Author

The Thaiger (Reprinted)

OPINION

Just a year ago, you could book a flight, booked a hotel, and in many cases, just arrived to receive a visa-on-arrival stamp in your passport. A few hours later you were sitting on a beach sipping colourful drinks out of tall glasses. Just one year later and being a tourist in Thailand is very difficult, if not impossible for most.

At this stage it is a mind-numbing challenge to come to Thailand unless you have very deep pockets, an urgent need, or fall into a smattering of categories currently allowed by the Thai government. Even if all that applies to you, there is an almost endless number of hoops you will have to jump through to be approved for travel to Thailand right now.

Currently, as of the start of October, the government only recognises certain visa types to re-enter the country. But, as the evidence shows, even if you are eligible in theory, there are limited entries of people allowed back into the country. For example, the holders of Thailand Elite visas have been ‘officially’ able to re-enter the country since the start of August. But in practice, according to a source at Thailand Elite, not more than 50 people have actually successfully returned up to date.

Around the world, the information from Thai embassies has also been ‘lumpy’ with different officials, in different countries, providing conflicting information about the same visa products.

But the sticking point, with just about every visa, is the mandatory 14 day quarantine period at a state approved facility. This includes government approved hotels as well, but these hotel quarantines (ASQs) come at a high cost. And of course, you’re cooped up in a room with little access to outside activities during that time.

Even the newly launched Special Tourist Visa is very special indeed. Applicants require plenty of cash and have to have the intention coming for at least 90 days, with the option of staying for up to 270 in total. But when you add the compulsory health insurance, only provided by Thai companies, doing all your bookings through the government’s private travel company Thailand Long Stay, flying on specially chartered flights, etc etc, the costs start to stack up. And you haven’t even bought a beer or had a massage at this stage!

To call this ‘tourism’ is a misnomer. The dribble of high spenders, people prepared to fill out all the paperwork and pay for the pleasure of coming to Thailand, will do nothing for Thailand’s broader tourism industry and re-open the 1000s of shuttered hotels. 1000s of other businesses, connected to the Thai tourism juggernaut, remain in tatters.

Even if you’re a tourist, with the best intentions to visit ‘safe’ Thailand’, officially free of Covid-19, what precisely are you going to do here? If your intention is to head out on an island tour, hit the red light districts or choose from a spectacular list of hotels, you’re probably going to be a little disappointed.

There are few tours running right now, the red light districts – at least in Phuket, Samui and Pattaya – are not very ‘red’, and many hotels, again in the popular tourist zones, remain shut. Ok there’s still plenty to do and you’ll probably be able to get some great bargains with eager hotels and taxi drivers. But the ‘Thailand’ you were probably expecting is not currently operating.

For now there’s a world of difference between the ‘almost back to normal’ areas and the ‘almost deserted’ locations around the country. Bangkok, in all but the really touristy areas, is pretty much back to its chaotic, busy self. Even Pattaya is having bursts of activity on the weekends but the weekdays are tough for the popular ‘sin-city’. Chiang Mai tourism is doing it particularly tough right now with a smattering of domestic tourism doing little to keep the northern city alive. Phuket’s west coast beach towns are almost completely bereft of people. Businesses in Koh Samui are facing extinction. Hua Hin is surviving on a trickle of weekend traffic from Bangkok.

Some of the places you’d really like to visit may be inaccessible for now, or not even open.

At some stage, hopefully sooner rather than later, the Thai government will have to re-open its borders and find a way to ‘manage’ the Covid-19 situation rather than remain in a travel bubble of its own making. The longer the government doesn’t re-open to something akin to general tourism, the harder it will be to re-boot the former Thai tourism powerhouse.

You would think with a compulsory wearing of face masks, some diligent respect for social distancing and constant reminders of good hygiene and hand washing, most of the risk factors for Covid-19 can be mitigated. Testing before travel and upon arrival also provides an extra level of defence. There are well established ways to avoid a virus beyond the blunt tool of simply closing borders.

Sure locals, who have been living inside this Siamese Bubble for 6 or so months, will also have to manage their own prevention with potential new cases coming into the country. The recent complacency will have to be replaced with a new vigilance.

