Koh Samui Sandbox: Transit in Bangkok and on-arrival testing experience

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Here's my experience with the transit process in Bangkok en route to the Koh Samui Sandbox, and what Sandbox travellers can expect on arrival.

While it’s possible to fly non-stop from Singapore to Koh Samui on Bangkok Airways (PG962), this service only runs 3x per week (on Sunday, Monday and Thursday), and puts you in Koh Samui at 8.35 p.m. 

I figured that was a waste of the first day (although in retrospect, it didn’t make much of a difference given the time it took for our on-arrival test results to come out- see below), so I decided instead to leave Singapore early in the morning and reach Koh Samui around lunchtime.

✈ Sandbox Game: Flights
To Koh SamuiTo Singapore
SQ706
Depart
: 0715

Arrive: 0840
PG132
Depart:
1155
Arrive:
1310
PG5125
Depart:
1200
Arrive:
1330
SQ709 (VTL)
Depart
: 1540

Arrive: 1915

This Singapore Airlines/Bangkok Airways joint itinerary involved a 3 hour 20 minute transit in Bangkok- not ideal, but inevitable if you’re flying in from any country other than Singapore. Koh Samui’s tiny airport means it’s unable to accommodate any widebody aircraft (and many narrowbody ones too), so most international arrivals have to transit in Bangkok. 

Here’s what you can expect from the time you leave home till you’re set free in Koh Samui. 

🏖️ Sandbox Game

Departing from Singapore

Terminal 3 departures level

Upon checking in at Changi Airport (or wherever you’re originating from, really), you’ll be asked to present the following documents:

  • Vaccination certificate
    • List of accepted vaccines found here
  • Thailand Pass QR code
    • Apply here at least 7 days before departure
  • Negative pre-departure PCR test result
    • Taken within 72 hours of departure, only nasal swabs accepted (i.e. saliva PCR tests not an option)
  • Confirmation of prepayment for 2x RT-PCR tests
    • Contact the hotel to arrange this; a certificate will be issued upon payment (THB 2,200 per test, per person)
  • Travel insurance certificate
    • With a minimum of US$50,000 coverage for COVID-19 medical expenses

It’s advisable to have physical printouts of all these documents, since some Sandbox travellers report that Thai officials can be picky about soft copies.

If you’re flying on a Singapore Airlines/Bangkok Airways itinerary, the two airlines interline so your bag can be checked all the way through. In any case, that has to happen, since you’re not allowed to claim your bag in Bangkok and then recheck it to Koh Samui (all your flights must be on a single itinerary). 

Before boarding your flight, you’ll receive a Thailand TM6 immigration form. You will clear immigration in Bangkok before heading on to Koh Samui, so be sure to fill this out on the plane.

Thailand TM6 immigration card

Transiting in Bangkok

Sandbox greeter

On arrival in Bangkok, you’ll be met at the aerobridge by someone holding a sign for the Koh Samui sandbox. Remember: international travellers transiting in Bangkok must take “sealed route” flights to Koh Samui, and it’s exactly what the name suggests. From the time we stepped off the plane to the time we were deposited in the boarding gate area, we were kept on a strict route away from everyone else. 

Waiting area

The first stop was a nearby row of socially-distanced chairs, where we filled out a Health and Quarantine undertaking form and showed officials our Thailand Pass QR code and confirmation of prepayment for 2x RT-PCR tests. 

Thailand Pass inspection
Thailand Pass inspection

These documents, along with our pre-departure PCR test certificate from Singapore and boarding pass to Koh Samui, were inspected at a Thailand Pass checkpoint. Interestingly enough, no one asked to see my travel insurance certificate (but I guess the Thailand Pass application captures that information already). 

Immigration

The next stop was immigration, where you get to use the fast track lane (I suppose they’re trying to whisk you through the airport as quickly as possible and minimise contact with other passengers, which makes sense).

Waiting area

And finally, you’ll reach boarding gate D4, where you’ll clear security and wait until your flight to Koh Samui departs. 

Boarding gate waiting area

In case you were wondering: no, you’re not allowed to visit any lounge while transiting in Bangkok (at least on the inbound leg to Koh Samui). It doesn’t matter if you’re a Business Class passenger or a Priority Pass member; everyone gets escorted straight to the boarding gate to wait. 

So what can you look forward to while waiting?

Food & Beverage

Glorious vending machines (the internet kiosks dont’ work)

Don’t expect table service and fine linen here. F&B comes in the form of two vending machines, both of which accept credit cards (Mastercard & Visa) or Thai QR payment, as well as bank notes and coins. 

