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Expat Life had the pleasure of sitting down with H.E. Mark Gooding the British Ambassador to Thailand and discuss his life, his first impressions of Thailand after six months of office, and his mission for the future.

He came to Thailand in early July 2021 so has had a difficult first six months coping with Covid, as everyone else in the world has. But for a diplomat whose role is to represent his country overseas and to speak for his nation to our hosts it has not been easy.

He is an accomplished linguist studying French and German at Oxford University, some Spanish and having served in China for some years, Mandarin and now of course, Thai. I was pleased to hear that he expects to be in Thailand for at least 4/5 years which certainly makes more sense than limiting his posting to the normal 3 years. He said that the Foreign Office makes the investment of giving you language training and so they encourage you to stay for a while.

I wanted to know more about the man and his origins so I started the conversation off with Where are you from in the UK, which city, where were you bought up and where did you study?
I was born and bought up in Guildford in Surrey and studied at Oxford and for all of my adult life, apart from when I have been posted overseas, I have been living in London which I now consider my home in the UK. I have just been back in the UK for a couple of weeks which I always enjoy.

May I ask you what your parents professions were?
My father was an RAF officer and my mother was a secretary. He has no other diplomats in his family.

What made you pursue a life in diplomacy?
As a teenager and in university I was very interested in politics, foreign affairs and languages which I studied in university so I was very keen to live and work overseas and be involved in international relations. The Foreign Office was a pretty obvious career choice and I count myself lucky that I got in and have been doing it now for 22 years.

Having studied languages at university I had a natural interest in foreign affairs and my first job was as a teacher in Sri Lanka. I then worked for a pharmaceutical company for about a year, then saw an application to join the Foreign Office and have been with them since. He is now 46 years old.

He has had two postings in China, one in Shanghai and another in Beijing. He was then appointed Deputy High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, a country dear to his heart because of his teaching experience there. He was Ambassador to Cambodia so he is well qualified and seems to have been destined for Thailand with its leading role in ASEAN.

This is my fifth overseas posting for the Foreign Office he said.

I have also done various roles for the government in London. Most recently I was the EU Director working on Brexit and 14 years ago I was Private Secretary to the Foreign Secretary. Quite diverse, but mostly I have focussed on policy in Asia but also in Europe.

Education has become one of the UK’s biggest, and certainly the most successful exports to Thailand?
He acknowledged that fact and he said he has spoken to a number of the British school head teachers online as we have been locked down for most of the time but now restrictions are easing he hopes to visit and meet them all in person. With my past as a former teacher I am very keen at promoting education. It is very important to me and as a former student of languages I understand how important it is to teach English language learning.

How can we influence more Thais to speak English?
We discussed the role that the British Council had in assisting the Ministry of Education in Thailand in training their English language teachers under Dr. Teerakiat Jareonsettasin. The British Council also offer direct English language tuition quite extensively in Thailand but they also have various teacher training courses and online learning material for English language teachers as well as extensive free online resources for English learners of all ages which I support.

What I see here is a lot of enthusiasm, particularly from young people, for study opportunities overseas and in terms of English language overseas destinations the UK is the most popular, we have about 7,000 Thai students going to study at British universities every year. To enter a British university you have to have a sufficient level of English to study in the UK. But the Thai youth also have access to English language media, TV, films, arts and culture as well as the travel opportunities. Obviously English is widely spoken across the world so if you are going to do business it is normally the international language spoken between business people. The English language is really useful and young people usually understand that but learning any language is good for the brain as it is an excellent academic discipline.

Forgetting Covid what is your biggest challenge in Thailand so far?
It’s an interesting question as Covid has had such a dramatic effect on all our lives. I started the role at the beginning of July with restrictions in place, on meetings and travel, as well as the direct challenge of vaccinating the population. The challenge now is prioritisation. There are huge opportunities for the UK and Thailand both on the trade and economic side but also on the political and security side. As well of course as our services for British nationals and the huge demands on the embassy team so we need to try to manage those demands in the most sensible and effective way. But it is a very positive challenge and I am enjoying it and it is evident that that are many opportunities ahead.

Liz Truss’s recent visit illustrated the importance of maintaining and opening trade relations in SE Asia – how did it go?
It was excellent, obviously she is a fairly new Foreign Secretary, so for her to come to the Far East so early in her tenure shows the level of importance that she and the government attach to the region.

I was very happy that she came to Thailand in early November just after they had eased many of the travel restrictions so it really felt to me that we are back in business. We can start doing business again, seeking new opportunities in the future! She had a varied programme meeting the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and others. She attended various other events as well as the official opening of the new British Embassy. For me it was a really important moment for us to be more ambitious, more visible and really strengthen our ties with Thailand.

It is a difficult country to do business here isn’t it?
In terms of trade and business there are challenges but there are huge opportunities here. It is the second biggest economy in ASEAN so one of my priorities in the next few months will be to work with the British business community and the Thai government to identify what the barriers are to trade, where there are regulations or market access barriers and resolve those to make trade easier and therefore increase trade and commerce between our two countries.

Luckily you have a good Chairman at the BCCT in Chris Cracknell.
Yes we have, the British Chamber has been very helpful and I have a close relationship with the board. They have also been very helpful in the vaccination programme. I have met the board and will be attending their events in the future.

We agreed earlier this year to set up a new UK/Thailand Joint Economic and Trade Committee (JETCO) at Ministerial level. This will be the forum for us to discuss how we can take the trading relationship forward. So for me working with BCCT to agree what the priorities are for British business and to make that forum a success is absolutely key.

Just how good is your Thai?
I was very lucky to be sent on a one year course, which was interrupted by Covid, which focussed on the job-related language, specifically detail on the political situation, economics and social issues. I am still having weekly lessons so I am still trying hard to master the language.