The mandatory 14 day quarantine, clearly a major sticking point for many travellers, has been cobbled together to appear as little more than a money-making exercise for a select group of wealthy hoteliers, rather than a well-grounded public health policy. Appointing a government-owned private company as the intermediary for travel arrangements also smacks of turning Covid travel into a profit centre for a single business entity. The 10 room guesthouse in Patong and the bike tour company in Chiang Mai are making nothing from this exercise.

The two reoccurring themes behind every announcement about possible re-openings are “fear” of a new wave of Covid-19 and “we’re just waiting for a vaccine”.

Whilst the Thai government’s success in containing Covid-19 relatively early is something to be proud of, it has been replaced with an irrational fear to develop a useful, science-based plan to re-open the borders.

And while the hopes for a Covid-19 vaccine are shared by millions, the history of successful coronavirus vaccines is not good. In fact there has never been a workable vaccine for any of the five other coronaviruses. The urgency and clear need for a vaccine for Covid-19 has forced scientists to fast-track their development and testing, and clinical trials are currently underway. But, even if they work they will only be partially successful and many people simply won’t get the vaccine, either through choice, poorly-informed fears or lack of access. So waiting for a vaccine could be a LONG wait… it simply may never happen.

Thailand’s travel and hospitality industries, and they ARE industries, are in a perpetual limbo. Whilst everyone is happy to see a development like the Special Tourist Visa, it is not even a remotely sustainable model for Thailand’s tourism industry beyond the immediate short-term.

It’s time to replace fear with professional management of this inconvenient virus.

Source: https://thethaiger.com/coronavirus/hard-truths-about-travelling-to-thailand-right-now

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Amidst the “plans” and “models” being proposed by the government to re-open Thailand to some form of general tourism (nothing confirmed yet), there’s also been some pushback from operators in some of the hardest hit areas.

The government had proposed the Phuket Model as a way of kicking off tourism from early October. But the model involves a mandatory 14 day quarantine, another 7 days on the island and then tourists able to travel beyond. The limited flights, 14 day quarantine, expensive “registered” hotels and testing regime were seen to be impediments to possible success.

Under the proposal for the trial, the Thailand Longstay Company, a private company where the Tourism Authority of Thailand has a 30% stake, would provide assistance with visa applications and purchase of insurance for tourists (likely only Thai insurance companies). The tourists would be required to undergo a Covid-19 test 48 hours before their departure for Phuket and they would be tested again when they arrive.

Officials have estimated that 100,000 tourists could take advantage of the “model”. It was then extrapolated that the “Phuket Model” would be rolled out to other parts of the country, principally Koh Samui, Pattaya and 3 other destinations, also badly effected by the lack of tourists,

But the government admits it is facing a few hurdles – 1 from the healthcare providers who are concerned about ramping up their facilities to cope with the testing and possible increase in cases, and secondly from the local tourist associations who say the idea is flawed to begin with.

Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn says that… “Phuket would be a pilot area where foreign tourists are allowed to travel.”

But Sarayuth Mallum, the President of the Phuket Tourist Association, says they’ve developed their own model for the reintroduction of tourism into the island. They’ve proposed the 4Ts – Target (targeted low-risk countries), Testing (screening and testing when tourists arrive), Tracing (a mobile app to track tourists in real time) and Treatment (adequate health system conduct testing and and treat possible Covid-19 patients). Notably the 4Ts plan doesn’t involve a mandatory 14 day quarantine.

But noted that reopening Phuket “did not mean just opening the airport and letting any foreign tourists in”.

“We will allow only foreigners who used to stay in Phuket and now want to come back and those keen on staying for a long time. We intend to accept only a small group, not everyone,” he said in the Bangkok Post.

He disagreed with the Tourist Minister’s “Phuket Model”, saying that Phuket must “protect and serve local people first”.

The Mayor of Patong Chalermlak Kebsap shared the general concerns and said that places like Patong have been suffering but that there was a lot of concerns about the proposed model.

“Most of the people here are not very confident in the government’s measures. We are not sure if they will be strictly implemented but we must be open. People are having a tough time. Businesses have shut doors. We do not want a lot of money; we just want to get by and be healthy.”

She also voiced the concerns of many smaller hotels and guest houses that admitted they would be unable to participate in the program, and only the bigger hotels owned by powerful families would benefit.

The local Chamber of Commerce has also voiced its concerns saying that the locals want to implement their 4T program and disagreed with the Tourism Minister’s proposal. He believed that the first group of foreigners arriving from October should be the ones with plans to stay for a long time – foreign students, medical tourists, people with families or existing businesses.

