What better way to start the year than to go on an adventure? Dropping Joshua and Sandra off at the airport was sad and the idea of going back home was horrid. So, we dropped them and kept driving north to Ranong. Ranong is a small border town, not a lot to do, sleepy but pleasant for a night; before Covid, most people came here for a visa run to Myanmar. The food was good though and we had an amazing breakfast! Before Ranong, we stopped at Memories Bar in Koh Lak. Nice little place, surfers paradise and a perfect spot for a weekend getaway from Phuket.
And to Ranong! Geoff found us some street art… A very old barber’s shop and a cat.
Strange things do happen and the world can at times feel like a very small place. After stopping for petrol and bumping into someone I used to work with in Bangkok, we then bumped into somebody else we used to know, from Geoff’s school in Bangkok. Jon L! We had a really good catch up with Jon and Pat and it turned out that they were staying in the same hotel and in the room next to ours!!! Go figure… We had an amazing Thai breakfast, the best Thai breakfast I’ve had in Thailand before getting on a boat to Koh Phayam.
Koh Phayam is a very small island, about 45.00 km2, it has no roads and no cars and the population is around 500 people. It is unspoiled and rustic and some places still have no electricity. It is a hippy, rasta kind of island and a great place to chill. There are 2 main beaches on the island, Ao Yai and Ao Kao Kwai (Buffalo Bay). Both are very beautiful and at the moment, extremely quiet and unspoiled.
There is so much space on this beach! A lot of places were closed due to Covid and the sense of space and freedom was just amazing. Although it is now becoming more developed, the island is still very rustic with no frills. There are a few places to eat and some cafes dotted around the island but all are pretty basic. No chance of getting a decaf here. Came across a wonderful little Japanese bakery by Bamboo Bungalows on long beach. She makes beautiful bread, cakes and sandwiches. If you ever visit, go there. It was our favourite place!
There is only one temple on the island and it is at the end of a small pier which is rather unusual.
The next place to visit was Buffalo Bay. One end was not particularly nice but the end where the Hippy Bar is, is particularly beautiful. I am being fussy now…
One of the highlights of being in Phayam was watching the sunset from the Hippy Bar. This is a really crazy and amazing reclaimed wooden construction that goes on for ever. The bit you see on the beach is like a pirate ship jutting out but as you walk inside it goes on to all sorts of nooks and crannies, walkways and lounging areas. Incredible!
We read about a beach in the north that was quite hard to get to! If you don’t want to meet people, go to Ao Kwangpeep, also called Monkey Bay – a tiny little beach at the northernmost point. However, to get there is not easy and not completely harmless either. With Geoff’s riding skills this was a walk in the park although I was pretty scared! The road starts off well tarred, until one thing is clear: this is no longer a road but a steep descent with plenty of massive holes! It was worth it though, the beach was deserted and the only place to stay is now fully derelict and abandoned due to Covid. The view to Koh Chang and Myanmar is beautiful!
It has now been 5 years and 6 months since we set foot in Thailand. I had never really thought about visiting Asia, apart from India so ending up in Thailand was not on the cards but life has its twists and turns… We are at a crossroads at the moment; reevaluating our life, options, needs and wants. Having choices is great and we are fortunate to be in this position but it also brings confusion and leads to difficult decisions having to be made. In the meantime, we are enjoying our time here, getting on with work and continuing to explore as much as we can during these Covid times. We are in the middle of a fifth wave and it feels as if everyone has had enough now. It seems the government is trying to keep things open and make Covid endemic this year. Let’s see…
October and it’s Halloween. Not a lot going on but some funky decorations and Marianne and Blaze looking cool! I tried to scare the kids at school
The much awaited December finally arrived with Joshua and Sandra visiting. After 2.5 years, it was a very exciting reunion! December also marked the end of the Monsoon. After 6 months of rain, some of it of biblical proportions, seeing blue skies and calm seas is good for the soul.
The wait is finally over. We all went to Bangkok to collect Joshua and Sandra and spent a few days exploring with Marianne and Blaze. Never been to a games cafe before but highly recommend it. Such fun and so many games!!