What do you and your partner most love about living in Thailand?
I have been to Thailand many times over previous years, both on business and personal trips. I first came in the 1990s as a student backpacker and travelled around for a month or so.

I love the nature, the countryside, the scenery. I found the history and culture fascinating then and now I work as a diplomat I see the opportunities for the UK and Thailand. The UK and SE Asia region generally has been very exciting. We visited many times and we were here for a few months before I started the job when there were fewer restrictions and we were able to travel around. But now things are starting to open up we are really looking forward to visiting more parts of the country. To make more Thai friends and visit new places so there is lots that we love about the country.

Any particular place that you took to so far?
Well I took an official trip to Chiang Mai a few weeks ago which I think is a wonderful city, fascinating history, with very beautiful countryside surrounding and nearby. Over the years I have been lucky to have travelled to the south to many of the resorts and beaches, to Sukhothai and Ayutthaya for the culture and history. But now I am living here permanently I am hoping to visit places ‘off the beaten track’ both in an official, but also a personal capacity.

Any hobbies or pastimes?
Travelling is a key interest discovering new places, people and cultures. I like most sports, swimming and I enjoy running in Lumphini Park in the mornings. I have a love for music, I play the piano and sing and am an enthusiastic member of the Royal Choral Society of London.

What are you most proud about the work of the embassy and your staff in 2021?
It has been a challenging year for all countries across the world due to Covid but we have continued to deliver services remotely to British nationals throughput the year. We made considerable progress on vaccinations and in easing travel restrictions.

On the policy side we did a lot of work on climate change before the climate change summit in the UK. COP 26 was a great success and we were pleased that Prayut Chan o cha the Thai Prime Minister attended the Glasgow conference and announced more ambitious emissions targets for Thailand. Earlier in the year, we agreed to establish the Joint Economic Trade Committee (JETCO). I was delighted to have the Foreign Secretary here last month. With all the travel restrictions we have had much less face to face contact so finishing the year on a high note having the Foreign Secretary here setting a direction for stronger cooperation in the future was a big step forward.

What is at the top of your agenda in 2022? Have you set some goals you really would like to fulfil before you leave Thailand?
Well a number of things actually. We have government to government regular meetings scheduled which means that we have a strategic dialogue between Foreign Office Ministers to discuss the wider bilateral relationship. Having just established the Joint Economic and Trade Committee we are intent on making that a great success. I think that there are three key areas of policy focus number. One would be on the economic side to deepen and strengthen the trade relationship but also to work more on priorities for future economic development. By that I mean science and technology, digital, education, financial services.

Secondly would be to ramp up our security cooperation between the two countries. We already do quite a lot of work on tackling organised crime and counter terrorism. I think that there is a lot more we can do on cyber security as well as maintaining our normal political dialogue.

Thirdly the UK has just become an ASEAN dialogue partner so we are looking to build our cooperation with ASEAN countries across the region so that would be an important area of work for us.

The other category is our Consular support, making sure that we deliver excellent support to British Nationals in need, particularly the most vulnerable. Obviously tourist numbers have been down for 2 years but when tourism numbers pick up we need to be prepared for different scenarios on the tourist side

Why did it take so long for the UK to accept Thai administered AZ vaccines?
Not at all, we like other countries opened up travel and our borders very cautiously. Everyone had to self isolate initially then we started recognising vaccines gradually. First those administered in the UK, then a few weeks later those from the US and EU, and then other countries. Thailand was recognised fairly quickly but this was always going to be a gradual process. Then sadly Thailand was on the red list for several weeks. One key issue is vaccine certification where we need to ensure that every country reaches the minimum certification standards in order to recognise vaccines administered there. 

Why did the UK not provide vaccines for its nationals resident in Thailand like several other countries?
It was only very few countries that did, namely France and China. The UK along with many other countries lobbied hard for the Thai government to provide vaccinations for all residents regardless of nationality and based on vulnerability as we felt this was the best policy to pursue in order to protect our British residents. That is what we did in the UK and we felt that this was the most efficient policy worldwide. The Thai authorities have now rolled out a successful vaccination campaign, with over 16,000 British nationals receiving their vaccinations already.

Why are overseas pensions frozen when UK pensioners get an annual increase in line with inflation?
This is a long standing policy of successive British Governments overseen by the Department of Work and Pensions in the UK. While the British Embassy cannot change this policy, we do encourage people planning to retire in Thailand to make sure they take this issue into account as they plan their finances.

Residents in Thailand from various other countries are able to vote in their land of origin – British passport holders are not. There have been discussions about this back home but as yet no decision. Can you update us and take back our concerns along with all the others listed here?
British nationals overseas who have been registered to vote in the UK in the last 15 years can vote in British Parliamentary elections. There is currently a debate in the UK Parliament about potential changes to the 15 year limit, so watch this space…

Has it been finally decided what will happen to the statue of Queen Victoria?
The statue will be situated in a public park in a place of reverence and respect by the new owners of the site, Hong Kong Land and Central Patana. They realise the importance of the statue to the resident British community and visitors to Thailand.

Is it likely that we will ever purchase or build an alternative in Thailand?
In terms of are we ever likely to move we have only been in our current facility for a year so not in the immediate future but never say never. As a working environment it works well. It is different to what we had before in that it is not a big compound, but my job as the new Ambassador is to make it work.

We discussed the sentiment that was attached to the old British Embassy but the Ambassador replied that while the move took place before his arrival and he had never worked in the old compound, many people had mentioned this to him and he recognised the depth of sentiment. However, his job is to make the current situation work and I understood that.