The GM of a leading hotel group confided with The Thaiger that some sort of re-opening plan was “urgent” but that the government’s plan would not work and would only benefit a few hotels whilst adding a lot of inconvenience for the rest of the island as ‘quarantined’ tourists would be allowed to roam in a 1 kilometre radius from their registered hotel.

“Who is going to track these people? What happens to all the hotel staff, residents and other tourists that also work or wander into these 1 kilometre zones? The plan hasn’t been thought through.”

Under the current government plan proposal, foreign tourists travelling to Phuket would have to obtain permission to travel to and enter Thailand from their country’s Thai embassy with all the associated paperwork, applications and waiting times. They wouldn’t be able to simply purchase a flight online and jump on a plane.

They would have to test negative 48 or 72 hours before they travel (both times have been published in the media)and have a health insurance premium valued at least US$100,000. Then they have to find a direct flight to Phuket – at this stage there are none on offer excepting a plan from Thai Airways to re-introduce 2 flights a month from 6 destinations starting late November. The national airline is still in the middle of a generational restructure and ongoing bankruptcy proceedings.

Koh Samui, also desperate for tourists to reboot its flagging economy, has its own set of problems. Businesses, from restaurants to hotels, car rental businesses to tour operators, bars, massage services and retail shops, all report an almost 99% drop in business since the start of the year. Many hotels have not only shut their doors but shut down for ever.

But the remaining operators, desperately hanging on, say they don’t want to be left behind with all the focus on the Phuket Model.

Many of the island’s operators also bemoan the ongoing monopoly of Bangkok Airways and its strangle-hold on the air traffic into Samui, saying that international carriers should be allowed easy access to fly directly into Samui, rather than via Bangkok. They also demand Bangkok Airways stop price-gouging customers and leveraging its monopoly for profit.

At some stage all the players – the CCSA, tourism operators, hospitality representatives and associations – will have to meet and finalise a plan to co-ordinate the re-opening of general tourism into Thailand. But, with a month to go before the planned kick-off of the Phuket Model, there would be critical doubts whether decisions can be made, and then implemented, in time.

Even with these plans and limited importing of tourists, the numbers will only amount to 100s of thousands and not the millions that were once vital contributors to Thailand’s economy.

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In a big day of important announcements, the Cabinet has approved an extension to the emergency decree as well as an extension to the visa amnesty for foreigners.

The extension of the visa amnesty will now run until September 26. It now allows foreigners to stay in Thailand without renewing their visa as long as their visa did not expire before March 26. The amnesty also extends to foreigners with current visas so they don’t have to do the regular 90 day reporting.

Immigration officials estimate there are between 250,000 – 300,000 foreigners in the country who are here as a result of the visa amnesty. At this stage there has been no further details outlining any additional paperwork or fees for the automatic extension.

It was also decided today to recommend an extension to the emergency decree beyond the end of July 31. The National Security Council and Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration have agreed to extend the situation and will present the proposal to the Thai PM tomorrow. It is understood that the Thai PM is expected to sign the extension into law.

Opponents of the decree say the emergency decree is unnecessary now that Thailand has had 55 days without a single case of local transmission of Covid-19. As in the past, they’ve maintained that there are other acts and laws that can be used to handle repatriation of Thai Nationals and quarantining of visitors into the Kingdom.

In making the two major announcements today, theCCSA say they continue to be concerned that the pandemic is still “raging around the world” and a controlled re-opening, including border controls and strict quarantine will be necessary in the coming months.

They maintain that existing rules prevent them from properly addressing the situation and prefer to bring all the decisions under the one controlling body (the CCSA), rather than having to work through a number of departments, ministries and provincial governors.

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Before you read further, seeking a definitive answer, we don’t have one.

But stranded foreigners, who have been able to stay in Thailand via a visa amnesty, have an approaching D-Day – July 31, 2020. This is the sunset of the current amnesty for foreigners who have, through no fault of their own, been stuck in Thailand whilst the borders have been closed. Whilst sitting out the Covid-19 outbreak in the pleasant Thai sunshine, the clock is ticking and the end of the amnesty is in sight.