Went to a festival of lights which included a river trip to see some of the lights around Bangkok. Some unusual installations…..
Back to Phuket to a Xmas full of cheer. It was the first Xmas where we have all been together with partners. Very exciting to see the kids growing up into adults and enjoying their independence. Thank you to the friends who joined us and made it a fun and memorable day.
And so the adventure begins. On to Khao Sok National Park – it is covered by the oldest evergreen rainforest in the world, huge limestone mountains shooting straight up in the air, deep valleys and breathtaking lakes. We decided to go on a stroll which ended up taking forever but managed to get to a river for a cool swim. We thought it would be a leisurely stroll through the jungle, 3kms, they said, each way. It is indeed a beautiful forest, may types of trees, monkeys, plants… It all looked even better once we managed to get back to the car and rest.
We stayed one night at Cheow Lan Lake, an 185-square-kilometre artificial lake. The lake is only a few decades old but the area is ancient. Khao Sok National Park outdates even the Amazon rainforest, with scientists estimating its creation at approximately 160 million years ago. The cliffs in this area are thought to have been created at the same time as the Himalayas, when 50 million years ago the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates collided, forcing the rock upwards. It is an incredibly beautiful scenery with limestone cliffs jutting out of the emerald water. So much fun for swimming and kayaking! Shame is was cloudy but still beautiful.
And New Year came and went… Let’s hope 2022 brings joy and happiness to us all and hopefully less Covid. Time for one more picturesque trip before Joshua and Sandra head back to chilly Edinburgh. Coral Island or Koh Hae is very close to Phuket and easy to get to for the day. It has beautiful, clear, blue water and a coral reef which is just off the beach. Plenty of fish to see!
Life goes on, Covid goes on… We are just coming out of another outbreak and it seems like Thailand has finally decided that we just need to get on with it now. See what happens as only 39% of the population is vaccinated. I think we are all fed up with this and just want to get on with our lives. It has been tough not being able to go home, not seeing friends and family and being “stuck” in Phuket. Yes, I know, it is beautiful, but we feel a little claustrophobic now. We did a quick trip to Bangkok and went in search of graffiti. This is what we found in Charlerma Park in Ratchathewi. https://thesmartlocal.com/thailand/bangkok-graffiti-park/
I had a willing model to help me bring the art to life. I heard that things get covered over and over so I am sure next time we go, it will look different.
It really has been a very quiet time over here in Phuket. Even though tourists have been trickling in, the island is still pretty empty and places continue to be closed. There is little to do apart from eating out and going to the beach which is not bad considering we are in the middle of a pandemic. We did manage to leave the island last week and went up north to Chiang Mai and Pai. The road to Pai goes through the mountains and there are 762 bends which I thoroughly enjoyed – most of them hairpin and switchback. Apparently it was built by the Japanese during the 2nd World War.
Pai is a small town near the Myanmar border. Largely unheard of, it became a hippy, backpacker destination and is now full of cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops. I kind of liked it and didn’t like it! It was quiet which helped but I am not sure if I would have enjoyed a small town full of backpackers. The countryside around it is magnificent though so go there, get out of town for the day and come back in the evening for food and music.
Pai Canyon or Kong Lan in Thai is described in some tourist brochures as Thailand’s answer to the Grand Canyon. To say that’s stretching a point would be putting it mildly. PaiCanyon’s geological and topographic features are quite stunning. This unique geographical area has been formed by continuous erosion over decades until reaching the current condition. The carved narrow ledges and slabs that have survived the erosive actions of the elements have steep 30 meters deep cliff drops and a series of narrow walkways cut on the ridges of giant rock walls that snake out into the densely forested valley. I found it a little scary so did not venture far. Very slippery and too steep for my liking!
The Bamboo Bridge near Pai (also known as Boon Ko Ku So) is an 1 km long bridge that stretches over a field of lush rice fields and leads to a bamboo temple. The wonderfully springy trail takes you over bright green rice paddies. The name Kho Ku So translates into ‘The Bridge of Merit’. Originally built for the monks at the bamboo temple by the locals. Before the bridge, the monks had to walk over 6 km to reach the village to obtain food. The journey took them a long time as the path lead through forest and the rice fields. In order to make the journey shorter the bridge was built. Now the monks no longer have to avoid stumbling through the rice plantations as they can stroll over the lovely fields via the Kho Ku So. It was truly beautiful, especially as there were no people! I think you are getting the idea that empty is best.