I get what you are saying about perceptions and the actual Embassy presence is one part of that but to me visibility of an embassy is much more that that. When I look at my team we have about 150 staff in the embassy and what I want is for them to be out and about meeting people whether it is British community on our Consular side or decision makers, opinion leaders, business people and making sure that we know the people that are influential so we can build those ties between the UK and Thailand so being visible in that way is important but also being visible publicly through the media so I have done a number of media interviews so far. We are very active on social media – tens of thousands of people follow us on social media and you cannot get those people through an embassy door. So we need to make ourselves visible in other ways.

I am trying to get more top level ministerial visits to make sure people know who we are, where the opportunities are and how they can work with us.

Thank you Mark for finding time to talk to me and for being so frank.

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Live your life uniquely under the embracement of 4 uniqueness of living at the VIVE, the spirit of modern living by the Land and Houses.

THE UNIQUE DESIGN 

In the unique spirit of the modern minimalism, the VIVE represents a breakthrough in a sense of home through its sophisticated unity of modernity and nature. A daring architectural language that seeks completion in harmony with nature. The execution of this masterful design application is evident through the encapsulation of natural landscape in its impressive panoramic view of the living area at the double-volume height of 6.5 meters and with an expanded width of 12 meters. 

On a much private space, the ‘Double View Master Bedroom’ also opens to the landscape more than the conventional singularity and reflects as another genuine attempt to broadly connect with nature. The formal design vocabulary of the architectural façade is the automated-adjustable panels for a customized protection to both the sunlight and privacy.

THE UNIQUE ME 

An architectural language that lives beyond the stereotype of the conventional house for a unique expression of individuality. The VIVE celebrates all unique individuals with the ‘Identity Room’ to create the private world in your own language. This is achieved by the designation of the detached living unit in the midst of a lush garden. A sanctuary to return to who you are when the world outside just wants to change you.

THE UNIQUE EXPERIENCE 

The concept of ‘Lived and Touched by Nature’ allows every space to uniquely experience the connection with the garden of lush surroundings, and to provide that comfort of the natural light that is vital to our body. The application of ‘Open-Plan Concept’ interconnects all interior spaces with the precision to support each space for a harmonious balance between the active lifestyle and the passive relaxation.

On the outside, the openness of the double-courtyard designated to the house front opens up a versatile/multi-purposes spaces that connects the ‘Pave Active Court’ and ‘Green Passive Court’ to accommodate any desired activities. There is also an additional personal courtyard of resort ambience for the private getaway, 

Not to overlook is a sense of complete security via the ‘Home Automation’ system that puts full control under the use of smartphone. From the front gate, the air conditioning, light quality, to CCTV and many other safety features.

THE UNIQUE COMMUNITY

At VIVE, the emphasis in the design of clubhouse with the first-class facilities and the free – form swimming pool provide places to relax and socialize in this unique community. The VIVE also offers the extended connection to the best amenities within a short drive to shopping malls, schools, hospitals, as well as easy access to major roads and tollways network. 

The locations of the VIVE are now in 3 locations:

VIVE Ekkamai-Ramintra offers an exclusively designed 3-storeys detached houses with the starting price of 40 million baht. While other 2 locations, VIVE Bangna with the starting price of 30 million baht and VIVE Rattanathibet-Ratchaphruek with the starting price of 28 million baht both offer the options of 2 uniquely styles of 2-storeys house.

For more information please all 1198 or visit our website at www.lh.co.th

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I write this from the terrace of what could be a castle in a fairytale. A German Palace in the style of Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria, or a French chateau in the wine region of the Loire. The expansive manicured gardens stretch out before me for as far as the eye can see and beyond them the valley of Khao Yai National Park.

The wind is fresh, clean and the skies are clear looking over the first tee of an 18 hole golf course at the Movenpick Khao Yai, probably one of the very best views that I, a country boy from England, have ever see in Thailand.

Set in 2,000 rai on the edge of the National Park 180kms – under three hours above Bangkok en route to Nakhon Ratchasima is the most beautiful white walled multi turreted classic hotel. Beauty like this is rarely seen in Thailand. I think that the owner must have visited France and Germany and seen similar buildings set in green and verdant lands and returned to Thailand with that vision in his mind. He then set about building it for the residents of Thailand.

Now here, Thailand’s residents can be whisked away to a land of dreams and fairytales. Natural beauty is no stranger to Thailand’s residents but this has been created or assisted in the most scenic of settings.

I was lucky enough to meet the French General Manager Benoit Metanomski and it was no surprise that the owners have chosen a European to lead his team of hospitality staff. The Movenpick brand is renowned for its excellence in cuisine and the food quality is first class. The chef Antonio …….. is Italian and his Thai Executive chef Amorn (Jackie) ……  have both worked in some of the best hotels in the world to reach this nirvana. 

The hotel was originally called My Ozone but 3 (?) years ago the management contract was awarded to Accor the French based international hotel giant. I truly cannot find the words to do justice to this beautiful edifice. A monument of design. It’s impressive entrance guarded from the hordes of Thai ‘instagramers’ that would surely plague the chosen few that have paid for such serenity.

Our room was immaculate and equipped with fresh white linen and towels, comfortable furniture and every luxury you would expect in a 5 star hotel. It was busy despite the lack of international tourists so obviously word has travelled fast and the domestic residents – both Thai and expats want to experience the luxuries of high society.

They are opening an Italian signature restaurant upstairs so I hope to visit again soon to sample the excellence but in the meantime I have pleasant memories of my all to brief visit and highly recommend a visit to explore the area, the flora and fauna and what must be a candidate for the cleanest air in Thailand. 

Movenpick Khao Yai 

https://www.movenpickresortkhaoyai.com 

334 Moo 6, Tambon Wangsai, Amphoe Pakchong, 30130 Nakorn Ratchasima, 04 400 9100

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I recently found a hidden gem of a restaurant run by a Canadian – Jeff McIntyre and his lovely Thai wife Arny at 4/27 Petchkasem Rd, Nong Khae Hua Hin 087 655 2629 just before the provincial bus station and up the road from Bluport. I have been there three times now as the food and the staff there are just so good!
They also have a restaurant in Bangkok at Beacon Place, Sukhumvit 50, Khet Phra Khanong, Bangkok 10260 Thailand 088 950 4164 and do takeaway and deliveries at both restaurants.
 
