Dubai and Phuket - our pre-trip planning
last update: 06 May 2020
Our New Year trip for 2020 ran from late January 2020 to mid-March 2020 and involved 8 nights in Dubai and 43 nights in Phuket.
This webpage looks at our planning and logistics, so it is basically a 'this is what we originally planned' webpage. Whereas the other webpages in this series look at what really happened, covering all our travel details and visits at the two separate locations.
This webpage also includes some of the more important issues that emerged immediately we decided upon our destination and travel schedule. These issues involved visas, vaccinations, essential medication, changing money, and driving and car rental.
Here is a list of the all the webpages concerned with our trip to Dubai and Phuket:-
Preparing for Dubai
Dubai - Travel Summary
Dubai - Money
Dubai - Shangri-La Hotel
Dubai - The Mall
Dubai - The Burj Khalifa
Dubai - The Dubai Fountain
Dubai - The Architecture
Dubai - Sofitel Jumeirah Hotel
Dubai - The Jumeirah Beach Residence
Preparing for Phuket
Phuket - Travel Summary
Phuket - Renting a Car and Driving
Phuket - Changing Money
Phuket - Angsana Laguna Resort
Phuket - Laguna Phuket Golf Club
Phuket - Beaches
History of Buddhist Temples in India
History of Buddhist Temples in Thailand
Phuket - Temples (Wat Suwan Kukha, Karon Temple, the Big Buddha, and Wat Chalong)
Phuket - Khao Phing Kan (James Bond Island)
Phuket - Thai Food and Fruit
Phuket - Flowers and Gardens
Phuket - Shopping, Supermarkets and Prices
Given that each webpage is written as a semi-independent article, some duplication is inevitable.
A journey starts with a single step
The initial reason for our trip was quite simple. My wife had decided that she wanted to spend some 'quality' time during the winter on a beach with lots of warm water lapping over her feet. And that this 'desire' had finally outweighed her dislike for long-haul flights.
But my wife also insisted that what she meant by warm water was sea water that was at least 25°C.
So the task was reduced to a simple problem - find the beach!
Sounds easy, but there are a multitude of webpages on the best, warmest, cheapest, … places to winter in the sun. Some reviews quoted sea temperatures as “rarely dips below”, others gave averages, and yet others quoted a range.
What was easy, was the total elimination of anywhere in Europe, or even anywhere within 3-4 hours flight time from London. For example, in Santa Cruz de Tenerife the sea temperature is usually 22°C in November but drops to under 20°C by February. You have to go to Cape Verde to find a sea temperature of 27°C in November, but that also drops to 23°C by February.
Nevertheless the lists on the web were surprisingly long and varied. One problem is that many of the lists are very US-centric, looking at places that are popular destinations for US travellers. In addition some lists have ‘hidden’ criteria in the 'small print', such as “not more than an 8-hour flight from a US mainland hub”, or implicit language requirements or price limits.
In any case we could separate our potential destinations in to three groups (and I’ve included the average sea temperature for December as a first point of comparison).
The first list included those places that more or less immediately came to mind, i.e. Dominican Republic (27°C), Jamaica (28°C), Brazil-Rio (25°C), Thailand (29°C), and Seychelles (28°C).
The second list included some of those places that were ‘natural alternatives’ to those places in the first list, e.g. Sri Lanka (28°C), Costa Rica (28°C), Mexico-Cancún (28°C), Dubai (25°C), South Africa-Durban (25°C), Mauritius (27°C), and Hawaii (25°C).
The third list included those countries which did not immediately come to mind but nevertheless appeared on one or other list, e.g. Indonesia (27°C), Aruba (27°C), Colombia (26°C), Curacao (26°C), Bonaire (26°C), Turks and Caicos (25°C), Australia-Bondi Beach (28°C), US Virgin Islands (27°C), Panama (27°C), and Oman (26°C).
