Now that it is possible to work and study remotely, it has become much easier to spend the winter abroad. The main thing is to choose a country for a comfortable stay with friendly visa requirements. One of the popular winter destinations is Thailand. When is it better to prepare for a trip? What to choose: a hotel or an apartment? Where to eat and how to save money? A family from Almaty shares their experience of over 10 years of ‘passing the winter’ on the island of Koh Samui in an interview to Tengritravel.kz
Finding a perfect spot
Tatyana and her family traveled to Thailand in 2009. Since then, the kingdom in Southeast Asia has become their favorite vacation spot. The vacation has turned into an all-winter stay. Every year their stay in Thailand only increased. This year, the family from Almaty have been living on Samui for the ninth month.
"Why Samui? It has a mild climate and very good weather to spend the winter months. There is no prominent season when you can't be here, no special rainy season. There are times - October, November, and December - when the weather can be a little worse than usual, but in any case, it is suitable to rest. It is always warm here, the average temperature on the island is +27°C (about 80 °F). And, conveniently, the time zone difference is only an hour."
All tourists are welcome
To enter Thailand, a visa is required. There are two options. The first way is to get a three-month tourist visa in advance at the Thai consulate in Nur-Sultan. Another option is to get a 15-day visa upon arrival in Thailand. Because of the pandemic, the Thai government established a "visa amnesty" to meet the needs of tourists.
"Initially, we were going to stay for three months. But after two months we realized that we wanted to stay longer. And as Thailand currently has "visa amnesty", we can extend our three-month visa for another 60 days as simply as getting a passport stamp without leaving the island. We decided to take this opportunity since work and school allow us to do so. The amnesty has already been extended several times. That’s how we stayed for two more months, and then for another two months. It is worth noting that the visa exemption is only for the pandemic period due to restrictive measures. So far, the visa amnesty has been extended until March 25."
Cutting down the costs
The high season on Koh Samui is the New Year holidays. At that time, accommodation and all services become several times more expensive compared to regular rates. In summer there is also an influx of tourists, but not as pronounced. The cheapest time to come to Koh Samui is in late February.
"Accommodation becomes cheaper in the fall and spring. If your stay is longer than 15 days, it makes sense to consider apartments or villas, which can be rented monthly. It will be cheaper than staying in a hotel with comparable conditions. Such apartments can be located directly on the beach or overlook the sea. The prices are also varied, ranging from 5-10 thousand baht (65-130 thousand tenge, or 125-250 USD). This rate is for the most basic apartments. The rates for a comfortable accommodation on Koh Samui start at 700 USD (a little over 350,000 tenge) a month with additional utility bills – usually water – of another 50 USD (around 25,000 tenge). That rate is for two bedrooms, one bathroom, and a pool on the territory. It is better to come here, rent a hotel room for 3-4 days and during this time find yourself a house on the island. It's time-consuming, of course, but if you want to save money, it really works."
Tatyana and her husband Artyom start planning their trips as early as November. They prepare visas, monitor airline tickets prices on popular websites, and look for the best connection flights. Before the pandemic, buying tickets in advance could save up to 30 percent on this family budget item.
"Regarding tickets, we try to always take a direct flight. But because of the pandemic, there was no direct Almaty-Bangkok flight; the only available option was Almaty-Phuket, but it required another 7 days in quarantine in Phuket. This time we traveled with a connection in Dubai. It took 30 hours to get there, but the price was lower. Also, to get to Samui from Bangkok or Phuket, you need either a flight – obviously, a more expensive option – or a cheaper ferry. You can also take a bus and a ferry."
Lots of greens, no horse meat
The cuisine of Koh Samui can cater to all tastes and wallets. The cheapest places to eat out are Thai cafes, where a dinner for a family of two adults and a child costs 5-6 thousand tenge. Lunch at a café with European cuisine costs 10 thousand tenge. It is advised not to drink tap water and buy bottled water instead.
"You can also eat at home. Here, they sell the same groceries as in Kazakhstan. Some are more expensive, some are cheaper. For example, greens are in abundance here, they are cheaper than at home. Chicken is very tasty and costs the same as in Almaty. Beef is expensive, The Thai do not eat it, good beef costs 4500 tenge. Buckwheat is available but costs 2,000 tenge per pack. The island offers Thai and Italian cuisine. There are four Russian cafes that I know. They sell frozen food, that is, such as dumplings, curd fritters, cottage cheese, sour cream, and yogurt. We have adapted to the food and learned how to find certain groceries. When you know it all, it's easy to plan your budget for groceries and cook at home. The only thing I haven't seen here is kazy and horse meat. We miss Kazakh chocolate, so we always try to take it with us, and we miss beshbarmak, of course. You can cook it here too though, just without horse meat."