I had a thin crust regular pizza (12”) with a host of additional toppings plus a Caesar salad, spicy wings, onion rings, garlic bread and they serve a wide range of drinks to suit all tastes, including a NZ kraft beer when the municipality eventually lifts the restrictions. 
They cater for private parties and even have a mobile wood fired pizza oven that they can take to events such as festivals, family parties and schools.
 
I can heartedly recommend this family run gourmet pizza and their quality service! They can be found on all the food Apps. but I recommend a visit as you can really get a taste of class there.
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On the 19th of November 2021, the German ambassador to Thailand Mr. Georg Schmidt visited the CDSC Forest in Mae Rim where 1,500 trees were planted by the students of the Christian German School Chiang Mai (CDSC) in 2020 and 2021.

The ambassador was welcomed by Mr David Nescholta, the chairman of the CDSC school board, and Mr Markus Brandtner, the principal of CDSC, at the CDSC Forest in Ban Mae Mae, Mae Rim, Chiang Mai. The CDSC Forest started as a school project to celebrate the school’s 25th anniversary in 2019. Since then, 1,500 trees were planted to offset the school community’s carbon footprint with the support from the project partners, the Forest Restoration Research Unit (FORRU, Chiang Mai University) and the Watershed Management Chiang Mai Division. The little seeds that were collected by the students from Doi Suthep 2 years ago have now grown to 2 to 8m tall trees.

After enjoying the green scenery and clean air at the CDSC Forest, the ambassador visited the Pong Khrai Watershed Management Unit where the CDSC students were learning about how to protect the environment and planting 600 seeds that will be planted in the CDSC Forest in June 2022. Mr Schmidt said “It’s great to see how goals of the COP26 summit in Glasgow are implemented on a local level, as our children are planting trees for the future even though it’s a very difficult time for everyone due to the current situation. Planting trees is not only a great education for the students but it’s also a very practical and effective solution to save the environment.” The planted seeds were taken with the students back to the school ground and they will take care of the seeds in the tree nursery until they are ready to be planted in the forest.

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Rohan Chaurasia

by Expat Life

Art inspired by the mundane and the spiritual: Rohan Chaurasia

A creative artist inspired by the spiritual aspect of the everyday objects that surround us in our daily life, Rohan’s body of artwork is an eclectic blend of various mediums. Exploring themes of mundanity and animism, he attempts to investigate how familiar objects can possess unapparent meanings. Taking an organic approach and building up ideas as he goes, he remains open to any new revelations that may emerge along the way.

Rohan has always been interested in drawing and making images. He initially chose to study graphic design at university as he liked how it can exist at varying scales, across different forms of media. Growing up in Bangkok, he recalls being curious about “designed” surfaces, observing how images would shape urban environments. He’d also notice how the new would live alongside the old, thinking about the spiritual qualities in ancient structures could also apply to ones in the present day.

In his craft, Rohan often combines digital tools with analog processes like drawing, airbrushing, and collage. He is intrigued by how airbrushing produces an aesthetic that feels enigmatic, almost like a whisper. This technique has a nostalgic element to it, as it reminds him of the “blow pens” he used to use as a child.

In his research, beyond looking into academic sources, Rohan is interested in drawing inspiration from the lived experience. With an emphasis on spontaneity, several of the artist’s references stem from things he photographs in passing.

One of Rohan’s earlier forays into the juxtaposition of the spiritual and the mundane culminated in a series of sculptures titled Dvarapalas. The title takes its name from dvarapala, (‘door guard’ in Sanskrit) referring to door/gate guardians that take on the sculptural form of a warrior giants or animals. Diverse forms of these can be seen protecting sacred spaces in Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain cultures. Rohan’s sculptures applied the ancient idea of a spiritual protector, to a contemporary context, by creating door guardians for places frequented by the average person on their way about daily life. A cat sleeping on the threshold of the local convenience store became the self-appointed protector of the space, as did the animated mascot of the local ATM machine. The sculptures were constructed with paper pulp and foam, with their surface treated with airbrushing and collage.

His latest project, titled Waiting Room, explores ideas of transience and animism, depicting everyday plastic chairs/stools in surreal imagined spaces. To quote “I’m particularly inspired by moments of quietude in Bangkok, that coexist within the frenetic pace of the city. I also think about spiritual forces that aren’t necessarily bound to sites of worship (like spirit houses, or temples), but can be found everywhere”. The ongoing series of paintings fuse photography, digital painting, collage, and airbrushing.

Looking ahead, Rohan plans to push his work further, through continued research, practice, and experimentation. He notes he lately has “become more comfortable with the idea of slowing down, and being open to projects taking new, unexpected directions.”

Rohan Chaurasia is an emerging artist and designer, currently based in Bangkok.

An alumnus of the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, USA, where he received a BFA (Hons) in Graphic Design, Rohan has worked as a designer for Pentagram, New York, the world’s largest independent design agency, and is currently working for Farmgroup, a design studio in Bangkok.

His work spans visual identity, web design, art direction, and illustration. His clients include Esprit, NewView Capital, Shay Galla, Jono Cheong, Sophie Wang, Dime, Michelle Smith, the American Institute of Architects, Purra, Rajdamri Gems and the School of Visual Arts.

His work has been featured in high profile locations – from New York’s Javits Center, where some 20,000 visitors passed through a welcome area that he designed; to New York Fashion Week, where his logo for Shay Galla was modelled on the runway; to New York gallery Chinatown Soup, where he exhibited a video artwork.

