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Little Wandering Wren

Great news – the AWC are back meeting in person. We have resumed our weekly Casual Connections Coffee mornings, and our diverse activities this month have included Aqua biking, a photography walk, Indian cooking with Kamalini Reena and Irina Zaitseva’s Essential oils workshop and many more planned for the coming months.

A recent casual connection went Pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

For Breast Cancer Awareness month AWC Community Projects Fund will be donating 10,000B to Queen Sirikit Centre for Breast Cancer (QSCBC) Foundation. QSCBS provides breast cancer screening for the most underprivileged women in the slums of Bangkok and the surrounding areas.

Thank you to Kitima Sirichai and Samitivej for providing a lucky draw of a mammogram at Samitivej Srinakarin. Our newest member Francis Nicholls was the lucky winner this morning.

Are you new to Bangkok? Or moving here soon?

The American Women’s Club of Thailand was established over 65 years ago and from its start has offered just what you need to feel at home ~ our monthly activities include Weekly Coffee Connection, Book club, Game day, Creative writing club and a variety of unique activities in and around Bangkok. 

AWC and its members believe each of us can make a difference in our local community! Our Scholarship Programme; which began over 25 years ago, awards approximately 2 million Baht annually in scholarships to students in schools across rural Thailand.  

Let us help you make Bangkok the best experience of your life! The AWC embraces diversity and is open to any woman living in Thailand regardless of nationality, culture or creed. Learn more about the American Women’s Club at 

https://awcthailand.org/

Andrea Di Castro

President AWC

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Have you ever wondered who is suffering from mood swings, irritability, weight gain, brain fog, and difficulty sleeping? Welcome to my life! I have no idea what I went through in the past 18 months. Was it menopause or Covid?  It felt as though that my body had experienced hormonal chaos. So, I was not going to pass by an opportunity to join a fully immersive wellness retreat weekend and discover ways to balance the hormones, alleviate menopausal symptoms, including weight gain, and reduce stress.

REVĪVŌ, a global wellness company specialising in transformational health experiences, had partnered for the retreat with their sister brand, 

The Pavilions Phuket. The Pavilions is considered one of Asia’s most luxurious resorts. If ever there was a ‘stop the world I want to get off’ perfect destination for a wellness weekend, this is it. A few female guests were welcomed to our ‘home’, a five bedroom luxury residential villa, by REVĪVŌ’s Wellness Director Kimberly Rose and Sales Director Kate Leff. I was literally pinching myself to feel how lucky I was. 

Menopause

Menopause often a scary word, is typically experienced between the ages of 45 to 50, although some are younger, depicting the end of a woman’s reproductive age. It can lead to emotional and physical changes that affect women’s health and lifestyle. In fact, to some women, the word menopause can be unappealing to acknowledge and seek treatment. Kimberley’s wisdom helps women navigate the menopause years.

Neglecting the subject of menopause has become a major issue for women who generally have very different experiences, occurring at different times in their lives. It is kind of ‘potluck’ to find anyone in your friendship group who can identify with the issue of menopause. As for the men, forget it! They seem unsympathetic and cannot relate, thinking a woman of that age is just a grumpy old bag! 

Read on to find out what you can do to help.

The wellness lectures

Kimberly Rose, our retreat facilitator and Chinese medicine expert, has a wealth of knowledge on how to navigate menopause naturally. Our first lecture highlighted the differences between East and Western medicine, introducing Chinese medicine and Qigong exercise routine. 

We were an attentive group; all joined by an interest to maximise our health and wellness in our advancing years. We were lectured on the benefits of detox, cleansing, and fasting for hormonal health. Following the session, we decided to set up a support and encouragement Facebook group. 

Our lectures also covered the microbiome (helpful and potentially harmful microbes in our body) and nutrition for menopause. We sampled some of the foods recommendations during the weekend and were even given the recipes. We learned about ‘dirty dozen foods to be avoided’, and the ‘clean fifteen’ foods with the lowest levels of pesticides. A supplemented digital programme provided us with lots of useful material such as fasting with our menstrual cycle. 

As we learned about Chinese medicine, we found the best acupressure points to alleviate menopause symptoms and discovered the joys of a jade roller and Guasha, the alternative therapy for relieving tension across the face and body. In tongue diagnosis, the less body shy amongst us were soon sticking out their tongues at each other.