Vending machines
Vending machines

Given how most airports are in the habit of price gouging, the cost was very reasonable indeed. Some indicative pricing:

  • 500ml bottled water: 35 THB
  • Instant noodles: 41 THB
  • 500ml Coca Cola: 45 THB
  • Kit Kat: 50 THB
  • Pringles: 54 THB
  • M&Ms: 55 THB
  • Espresso Illy: 60 THB
  • Cafe Latte: 66 THB
  • Cashew nuts: 84 THB

A hot water dispenser is available for you to cook your noodles. 

Hot water dispenser

A drinking fountain and water bottle refiller are also available. 

Drinking fountain and bottle refiller

Power outlets

Charging outlets

There’s two tables for charging personal electronic devices, each with Type B sockets- don’t forget your travel adapter. No USB charging ports are available. 

Wi-Fi

Complimentary Wi-Fi is available via the Free Airport Wi-Fi by NT network. The login portal prompts you for a name and mobile number, but you can enter WirelessMcWiFiFace and 420696969 and you’ll get access nonetheless (there’s no OTP required).

One minor annoyance is that you’ll need to reconnect every hour by watching a short advertisement. It’s 30 seconds in duration, but a button appears to skip it after 5 seconds. 

Wi-Fi speeds clocked in at an impressive 44 Mbps down and 52 Mbps up. 

Bathrooms

Boarding area bathrooms

Bathrooms are located within the boarding area. The men’s bathroom had two urinals and Western-style toilets (no bidet hose), and was kept clean the whole time I was there. 

Mens bathroom

That’s basically it. I hope you have a book or some movies to watch, because never have three hours of my life passed so slowly. 

But eventually boarding will be called, and since sealed flights are operated by smaller turboprop ATR 72s, you’ll take a bus to the plane on the tarmac. 

Boarding bus

There isn’t an awful lot of social distancing on the bus, but hey, you’re all going to be in a pressurised metal tube soon anyway. 

Flight to Koh Samui

On arrival in Koh Samui

Upon landing in Koh Samui, enjoy the short tram ride to the open-air terminal. Passengers then line up to go through a temperature screening machine…

Temperature screening
Temperature screening

…and then to have their passport, Thailand Pass and boarding pass inspected. 

Inspection counter
Inspection counter

There’s no need to clear immigration here, because you’ll already have done it in Bangkok. The next step is to reclaim your bags at the baggage carousel. 

Baggage claim

You can also purchase SIM cards here, with reasonable tariffs. All three mobile network operators (dtac, AIS, true) provide the same options:

  • Unlimited calls & internet (7 days): 299 THB
  • Unlimited calls & internet (30 days): 399 THB
SIM cards

The last stop before heading to the hotel is to do your on-arrival PCR test (there’s a second one waiting for you on Day 5-6, see below). You’ll have paid for this before coming to Thailand, so all you need to do is show your passport and get issued a swab vial. 

Swab vial collection
Swab vial

There’s a total of three swab stations, and it doesn’t matter which one you use. I’d say they were fairly robust with the swabbing, though thankfully it’s single nostril only. 

Swab stations

And that’s it! Now all that’s left to do is head to your hotel and isolate until a negative result is received. You won’t be allowed to rent a car or take any ordinary taxi; transport for arriving Sandbox travellers must be arranged through the hotel, or an SHA+ approved transportation company. 

Airport transfer

I arranged my transfer through the Conrad Koh Samui for 1,500 THB- which I suspect is really overpaying, since I see alternatives online starting from 850 THB. I was hoping they’d at least give us a nicer vehicle or something, but no dice. All the Sandbox transfer vehicles are the same minivans- comfortable, but a luxury ride it ain’t. 

Hotel transfer

Am I the only one who finds the setup a little…wayang? The main modification made to the vehicle was to put up a tarp between the passengers and driver (which wasn’t even properly secured in some areas). Besides, if the air-conditioning system is on, well…

Hotel transfer

Once we reached the hotel, we were immediately driven by buggy to our room, bypassing the check-in area. The host apologised for the rush, but said that under Thai law, she wasn’t allowed to stay in the room for more than five minutes. She also said that none of the staff were allowed to enter until we had received a negative result, which meant that all service items would be left at the door.

How long do on-arrival results take to come out?

Sandbox guests must stay in their room until they receive a negative on-arrival test result. 

I did my swab at 1.47 p.m, and was really hoping the results would be out by dinnertime. Unfortunately, I only got them the following morning at 8.27 a.m. 

It seems that Samui Airport batches its tests, which means there’s little to be gained by arriving earlier. From what I understand (and correct me if you have data points that say otherwise), all swab results for a given day are sent out to hotels by 9 a.m the following morning.

That means that even if I took PG962 and arrived at 8.35 p.m, I’d probably have got my results around the same time. There are far worse places to isolate than the Conrad Koh Samui, of course, but if you intend to choose more modest accommodation, you’re better off arriving later in the day. 