His work for Mike Ruiz-Serra’s brand Pulp has earned press from The New York Times, Sight Unseen and Milk. Rohan has also been the subject of features in The Design Kids and Vo1SS. Projects bearing his designs have also been featured in AIGA Eye on Design, Masala Thai, and It’s Nice That.

You can find a selection of Rohan’s work on his website rohanchau.com

IG: @_rchau     [email protected]        081-161-2295

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Spanish photographer Antonio Aragón Renuncio has won Environmental Photographer of the Year 2021 for his photo of a child sleeping inside a house destroyed by coastal erosion on Afiadenyigba beach in Ghana.

The image, entitled The Rising Tide Sons, highlights the rising sea levels in West African countries, which are forcing thousands of people to leave their homes.

Mr Renuncio receives £10,000 prize money.

The Environmental Photographer Of The Year competition, now in its 14th year, showcases some of the world’s most inspirational environmental photography.

The award celebrates humanity’s ability to survive and innovate and supports the calls to action in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The winners of this year’s competition were revealed at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow.

Young Environmental Photographer of the Year: Inferno, by Amaan Ali, taken in Yamuna Ghat, New Delhi

“A boy fighting fires in a forest near his home in Yamuna Ghat, New Delhi, India.”

The Resilient Award: Survive for Alive, by Ashraful Islam, taken in Noakhali, Bangladesh

“Flocks of sheep search for grass amongst the cracked soil.
“Extreme droughts in Bangladesh have created hardships for all living beings.”

Sustainable Cities winner: Net-zero Transition – Photobioreactor, by Simone Tramonte, taken in Reykjanesbær, Iceland

“A photobioreactor at Algalif’s facilities in Reykjanesbaer, Iceland, produces sustainable astaxanthin using clean geothermal energy.
“Iceland has shifted from fossil fuels to electricity and heat from renewable sources.”

Climate Action winner: The Last Breath, by Kevin Ochieng Onyango, taken in Nairobi, Kenya

“A boy takes in air from the plant, with a sand storm brewing in the background, in an artistic impression of the changes to come.”

Water and Security winner: Green Barrier, by Sandipani Chattopadhyay, taken at Damodar river, West Bengal, India

“Irregular monsoon seasons and droughts cause algal bloom on the Damodar river, India.

“Algal blooms prevent light from penetrating the surface and prevent oxygen absorption by the organisms beneath, impacting human health and habitats in the area.”

Environments of the Future winner: Flood, by Michele Lapini, taken at River Panaro, Nonantola, Modena, Italy

“A house is submerged by the flooding of the River Panaro in the Po Valley due to heavy rainfall and melting snow.”

Fishing in River, by Ashraful Islam, taken in Sirajgong, Bangladesh

“Algae accumulates and fills the whole river, then many boatmen come here to fish in the water.

“The river is filled with green moss.”

Drying Incense, by Azim Khan Ronnie, taken in Hanoi, Vietnam

“Vietnamese workers sit, surrounded by thousands of incense sticks in Quang Phu Cau, a village in Hanoi, Vietnam, where the sticks have been traditionally made for hundreds of years.
“Incense plays an important role in the spiritual lives of Vietnamese people.”

Hooked Pup, by Celia Kujala, taken around Coronado Islands, Baja California, Mexico

“I met this California sea lion pup with a hook embedded in his mouth.
“For the duration of the dive he stayed near me and seemed to be asking for help.”

The Nemo’s Garden, by Giacomo d’Orlando, taken in Noli, Italy

“The Nemo’s Garden represents an alternative system of agriculture especially dedicated to areas where environmental conditions make plant growth extremely difficult.
“This self-sustainable project aims at making underwater farming a viable eco-friendly solution to counteract the increasing climate-change pressures on our future.”

Environment Confined in Plastic, by Subrata Dey, taken in Chittagong, Bangladesh

“I captured this picture from a plastic-recycling factory in Chittagong, Bangladesh.
“Plastic recycling helps protect the environment from plastic pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.”

Clean Energy, by Pedro de Oliveira Simões Esteves, taken in Serra de São Macário, Portugal

“Wind-energy turbines, moments before the sun sets over the mountains on a cloudy day.”

The Polygonal Forest, by Roberto Bueno, taken in Sierra de Béjar, Salamanca, Spain

“A good management of forests is fundamental to contain climate change.
“This is a chestnut forest managed by wood owners in a sustainable way.
“They cut trees in polygonal areas and in the middle of them they leave smaller areas with trees that help the natural reforestation of the wood.”
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The Movenpick Siam Hotel in Na Jomtien is roughly 10 miles and 15 minutes outside Pattaya but the refined luxury that you are met with is one of the finest hotels in the area. 

It has always been a favourite of mine before Movenpick became part of Accor. But In my impression it has got even better in the last year or so. Dmitry Chernyshev who has worked for the passionate owners now for over 8 years has made a marked impact and obviously has the confidence of his shareholders as they have obviously invested in the hotel and this experienced GM has trained the staff to a higher level than ever before.

From the minute you turn off the Sukhumvit Road you feel the pressures of the outside world subside. You drive up the steep driveway to the circle outside the lobby and the concierge converge taking your luggage and whisking your car away.

I was surprised on check in on a Tuesday early afternoon as it was really busy but I was soon efficiently checked in. My luggage arrived soon after. I pulled back the curtains in the impeccably clean, well equipped room to behold what I had come for – the most stunning view over the Gulf of Thailand and eagerly awaited the sun setting later that afternoon.

The room on the 28th floor was beautifully furnished in the normal Accor style. The bathroom boasting a large circular bath and a twin power and rain shower. Everything was perfect. I had booked the exclusivity of the of the members lounge on the 3rd floor and left my worries behind me to seek afternoon tea. The staff were attentive but not intrusive attractively attired in Accor uniforms with slashes of red, blue and white on a beige background.