Our final workshop was on key supplements for hormonal health; it seems that Black Cohosh and Red Clover herbs could be my new best friends. I ended up with quite a shopping list!

Soothe the spirit

Whilst the wellness lectures were at the core of the retreat, it was balanced by the opportunity to enjoy various mind and body relaxation techniques designed to help unwind and soothe the spirit. When participation was required, my hand was always the first to go up, seizing any opportunity to work on my much needed inner Zen Wren! The experience reassured me that I was not alone, as I felt I was amongst kindred spirits and very relaxed by the end of the weekend.

Yin yoga and pranayama

Yin is a slow moving Chinese yoga exercise practice, while pranayama is an Indian yogic practice of focusing on the breath. Our two enchanting yoga classes with Issy were held in an open air sala (pavilion) under Buddha’s watchful eye.

Like all things at the Pavilions, there is much to admire, even from the yoga mats. A quick glance upwards revealed a collection of ornamental birdcages gently swaying in the breeze. I closed my eyes, focused, and breathed, being totally in the moment. As the yoga class ended, the music faded and a symphony of birdsong took over. Khun Fern appeared with a cooling towel and refreshing drink. All in all, it was a fabulous way to start the Sunday.

Dragon Qigong

We also learned the ancient meditation and healing practice of Dragon Qigong. With the benefits of lowering stress and anxiety, increasing focus, balance, and flexibility, I was keen to master this. I am sure I was more a jellyfish than a dragon, but I am determined to improve my technique and will definitely add it to the list of things to be incorporated into my life.

Aromatherapy spa massage

The Qigong was held in the outdoor pavilion of the Spa Garden, just a dragon dance to the peaceful spa for a heavenly oil massage. I chose The Pavilions’ signature oil blend of grapefruit, chamomile, lavender and geranium oil, which, together with my therapist’s long strokes and flowing movements did wonders to release my stress. I was out for the count!

Healthy eating

From the first bite of breakfast on Saturday to the last healing tea on Sunday, the food was an outstanding, nutritious, and nourishing component of the weekend. The Pavilions executive chef, Micha Bitz, was on hand to personally cook our oatmeal pancakes! Pancakes on a wellness retreat? You bet, with all the right ingredients. The meals were chosen by Kimberly Rose for their wholesome and organic health benefits. We learned that ‘we are what we eat and what we ate.’ Every single dish was a delight, so glad we were also given the recipes.

Villa time

Another wonderful component of the retreat was the opportunity to get to know the other participants. Our shared villa was perfect for meals, workshops, and for chilling around our private pool. At night after dinner, dressing gowns on, it became a relaxed slumber party. They say one of the most important components of wellness involves sleep. Hmmm! We stayed up chatting late into the night, not doing so well on this aspect, through no fault of the organisers!  It had been a long time since I was able to do this, oh Phuket, you are amazing!

Learnings on the journey to wellbeing, contentment and happiness

All participants were given a green Pavilions notebook with the words ‘Your curated journey starts here.’ It made me smile. If life is the journey, menopause is the rollercoaster ride, but it clearly can be a ride that need not be scary. My green book filled up with plenty of notes. Optimistic and enlightening with messages to listen to your body as it always tells you what it needs.

Here are some of my favourite scribbled quotes from across the weekend:

  • We’re one big detoxing machine.
  • Fasting is a game changer and I promise you, you won’t die!
  • Stop the rushing woman’s syndrome.
  • Coffee is fine but there is much mould on coffee, try and buy organic.
  • Dry skin brushing – this can save your life!
  • Your liver is the General in your body. 
  • Try Brussel sprouts in your smoothies to which the response was “Shut up! Stop now, that’s disgusting!”

Oh, we did have a giggle!

I am sure I am not the only one leaving the phenomenal retreat REVĪVŌ feeling lighter, happier, and more at peace. I have a plan to make some lasting changes for my health and wellbeing and I am referring often to our digital wellness guide provided for further reading and understanding. I so can’t wait to see you all one day to impress you with my inner Zen wren dragon! 

Thanks to our REVĪVŌ and Pavilions organisers for a wonderful weekend and to the other participants for their uplifting energy and spirit, ready to learn whilst having fun. I had the best weekend. It was just what my kind of doctor ordered. The best tonic of all after the butterfly pea tea and a nutrient dense smoothie? It was the learning and laughter with new friends. Thanks all!