On the way to Pai, we stopped at Pong Dueat in is the biggest geyser hot spring in Thailand. It is located in a national park called Huai Nam Dang. The temperature of the water in the geyser can go up to 150 degrees celsius. The water springs 2 metres high every 30 seconds although we did not see it go so high when we were there. The circular walk is very beautiful and about 1.5kms. Again, we seemed to be the only people there.
Chiang Mai has 117 Buddhist temples. Wat Chiang Man was built by Mangrai in 1297 CE as the first temple of Chiang Mai. It gives you an idea of how old they are. This time, we visited Wat Chedi Luang, its construction started in the 14th century and was finished in the mid-15th century. It is home to Chiang Mai’s largest Buddhist chedi – 98 meters tall and 54 meters in diameter.
From Chiang Mai, we went to Doi Suthep temple. A Thai saying goes, “If you haven’t tasted Khao Soi or seen the view from Doi Suthep, you haven’t been to Chiang Mai.” This regal mountain overlooks the city from the northwest, with beautiful views from its summit. Aside from its dominating presence on the horizon, Doi Suthep is the home of some of the most deeply loved symbols in Thailand. The highest peak in the park is Doi Pui which tops off at 1,685 meters (5,528 feet), making it the eighth largest mountain in Thailand. he main reason many visitors come to Doi Suthep National Park is to visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a venerable and venerated temple that is one of the most holy Buddhist sites in Thailand. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is a major pilgrimage destination, especially during the Buddhist holidays of Makha Bucha and Visakha Bucha (February 13 and May 11). Beware, there are 309 steps to climb – there is a tram which we said no to before realising how many steps there were!
We stopped off at a Karen/Kayan village which is meant to be for tourists. Not the sort of thing we would normally go to but as there were no tourists about, we thought we would stop for a coffee and buy something to help them out. This is one of several privately owned ethnic villages in northern Thailand that are home to migrants from the Karenni or Red Karen hill tribe in Myanmar’s Kayah State, formerly known as Karenni State. The village was a popular tourist attraction, with visitors queuing to see the elongated, brass-ringed necks of the Red Karen women but now there are no tourists and they are struggling.
From the age of five or six, girls begin winding a series of heavy brass coils around their necks to give them an elongated appearance. The coils, weighing up to four or five kilograms by the time a woman reaches adulthood, push down on their collarbones and compress their ribcages. The women say that it is for beautification and that it gives a sense of cultural identity. Some say this is a cruel practice and it is mysoginistic, personally, I don’t like it but it is not clear cut. Contrary to popular belief, the women do not die if they remove their neck rings. It is reported that they feel uncomfortable for a period after removing the rings, until their body adjusts to not having them.
As the Kayan Long Neck tribe are not native to Thailand, but are refugees here, seeking refuge from persecution in Myanmar, no natural or authentic Kayan villages exist in Thailand. The Kayan Long Neck that live in Thailand reside in refugee camps and have refugee status. This means that they have limited access to education, medical care, employment and that their movement is restricted. So, do we want to promote these villages? What do the Karen want? They want tourists as it is their way of making some money but for us it can seem like a human zoo.
Cape Panwa beach in Phuket and the old Sino Portuguese house on the grounds of the Cape Panwa Hotel
That’s all for now. Enjoy the photos and I’ll see you all after Xmas!
Here we are in the middle of another outbreak! From Thailand doing really well to having a surge in cases that is growing day by day. The vaccination is slow, only 5% of the population has been vaccinated, mostly with Sinovac which is not effective against the Delta variant. There is a sense of when will this end, it just goes on and on…. Anyway, we are again in a place of not knowing. When will schools open, will they open. When can we travel to see friends and family?
