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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

Travel began to open up in the last part of 2021 and as we enter a new year, holidays to Asia are back on the horizon.  In this article we delve into where to throughout 2022. We’ll also discuss the current situation in our specialist destinations in South and Southeast Asia. We will explain how you can travel to Asia and what it is like in the destinations themselves.

The focus here is more about the destinations themselves rather than UK 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 early 2022?

Although cases in the UK remain high, most people have now had their COVID vaccinations and as such, are permitted to enter a variety of countries.

As of October 11th 2021, all countries in Asia had been removed from the UK’s Red List.  Some are still nervous about allowing tourists back in, however several countries are now open or carefully planning to reopen tourism. So, the key question is, which countries are open and when will other South and Southeast Asian countries open for tourism?

Map showing where and when you can travel to places in South East Asia

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 short, sharp spike in cases back in spring 2021 and then they remained very low for many months before rising again in early 2022 following the arrival of the Omicron variant.  This shouldn’t alarm tourists as cases in The Maldives tend to be centred around the highly densely populated capital island of Male, where almost half of the population live and tourists generally totally bypass Male.  Here you can read more about the processes involved when travelling to the Maldives.

We’ve been chuffed to have people travelling to the Maldives with us throughout the autumn and over the festive period and we’re excited to be planning trips for 2022. 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 and was swiftly removed from the UK Red List. Although, as in most countries, there has been an uptick in tandem with the Omicron variant.

Autumn, Winter and Spring are the perfect time to visit this fascinating and beautiful country and we’ve arranged several holidays there over the last couple of months.  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 but concurrent with the surge in India, cases went up in mid-2021. They subsequently plummeted and have remained fairly low. With vaccination rates high Sri Lanka was removed from the UK’s Red List together with The Maldives and Oman on 17th September 2021. We declared Sri Lanka ETG “Travel Ready'” on 1st November following an extensive research trip. Lot’s of people have travelled there with us so far this winter and we’re busy helping plan many future adventures.

Visitors who have received both vaccines (and children under 18) are 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 and we are very excited that travellers can have a fantastic holiday there again.

View of Sigiriya Rock in Sri Lanka

When can I travel to India again? 

On 5th August India moved off the UK Red list. Some were taken by surprise by the announcement given the terrible period the country went through in late March and April 2021 as the Delta variant spread at pace following mass political gatherings and Kumbh Mela festival.  Cases have risen to high levels again with the Omicron variant but as in the UK, the situation seems to be less devastating than previous waves.

 India has opened it’s borders but rules are still quite restrictive.  There may still be a little way to go before ETG deems the whole country “Travel Ready” but we believe certain regions could be ready  soon. These positive developments should give confidence to those keen to travel to the subcontinent and planning can commence.   

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

Can I go to Thailand?

The situation with Thailand has been quite difficult to follow! On November 1st 2021, the country opened its borders to fully vaccinated travellers under a “Test & Go” scheme with no quarantine restrictions but this has been temporarily suspended in lieu of uncertainty around the Omicron variant.   Travellers can still enter visit via The Phuket Sandbox scheme.

Once the suspension is over, the Test & Go scheme  is limited to visitors from approved countries, including the UK, the USA and the majority of mainland European countries. Additionally, Thailand offers a “Blue Zone” scheme as well which is open to all nationalities. For the intricacies of the Test & Go, Sandbox and Blue Zone schemes see our can I travel to Thailand blog.  With all schemes, a PCR test needs to be taken on arrival although it’s rumoured that this could soon be downgraded to a lateral flow test.

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 were high in Thailand in the summer (but not so much in Phuket) but have since declined. Thailand spent a brief spell on the UK Red List during September but was removed along with 46 other countries as UK Government wound down the traffic light system on 7th October.

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

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.  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 and Nepal off the Red List going to Bhutan could soon be possible. 

Bumthang Dzong at sunrise in Bhutan as the mist lifts

Is Bali open for tourism?