I leave with this wise saying:

“The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new”  Socrates

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Everyone loves a good love story, right?

Where do I begin? Let me start at the end, when I met Perry at Maybelle’s Coffee Garden in Phuket. He has just returned from his wedding ceremony in Korat in the northeast of Thailand. A glistening gold ring on his finger engraved with Phichawi Perry. This spurred me to write this blog as a testament to a Thai love story.

Maybelle’s Coffee Garden

The love story began at Maybelle’s Coffee Garden, a melting pot for those arriving via the Phuket Sandbox. You will literally find all sorts of people here, from those sipping health smoothies or wheatgrass shots, or those after a pre training coffee who have found Muay Thai as fitness their saviour. Or the ‘Stuff it! Life is for living!’ guys ordering a Big Baddy brekkie with black pudding! From hairy arsed traders to cool crypto currency geeks speaking in foreign tongues, coffee for us ladies – of all ages, we are an eclectic international mix. Drawn into coffee conversations are tales of life’s triumphs and adversities, and occasionally a love story. There is never a dull moment at Maybelle’s!

Richie and Maybelle’s YouTube

Maybelle’s Coffee Garden is an off-the-beaten-track destination, tucked away by the main road. Most arrivals seeking out Maybelle’s million-dollar smile, as Richie calls it, already know the lay of the land from watching Richie and Maybelle’s YouTube channel. 

Here, an overseas bloke meets and falls in love with a beautiful Thai lady. The attraction of their story is replicated many times over in this coffee garden by those drawn to meet them and share their own similar and very personal love stories. It’s not all boy meets girl, this week I meet an Aussie lass who meets and falls in love with her Thai Muay Thai teacher.

Love in the garden

The first thing you see when arriving at the cafe is a giant love heart with a bench in its middle – a perfect Instagram photo spot, or just a place to cuddle up for a happy snap. Richie and Maybelle’s are as captivating in person as they are on camera with an ever growing number of 16,000 plus subscribers.

No wonder they inspired Perry to push through the obstacles of pandemic life to return to his long awaited wedding ceremony to Phichawi. Perry like Richie is from the UK. He has been coming to Thailand for twenty years, returning year after year for the beaches, hot weather, Thai food, attracted by the friendly people and the freedom to explore Phuket on his bike. 

Perry met Phichawi who worked at a restaurant in Patong in December 2018, on a stopover to see his daughter in Australia. Phichawi had moved to Phuket for work after her husband was killed in a motor scooter accident, leaving behind her two children to be looked after separately by her mother and her mother in law. 

Perry laughs telling how the shy Phichawi stood him up when he invited her to join him on his motorbike to visit the Big Buddha. She said she slept in, after all, her work was long hours and she was always tired.

Luckily, Perry gave Phichawi a second chance and by the end his visit they knew it was serious. Perry cut short his Australian holiday returning to Phuket on the homeward leg, to be with Phichawi. 

With Perry’s support, she was now able to realise her dream of owning a shop in her village and give up the all night work. She packs in her job and Perry takes her back home to be reunited with her two teenage children. 

By Jan 2020 Perry returned to Thailand to complete the legal paper work and marry his Thai sweetheart. But with Covid looming they were not able to have the big village marriage celebration they hoped for. Perry returned to the UK for work knowing that Phichawi was safe amongst family in her village. 

During the seventeen months that Covid kept them apart, Perry found Richie and Maybelle’s YouTube channel. With a similar love story to theirs, Perry’s was inspired to return to Thailand arriving via the Phuket Sandbox entry scheme that permits quarantine free entry to fully vaccinated people with a negative Covid test. Perry saw this as his chance.

 

Unfortunately, rising Covid cases across Thailand caused Phuket to instigate additional health safety requirements and closed to domestic arrivals. Additionally, all domestic flights in Thailand were on hold, with Phichawi unable to enter Phuket. 

Meanwhile Perry completed his mandatory 14 days in Phuket then took an overnight bus to Bangkok, a 14 hour journey. From there, another five hours by taxi to Korat.