We decided to stay put once again this Summer and spent 2 weeks in Kho Phanghan and Kho Tao to get away from the Monsoon in Phuket. Kho Phanghan was incredibly restful and quiet and it was a truly relaxing break. We stayed at Haad Salad and went over to Kho Tao for a couple of days – beautiful water and snorkelling over there. We were meant to dive but Geoff perforated his ear diving at Sail Rock and I am not well enough to dive so snorkelling it was.
Recently, I had a Ulcerative Colitis flare up which left me in hospital for 2 weeks and it really got me physically and emotionally. I have been quite blazé about this illness but it is now time to take it more seriously and start learning to live with it. It is not going away and I have been reading and learning more about it and trying to connect with others who are going through the same. I have been through so many emotions, anger, despair, depression, anxiety, fear, denial… It feels so unfair but life is random and shit happens. It feels as if my life has changed although in many ways it is still the same. So, any support is greatly appreciated!
In the meantime, life goes on. I got offered a full time school counselling position here in Phuket and have left my job in Bangkok. I have also closed my private practice so that I can dedicate myself to the school. Not an easy decision as my practice was doing really well but doing both is just too much. I can now stop travelling to Bangkok every week and just be based in Phuket which I am looking forward to.
I always tend to feel that I am not doing enough, not sure what that is about… We fostered that most adorable kittens which needed feeding every 3 hours and got them onto solids so that they could be adopted. It was ridiculously tiring but amazing to know that we gave these tiny creatures a chance at life. Here they are in all their cuteness:
Here are some sunsets – we get a lot of those over here, keeps us busy in the evenings as there is not much else to do and some random beach finds. Life is pretty quiet here in Phuket. Most places are closed as there are no tourists to keep businesses open. Some areas are like ghost towns, completely deserted. The economic impact has been horrendous for the local people; we, the expats, are the privileged ones with jobs and money and there is a lot of charity work on the island to help people feed themselves and help them survive through this crisis. In the first six months of 2020 amid the first wave of the pandemic, Thailand’s suicide rate rose by 22% and it continues to rise. There is very little mental health support and it is not something that is spoken about. Let’s hope that things are looking up next time I post my next blog!
If anyone would like to make a donation to One Phuket, here is the link to the Facebook page with details on the initiative and how to make a transfer. Any amount will help to feel people who are struggling without jobs of government assistance. One Phuket.
Oh, and some really massive lotus that you can stand on.
Another amazing thing that happened! Marianne graduated and has now finished school. She has a place at the Royal Vet College in London to do a Vet Nursing degree. Very happy for her. She is taking a year out and staying put in Phuket with Blaze until they work out what to do next year.
For those who are Breaking Bad fans, look what I found… It appears to be closed, maybe they were raided!
In April, we spent 3 days on a boat, diving in the Similan Islands. It was stunningly beautiful and really relaxing. We were not sure if we would get bored being on a boat and diving everyday but we didn’t and are looking forward to doing another liveaboard at Christmas. We were lucky to have had a professional photographer on board – she took the most beautiful pictures. Thank you Allie Vautin!
Some photos of the Similans and the view from our little cabin…
During my weekly stays in Bangkok, I did some exploring. This is in Chinatown in the evening when it comes to life with food stalls and people coming to eat outside.
Not much else to report… Life goes on, we hope for a better year ahead, being able to see family and friends and being healthy. In the meantime, here are a few more photos. Until next time, stay safe and well.
Last time I wrote, we were in lockdown. Thailand has managed to control the spread of the virus with strict measures; a combination of government action, social responsibility and community solidarity. It is a striking difference from our more individualistic culture where it is all about our rights, our needs, our wants, what we deserve… People are kind and thoughtful here on the whole, except when you put them behind a wheel! There is a strong sense of community in Phuket and with the impact of the loss of tourism, there has been a community effort to help those who are struggling to even find food to eat.
However, as I write this, cases are once again going up (albeit in smallish numbers compared to other countries) created by a small influx of migrants which have entered the country illegally and also spread by illegal gambling dens. As of January 3rd, we have 294 new cases around the country.