After a significant spike last summer, COVID cases have dropped significantly in Bali and other parts of Indonesia such as Java. Indonesia was removed from the UK Red List, along with Thailand on 7th October and the latest update is that the island of Bali, and other parts of Indonesia, are expected to open by the end of March 2022.  May-October is the absolute best time to visit Bali so this is good news for travel this year. 

Pura Lempuyang Temple with volcano in Bali

Can I go to Cambodia?

Neither Vietnam, Cambodia or Laos were ever placed on the UK Red List. Cambodia was the first to fully reopen to tourism with the announcement on 15th November of quarantine free travel for all vaccinated tourists.  

Can I go to Laos?

Soon after the news from Cambodia, we were pleased to hear that neighbouring Laos was following suit. On 12th December Laos announced that the borders would reopen on 1st January. Laos has a similar entry procedure to Cambodia (and Thailand), with a negative PCR needing to be taken both before and on arrival.  

Can I go to Vietnam?

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. Whilst Vietnam is unlikely to open in a hurry, a Phu Quoc Island Sandbox has been announced (off the southern coast near Cambodia) as well as a similar scheme for Nha Trang and Hoi An. This is likely to begin soon- watch this space! 

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. The latest indications are for a March 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. 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 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 vaccinated early, the Seychelles threw its doors open to tourism. It spend quite a long period on the UK’s red list but made it off in October.

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 5th January 2021.

The best February half-term holidays to book now

February half term is my families’ favorite time to travel to Asia. It’s one of the best times to get good weather without peak prices. It’s my partners and my birthdays, and it’s a great way to break up the winter. We find we come home to the first daffodils in the garden and a faint taste of spring in the air.

We’ve not managed this for the past two years, and we’ve missed it. I realise this is a first-world problem, but all the same, I’ve been plotting to make it happen in Feb 2022. Like many people, Christmas was a bit of an isolated damp squib which made me more determined to get away from the news and the winter for our birthdays. So where to go?

Thailand was my first thought. Easy to get to, minimal travel, and an excellent combination of culture and relaxation. We could fly to Phuket, stay in a decent hotel, enjoy some tasty local food and enjoy hot-but-not-too-hot weather and swimming in clear blue seas. I held flights some time ago, but as time went on, it became apparent that the entry requirements for testing were too complicated compared to other destinations. Although we’d hopefully know whether we’d got Covid or not on a pre-travel PCR, testing on Day 7 as well as on arrival would make me too nervous to relax. It needed to be somewhere without arrival testing.

We considered the ETG countries open without a PCR test on arrival. Cambodia and parts of Laos only require a quick lateral flow on arrival, but with slightly more complicated flight routes and lots to see, we felt that these were countries to delay for a big trip sometime in the future.

So that led us to the Maldives and Oman. Both require tests before you go, but that’s par for the course these days, and any decent travel insurance policy covers you if you test positive and can’t go. I’ve been lucky enough to visit both on “work” recce trips, but we’ve never all been as a family. Both enjoy lovely weather for February, there are some excellent cultural and adventure activities in Oman, and beautiful beaches and crystal-clear seas in the Maldives. However, flight availability was an issue for both destinations, and they were more than double our modest budget!

That left us with Sri Lanka. As it often does, it managed to tick all the boxes. We’ll have to take a PCR test 72 hours before travel, and our travel insurance will cover us if one of the family tests positive. There are direct flights that work perfectly around the holidays, and with the help of colleagues here at ETG, we’ve pulled together an itinerary that seems to please the whole family. A stay at a boutique hotel in a coconut grove, our first-ever wildlife safari, a few days on a lovely beach, lots of Sri Lankan food, and my 8-year-old son’s top request – some decent buffet breakfasts. Last but not least, it’s not costing us an awful lot more than a holiday to Centre Parcs, and testing to return to the UK is now a thing of the past.

It seems like we’re going to get that February away after all.

This blog was last updated on 18th January 2021.

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