Some months after we had made our decision and booked I received an email listing the world's top 10 beach destinations. Too late this time, but who knows, could be useful for another year. So this list included Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos, Bali, Maui, Grenada, Fernando de Noronha in Brazil, Clearwater Beach in Florida, Crete, St. Lucia, Praslin Island in the Seychelles and finally Myrtle Beech in the US. Nice beach does not mean nice warm sea water, but a useful list nonetheless.
And another list offered up a few of the 'best' beach hotels, namely The Venetian on Grace Bay (Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos), Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort (Eagle Beach in Aruba), and Open Sands Resort (Clearwater in Florida).
Most of the places I've listed above appeared to offer a decent guarantee on my wife's 'sea temperature criteria', so after eliminating the really long-haul destinations, we just picked two initial options and chatted with our ‘preferred’ travel agent.
We decided to use Trailfinders simply because we had used them in the past for two big trips (albeit some 15-20 years ago) and we had continued to receive email ‘reminders’, etc.
Mauritius - our first idea, but not our last
Why on a webpage dedicated to a trip through Dubai to Phuket do we start with Mauritius?
You probably have guessed that our first idea was Mauritius. My wife’s first ‘pick’ was Mauritius, and mine was Thailand (but I was also fine with a number of the alternatives).
Our starting point with the travel agent was for a trip to Mauritius sometime in the period November and through to early-mid December 2019. He confirmed that the sea temperature would be perfect, and in our first chat he also mentioned Thailand and the Caribbean as alternatives.
Our pre-trip specification was as follows:
Relaxing holiday destination, e.g. quiet, relaxing and designed for couples
Beach front-line 5-star resort
Business class travel
If possible near a golf course
No major mobility challenges, e.g. cliff-side hotel, etc.
The travel agent immediately found that booking a direct flight to Mauritius would be a problem in November 2019 (we had started our planning in March 2019). The direct flight from London was nearly 12 hours, but lots were already fully booked, and good business-class discounts were hard to find. Our travel agent quoting prices near £4,000 per person, whereas deals with Emirates (including a stopover in Dubai) were around £3,000.
As far as I understood things this meant changing a direct flight of about 12 hours (London-Mauritius) to two flights of about 7¾ hours (London-Dubai) and 7½ hours (Dubai-Mauritius). This looked to us as being potentially less tiring, so we decided to add the idea of a short stopover going and coming back.
Within a couple of days we had our Mauritius 'offer'. Flying early November 2019 with Emirates, stopovers included, and 28 nights in a junior suite in the Shangri-La 'Le Toussrok' (in a location called Trou d'Eau Douce). The hotel is a highly rated 5-star resort right on the beach.
The key is to read carefully the reviews on the hotel, the general location, and the season.
Looking through the hotel reviews it was important to target factual information, as opposed to bland opinions (either negative or positive). Key 'negative' messages about the Shangri-La 'Le Toussrok' were:
Expensive, in particular the restaurants (also some guests felt the food was bland)
Quite remote, so little option but to eat at the hotels' (expensive) restaurants
Several comments about noise in the restaurants, and large Chinese tourist groups making it difficult to find a quiet spot
No lifts, only stairs
Wind and waves.
Then there were the comments that despite being opinionated and one-off's still hit home. For example, "The hotel also clearly attracts people on holiday who’d rather be in Dubai but made it to the wrong continent. It’s flashy and far too tackily glitzy if a cozy luxurious beach escape is what you’re after". Another example that caught my attention was "beach is a bit stoney, with lots of sea urchins".
I should note that the vast majority of comments were very, very positive about the hotel, but it's the negatives that push one to hunt around a bit more. In addition many negative comments have their 'up-sides', e.g. 'quite remote' means also quiet beaches, and wind and waves means that surfing could be an option, and a bit of wind could be considered a positive given the high temperatures and humidity.