Whilst there are now a few opportunities for foreigners to leave or return to Thailand, most are still unable either due to a lack of flights or closed borders in their home countries. At the time when the amnesty was announced, and the July 31 date set, it was hoped that the world would have opened back up. Whilst Thailand has largely got its Covid-19 house in order, much of the rest of the world is still battling through its first phase of the disease or coping with isolated spikes in new cases.

Thailand’s land borders with Myanmar, Cambodia, Malaysia and Laos also remain officially closed to all foreigners unless they have permanent residency or permission from the Thai government to re-enter.

Even early talk of possible travel bubbles with a bespoke handful of low-risk countries appears to be on hold for now as Thailand continues to repatriate citizens and allow its first foreigners in under special conditions. Certainly the process of re-opening Thailand’s borders is not going to allow all stranded foreigners to magically return home before July 31.

Now Thai immigration officials are battling with other government departments about how to deal with the tens of thousands of affected visitors who have been able to remain in Thailand until the end of July. It’s a complex situation where individuals will have varying situations for Immigration to sort out. Even a quick trip across a land border to re-new a visa is unlikely under the current situation.

The existing amnesty allowed foreigners to remain in Thailand without any new paperwork, payments or additional reporting.

So what will happen to foreigners whose visas are long expired, after July 31?

The prospect of madness at Thai Immigration offices on August 1 is surely something on Thai Immigration officials’ minds at the moment. Even the need to do 90 reporting has been put on hold until July 31, another possible headache for August 1.

An extension of the amnesty is likely but the current situation leaves tens of thousands of foreigners ‘untracked’, an anathema to Thai Immigration who have always made tracking of foreigners a hallmark of policy.

Short of actually expelling foreigners with expired visas, there will have to be some sort of system to either extend the current amnesty or find a way for foreigners to report their location, and possibly having to pay for another extension. Actually communicating any decision to affected foreigners will be a herculean task too.

With much of the visas processed by shuffling paper around busy offices, land checkpoints and airports, the actual tracking of the foreigners left in Thailand will be difficult.

Expect a decision in the next few weeks, and expect some sort of extension. But also expect that the gracious generosity of your hosts will not last forever. All foreigners with expired visas would be well advised to gather information about flights out of Thailand and to make contact with their country’s Embassies and Consulates in Thailand to register their current whereabouts and keep track of the situation.

The Thaiger would warmly suggest that foreigners become aware of their options as the end of the current amnesty draws closer.

For locals, required to do 90 day reporting, it would also be advisable to visit your local immigration office before July 31, or report online (if you’ve registered), to avoid a crush on August 1.

The Thaiger will continue to follow this important story and report any formal announcements from Thai Immigration.

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Innovative Thai start-ups are pushing technology to add value in agriculture and raise incomes

Saraburi, a verdant central Thai province north of the capital, Bangkok, is known for spectacles like fields of sunflowers spreading beneath hills, and dragon fruit piled high like rubies at roadside stalls. But lest one think of the region’s farms as picturesque and primitive, changing agricultural practices are worth a closer look.

Buppha, one farmer from the province, is among many using the latest technology to improve their livelihoods. In the past, if there was a problem with her crop, she might have to wait until harvest time revealed a substandard yield. But today, she can use a colour-coded dashboard to identify problems and take pre-emptive action.

Aukrit Unahalekhaka, chief executive of Ricult, the social enterprise that set up Buppha’s dashboard, notes that for such farmers, “Wrong decisions can mean no income for their family for the whole year.” Around 30% of Thai employment is in agriculture, encompassing close to 15m people. “Unfortunately, they are among the poorest in the country,” he says.

This can be because farming without the right tools leads to low productivity. Ricult is aiming to lift incomes by using machine learning and satellite imagery to help agricultural households in Thailand and Pakistan. “Rather than relying on luck and praying for rain, we provide data-driven recommendations and insights to farmers to make the best possible farming decision,”  says   Mr Unahalekhaka.

“Rather than relying on luck and praying for rain, we provide data-driven recommendations and insights to farmers to make the best possible farming decision,”

Aukrit  Unahalekhaka

Chief Executive, Ricult

In pursuing the mission to foster equality, raise incomes and promote self-reliance, Ricult and similar companies are aligned with the Thai government’s vision of Thailand 4.0, where the economy will shift beyond previous phases dominated by agriculture, light industry and then heavy industry. According to the plan, Thailand will move towards being a high-income and more equal country by fostering innovative, value-based industries. One milestone on this journey is a goal to develop 20,000 households as “smart farmers”.

