry Kenyon wrote:
Fri Apr 15, 2022 12:05 pm
What is missing from the optimistic prognosis is the future of compulsory medical insurance. At present, all foreigners (except work permit holders) must have US$20,000 anti-Covid cover, including hospitalization. Although the Tourist Authority of Thailand predicted this might reduce to US$10,000 sooner or later, no government agency has specifically stated that compulsory Covid insurance will end altogether. It is easily available online for around US$100 for a month for pre-arrivals from age 1-99.
US$10,000 cover ? That's merely going to improve the Thai insurers profits, by limiting their payouts. The whole problem with the medical insurance is that we need cover for being sent to a covid jail and the level of cover for than needs to be explicitly stated.
These requirements reduce competition in this market, as travel insurance is usually for genuine emergency medical treatment. Due to reduced competition, many people end up overpaying with a Thai insurer.

What they need to do is delete the covid tests, delete any requirement for quarantine and therefore there will be no need for the insurance in the first place.
If they are going to enforce any insurance, it ought to be for comprehensive medical cover for genuine illness and the minimum cover ought to be something like £5 or£10 million. I buy insurance for peace of mind, for the scenario where I have an unexpected nasty accident and there's a very large bill for fixing me up. So it needs to have coverage for levels that would severely deplete my retirement fund, or be beyond my means. Not some pathetic $10,000 limit that's little more than a scam.
If they are forcing people to buy insurance, force them to buy a useful off the shelf insurance policy, not an inadequate & bespoke one.

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