So what did we find? Scanning through different review sites, etc., we found:
November is the start of the summer season in Mauritius with average temperatures around 24°C (21°C to 27°C)
From November the days get hotter and more humid, and the hottest months are January and February (for many travel reports the better time to visit Mauritius is June to mid-October)
The region Trou d'Eau Douce has above average humidity throughout the year (usually in excess of 70%)
Rainfall starts to increase substantially in December, but the lowest rainfall on the island is in September, October and November
November has the most daily sunshine hours
Wind is moderate, and the windiest months are July, August and September
November is the busiest month, and December is also busy with premium prices for Christmas and New Year.
Generally, in November temperatures can range from 24°C to 29°C, but reports said that it 'felt nice' given the humidity and wind. It rains between 4 and 6 days. During this period in Mauritius hotels ask premium prices. December temperatures range from 29°C to 31°C, but it is expected to rain for between 7 and 13 days.
As I said above, there were also a lot of positive comments about the tranquility of the East coast and the quality of the beaches, etc.
Mauritius - but at what price?
Certainly the biggest question mark about the offer for Mauritius was the price. Despite a claimed 40% discount on the hotel, the accommodation still looked expensive. As an example, Booking was quoting €630 for 1 night in October 2019 (breakfast only).
It just looked sensible to make a comparison with Thailand, and specifically Phuket.
Phuket - an alternative
Given the price of a trip to Mauritius, it was a 'no-brainer' to check this against an equivalent trip to Phuket. Our travel agent came back with an alternative for less than 50% of the price for a 1-month trip to Mauritius.
It was important to try to compare 'like-with-like'. The new proposal was for an Emirates business-class flight through Dubai (with the same stopovers) and a 1-month stay in Phuket in November 2019. The hotel proposed in Phuket was the Angsana Laguna 5-star resort on the Bang Tao Bay (in the islands northwest).
Firstly this meant changing the route with Emirates to London-Dubai-Phuket, but as far as I could tell the price did not change significantly from London-Dubai-Mauritius.
The importance was not just to compare prices, but also resort quality, location and season.
Purely on a 'like-for-like' price, Booking quoted around €630/night for the Shangri-La 'Le Toussrok' in Mauritius, and around €242/night for Angsana Laguna in Phuket (both for October 2019). So the pricing simple-to-double for the trips to either Phuket or Mauritius was just down to hotel prices.
But are we talking about the same quality of hotels? Both were classed 5-star, both were resort hotels on a breach, with Booking the Shangri-La scored 9.2 (superb), whereas the Angsana Laguna scored 8.5 (very good). The Shangri-La scored in the 9's for staff, facilities, cleanliness, location, and wi-fi, but scored only an 8 for 'value-for-money'. The Angsana Laguna scored 8.8 for staff, cleanliness, and comfort, an 8.5 for facilities, an 8.3 for location, an 8.2 for wi-fi, and a 7.8 for 'value-for-money'.
If we look at Trip Advisor the Shangri-La scored a 4.5/5, with a 5/5 for location. Of the 1,307 reviews 1,166 were 'good' or 'excellent' (89%). Trip Advisor also registered a score of 4.5/5 for Angsana Laguna. Of the 2,631 reviews 2,274 were 'good' or 'excellent' (86%).
Looking through the hotel reviews for Angsana Laguna it was important to target factual information, as opposed to bland opinions (either negative or positive). Key 'negative' messages were:
The hotel is big and spread out, making everything a 10-15 minute walk, and the local village is a 20 minute walk (everything much cheaper in the local village)
The restaurants on-site were seen by some people as too expensive, whereas the local offerings served excellent food at great prices
Spa prices looked far too high
A bit remote, so evenings out are about a 20 minute ride away, and you will have to travel to see the attractions
Several comments about noise at breakfast, often caused by large Chinese tourist groups
Insects, etc. in rooms (mostly ants).
Just as a reminder the hotel offered a variety of 'essential' services such as on-site golf lessons, kayaking, pilates, sailing, yoga, dry-cleaning and laundry services, hair salon, and ATM. In-room I noted coffee/tea maker, hair dryer, safe, air-con, and free bottled water.