But love in a pandemic meant no romantic reunion. Oh, no!  After seventeen months apart there was to be no flinging arms around each other, especially under the ever watchful eye of the Korat quarantine officer. Pichawi’s village elder consented to let Perry enter the village providing he did a 14 day quarantine at a motel in Korat. Twice a day Phichawi made the 10km trip to deliver food to Perry. 

Perry is respectful of local rules, which meant that eventually he could return to Phichawi’s village. He realised it was an honour, as he was the only Farang, (western foreigner) there. After a lengthy quarantine and endless negative Covid tests Perry was finally allowed to join Phichawi and her kids. 

The village at the time was in a dark red zone (the highest level of Covid health precautions) so Perry was confined to the house and the garden. The house has been decorated since he last saw it, the walls painted blue, chosen as the perfect backdrop for the wedding photos. Perry never left the premises except for an occasional escorted visit to the 7-11 convenience store.

The wedding celebration was planned to be at home, festively decorated with a banana leaf archway and colourful balloons. The reception was planned for 150 guests, however in Covid times they were allowed only 10 guests within the house, which meant the tricky job of reducing the guest list by 140 and condensing the celebration into three hours. 

Perry amusingly tells us about the wedding ceremony, much of which he laughs in recognition that he had little idea of what was occurring, yet he knows everything is for a reason. Phichawi who speaks English well tries to explain to Perry the many traditions such as the dowry. Perry listens but he wishes he were more skilled at sitting on the floor!

Whilst guests were not allowed in the house, Perry says that somehow he still managed to feed the entire village! He knows this is important as Thai people love their food and he adds with a laugh, ‘If you like to eat 10 times a day, marry a Thai woman. If they are not eating food, they are preparing it!’ 

The following day, one of the wedding guests was declared Covid positive and the house declared a Covid no go zone, with a large warning Covid sign put up and the house taped off. 

After a 14 day of Phuket Sandbox entry, a 10 day motel quarantine in Korat, and now a 14 day Covid isolation is enforced – it is certainly a memorable wedding and honeymoon! 

For more information on the Thai Wedding ceremony here.

Perry is relieved and feels a great sense of accomplishment in being able to finally hold their Thai wedding ceremony. He describes the past year and a half as a testing period, when there were times he wondered if he should sensibly put it all on hold. He felt however that he had to pursue love regardless of the obstacles.

Perry credits Richie with the inspiration to persevere. 

He says, ‘I saw Richie’s love story I thought if he can do it, and he’s from Derby, I can do it as I am from London!’

Wishing Perry and Phichawi a lifetime of love and laughter and happy ever after!

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In a sign of the times, Expat Life’s Jenny Littlewood caught up with Swiss Ambassador to Thailand H.E. Helene Budliger Artieda and her invited guest Mr. Pedro Basabe Head of Regional Hub of Humanitarian Aid Asia and Pacific by Zoom meeting.

Ambassador Helene shared her thoughts on the pandemic, vaccinations and Switzerland’s donation of medical supplies to Thailand. Also discussed was Swiss Vice President Ignazio Cassis’ visit to Thailand to commemorate 90 years of bilateral relations between the two nations. As well as looking for positives in a pandemic, dogs and much more.

Ambassador, Expat Life in Thailand had the pleasure of meeting you a year ago, thank you for the opportunity to catch up again in 2021. How has your year been?

It’s been rather a unique year in my professional career for sure. We’ve had a year of continuing pandemic crisis management, when all of us were hoping that we were at the end of the tunnel. 2021 has been surprisingly more challenging than last year. 

I now have the concerns of my team operating in a deep red zone. The challenge has been how to best keep our doors open to provide basic services such as passports and consular assistance. Alongside this are the considerations regarding the wellbeing and safety of our Swiss citizens. 

It’s been a year of multiple worries, but we managed to cope as best as we could. So also, I have a feeling of satisfaction that we’ve been able to prevail, given the difficult circumstances’.

What has been your most challenging aspect as Ambassador this year?

We, like many have had cases of Covid-19 amongst our staff. Thankfully not serious, but it hits home closely, when this happens, with concerns for the welfare of staff and their families. 

This was the moment when I felt the pandemic is now a different ball game for us as an Embassy.

What are the greatest challenges for the Swiss community?