This hotel is well and truly open for business and ready for domestic and international travellers alike. It has a family hotel and as I walked round the huge swimming pool with large children’s waterpark it was lovely to see parents minding their children laughing and shrieking with delight at what was before them. I intended to swim but made do with watching the little ones having so much fun. A lovely short stay in what is a stunning hotel. I didn’t even get the chance to use the spa which the owners have handed to the specialists Siam Wellness – they are sure to have added that touch of class.

I was sad to leave hope that my photographs inspire you…

For reservation, please contact
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Expat Life were honoured to have the opportunity to interview the French Ambassador to Thailand H.E. Mr. Thierry Mathou please find following his thoughts. 

Thierry, if I may call you that, may I start with asking how long have you been the Ambassador to Thailand?

It is nearly a year now – time goes so fast. I arrived at the end of November 2020. 

May I ask did you arrive to Thailand direct from France, and or where were you posted before?

I was previously DG for Asia and the Pacific at the French Ministry of Foreign affairs in Paris. In this capacity I outlined the blueprint of the French Indo-Pacific strategy which was formally presented in 2018. This strategy aims to maintain an open and inclusive space, free from all forms of coercion and based on the promotion of multilateralism and the respect of international law. I also initiated France’s candidacy to the development partnership with the ASEAN, which is an important component of our Indo-Pacific strategy. I have always been convinced of the importance for France to have a comprehensive and active diplomacy in Asia where I spent most of my career. 

I started my career in Washington (1989-1993), before being appointed to Beijing twice (in 1993-1996 and 1999-2004). I held several positions in Paris at the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, in particular within the Directorate of European Cooperation (1996-1999) where I was responsible for monitoring trade policy and relations between European Union with Asia and Oceania. I was then appointed Deputy Director of International Economic and Financial Affairs (2004-2006), before returning to Asia, as Consul General in Shanghai (2006-2010), a period during which I organised the French participation to the 2010 World Expo. Then I was appointed Ambassador, first to Myanmar (2011-2015), then to the Philippines (2015-2017), where I was also non-resident Ambassador to the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau (in residence in Manila). In 2017 I took the head of the General Directorate of Asia and Oceania (2017-2020) within the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, before coming to Bangkok. 

Alongside my diplomatic career, I am also a scholar of Himalayan Studies associated with the National Centre of Scientific Research (CNRS) in Paris. Bhutan is my main academic focus.

That is a pretty impressive background Sir. May I ask which city were you born and brought up in?

I was born in Rodez a small historical city in the South of France located in a rural area about 150km Northeast of Toulouse. Today Rodez is mainly known for its museum dedicated to its most famous citizen, Pierre Soulages, an internationally celebrated contemporary painter, who was born there in 1919. I spent my childhood and my teens in Rodez province known as Aveyron, a region famous for having some of the most beautiful villages in France, but also for the spectacular Millau viaduct – the highest road bridge in the world – and for Roquefort, which the French consider as “the king of cheeses”. Then I moved to Toulouse the centre of the European aerospace industry, with the headquarters of Airbus and the SPOT satellite system, and to Paris where I studied political sciences, international relations and Asian languages.

At which age did you decide you wanted to become a diplomat? 

I always knew my career would lead me to Asia. At some point I hesitated between becoming a diplomat and a full time academic. I chose diplomacy because I wanted to serve my country and to have a positive and active contribution to crisis solving. Yet I also became a non-professional academic because I think it is essential to keep an acute cross-cultural understanding and awareness of what is happening beyond borders.

Do you have any other diplomats in your family?

No. Most of my family members including my parents are teachers. My wife had a career as a banker and an international financial consultant before she decided to reorient her career to teaching, then to supporting our three children.

How do you see Thailand today, in ASEAN, and in a wider context?

Thailand must now take up the challenge of ending Covid-19 and its consequences, particularly the socio-economic ones and the grim impact that it has had on the Thai tourism industry. We wish to continue to work closely with Thailand to help revive the economy, tourism, academic and scientific exchanges.

Within ASEAN, to which it has contributed so much, Thailand is a key player. The country is facing the challenge of the situation of the Burmese neighbour.

Thailand is a partner for the promotion of multilateralism and the defence of global issues. Bangkok is an important pole of the United Nations, very active, thanks to the action of ESCAP and all the United Nations agencies which are represented and work very actively in the Thai capital. We identify many issues on which Thailand is an essential partner to lead other countries, such as the climate, the defence of biodiversity, the fight against emerging diseases and the “One Health” approach, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region.

Thailand will play an important regional role in Asia-Pacific in 2022 as it hosts the APEC summit. This is an event that France, which is present in the Pacific where it has territories, nationals, economic and strategic interests, and responsibilities in terms of global issues, will closely observe. In general, we see Thailand as a key partner, alongside its ASEAN partners, to build the inclusive approach advocated by France with its EU partners in the Indo-Pacific. France is about to sign a comprehensive roadmap with Thailand to upgrade our relation to the level of a strategic partnership.

Do you see similarities between your country and Thailand and if so what are they?

The size of our homelands and the size of the French and Thai population is roughly the same. Our common history goes back a long way: Thailand is the Asian country with which France has the oldest diplomatic relations. Our two nations have a lot in common: interest in gastronomy, and more generally the art of living. But both France and Thailand are far more than world acclaimed touristic destinations. They are also countries where technology and innovation development are important.