Looking at the weather in Phuket, November looked to be a transitional month between the rainy low season and the sunny high season. Heavy showers were expected on about 14 days per month, often at night. Rainfall was estimated at nearly 30cm in November. Temperature rises to about 28°C, and whilst the humidity starts to drop it would still be 'sticky' with an average of 73%. Sea temperature was expected to be 29°C, and with a light easterly breeze.
Looking at December it is almost exclusively warm and sunny, as the high season begins in earnest. Rainfall drops to about 5cm with light showers, and the humidity also drops to 68%. Sea temperatures are 27-28°C with what is called a cooler easterly breeze.
In January rainfall drops again to around 3.5 cm per month, humidity drops to 64%, and the sea temperature remains stable at 28°C.
There are a lot of on-line discussions about the beaches on Phuket, and it appeared that there were more than 30 beaches on the island. The Angsana Laguna resort hotel is on the Bang Tao beach (sometimes also written Bangtao). This is a 6 kilometre long beach home to a mix of resorts and villas around Laguna and a local community in Cherng Talay (or Cherngtalay). This beach was seen as a family friendly destination with good restaurants and shops, but quiet after dark. The sand was a little grainy according to some reviewers, but most just wrote about soft sand, etc. The sea is usually quite flat between December and April, and there are virtually no rocks near the shore. Trip Advisor gave Bang Tao beach a 4.5/5, and of the 837 reviews, 87% were 'good' or 'excellent'.
I know this might be a little 'over-the-top' for 5-star resorts, but it is always useful to carefully check out the hotels. I always look up the hotel on Booking and Trip Advisor. I read the descriptions, check pricing for different dates, look at the pictures and read the reviews (starting with the 'average' ones that gave the hotel 3-stars). I then look at the hotel website. I expect quality photographs (not heavily photoshopped) and up-to-date information (finding out-of-date information is a really bad sign for me). If I phone the hotel for restaurant information or parking arrangements, I expect a good on-the-phone presence in one of my languages. If I express a requirement, etc. on the hotel website or booking site I expect a prompt reply. I always check out the site on google maps, if only to get a feel for the place, how to arrive, and what the parking is like, etc. If you are going to the US or Canada check out Bedbug Reports and The Bedbug Registry (no longer current), and Bedbugs has reports for Thailand and Dubai. One of our hotels in Dubai had a bedbug report, but from 2008. There are also increasing reports about bedbugs on poorly or infrequently cleaned aeroplanes.
Decision made - Phuket here we come
It was truly difficult to see beyond the very substantial different in price between a month in Mauritius and a month in Phuket.
But price is not everything. We were not impressed with the average temperature (24°C), and the potential for rainy and windy days during November in Mauritius. I personally was a bit worried about the fact that Mauritius might not offer a lot to see and do if the weather was not perfect.
It can often happen that the alternatives may initially look better that the original choice, but upon closer inspection the same defects and limitations might still emerge. Phuket in November is a transitional month, so rain and wind is also a problem. The resort is also a bit isolated, and as a tourism driven island economy Phuket might also not offer much more that a nice beach, warm water, and some over priced and overly 'sanitised' local cuisine.
The reality was that it was impossible to ignore the substantial difference in price between the two options, but November was perhaps not the best month for Phuket.
So we shifted our focus to December and extended our stay towards mid-January. Initially the hotel in Phuket was offering a 20% discount for early bookings, which excluded the Christmas and New Year period. However our travel agent was able to obtain the 20% discount for the entire period, including Christmas and New Year.
We did check the idea to shift our stay in Mauritius to December (with Christmas and New Year), but the prices were astronomical.
The final travel package
The two most important elements in the package were the business class flights with Emirates with stopovers in Dubai, and the Angsana Laguna resort hotel in Phuket. We also decided to extend our stay in Dubai to 8 nights, 3 outgoing, and 5 days during the return trip to London.