We have about 10,000 Swiss nationals living in Thailand. Access to vaccines is on the top of their worries, mine too. I think it’s extremely important that we are fair to Thailand here too. It’s a worry for Thai people as well. 

I am confident that Thailand is now making progress in this regard. However It will be important to speed up vaccinations for all, according to the priorities established by the Thai authorities. We place high priority on ensuring the embassy can be relied on to get the right information out to our community. We live in an era of a constant social media flurry. It’s become almost a full time job for us too’.

Direct communications 

Helene is true to her word here, a quick Google search finds her appearing on Youtube, and even featuring in a radio podcast called ‘The Ambassador’.  

The Swiss embassy team presents information to their multilingual community in a clear, down to earth and natural way. In doing so the ambassadorial text book on communications is being rewritten. 

Long gone is formal dialogue with the Swiss community, hello #AskTheEmbassy Facebook Live.  

Ambassador Helene is a natural bridge builder. Joining the panel for the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) forum on Thailand’s Vaccine Strategy may have made her slightly nervous, given the title ‘What went wrong?’ But it was a gamble of diplomacy that paid off and won the admiration of many.

To say Helene and her staff have embraced the demands of mass social media in a pandemic, is an understatement. 

Ambassador Helene continues: We do see light at the end of the tunnel with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs having earmarked vaccines now for expats. It might sound like empty slogans ‘We’re not all safe, until everyone is safe.’ But I am paid to worry about the Swiss community, but I worry that everyone in Thailand has access to vaccines. Switzerland wanted to stand by its long standing friend Thailand, with a supply of medical goods that we have were able to ship in at the end of July. I have included Pedro today because often everyone thinks embassies equal ambassadors. But we have a whole embassy team with much more expertise than I.

Switzerland’s donation of medical supplies

Pedro, I understand you’ve been the lead on bringing medical supplies from Switzerland to Thailand. How did this come about? How has your year been?

I have been based in Thailand for 4 years after 15 years with the UN, and 20 years with the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Corp. Our role is to prepare for disaster in the region, in case humanitarian assistance is needed. Since March 2020 this includes Covid-19 and vaccine support crisis management.

Switzerland has a policy to support other countries in fighting against the Covid-19 pandemic. The Swiss government has donated 102 respirators and 1.1 million Antigen test kits for distribution within Thailand to help with Covid-19 responses.

Prevention is key

I want to stress the importance of our work in terms of prevention. As everyone knows what to do and how to act when they see a red traffic light, so everyone should know how to act in time of disasters and pandemic crisis. Our role involves policy dialogue, and training across the ASEAN states as well as projects implementation

Ambassador Helene adds, Pedro has been very humble here. The reality is the Humanitarian Aid team has changed their operations from being one of the most globally mobile teams at the embassy, to the most digital team. 

Pedro’s team has arranged Switzerland’s medical goods donation programme across the region. This has involved endless coordination meetings particularly to see how Switzerland can assist in Myanmar. This global team approach means Zoom meetings often at impossible hours.

This must have taken a toll for you Pedro? There is a beautiful dynamic here. Pedro absolutely and politely refuses to be drawn into the limelight…

I don’t really like to talk about me, I’ve had more than 35 years of dealing with disaster risk reduction and emergencies. We are used to dealing in crisis management mode. It’s how it works in our job, we are very pleased to support’

Pedro replies in a calm and self-humble depreciating manner, an ideal go to friend in any crisis. He has such a soothing and everything is under control manner, that I’m sorry this is not a podcast for you to hear!

Ambassador, could you tell us why you joined the FCCT vaccine forum? 

 

People were upset at the slow roll out of Thailand’s vaccination programme. I understand this, however when embassies became an outlet for people’s anger, I felt this was unfair. It’s not true that ambassadors don’t care. This is the number one priority of every ambassador I speak to. 

In June, I saw that the Thai government system was taking some time because of lack of access to vaccines, not only for expats but for everybody. I decided to play an intermediary role between vaccine opportunities available out of the Thai medical system and the allocation of them to our Swiss community. We are all trying to find solutions and to be proactive, but we have differing frameworks which makes it really complicated’.

Differing embassy frameworks

I really salute the French Ambassador who was able to get vaccines from his capital. None of the ambassadors I talked to had this privilege, myself included. 