Day 5-6 PCR test

Koh Samui Hospital

Under the terms of the Sandbox arrangement, travellers are required to do a second RT-PCR test on Day 5-6. As a reminder:

  • If your flight arrives from 12.01 a.m to 6.00 p.m, the day of arrival counts as Day 1
  • If your flight arrives from 6.01 p.m to 12.00 a.m, the day of arrival counts as Day 0.

Since I entered Thailand in the morning of 22 January 2022, Day 5-6 would be 26-27 January 2022. 

The Conrad Koh Samui partners with Koh Samui Hospital for its Day 5-6 testing. Testing hours are from 8.30 a.m to 4 p.m, though it’s advisable that you visit as early in the day as possible as queues build up quickly (no appointment bookings are accepted).

If you want to use the Day 5-6 test as your pre-departure test for travel back to Singapore,  your results certificate must have the following information:

  • Full name
  • Date of birth or passport number
  • Negative COVID-19 test result
  • Date and time the test was taken
  • Name of testing institution 

Koh Samui Hospital can provide this for a 700 THB top-up per person (which, when added to the 2,200 THB you already paid prior to arrival, becomes 2,900 THB), and you’ll need to return to the hospital to collect the certificate. 

However, the hotel concierge advised me of a superior option: for a 600 THB top-up per person (i.e. 2,800 THB total), a third-party service called Three Medical Solution (I can’t find their website, but you can email them at [email protected]) would come to the hotel, swab me in the room, and email a fit-to-fly certificate. Naturally, this was the option I chose.

Swabbing with a view (they take their own photos to verify that you’ve been swabbed)

We were swabbed in our villa at 9.30 a.m (they were late by about 30 minutes) and the results came via email at 8.30 p.m that evening. The swabbing process took less than 10 minutes. 

Unlike the revised Test & Go scheme, there is no need to isolate after your Day 5-6 test. You can go on with regular activities. 

❓ Why not just do an ART?
Singapore accepts both ART and PCR tests for pre-departure testing purposes, so the question is whether it’s cheaper to avoid the top-up and do a separate ART instead. Leaving aside the convenience factor (doing two swabs in two separate places versus one), the cheapest ART with a fit-to-fly medical certificate I could find for Koh Samui costs 1,400 THB, so a 600 THB top-up is clearly the superior option.

The email containing my results also included the following information about what to do if you tested positive (bad English inherent from source):

 If you found “Detected”

1) You already departed from SAMUI and stay in Bangkok or any provinces in Thailand. You can contact us for hospital administration via this email or 093-4569591 or line application 
https://lin.ee/bSQa06JM

2) You are in SAMUI
*Please Contact “Hotel Covid MGR” for fill in the form as attached and please send us information as below*
1) Contact No./ WhatsApp/ Line official
2) Height and Weight
3) Photos of your accommodation
4) Health insurance

Recommendation place for “Home Isolation” 

  • Your place in safe area
  • Hotel
  • Hospitel
  • Hospital (If available)
*Home/ Hotel Isolation payment package detail : by KOH SAMUI hospital excluded accommodation & meal
  • 1 person= 9,000 baht 10 days quarantine
  • include: medical equipment, medical service fee, nursing service fee, doctor fee, disposal injection waste, medical certificate and medical for air travel (fit-to-fly)
  • *Notice that If you quarantine as a family, this is the package for family quarantine.
  • Only the first person that needs to pay 9000 baht then the following members of the family which are second person, third person and so on will have to have 3500 baht. Everyone in this package will receive the same services.

Recommendation Hospitel:

Joy Residence : (Photo from Agoda)

Location :
Meal & Accommodation & Transportation package 35,000 THB (Pay to Hospitel)

Conclusion

Travelling to Koh Samui isn’t nearly as frictionless as before, and that 3 hour layover in Bangkok was painful. But it’s hard to argue when you have views like this waiting at the end. 

All worth it

Any questions about the Sandbox arrival or transit process?

Aaron Wong
Aaron founded The Milelion to help people travel better for less and impress chiobu. He was 50% successful.

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Alejandro

Are you required to pre-pay for the PCR on days 5/6 if you intend to stay in Thailand for <5 days? I have a 4-day trip to Phuket planned in April.

Mileshedgehog

I have a similar question. What if I leave on the 5th day? Is a PCR test needed on the fifth day legally?
In Alejandro’s case, I don’t think a fifth day PCR prepayment is needed. You would have departed

James Quek

My same concern for Test & Go that is resuming soon. The issue is whether will Thailand Pass be granted once the system only detects 1 PCR test?

Adam

Travellers who intend to stay less than 7 nights in a Sandbox destination must undergo the second RT-PCR COVID-19 test 1 day prior to their departure date to another country. A negative RT-PCR test result (COVID-19 not detected) issued no more than 72 hours before travelling is required when exiting/entering the Sandbox destinations.