There are a multitude of lists on the web about 'the best' beaches, hotels, resorts, credit cards, etc. and business class flights. One list I saw some months after making our travel decisions listed the top-10 international business class 'products'. This list put them in order: Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Korean, Qatar, Emirates, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Etihad, Virgin Australia, and British Airways. It must be said that the list took into consideration comfort and service, and also 'innovation' and 'aesthetics' (so lots of intangibles). But still, Emirates came in 5th, so not bad.
Naturally I also found, some months after making our reservation, a list of the 'most beautiful resorts in Thailand'. So here they are: Anantara Mai Khao Phuket Villas, JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa, Rosewood Phuket, Layana Resort and Spa, Andara Resort and Villas, Rayavadee Resort, Pullman Phuket Arcadia Naithon Beach, The Naka Island, Six Senses Yao Noi, Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai, Banyan Tree Samui, InterContinental Samui Baan Taling Ngam Resort, Pimalai Resort and Spa, Centara Grand Beach Resort & Villas Krabi, Banyan Tree Phuket, Soneva Kiri, W Koh Samui, Four Seasons Resort Koh Samui and finally the Ritz-Carlton Koh Samui. And naturally our resort was not on the list!
Once we had booked we needed to collect information on requirements, constraints, etc. Below I've tried to collect as many ideas, suggestions, warnings, etc. together so as to "be prepared", as all scouts know.
Last minute changes
Having gone ahead and made all our decisions, and finalised our booking, we hit a problem. My wife had a small accident, which meant that we could not leave as planned. Fortunately most of travel arrangements could be changed. We lost a few fixed-price bookings, and had to pay rebooking fees, but the damage was remarkable limited, e.g. less than 10% of the overall cost. We made a claim with our travel insurance, and it was accepted.
So we moved our departure window to late-January 2020, with a return date in mid-March 2020. The upside was that if anything the weather in Phuket was likely to be even better and more stable in February. It is still in the peak tourist season, so we could expect more or less the same 'quality' of holiday in January-March 2020, as we planned for in the period December 2019 through to January 2020.
On the following webpages we will look at a lot of planning issues associated with a long trip, and of course report on what we saw and did during our stays in Dubai and Phuket.
For Dubai it is GTM +3.
For Thailand it is GTM +7.
Early planning requirements
In addition to making the actual flight and hotel bookings, there were a number of other early planning requirements.
Some requirements are absolutely essential, and others are more like timely reminders not to forget one or other issue.
The most important requirements were visas, vaccinations, and rules concerning essential medication, etc.
Then came rules for check-in and carry-on luggage, the need to rent a car, problems with local crime, etc.
And finally there were all those issues such as time differences (jet-lag), changing money, power sockets, tipping, phone services and Internet access, dress code, what to pack, hotel and airline award programs, etc.
Official travel advice
The UK government website has a webpage dedicated to people travelling abroad, and it includes foreign travel advice for a vast number of countries, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Thailand.
Warnings related to the UAE:-
Don’t accept lifts from strangers.
Use only licensed taxis or other recognised forms of public transport.
Female visitors and residents should take care when walking or travelling alone, and should use a reputable taxi company, particularly at night.
Driving standards in the UAE are not always as disciplined as in the UK and there is a high rate of traffic accidents.
Speeding is common.
It is a criminal offence in the UAE to drink and drive, no matter how small the amount.
Offensive gestures and bad language used at other drivers can lead to fines, a jail sentence, and possibly deportation.
Flashing your lights in the UAE can mean a driver is coming through, rather than giving way.
If you have an accident in Dubai, you should only move your vehicle if it is causing an obstruction to other motorists. Always call the police. It is an offence to leave the scene of an accident before the police have arrived.
Excursions to the desert can be dangerous unless you’re in a properly equipped 4 x 4 vehicle.
Pedestrians should take great care. Only cross roads using designated pedestrian crossings, failure to comply can lead to prosecution. Vehicles often don’t stop at zebra crossings marked on the roads.
Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in the UAE. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners.
You should maintain a high level of security awareness, particularly in public places.
If you’re travelling on a British Citizen passport, you can get a visitor’s visa on arrival in the UAE.
Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into the UAE.
If you’re planning to travel with any prescribed or over the counter medicines for personal use, you’ll need to meet the UAE’s specific requirements for your medicine to be allowed into the country.
If you’re entering the country with medication that the UAE classes as narcotic, psychotropic, controlled or semi-controlled, approval is needed from the UAE authorities. A list of medicines where this rule applies, allowed quantities and documents to present can be found on the UAE Ministry of Health website.
Importing pork products and pornography into the UAE is illegal.
There is zero tolerance for drugs-related offences.
Some skincare products may contain ingredients that are illegal in the UAE such as CBD oil.
Tourists will be provided with a code of conduct document and will be asked to confirm they understand rules and regulations in relation to purchasing, transporting and consuming liquor in Dubai.
It is a punishable offence under UAE law to drink or be under the influence of alcohol in public.
Women should dress modestly when in public areas like shopping malls. Clothes should cover the tops of the arms and legs, and underwear should not be visible. Swimming attire should be worn only on beaches or at swimming pools. Cross-dressing is illegal.
Swearing and making rude gestures (including online) are considered obscene acts and offenders can be jailed or deported. Public displays of affection are frowned upon, and there have been several arrests for kissing in public.
All sex outside marriage is illegal, irrespective of any relationship you may have with your partner in the UK.
It’s against the law to live together, or to share the same hotel room, with someone of the opposite sex to whom you aren’t married or closely related.
All homosexual sex is illegal and same-sex marriages are not recognised.
Photography of certain government buildings and military installations isn’t allowed.
Don’t photograph people without their permission.
Financial crimes, including fraud, bouncing cheques (including post-dated and ‘security cheques’) and the non-payment of bills (including hotel bills) can often result in imprisonment and/or a fine.
Warnings related to the Thailand:-
The political situation in Thailand is unpredictable and sometimes volatile. You should avoid any protests, political gatherings, demonstrations or marches, as people have faced criminal charges for participating in these activities. People have been prosecuted for criticising the 2014 military coup.
Lèse-majesté, (criticism of the monarchy in any form) is a crime, which can be interpreted broadly and carries a long jail sentence.
There have been instances where the victims of crime have been identified and threatened with prosecution by the police for damaging Thailand’s reputation.
Be aware that posting images on social media of people drinking alcohol or wearing inappropriate clothing can result in fines and/or imprisonment both for the person who uploaded the images and the people in them.
Be on your guard against pickpockets and bag snatchers, especially from thieves on motorbikes or when travelling in open transport like tuk-tuks.
You should take care when travelling in unfamiliar areas and avoid walking through less travelled areas alone, especially at night.
Don’t hand over your passport to third parties as a guarantee (e.g. to motorcycle or jet ski rental businesses) as companies may hold on to passports against claimed damage.
Violent sexual assaults and unprovoked attacks have been reported in tourist destinations across Thailand.
Drink spiking and date rapes have been reported in tourist destinations around Thailand, with both male and female victims.
Be aware of the possibility of credit card fraud. Don’t lose sight of your card during transactions.
There have been incidents of ATM skimming in Thailand. Where possible use an ATM within a bank and always protect your PIN.
There are a high number of road traffic accidents in Thailand especially involving motorcycles.
To drive a car or ride a motorcycle in Thailand, under Thai law you must have the correct licence and appropriate insurance for the category of vehicle you’re using. You will need an International Driving Permit.
Under Thai law, you must wear a helmet when riding motorcycles.
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Thailand. You should take care, particularly in public places, follow the advice of the local authorities and monitor local media reports. You should be vigilant at this time.
Your passport must have at least 6 months’ validity remaining from your date of entry into Thailand.
