As Hong Kong and mainland China continue to tighten the screws on their increasingly impossible-looking zero-Covid-19 objectives, the stirrings of a resumption in international travel for non-essential reasons can be detected elsewhere in Asia, even as infection rates – driven by the Omicron variant – continue to climb. Last week, as the World Health Organization advised countries to lift or ease their international travel bans, “as they do not provide added value and continue to contribute to the economic and social stress” and are “not effective in suppressing international spread” of the coronavirus, Association of Southeast Asian Nations tourism ministers met (physically and digitally) in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. They agreed that the time to revive international tourism across the Asean region was drawing near, reports Xinhua. Not only was Southeast Asia ready to reopen, said the ministers, but it would bounce back with resilience. Woo-hoo! “Every possible coordination and cooperation will be provided so that the reopening process will be gradual and steady,” the ministers declared. Although it’s not clear exactly what “every possible coordination and cooperation” will entail in practice, Asean member countries have been busy over the past few weeks making announcement after announcement about their own easing of restrictions. As they crack their doors open, all expect international arrivals to declare their vaccination status and to have submitted to a pre-travel Covid-19 test. Most insist on tests after landing, too. For its part, Cambodia has done away with quarantine and the mandatory US$50,000 health insurance for vaccinated arrivals – and will even take in the unvaccinated, although they must quarantine for 14 days, perhaps at the swish Raffles Hotel Le Royal, Phnom Penh, one of the establishments designated for the purpose. On January 21, Prime Minister Hun Sen, acknowledging that Omicron was less severe than previous variants, announced that “all foreigners [already in the country], if testing positive for the Omicron variant, can undergo treatment wherever they want such as at embassies, hospitals, or hotels”, reports Xinhua. Indonesia lifted a ban on foreign arrivals from 14 “heavily infected nations” – among them Britain and South Africa – on January 12, and kept the required isolation period at seven days, in a bid to keep the economy going, reports Bloomberg. No country is now singled out for exclusion by Jakarta. And on January 24, a travel bubble opened for vaccinated and tested ferry passengers travelling from Singapore to the Indonesian islands of Batam and Bintan. Those heading in the other direction must still submit to a seven-day stay-home notice in Singapore, though. Vietnam announced on January 18 that foreign arrivals with valid visas (not tourists) would no longer have to obtain what’s been dubbed a “second visa” – special permission from the Immigration Department, under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and local authorities – to enter the country, reports the VnExpress newspaper. On January 3, the newspaper reported that Ho Chi Minh City and Binh Dinh province had been added to the destinations already open to a limited number of vaccinated tourists from countries deemed low risk under a trial vaccine passport programme. The originals on that list are Quang Nam, Quang Ninh, Kien Giang (including the island of Phu Quoc ), Khanh Hoa and Da Nang . Vietnam partially restored regular commercial flights to China, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Laos, Cambodia and the United States on January 1. The reopening of Laos’ borders to tourists began on January 1, when fully vaccinated visitors from specified countries (including China, Japan and the US) were allowed into “green zones” – Vientiane, Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang – and onto “green trails” – Champasack, Khammouane, Oudomxay, Xayaboury and Xieng Khouang. All travellers must have medical insurance to the value of US$50,000 and upload their vaccination and other information onto the LaoKYC and the LaoStaySafe mobile apps. The second phase of Laos’ reopening will be implemented on April 1, when more zones and trails are to be added to the green lists. Since November 15, international tourists have been able to enter the Langkawi International Tourism Bubble – which is subject to ongoing tweaks in requirements as the pandemic evolves. No other Malaysian “bubble” has so far been announced, but those who have spent seven days in Langkawi and are healthy can then move on to other parts of the country. A bubble by another name, the vaccinated travel lane (VTL) Malaysia has with Singapore has proved popular with tourists. About 100,000 have entered the Lion City under the quarantine-free travel scheme, which began on November 29, reports The Straits Times , 55 per cent of them across the causeway that connects to the nations, the rest by air. As it assesses the threats posed by Omicron, though, Singapore is deciding whether to cut the capacity on its VTLs – it has arrangements with more than 25 countries, including Australia, India, South Korea and the US – by 50 per cent. Travelling to Thailand during Covid-19: four visitors on how it’s going Thailand is arguably the Asian country that has been the most anxious to have tourists and their dollars return. Last July, Bangkok established the Phuket “sandbox”, whereby vaccinated foreign arrivals have freedom of movement on the island during a seven-day period, after which they are permitted to move on elsewhere in Thailand. On November 1, the Test & Go quarantine waiver for vaccinated arrivals was introduced across the country, but that was put on hold on January 7, as Bangkok assessed the threats associated with Omicron. Soon afterwards, though, the sandbox scheme was expanded to include Krabi, Phang Nga and the kohs Samui, Pha-ngan and Tao. Thailand’s coronavirus task force has since announced it will resume the Test & Go scheme on February 1, albeit with an added Covid-19 test five days after arrival. Also at the beginning of February, Bang Lamung, Pattaya , Si Racha, Si Chang, Sattahip, Na Jomtien, Bang Saray and Koh Chang will all get their own sandboxes to play with. Confused? We’re not surprised; and it seems likely there will be more twists and turns before Joe Hong Kong Public returns en masse to the holiday hotspots of Southeast Asia. But it is reassuring, at least, that there is light at the end of Asia’s Covid-19 tunnel. Island of the gods ... and docs Sun, sea and surgery are what the Indonesian authorities are hoping people will flock to Bali for in years to come. Construction is under way of the Bali International Hospital, which will be run in partnership with the United States-based Mayo Clinic as part of a bid to recoup US$7 billion in outbound medical tourism , reports Bloomberg. It’s hoped that the hospital, being built in Sanur, east of Denpasar, and expected to begin operating (functionally and surgically) in mid-2023, will attract foreign medical tourists as well as convince the two million Indonesians who travel overseas for treatment each year to trust in a local facility. Insta gratification What have New York, Chicago, London, Boston, Jakarta, Toronto, Dubai, Frankfurt, Dallas, Seattle, Miami, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Singapore and Atlanta all got that Hong Kong hasn’t, eh? Well, skylines with more Instagram appeal (in that order), according to Pixsy. The image-monitoring platform analysed the number of Instagram pictures posted across relevant hashtags for 128 cities known for their skylines, we’re told, and then the “average number of posts was cross-referenced against each city’s population, and annual visitor numbers to …” – oh, but who cares! This type of survey – and Destinations Known ’s inbox receives many – isn’t really intended to impart useful information. They are designed primarily to appeal to editors desperate for “listicle” content, who, it is hoped, will then publish an article containing the name of the company providing the “research”. So, job done. And apologies to any reader who feels their time has been wasted.