The role and presence of the sea is also essential for both our countries. The importance of maritime issues in the Indian and Pacific Oceans: Thailand, through its central geography in South-east Asia, is open to these two horizons; France is for its part, present in these two oceans, through its overseas territories (Réunion in the Indian Ocean; New Caledonia, and French Polynesia in particular, in the Pacific. A total of 2 million French people live in the Indo-Pacific region). It is not very well known, but 60% of the Exclusive Economic Zone of France is located in this zone (France has the second largest EEZ in the world). France, which adopted an Indo-Pacific strategy in 2018, supplemented at European level by that adopted this autumn by the EU, is a natural partner for Thailand, because the interests and challenges of our two countries are closely convergent;

The upcoming calendar will be an opportunity to strengthen the similarities between our two countries, which will be invested in 2022, with coordination responsibilities: Thailand with the chairmanship of APEC; France with the Presidency of the European Union.

Do you have children, if so at what age and where do they go to school, university or are they already working?

I have one daughter (29) and two boys (26 and 23). My daughter Alexandra graduated from the Institute of Political Science in Paris and Fudan University in Shanghai. After starting her career in Shanghai and Hong Kong, she is now working as a development manager in a global software company in Paris. Being perfectly fluent in Chinese she will probably return to Asia for her career. My eldest son François graduated from the French Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris and from Cambridge University. He is an historian who got the academic rank of “agrégé” a French University title who entitles him to be appointment to the highest teaching posts. For the time being he is completing a PhD in History. He plans to be a university teacher and a researcher. Charles, my youngest son is an airspace engineer who graduated from ISAE-SUPAERO Aerospace Engineering Institute in Toulouse and from Ecole Polytechnique in Paris. He just started a PhD in Information and Communication Science and Technology (ICST) with ONERA the French Defence, Aeronautics and Space Research Agency. He is planning to join the European Space Agency (ESA).

How do you look upon your work here? Is there anything like an average day?

The best moments of my career have been those I could spend in the field outside my office, meeting people and implementing projects in a concrete way. This is something that I have done a lot during my previous posts and I hope to do it often in Thailand. Visiting local projects both in Bangkok and going out in to the provinces to reach out to “real” people is what I enjoy the most.

Have you set some goals you really would like to fulfil before you leave Thailand?

The priorities of my activity come straight from my experience. As I said, I have an Asian prism and I am convinced we have to do more with Thailand in the context of our Indo-Pacific Strategy both at the bilateral and multilateral levels. Just as a reminder, this strategy is based on four main pillars: enhancing France’s involvement in the settlement of regional crises; strengthening our partnerships with the major regional players with whom we share the same values and interests; increasing our engagement with regional organisations, particularly the ASEAN, most likely to play a central role in the architecture of a multipolar Asia and the emergence of an inclusive Indo-Pacific space, which must exclude no-one and in which no country should impose its hegemony; and firmly committing to the promotion of global public projects, such as the climate, the environment and biodiversity, health, education, digital technology and quality infrastructure, whilst supporting greater involvement in the region of the European Union as a player in sustainable development and stability, particularly under the framework of its Connecting Europe and Asia strategy. I chose to come to Thailand to implement this strategy, because I am convinced that Thailand is a priority for us in South Asia. This is the reason why we are now working to upgrade the level of our relation to the level of a strategic partnership. 

Thailand is historically France’s oldest partner in Asia. In 2016, the two countries celebrated the 160th anniversary of their relations (the Treaty of Friendship and Commerce between Siam and France was signed on 15 August 1856). And in 2019, we celebrated the 333rd anniversary of the first embassy of the Kingdom of Siam to France, led by Kosa Pan in 1686. The Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha even visited France twice in June 2018. The cooperation between our two countries is good. But it is not enough. We have to do more, in all sectors: economy, defence and security, education, science and technology, and of course in ‘people to people’ exchanges with a priority on the youth. We are now working on a common road map which will allow us to upgrade our relationship to a strategic partnership. It will be signed soon at the ministerial level.

In that context we have four main priorities:

Jointly promote peace and security, notably by contributing to the development of a stable, multipolar and regional balance in the Indo-Pacific. This relates to our political, defence, security and military cooperation, which definitely need to be enhanced.

Support economic, energy and technological transitions with a special focus on encouraging bilateral dialogue in the public and private sector and on developing economic cooperation in innovative fields.

Develop ‘people to people’ exchanges in the fields of education, science, research and innovation, health, language, arts and culture, and of course tourism.

Foster cooperation on global issues

The youth of today is a priority of our initiatives.

Have you managed to travel in Thailand yet?

Not as much as I would have liked because of my busy schedule and Covid-19 constraints. I arrived in Thailand on 30 November 2020 and spent the usual two weeks in ASQ. Then we had the second and then the third wave of Covid. Despite the constraints imposed by the pandemic I used windows of opportunity to go to Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, Udon Thani, and Phuket were I visited French communities. I also travelled to Sukhothai, Sri Sachanalai, Kampheang Phet, Ayutthaya, and Chanthaburi and visited a couple of islands in Phang Nga Bay. I will soon go to Pattaya and Koh Samui to visit the French communities there.

When you have a day off, what do you prefer to do? A hobbies or pastimes?

As already mentioned, besides my diplomatic career I am an academic who specialised in Himalayan studies. So most of my spare time (mainly at night!) is dedicating to writing books and articles, mainly on Bhutan. I am also an avid reader. I rarely have a day off. But when it is the case I spend to visit different areas of Bangkok and its neighbourhoods.

How many of your countryfolk are living in Thailand? When and why did Thailand become a desirable destination for your people?