Entry to Thailand is normally refused if you have a passport which is damaged or has pages missing.
If you’re a dual national, you must depart Thailand on the same nationality passport you used to enter.
British passport holders arriving by air or land can enter Thailand for 30 days without a visa (a ‘visa exemption’). If you need to stay longer, it’s possible to extend your stay once for up to 30 days. You must apply for the extension before your visa exemption period ends.
Immigration officials in Thailand may ask you for proof of onward travel (e.g. a return or onward air ticket). You should make all reservations before travelling to Thailand.
Conditions in prisons and other detention facilities in Thailand are harsh, with limited access to healthcare. There have been recent cases of detainees dying in custody.
Don’t become involved with drugs of any kind. Possession of even very small quantities can lead to imprisonment.
Some prescribed and over the counter medicines that are available in the UK are considered controlled substances in Thailand. Rabies has been reported in domestic and wild animals, and there have been several fatalities.
Public hospitals and clinics in Thailand do not always meet UK standards, particularly outside Bangkok. Many hospitals require guarantee of payment. Make sure you have adequate health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost.UK health authorities have classified Thailand as having a risk of Zika virus transmission.
Dengue fever is present in Thailand and the number of reported cases is rising, some of these have been fatal. You should take steps to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 1669 and ask for an ambulance.
For Thailand we needed to apply for 60-day tourist visas.
One problem that I had not anticipated, and was not written anywhere, is that you can only apply for a 60-day tourist visa in the 3 month period before arriving in Thailand. You can't apply for it early.
We had to make our Thai visa request through the local consulate. You needed to fill in an application form, add a passport photograph, include confirmation of your travel bookings, and include a valid residency certificate and a statement from your bank that you had at least €600 in your account. You then had to hand all this in, with your passport and a copy of your passport, and €40 in cash.
It took over 2 weeks to receive back the passport with the visa. What we received back was a visa occupying a full page in the passport and valid for 3 months. The 'problem' here was that the validity did not cover our entire stay in Thailand, but we were told that it would be 'arranged' when we passed immigration. Upon entry the immigration stamped the visa with a 'USED' and our entry date. They also put in a separate visa stamp with the entry date and a validity for 2 months (thus covering our stay in Phuket).
Interestingly the Thai air hostess on our Emirates flight did not know that such visas existed.
For the United Arab Emirates there are 'visa on arrival' facilities.
Upon our first entry into Dubai we received a dated blue entry stamp, and when leaving Dubai we received a dated green exit stamp.
Interestingly as a UK passport holder I did not receive a dated green exist stamp after our second visit to Dubai. Not sure, but this could be a simple error.
The reality is that you can find too much information about vaccinations, but it's difficult to know what a tourist needs.
It also depends upon just how up-to-date you are with your vaccinations.
For example, the UK National Health website notes that vaccinations against diphtheria, tetanus, and polio (combined), and against typhoid, hepatitis A, and cholera are offered free because they protect against diseases thought to represent the greatest risk. They also suggest to keep up-to-date your vaccinations against hepatitis B, tuberculosis, flu, and varicella.
The recommended vaccination for Dubai is hepatitis A (recommended), and (suggested) are hepatitis B, tetanus and rabies.
The recommended vaccinations for Thailand are diphtheria and tetanus (recommended), and (suggested) are hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid, cholera, malaria, Japanese encephalitis, tuberculosis and rabies.
More than 2 months before our planned trip we spoke with our doctor. We were advised, based upon our vaccination cards, to complete our protection for hepatitis A and hepatitis B (with the 2nd and 3rd rounds of Twinrix).
We also were vaccinated against typhoid.
We were already protected for diphtheria, tetanus, polio and pertussis (whooping cough).
We established a list of all our prescription and non-prescription requirements, and a small list of first-aid items.
We obtained a letter from our doctor describing our medical condition and our need for prescription drugs.
