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Where can I travel in Asia?

by Melissa Nicholas
Aerial view of pool and palm trees at Kumu beach in Sri Lanka

With the summer season having passed with confusion around European holidays for UK travellers (not so much for US travellers), many wonder where they can travel to in Asia later in the year. This article will delve into the present rules and COVID statuses of some of our specialist destinations in South and Southeast Asia and make future predictions for them.

The focus here is more about the destinations themselves rather than specific rules. That information is widely available and constantly evolving. We do have an article that covers the UK rules and regulations.

Can I travel to Asia in Autumn 2021?

Although cases in the UK and areas of the US are currently high, many of us have now had our COVID vaccinations and can now travel to a variety of countries without having to self-isolate on return.

But of course, not all countries in Asia are open to British or US tourists yet. Some are still on the respective government ‘Red List’, some have their own problems with COVID, and others are simply nervous about allowing tourists back in.

However, we’re now starting to see countries carefully planning to reopen tourism. So, the key question is, when will South and Southeast Asia open for tourism?

Map showing where you can travel in Asia based on covid 19 parameters

Can I go to the Maldives?

Heavily reliant on tourism (the second-most tourism reliant economy globally), it’s no surprise that the Maldives has been open since July 2020. Soon, nearly every one of the 500,000 inhabitants will be vaccinated too.

The Maldives had a sharp spike in cases back in April/May on the densely populated capital island of Male, where almost half of the population live (tourists generally totally bypass Male). Cases were reduced again very quickly and have been very low for quite some time. The UK government took a frustratingly long time to remove The Maldives from their Red List but finally did so on September 17th.  You can read more about the processes involved when travelling to the Maldives.

We are excited to be able to start planning holidays to the Maldives again. By its very nature, the country benefits from being socially distant and is in many ways the perfect destination for our times. The perfect place to get away from it all, as my colleague Matt experienced when he travelled to the Maldives last November.

View of Baros resort and reef in The Maldives

Can I go to Oman?

As of 1st September 2021, Oman reopened to vaccinated tourists which was great news. We’re also pleased that Oman is off the UK Red List, as with the Maldives it was long overdue, with cases down to only about 50 cases a day in a population of 4 million.  

Autumn and Winter is the perfect time to visit this fascinating and beautiful country, it’s a wonderful destination that we can’t wait to revisit soon. For more details, see our ‘Can I Travel to Oman’ post.  

Can I go to Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka had very few COVID cases throughout the first year of the pandemic and opened back in January, albeit in a more limited way than the Maldives. Unfortunately, concurrent with the surge in India, cases went up. They are now coming down well and vaccination rates are increasing and we were pleased to see Sri Lanka removed from the UK’s Red List together with The Maldives and Oman on 17th September. A local lockdown is in place until 1st October and although tourism is still permitted during the lockdown, we don’t think the time is right to make the country ‘Travel Ready’ until November.

Visitors who have received both vaccines (and children under 18) will be allowed to travel fairly freely in Sri Lanka. Those who haven’t been fully vaccinated can explore Sri Lanka in a “travel bubble” consisting of a wide selection of carefully vetted hotels and experiences.  For an in-depth analysis of travel in Sri Lanka at the moment, check out the linked blog.

As the UK’s leading Sri Lanka specialist, we offer a range of unique and exciting holidays throughout Sri Lanka. We can also arrange some terrific holidays within the bubble framework focused on spacious properties in lovely locations with waterfalls, tea plantations and beauty all around.

ETG has very close ties to Sri Lanka, so we are right on top of the situation and very excited that travellers will be able to have a fantastic holiday there again very soon.

View of Sigiriya Rock in Sri Lanka

When can I travel to India again? 

On 5th August India moved from the UK Red list to the Amber list meaning that double vaccinated travellers no longer need to isolate on return.   

Some were taken by surprise by the announcement given the terrible period the country went through in late March and April as the Delta variant spread at pace following mass political gatherings and Kumbh Mela festival.  However, given the size of the population, cases are now relatively low again, and Germany and France made the same move earlier in July.    

It’s rumoured that India will be opening its borders soon, possibly in October (watch this space).  There may still be a way to go before ETG deems the whole country “Travel Ready” but we believe certain regions could be ready quite soon. These positive developments should give confidence to those keen to travel to the subcontinent and planning can commence for trips in 2022.   

Beautiful view of Taj Mahal from the Yamuna River, northern India

Is Bhutan open to tourists? 