Two wheels are better than three
The most expensive thing on the island is probably public transportation. One of the most common types is called tuk-tuk. Surprisingly, this word is translated from Thai as "cheap", but in fact, this 3-wheeled cab cannot be called inexpensive. Tuk-tuk ride costs an average of 100 baht (1500 tenge or $3), depending on the distance. A motorcycle cab - a bike with a driver is slightly cheaper. This vehicle is the fastest, but its disadvantage is that it can take only one passenger.
"A passenger cab costs five times more than in Almaty. That's why it's better to rent either a bike or a car here. It's much more affordable. Renting a car costs about 500-600 USD per month (217-260 thousand tenge). A Bike is much cheaper, about 100-150 USD per month (43-65 thousand tenge). Therefore, tourists very rarely use public transport on Samui."
Most of the local population speaks Thai and English. Samui has a large Russian-speaking diaspora, Russian-speaking nannies, kindergarten, and theater studio. The locals are very friendly and helpful.
"The island is like one big village. It is quite a safe place, you can go for a walk here even late at night, at least we have never heard of anything dangerous happening. The ecology here is very good, fresh air, a lot of greenery, and there are no factories. There is no need to wear warm clothes. You can wear just your shoes, shorts, and a T-shirt. The humidity here is high, almost no one has allergies, cold-related diseases are less frequent."
Health and restrictions
The medical industry on the island is almost at the same level as in Kazakhstan. In pharmacies, you can find all analogs of the drugs we are accustomed to. The only thing - there is no free access to probiotics and antibiotics. They can only be obtained at the hospital with a doctor's prescription. Therefore, if you are traveling to Thailand for the first time, it is better to take a medical kit with you, so all the necessary medicines are at hand. Also, those who go to Thailand to spend winter should consider the medical insurance that covers the costs of Dengue fever treatment.
"This is a mosquito-borne fever, which acts like bad flu with high body temperature and intoxication. You will have to go to the hospital. We had this fever in 2017. We were treated at an international hospital according to our insurance. It was very expensive, but the attitude of the staff was good. In general, the prices of medical services here are very high, even for locals, but I'm talking about Samui. In Bangkok, of course, medicine is better."
People in Thai take the coronavirus very seriously. It is mandatory on the island to measure your temperature and wear a mask when entering any indoor area. Of course, no one wears masks on the street or the beach. However, one cannot enter a store on the beach without a mask. There is a strict two-week quarantine for unvaccinated tourists, which prohibits them to leave the hotel. However, If you are vaccinated, things are much easier.
"For example, those vaccinated with Sputnik will have to go through a seven-day quarantine. You will wait for your PCR test results without leaving the hotel for a day, and then if the test is negative, you can move around the city, but you have to stay in the same hotel for the whole period. And starting February 1, they are introducing a program for the vaccinated called Test & Go. It means that you can book a hotel for one day, take a PCR test there, and if it is negative, you are free to move around and stay at other hotels, but on the fifth day, you have to take another PCR test. If any person has a positive PCR test result, then all the contacts are quarantined at their own expense."
No sunbathing at work
There are no difficulties with Internet and mobile communications on the island. So it is quite comfortable to work and study remotely. Nonetheless, the beautiful picture of work done sitting under a palm tree with a laptop is nothing but a misconception.
"It is impossible to do any work under a palm tree. First of all, the temperature is +30 °C (86°F), the heat, the scorching sun. It's hot for both the person and the computer. Secondly, because of the sunlight, you can't see anything on the screen. And lastly, there's sand everywhere which can get into the computer. Working with a computer under a palm tree on the sand is an emergency if you have nowhere else to go.
We work like all normal people, sitting in a cabin at a desk with the air conditioning on. A lot of people who live here for a long time usually work Monday through Friday, and on weekends they go to the sea and enjoy all the delights of life in the tropics. Otherwise, it's just like working in the office. The only difference is that in the evening you can go for a walk, have a good meal."
In general, says Tatyana, the island of Samui is quite suitable for a winter stay. The most important thing is to choose and study your destination in advance, think about routes, look at prices, and manage your budget. All this can easily be done and calculated by reading reviews of tourists on the Internet. By the way, Tatyana's son Daniel has his YouTube vlogging channel, where he talks about interesting aspects of travel.