We obtained a prescription for all necessary medication for the entire period of our trip. We obtained our full requirements, and we prepared a copy of the prescriptions along with the invoices from the chemist.
We obtain the usual invoices from our chemists with the identification and date of the prescription, the contents of the prescriptions and when it was filled, and the name of the doctor and patient.
We kept all medication and first aid items in their original packaging just in case customs officials need to check them, and kept them with our doctor's letter and prescriptions.
We kept our essential medication in our carry-on, and put the non-essential medication and the first-aid kit in our check-in baggage.
We kept a separate copy of all the documents, and also had a copy on our computer, iPad and iPhones.
It is useful to check if your bank or card providers have special arrangements or partnerships with local banks. You can do this at the same time you notify them of your travel arrangements.
Travellers are often advised that when taking currency from an ATM it is usually best to take local currency, and not € to be exchanged later.
Travellers cheques work fine in both Dubai and Phuket, but as many people noted they cost money to buy, and money to sell. A lot of people consider them 'old technology' and prefer cards. Many people suggested to go into a bank and use the ATM, making a largish withdrawal at the beginning and in the middle of a trip to save on fees.
For Dubai the currency is the United Arab Emirates Dirham (AED). Credit/debit cards are accepted everywhere. ATM's can be found everywhere, although it is better to inform your bank that you may be using ATM's in Dubai to avoid any restrictions.
The local currency AED is pegged to the US$, so firstly you will usually get more or less the same rate everywhere, and secondly the exchange rate to something like £ or € will fluctuate as a function of the US$.
It is said to wait until arriving in Dubai to change money, since the best rates can be found with the money exchangers in the shopping malls (e.g. Al Ansari Exchange is well respected).
The exchange rate as of 20 April 2019 was 1 AED equalled 0.24€, so 100 AED equals about 24€. On the 3 Sept. 2019 and on the 30th January 2020 the rate was 1 AED equalled 0.25€.
For Thailand the currency is the Thai baht (THB). According to a variety of websites changing money at home is not a good idea, and at the airport it's not much better. There are ATM's all over the island, "absolutely everywhere". Oddly enough with Thai ATM's they issue the money first and then return the card, i.e. people can easily forget their cards. They don't necessarily offer the best rates, but they do allow smallish sums to be taken as needed. There are a multitude of official and unofficial exchange booths almost everywhere. The official booths have some type of logo and are associated with a bank, the unofficial booths have no brand identification. Unbranded booths offer the best rates. Changing your money at the hotel is the worst possible option.
The exchange rate as of 20 April 2019 was 1 Thai Baht equals 0.028€, so 1,000 Baht equally about 28€. On the 3 Sept. 2019 1 Thai Baht was worth 0.03€, and on 30 January 2020 it was worth 0.029€.
Driving and car rental
To drive in Dubai you need a valid driving licence and an International Driving Permit (IDP). Speed limits are in km/hour. Cars are right-wheel drive, and thus everyone drives on the left.
For Thailand there are numerous comments about accidents and tourists always being blamed. Poor roads and even worse driving skills are supposed to make the whole of Thailand accident prone. Knowing how to drive on the left and use a stick-shift were mentioned. However, there are a lot of perfect reasonable comments about renting and enjoying the freedom to move around at will. One person staying at Bang Tao Beach recommended Andaman Car Rent. They rented a Toyota Avanta, which is a 7-seater, for 1,300 Baht/day (that's 36 €/day). They also recommended to use the mobile phone GPS, and not pay the extra for an in-car GPS. Some people rent at the airport and use the rental car for the airport-hotel transport (we have a pick-up and drop-off included with our hotel package). Another person recommended booking from Sixt through a wholesale booking agent, since they usually got great service and a later model car. Many people noted the issue of insurance for car rental. In case of an accident you have to pay an excess of between 4,000 Baht and 10,000 Baht, but some people said you can claim it back on your travel insurance.
For Dubai the public transport system is safe and reliable, as are taxis. It did not appear logical to pre-book a rental car.