The impact Covid has had on tourism can be seen on the islands. Although Bangkok still remains relatively busy, there are shops closed and emptier streets in some areas. Phuket has been hit very hard and some areas remain deserted, without tourists there is no life here. Last year, foreign tourist nearly hit 40 million but now 93% of customers are Thai. Businesses and hotels have shut down, some forever. Last I read, about 3 months ago, 70% of businesses in Phuket had closed. This video of the busiest beach in Phuket really highlights the current situation in Phuket: https://youtu.be/YVeBOy9j2kA.
We feel very fortunate to be here during this period! We feel safe, we have freedom within Thailand and great healthcare. The downside is that we are cut off from family and friends abroad and that has not been easy. We hope that we can travel and reconnect with friends and family this coming Summer. In the meantime, we amuse ourselves here. Wildlife is coming back as there are not many people about.
Must not forget the snake hiding in the shoes! Harmless radiated rat snake – non venomous.
We could not go out of Thailand in Summer so we went to Kho Samui for a few days. Samui is a lovely small island, I say small but it is the second largest island in Thailand. It has some beautiful waterfalls which are good for swimming and as in the rest of the country, places are semi deserted.
The rest of the time was spent pottering about in Phuket and Bangkok.
Bangkok in July is hot and sticky with bits of rain in between. Shopping and eating is the main thing to keep you occupied. Goldie (yes, Goldie, who remembers him!) lives in Phuket, of all places and has opened an art gallery in Bangkok – https://aurum.gallery/. Aurum Gallery is a contemporary, urban and street art gallery.
After our Bangkok stay, we came back to Phuket.
We have had quite a long monsoon this year as La Nina is also in force!
We also visited Kho Yao Yay, a small island not far from Phuket. Geoff enjoyed having his own pool party and I did my “look, I can walk on water” trick!
And it is Christmas! It is so hard not to be able to see family and friends and Xmas makes us more aware of this. Luckily, our friends from Bangkok came over for a couple of weeks and we had a lovely time connecting with people we are close to. Hooray for friends!!
We also went to Bangkok as they go overboard with Xmas, always fun to see all the decorations and lights around the city.
Covid has had and continues to have such an impact on our community here in Phuket. Places have been deserted and look apocalyptic and people are struggling to feed themselves. We feel so lucky and so grateful to be here, in this lovely house on a beautiful island. The animals are returning, the beaches are clean, the water is clear… It is hard to say how happy we are when we know how hard this is for some. As usual, it is the poor that suffer the most, the inequalities are more evident during this pandemic. There is a strong sense of community here and of helping each other rather than trying to step on each other.
I got a new tattoo, with the island closed off, prices were slashed to 50% so good time to get inked. Geoff had a traditional one with bamboo, the guy was so fast, amazing to watch.
This is what Bangkok looks like from 76 floors up! The Mahanakhon Skywalk is a rather impressive building. It looks like a block of jenga with bits missing. On the top floor there is a glass platform, you can walk on it and look down at Bangkok. A little scary at first but I trust the engineers and the builders did a proper job… The lift is incredibly fast, it takes 50 seconds to reach the 74th floor. All in all, the tower is 314 metres, the tallest in Bangkok. You can see the glass platform in the picture below.
On our return, we went back to this amazing viewpoint; Samet Nangshe in Phang Nga Bay. The light was different from our previous visit and it was rather beautiful, you can’t beat nature!
It is one of the most beautiful views, so serene and tranquil….
And now, for some more wildlife in our garden…
This is a very long blog but I hope you enjoy looking at the photos. I have always loved taking pictures and it is my way of recording experiences – always a pleasure to look back. I started these blogs for the kids so that they would have a record of their life abroad.
Diving trip to Racha Yay. Beautiful clear water and some interesting fish, many puffer fish and a huge moray eel. Photos aren’t great but it is the best we could get from our dive master. This dive is on a ship wreck so plenty of fish! I have the blue hat on and Geoff is in most of the photos too.
And we are nearly at an end of 2020! Another year…. All was quiet in Thailand for the past 7 months and now we are in the midst of another Covid wave. Let’s hope this time next year, we have managed to make a dent on this virus.
New Year on the beach and a learn to sail course which turned out to be one of the most boring things I have done!