The French community in Thailand stands around 35,000 residents, 13,000 are registered at the embassy. This is the second largest French community in Asia, after China. They are mostly male and over forty years old. This community is plural and is spread over the whole of the territory. French citizens live mainly in Bangkok, Phuket and Pattaya but there are also a few in the most remote areas. In big cities they are mainly expats working in big companies and in Chiang Mai, the Esan provinces and islands retired people live. I met the leaders of the French associations in Thailand almost as soon as I arrived in Thailand. The French have long been integrated in Thailand where many of them have built a new life by marrying a wife or a husband and having binational children who are a bridge between our two countries. These French people are contributing to the country’s prosperity. Our companies are creating tens of thousands of job opportunities for Thai nationals and this is not only the case of big companies. Let’s take an example. Imagine a young French baker or specialist bread maker, he has some money and decides to open a pastry and bread shop in Thailand. He’s successful, making good money and employing four or five Thai people. Like him and his small company, there are countless French business owners who have invested in Thailand and started small businesses here, managed to create wealth in the kingdom and participate in the economic prosperity. But nobody knows they exist because they are not in the statistics. Trust me, they are a lot of them, and they are essential for the Thai economy and also for the place of France in Thailand, as they too, bring a little bit of “French spirit” to the country. 

After the first backpackers in the 80s, organised travel groups and French mass tourism developed in the early 90s with the appearance of direct flights from Paris to Bangkok and then Paris to Phuket when Thai Airways acquired Airbus planes. At the same period, large French companies sent many of their deserving employees to Thailand on incentive travels to reward them for their performance during the year. The French followed the first backpackers who discovered Chiang Mai, which remained a major destination for the French along with the beach destinations. Over the years Thailand has attracted French tourists because it combines many assets that distinguish it from its neighbours by bringing together historical sites, islands, gastronomy, natural sites, a welcoming population and exceptional animals. From tourists, some have become residents, married Thai women and given birth to Franco-Thai children. Thailand therefore enjoys a good image in France and the multiplication of Thai restaurants in France in recent years is undoubtedly proof that French people returning from holidays in Thailand have fond memories of it.

Let me also remind you that before Covid we had about 800,000 French tourists visit Thailand every year. They are eager to come back when the conditions are met. It will take time and it will be progressive, but they will contribute to Thailand’s recovery, assuming that the tourism industry continues to be essential to this country.  

Does your country and Thailand have an exchange program for students?

Of course. There are several intellectual and cultural exchanges programmes between Thailand and France. More than 600 hundred Thai students go to France to study every year and approximately 110 French students come to Thailand every year. (And they always have a hard time to go back to France afterwards, if I may say, because they like it so much here). You could consider that 600 is not many, but we select the best! France values and welcomes these incredible brilliant Thai students. As a result we offer many scholarship programmes for masters and doctoral students to come study in France. We also have a programme named “young researchers” which brings innovative and promising young Thai researchers to France, where they can train and continue their research in the most advanced French laboratories. We also have students in the social science field, as France developed several specific scholarships, in cooperation with the Thai government, to help train Thai magistrates. In the last few years, that amounts to hundreds of students studying and living in France. That is the priority of our cooperation in terms of budget, as it represents 65% of our exchange budget.

But what is important is that this is not random. We always try to establish sustainable research partnerships. To work with a long term vision, primarily through bilateral Franco-Thai co-financing of the projects. If both parties are financing, then everybody wants it to succeed, and gain something from it. Our numerous common research programmes are in the fields in which both our countries are interested (chemistry, biology, health, agronomy, health, engineering sciences, etc.). That is why also, France has decided to establish in Thailand most of its main French research organisations (CIRAD, IRD, IRASEC, etc.). Some of these research institutes are even settled within the amazing campuses of your universities in Thailand. Their regional networks are working hard to promote the excellence of French research in Thailand, in areas that are paramount for Thailand: air pollution, plastic pollution, climate change and, the last one is very important as we have seen in the Covid-19 crisis, the nexus “biodiversity, human health and climate change.” Also, of course, the Embassy is trying to strengthen the attractiveness of the French language in Thailand. For now, almost 600,000 Thai people are speaking French in the Kingdom, and more the 30,000 young Thai kids are studying our language at the secondary or university level. But we want more. That is why we are emphasising three priorities: support for the education system, renewal of the pool of learners and the development of French education. Our teams are helping the network of Thai teachers of French language, by engaging with them in a permanent linguistic training for Thai teachers. They are doing an incredible job in advocating Thai students to learn French and showing them, the benefits of it in their future. Like going to study in France for instance! We are even exploring right now the possibilities of creating a French school in Chiang Mai, in conjunction with the Alliance Française, the French cultural institute.

Any fun moment from Thailand that you’d like to tell us about? 

Not really a fun moment but an anecdote that will tell you something about the way France is involved in the everyday life of the Thai people in a most unexpected way. A couple of months ago I visit an experimental farm created near Khon Kaen by HM.Clause a worldwide French company specialising in the selection, production, and sales of vegetable seeds, part of the Groupe Limagrain, #1 worldwide in vegetable seeds. The ambition of this company is to contribute sustainably to the development of farmer’s activities by improving disease resistance, yield, ease of harvest, shelf life. They also work to maintain local biodiversity, by selecting seeds adapted to the local growing constraints. In doing so they are committed in Thailand to provide local farming communities the best vegetables seeds that will increase their income and improve the living of their community. As an example, they developed a new hot pepper variety, dedicated to the Thai market, the “Super Thunder” which is so popular that about 30% of the chillies grown in this country now come from their seeds, French seeds ! Gastronomy is an essential component of French and Thai culture. While hot pepper is important in Thai cuisine, it is not really the case in France except in some Southern provinces. Yet it is funny to realise that it is now one of our contribution to Thai gastronomy! I recently mentioned this to HRH Princess Sirindhorn who told me that she was curious to visit this farm which is also a cooperative and a research centre. 

Do you regularly meet up with your community?

Of course, I regularly meet up with the French community during each of my trips in the country. As already mentioned I have already met with the French community in several provinces since my arrival in November 2020. The Covid situation has made those meetings a challenge to organise, but I am deeply attached to them, and I will, now that the country seems to be reopening, try to go out and meet my fellow countrymen and women wherever they are settled in the country. Understand the way they live and the problems they face is of vital importance for me. 



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