Bhutan has had tight border controls and low COVID cases throughout the pandemic and has been hugely successful in rolling out vaccines. They managed to vaccinate almost the entire population in 16 days and then did the same again in July with second doses, subsequently donating their leftover supply to Nepal. Bhutan is on the UK’s Amber/”Go” List. There is really no more magical place for a once-in-a-lifetime post-pandemic adventure so we hope the borders will open soon. Flights into Bhutan are usually via India or Nepal with a stopover required in at least one direction. With India off the Red List going to Bhutan could soon be possible. 

Can I go to Thailand?

Thailand has been very cautious about reopening but began a mass vaccination plan a few weeks back. They funnelled vaccines into Phuket for all tourism workers and opened quarantine-free travel to the island to vaccinated travellers on 1st July. This was followed by the Samui Plus programme on 15th July. We have written a detailed blog on how the “Phuket Sandbox” programme will work and how Thailand plans to reopen more widely. It’s now been announced that both Bangkok and Chiang Mai should be opening soon too. 

Whilst Thailand has had a degree of domestic tourism to help its travel industry, parts of the country have suffered significantly from a lack of visitors and they will be eager and pleased to welcome us back.  Cases have been high in Thailand recently, (but not so much in Phuket) but are now beginning to decline, it was therefore disappointing to see Thailand go on the UK Red List at the end of August. We hope this will be a temporary status or that at least, islands like Phuket will be treated favourably in the same way that islands like Ibiza and Majorca have been treated separately to Spain. 

A market in Vietnam - a local pushing bike with traditional conical hat on

Is Bali open for tourism?

After a significant spike in July, COVID cases have dropped significantly in Bali and other parts of Indonesia such as Java. Indonesia was sadly but unsurprisingly added to the UK Red List on 15th July. There were rumours that Indonesia would be removed at the 17th September review but we may have to wait until the next review. May-October is the absolute best time to visit Bali so whilst there is hope for winter travel, we think it will now be 2022 before any serious travel to Bali or Indonesia as a whole, resumes. Having said that, we would expect a Phuket Sandbox-style pilot programme on Bali a little earlier. 

Pura Lempuyang Temple with volcano in Bali

Can I go to Vietnam, Cambodia or Laos?

Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos are all on the UK Amber list and will thus be promoted to “Go” destinations from 4th October. None of them are currently open to tourists but change is afoot.  

Along with countries like Australia, Vietnam was strict from the start and initially kept COVID cases low with tight border controls only to see a significant spike more recently. Cases have begun to decrease and whilst Vietnam is unlikely to open in a hurry, a Phu Quoc Island Sandbox has been announced (off the southern coast near Cambodia). This is likely to begin soon- watch this space! 

Elsewhere in Vietnam, we’d expect some level of restrictions until early 2022.  

Laos and Cambodia are likely to follow whatever happens in Thailand, not least because they depend on them for most transport links. Cambodia is doing very well with their vaccine programme under Covax, they’ve currently vaccinated more citizens than any of our other specialist Southeast Asian countries (although if you isolate Phuket as an island, their stats are higher). We anticipate October as a reopening date for Cambodia. 

Food in Damnoen Saduak Floating Market near Bangkok, Thailand

Can I go to Borneo?

Borneo is one of the best places to visit in Asia during the summer holidays. Still, the latest indications are for a December opening at the earliest. Some of the more remote locations always have very limited availability, so aspects of a trip to Borneo like Danum Valley Rainforest need to be booked a good year in advance. Combine that with the lack of clarity on an opening date, and it may be too late to plan for this year. We’ve recently been arranging Summer 2022 holidays to Borneo and even for 2023. All we can say is it’s a great time to get dates in the diary for next summer and start planning for that once-in-a-lifetime trip! 

A proboscis monkey, which is endemic to Borneo

Can I go to the Seychelles?

With most of the population already vaccinated, the Seychelles is throwing its doors open to tourists. There is a hitch for Uk travellers though since the region is currently on the UK’s red list. That said, with almost the entire population vaccinated, we think there is a strong possibility of a move to amber and green at some point.

Despite being in the Indian Ocean, the Seychelles are, in fact, part of Africa, which is why – as Asia specialists – we’ve been unsure about adding it to our portfolio. However, a beautiful country with fascinating wildlife and some of the best beaches in the world, we do think it would make an excellent addition, so we’re planning to launch some holidays there soon. Watch this space…

Aerial view of beach in the Seychelles

Vaccine Rollouts are Key

Double vaccinated travellers are much more likely to be allowed straightforward entry to other countries. Those host destinations are more likely to relax rules if their own citizens are vaccinated. Countries most reliant on tourism might be willing to compromise, though, perhaps insisting on negative PCR tests if you are not fully vaccinated. 

For an in-depth look at the UK testing regulations check out the linked blog.

This blog was last updated on 22nd September 2021.

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