Happy New Year dear friends and family. Let’s hope we can be reunited this year I miss you all.
Yesterday, our village, Bang Tao, was finally allowed to roam free once again. After having become the epicentre of the virus on the island, a strict lockdown was enforced in Bang Tao. This was ok until the rest of the island reopened and we remained locked in. Frustrations started to rise and locals gathered at the road block saying they were dissatisfied. As with most things in Thailand, there was no violence and people went back to their lockdown quietly. The road block remained…
In January people started wearing masks and taking precautions in Bangkok. The first novel coronavirus infection in Thailand was reported on 13 January 2020, making it the first country outside China to report such infection. Still, it all seemed kind of ok and not really a worry. By February, things were not so good! Masks, hand sanitisers, temperature control. By March, things started to look pretty serious, Thailand recorded the highest jump on 19 March.
The country was placed under a state of emergency on 26 March which continues to this day. Many regions were placed under lockdown, borders were closed and all foreigners stopped from entering the country. In Phuket, the airport and the bridge were closed; the airport remains closed and the bridge is open for those who want to leave the island to return to their home in other provinces.
So, how has life been under lockdown? Here are some photos of closed roads.
One of the first we came across
By our house
By our front door
Stay off the beach they said!
South of Phuket
Near our house, first time we came across a closed beach
Roadblocks became familiar but for us, we were soon to be further locked in as the virus took hold in Bang Tao, our small village. With limited access to anywhere, really, we found ways to amuse ourselves. Luckily, even though beaches are closed all over the island, Bang Tao beach has remained accessible. Perhaps because there is nobody here at all and often the beach is empty, the police do not seem too harsh on the few stragglers that occasionally appear on the beach.
Monsoon season has arrived
Initially, lockdown was very relaxed, roads were still opened and we could move around. It seemed fine, not much had changed except for less tourists which made it rather more pleasant for us. We took time cycling around the now quiet roads and enjoyed having the place to ourselves.
Found a cashew nut tree
…and some minions!
Then the district lockdowns kicked in. Our world became small but it was about to become even smaller as the virus took hold in Bang Tao! We spent most of our time working which kept us sane. We got used to being together 24/7 which did not always keep us so sane. I discovered Honduran Zumba on YouTube and baked and baked. Walks on the beach kept us going and gave us a sense of freedom. We started to imagine that we were in the tiny island of Bang Tao with our own private beach – it worked well. The cats and the dog also took well to the lockdown.
The shops are now slowly reopening, schools are to remain closed and the island remains quiet. Although it is idyllic, we are all too aware that a quiet island means that many people are not making the bare minimum to survive. It has been sobering to see how fragile the economy is here for some people who live on so little already and now simply have nothing.
The mental health impact has also been notable. I have had more enquiries which are domestic abuse related, people not coping with the kids being home and with home schooling and some finding it hard to face the world once again. We do not talk about this; it is always about how to cope during isolation but what about when we need to return to the “real world”? I, for one, am quite happy in this bubble, I do not look forward to being thrust back out there. This life is more peaceful, more flexible, more relaxed and we have all found that we do not need very much to be ok. A bit like Tanzania all over again, in a way. It is a reminder that we have more than enough and that is enough.
The joy of being silly with friends
Can’t get to the shops, make your own burger buns. I am never buying burger buns again!
Managed to get through a road block and have a sneaky ride
One way to pass the time. Lotus flowers…
People moan and they always will but I have been grateful for the way Thailand has handled this crisis. Initially, the response seemed to be slow but once they got going it all kicked into place. We have been well looked after. Temperature checks and hand sanitiser everywhere we go. House visits to check temperature and to deliver food essentials provided by the government. We also have excellent health care and we are not in an overcrowded place, many things to be grateful for.
Shopping malls reopened with strict control measures
Roadblock temperature checks
Free food pantry
Government food deliveries
Clean it up!
Everyone is doing their bit by wearing masks
So, if you want some advice on what to watch on Netflix, let me know, I might just be able to help you out with that. Never has Netflix been so busy, did not know there was so much shit you could watch. How would we survive this without tech? Makes me wonder…