Ricult’s efforts alone have already exceeded this goal, having had an impact on over 100,000 farmers in Thailand. And it is far from the only player in the field. Another Thai business developing smart farms is Moscii Corporation, which explicitly commits itself to helping Thailand become a developed economy. “We are using our IT and engineering knowledge and resources … to demonstrate the simple way to implement a low-cost smart farm that utilizes the local technology and materials in a limited land area,” says Robert Klein, Moscii’s business development director. The company also aims “to develop low-investment , easy-to-use IoT devices, a smart farm platform and mobile application for Thai farmers”.

“ We are using our IT and engineering knowledge and resources … to demonstrate the simple way to implement a low-cost smart farm that utilizes the local technology and materials in a limited land area.”

Robert Klein

Business Developement Director, Moscii

Moscii’s StarCat Wise Farm system enables farmers, including city-dwellers with spare yard or roof space, to grow organic fruits and vegetables in greenhouses. Management of watering, fertiliser and climate is automated, removing the need for toxic chemicals and opening farming to those who would otherwise lack the time.

The company’s focus on urban farming has a strong personal dimension. “Thai people’s health has … been affected by the wide usage of pesticides,” says Mr Klein. “So we decided to use our knowledge and efforts to find the most suited solutions for the Thai people to improve their way to do farming.”

Mr Unahalekhaka of Ricult acknowledges the importance of government support in enabling solutions like these to gain traction. “We have received some grants and awards from various ministries in Thailand,” he says, which “has helped us with PR and networking opportunities”. The Thailand Board of Investment has also assisted by providing tax benefits and helping to facilitate visas and work permits where necessary. Such support, along with assistance in setting up a business, is also available to other organisations involved in modern agricultural products and services, in areas including systems for detection and tracking, resource regulation and smart greenhouses. This will help add value in agriculture and boost farmers’ incomes through the implementation of technology.

The Thailand Board of Investment supports the development of industry in Thailand through a range of programmes and incentives open to local businesses and foreign investors. To learn more and make contact, visit www.boi.go.th.

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Tokyo residents can escape the city with a hike up Mount Fuji. New Yorkers can head to Long Island for a weekend. In Indonesia locals will be able to fly to the beaches of Bali. And in Thailand anyone living here now can visit the island of Phuket for a beach retreat.

Such is the Covid era ‘staycation’, the solution for domestic tourist economies around the world. Or is it?

Residents of Singapore have less of an option as, well, Singapore is tiny so any staycation won’t take you far away from home. With the island’s borders closed to foreigners, hotels and tourist attractions are hoping ‘staycationers’ will plug the gap in the battered $20 billion-a-year tourist industry. But despite industry enthusiasm, the Singapore locals haven’t been rushing to book staycations just yet.

Michael Issenberg, CEO Accor South East Asia, the largest hotel operator in Singapore says that unless there is a return to international business, the hotel industry is going to be decimated.

“Up to 90% of our bookings come from international travellers.”

While tourism internationally has been profoundly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, a gradual re-opening of some domestic travel is giving a shot in the arm to airlines and hotels. Both industries, and the downstream travel agents, tour companies, taxi and passenger bus drivers, and cleaners, etc, have been particularly hard hit as border closures and lockdowns have shuttered hotels and ground entire fleets of planes.

Singapore’s tourism sector faces an even tougher challenge with hotels given a green light just last week to request approval to welcome domestic tourists. But locals have been saying they’d prefer to save their money and wait for travel to resume in nearby holiday spots in Thailand and Malaysia rather than spend it on a hotel just around the corner in Singapore.

Thailand and Malaysia are also promoting local versions of ‘staycations’. In Thailand the government is rolling out a three month stimulus package which gives users a 3,000 baht digital ‘wallet’ to use for expenses on rooms, flights and food.

Back in Singapore, the 5.7 million Singaporeans are now rebooting their economy after two months of lockdown, including a huge spike of new cases in April, the borders are still mostly closed. The city-state registered a historic low of just 750 foreign visitors in April, down from 1.6 million in the same month last year. May wasn’t much better – 880 visitors.

Selena Ling, head of treasury research and strategy at Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp says that in the short term, hotels, restaurants and attractions can shuffle their businesses to draw interest to staycationers by adding attractions and food discounts,.