Source: TAT website

Alejandro

Thanks Adam! How about if you intend to stay < 5 days with the Test & Go scheme? Would you also need a PCR before leaving Thailand?

James Quek

In the Test & Go system, we need to input date of entry and estimated date of departure. Will the system be smart enough to detect stay less than 5 days, hence no submission of the 2nd PCR test and hotel stay?

James Quek

Hope the Thai authority will advise on how it works for shorter stay soon.

Zang

Do you need to stay in the hotel until you get a negative test result for the 2nd PCR test on Day 5-6 or you are allowed to roam around even before the tests result is out? The new test and go rules require travellers to stay in the hotel until the results are out for Day 5-6 so not sure if that applies to Sandbox too?

Zang

Good to hear that, thanks! I just gotten my thailand pass for February and would be staying in Conrad too. Would love to see your review of Conrad samui if you have the time. Enjoy your trip!

Sing

Can I check if you must stay in an SHA Extra Plus hotel on the first day? Or a SHA Plus hotel is ok too?

Sing

Ok, I’m a little confused here. But I just checked that Conrad is a SHA Plus hotel. So I was wondering whether it must be Extra Plus.

Sing

I see! Super confused khobkhunka haha! Esp cos I’m looking at <7 days… please share more on how the retail situation is there (food, shops)! Curious on how alive or quiet the place might be.. 🙂

Last edited 3 months ago by Sing
Zang

Sing, if you go to the thailand pass website to apply for your pass, the system will list down all the hotels that are approved for samui sandbox. As long as it is under the drop down option, you can book it for sandbox. You will have to contact the hotel so they can send you a confirmation certificate that you have booked the hotel + purchased 2 PCR tests.

Sing

Thanks for letting me know! I assume this works for all sandbox locations. I’m still deciding between Samui vs Phuket/Krabi. Only thing is to get on a VTL back to Sg, I would need to stay in Phuket/Krabi for 7 days from what I’ve read. Think the cost all add up to be about the same..

Darrell

I been reading the real rules and thanks for the clarification.

Sandbox test and go. Stay in room till 1st results come then your free. 5th day test and i believe your confirming no stay in room is needed.

I was reading in other locations if you do test and go you will need to stay in your room for the 5th day.

The thai government is trying but this extra test a real pain if you fly into bkk

Jervelle

I am going under Koh Samui sandbox soon. May I know after doing the RT-PCR test on Day 5, should I have to stay inside the hotel before results releasing out in the next day? Or I can travel freely in the island after my second test without knowing the results?

Les

Hi Aron an excellent article. Please forgive my ignorance, when you get your first negative PCR test result the next day are you o longer confined to your room/hotel can we go out to eat and shop on the island?

C Y

I’m travelling 31st Jan to Samui on a PG Flight which means it’s day 0. I’m leaving 5th Feb so I’m thinking of going into the hospital on the 3rd Feb morning for my PCR (using the day 5-6 PCR which has been paid for)
Does this make sense? TIA

Ding Ding

Nice 👍👍👍 report.

anon

Taking the later flight sounds quite stupid too.. coz you just pay to sleep lol

Sandboxed

That view – totally worth it!

Timmy

how about the woman’s toilet in the waiting area at bangkok?
how many cubicle?

LOL…

Adam

LOL. Aren’t you on this trip with the wife though?

Zddd

Hi Aaron, your article is very helpful for those of us who will do transit in Bangkok airport in couple of weeks. While you were doing international to domestic transit, we are going to do international to international (from Bangkok to Phnom Penh). I think the Thailand Pass check is only for the former, NOT for the latter (international transition), right ?

Last edited 3 months ago by Zddd
Bess

This 5-6 test day is driving me a little nuts! Basically I’m OK to get the test on day 6?
Your arrival day: DAY 1 22 January 2- 23 3-24 4-25 5-26 6-27 TEST
Parallel universe Aaron, arriving AFTER 18.00 22/01 =DAY 0
1-23 2-24 3-25 4-26 5-27 6-28 Am I correct? Or would you be taking the test on 27th still (day 5?)

Bevim

Thanks so much for this! I’m about to do thr sealed flight to Phuket in two days with my two young kids, so hoping for the best! Looks like the distancing in the waiting area was decent, which I have been concerned about. It helps so much to see photos and your experience! Thanks for sharing.

Bess

For Phuket I wouldn’t be able to use my day 5 test for Singapore entry, would I? As I can’t leave the Sandbox until day 8 (if my VTL is from Bangkok)? Is that right or have I misunderstood?

Hugo

Now that Thailand is open and has the “Test & Go” scheme, is it better to apply for Sandbox or Test & Go for Koh Samui ? I am not sure what is the clear difference between both… thanks !

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