“However, our inherent small domestic market size implies it may not be a longer-term sustainable solution.”

Tourism has been an increasingly vital industry for Singapore, helping to re-invent the economy from its traditional finance and shipping hub strengths. World class attractions including – Marina Bay Sands hotel, casino, Universal Studios and the Singapore Zoo have drawn tourists from around the world. The island has found its advantages as a cheap shopping stop-over and financial hub have been taken over by other south east Asian mega cities.

Last year, Singapore hosted a record 19.1 million visitors, while tourism receipts rose to S$27.7 billion (US$19.8 billion), fun 3% from the year before. Singapore’s tourism industry, employing about 65,000 people, contributes about 4% to the island’s GDP.

The border closure means Singapore needs to persuade locals to spend more money at home. Tourism Board CEO Keith Tan is confident the locals will be keen to travel locally and support the Singaporean economy.

“They may therefore be open to take time off in their own city and rediscover all that Singapore has to offer.”

“Singapore has set aside S$90 million for the tourism sector and a task force is developing domestic and international recovery plans to be shared soon. The board also aims to strengthen Singapore’s brand abroad by spending S$2 million to encourage content creators to produce compelling stories about the city-state.”

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Thailand is lifting its ban on international flights tomorrow. But before you dust off the suitcase and book your flight, there are still many restrictions on the return of foreigners into the country. The Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand says the ban on international flights is being lifted from July 1 but “under some conditions”.

“People entering Thailand must comply with the conditions, time limits and rules of the authorised persons under the Immigration Act, communicable diseases laws, aviation law and the emergency decree.”

The announcement follows the government approving some foreign travel back into Thailand, including business travel and foreigners with spouses, work permit holders or people with permanent residency (not retirement visas). General tourism is not permitted at the moment.

The list of people allowed back into Thailand at this stage includes…

1. Thai nationals
2. Persons with exemption or persons being considered, permitted or invited by the Prime Minister, or the head of responsible persons accountable for resolving state of emergency issues to enter the Kingdom, as necessary. Such consideration, permission or invitation may be subject to specified conditions and time limits.
3. Non-Thai nationals who are a spouse, parents, or children of a Thai national.
4. Non-Thai nationals who hold a valid certificate of residence, or permission to take up residence in the Kingdom
5. Non-Thai nationals who hold a valid work permit or are allowed to work in the Kingdom, including their spouse or children.
6. Carriers of necessary goods, subject to immediate return after completion.
7. Crew members who are required to travel into the Kingdom on a mission, and have a specified date and time for return.
8. Non-Thai nationals who are students of educational institutions approved by Thai authorities, including the parents or guardians of the students.
9. Non-Thai nationals who are in need of medical treatment in Thailand, and their attendants. However, this shall not include medical treatment for Covid–19.
10. Individuals in diplomatic missions, consular affairs, international organizations, government representatives, foreign government agencies working in Thailand, or individual in other international agencies as permitted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including their spouse, parents, or children.
11. Non-Thai nationals who are permitted to enter the Kingdom under a special arrangement with a foreign country.

Wat Pho at the Grand Palace, also spelt Wat Po, is a Buddhist temple complex in the Bangkok, Thailand. Photo taken inside the temple complex and contains both locals and tourists visiting.

It’s understood that foreigners who are granted entry into Thailand will have to go through 14 days of mandatory quarantine at their own expense (unless they have been invited by the government). Anyone who believes they fall into one of the categories described in the CAAT’s announcement (detailed below) should contact their local Thai embassy for more information.

Although the CAAT allowed the resumption of domestic flights at the end of May, the countries borders were kept shut until the end of June in a blanket ban on scheduled flights. The government has also been allowing Thais to return to Thailand over the past 2 months where many new cases of Covid-19 have been detected. All Thais repatriating to Thailand have to undergo 14 days of state-sponsored quarantine.

The Department of Airports report that fewer than 5 million people have passed through the country’s 28 airports since the beginning of the year, the vast majority before the borders were closed in March and local airlines grounded.

With the country now progressively opening back up in recent weeks, a limited number of domestic flights have started slowly pushing up airport usage. Around 15,000 – 20,000 passengers are now passing through the country’s 28 airports each day. Thailand’s airports are currently managing between 60-80 scheduled flights a day, down from the daily average of between 160-170 domestic flights in previous years.

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Bangkok’s Khaosan Road, for decades a pilgrimage for backpackers from all over the world, looks set to reopen in August. A well-loved tourist mecca for browsing, eating and night life, the thoroughfare has undergone a revamp during lock-down, and now boasts a new road surface, traffic barriers and newly-planted trees.

Similar work is planned for the city’s Kraisi, Rambuttri and Tani roads, which are all nearby. Deputy Bangkok governor, Sakoltee Phattiyakul, says contractors are still required to carry out the work, which is expected to cost in the region of 44.5 million baht or US$1.4 million. He confirms Khaosan’s makeover is nearly finished and the road should be ready to reopen in August.

However, his repeated (and controversial) attempts to remove street vendors from Khaosan have so far failed, although vendors have yet to be chosen to set up their stalls on the street. Sakoltee says some parts of Khaosan and neighbouring roads won’t have space for street vendors, due to an increase in trees and recreational spaces.

His overhaul of Khaosan has been praised in some quarters, by those who believe the revamp was long overdue. However, others say it will destroy the unique character and atmosphere that (in normal times) draws travellers from around the world.

Meanwhile, a report in Coconuts says Yada Pornpetrumpa from the Khaosan Road Vendors Association says the organisation plans to meet with city officials at the end of this month, in order to discuss the street vendors’ plight, but adds that she does not expect a list of approved traders to be ready by then.

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The Scala cinema in Bangkok’s Siam Square, is set to close its doors for good at the start of next month. Management from the cinema’s parent company, Apex Scala, have announced the theatre’s demise on social media, saying a series of farewell events will be held between July 3 and 5.

Khaosod English reports that the cinema has faced threats of closure in the past, but always managed to survive them. However, it sits on land owned by Chulalongkorn University, and its lease agreement is set to expire at the end of this month. There has been no announcement from the university regarding its plans for the building.

The Scala theatre is renowned for its Art Deco design and has operated as a cinema since 1969. It is one of the last independent movie theatres in the country. Another Apex-owned theatre, the Lido, shut its doors in 2018 after the expiry of its contract, which was also with Chulalongkorn University.

The Scala plans to turn all its lights on full on July 3 to allow Bangkok cinema lovers a final look at its infamous interior. Final movie screenings will take place on July 4 and 5, with the film selection yet to be announced.

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“It is an example of how to repurpose an abandoned structure and increase green spaces in Bangkok through cost-effective design.”

Bangkok’s new “Skypark,” built on an abandoned, never-completed Skytrain track, could become be a model for turning the capital’s unused spaces into much-needed green areas. Such an initiative would also boost public health and mitigate the impacts of climate change, urban experts told Reuters. Chao Phraya Skypark, scheduled to open later this month, connects neighbourhoods on both sides of the Chao Phraya river. The new green space is built on an elevated rail line that lay unused for more than 30 years.

According to the director of the Urban Design and Development Centre, a consultancy that led the project:

“It may not be large, but it has outsized importance as a catalyst for urban regeneration. What’s more it can also change the way people look at public spaces. It is an example of how to repurpose an abandoned structure and increase green spaces in Bangkok through cost-effective design.”

The shortage of green spaces in Bangkok and other crowded cities has recently come under heavy scrutiny, triggering a rush to parks for exercise, fresh air and sunlight. According to a study last year by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, the health benefits are clear: city dwellers tend to live longer in leafy neighbourhoods.

Bangkok is predicted by some climate experts to be an urban area among those hardest hit by extreme weather conditions in coming years. Flooding is already common during the monsoon season, but by 2030 nearly 40% of the city could become flooded each year due to more intense rainfall, according to World Bank estimates.

Skypark, measuring 280 meters by 8 meters, makes it easier for residents to access nearby schools, markets and places of worship, The goal, according to the UDDC director, is to replicate Paris’s “15-minute city”, where people can reach their destination within 15 minutes of walking, cycling or using mass transit.”

Throughout Asia’s space-starved metropolises, developers and planners are increasingly turning to so-called “dead land” under bridges, flyovers and viaducts.

“Chao Phraya Skypark can be a model for swathes of unused land under the city’s expressways. Parks and rooftop gardens can reduce air pollution and harmful emissions, and also limit flooding.

“With Skypark we have shown it is possible to create green spaces from existing structures that can be valuable in fighting climate change.”

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