It is not because the ambassador is not doing his/her job, it’s just different frameworks. As much as I would have loved for my capital to send me vaccines, it’s not happening at this time.’

The Swiss embassy framework

My Swiss HQ supported me to find a solution, which is tricky when it involves health and medical data. Switzerland has very strong data protection laws. However we were able to navigate these because we are one of the few embassies who have mandatory registration for citizens. 

Certain ambassadors operate in countries where liability carries huge risk, I have a certain leeway where if a Swiss person signs a liability clause, then I’m good to go.

Mine was a strategic decision, other ambassadors couldn’t take that route and we are all still on good terms. All of us are trying to serve our respective communities as best as we can’.

Helene’s explanation of events and bridge building across many communities has won much admiration. As Jonathan Head, MC at the FCCT forum said in closing the event: If you are an elderly Swiss national in Thailand you have definitely drawn the lucky card.

We note, you’ve recently had the high profile visit of Vice President Ignazio Cassis to Thailand. Could you tell us more about this visit?

Vice President Ignazio Cassis toured SE Asia visiting Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. 

As a guest of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Thailand, the visit commemorated the 90th anniversary of the establishment of the Swiss-Thai Treaty of Friendship and Commerce.  

This was a working visit during difficult times, isn’t that what friends are for? To stand by your friends in difficult times.

We have the biggest Swiss community here in Asia. It was equally important for my Minister to have an interaction with the Swiss community living in Thailand, who had been vocal regarding the vaccine situation.

It gave an opportunity for both countries to discuss measures to upgrade their bilateral relations, especially on public health, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, education, trade, and investment.

Moreover, the Swiss delegation handed over a donation of medical supplies as previously mentioned.

What is special about the Swiss-Thai Relationship?

The origins of ninety years of bilateral relations starts with His Majesty King Chulalongkorn’s famous visits to several European countries, returning with a mission to modernise the Kingdom of Siam.

Switzerland is an export driven market. When deciding how to proceed with potential bilateral relations between the two countries, the Swiss government at that time, sought advice from Swiss companies already operating in Thailand. 

Ambassador Helene laughs, this is a very Swiss approach she explains. We are not at all a top down country. We are a confederation. We are highly decentralised, with a symbiotic relationship between government, civil society and the private sector. Switzerland is a country with a very different government and approach to how the country is run, compared with other countries.

The late King Bhumibol and his siblings were educated and grew up in Switzerland which has given us a very special touch of the relationship. Our countries like and respect each other, despite our very different approaches.

We now have over 200 Swiss-related companies in Thailand, some for over 100 years. We are top 10, or top 12 depending on the ranking index checked, of direct foreign investors in Thailand. We have the biggest Swiss community in Asia and there are approximately 30,000 Thais living in Switzerland.

Both countries had, before Covid, huge tourist growth potential. Thailand is the preferred tourist destination in SE Asia for Swiss people.

It is truly amazing to see how well Thai people know Switzerland and vicesa versa. It’s well beyond the glossy tourist things that must be seen. They know every corner of Switzerland and are well informed.

Likewise for Swiss people in Thailand. A relationship with Thailand might start on a beach in Phuket or Pattaya. They love it, they discover it, they come back, they travel up North… Swiss people are to be found everywhere in Thailand.

What have you found to appreciate here in Thailand since we last spoke?

I continue to appreciate working amongst the calmness and the gentleness of the Thai people. The way the Thai people are reacting around me has calmed me down, as by nature I’m rather outgoing. I am sure I am calmer here in Thailand than I would be elsewhere!

I have also appreciated the space and time a reduced work event schedule has given in both my professional and personal life. 

At the embassy we all benefitted for example with the recent visit of Vice President Ignazio Cassis who was able to spend added time with my staff at the Embassy. When has that ever happened? Never! Not because officials aren’t interested to do so, but just because the schedule is so full.

At home, I have more time with my husband and our dogs. I am not a good housewife but we cook together at weekends, we still do jigsaw puzzles and the dogs love it!

Don’t get me wrong, I will be happily going back to a little bit more interactive professional life, and wouldn’t want this for the rest of my life, but let’s enjoy this part of our current lifestyle giving meaningful time with those around us’

Thank you to H.E. Ambassador Helene Budliger Artieda and Mr. Pedro Basabe for their generous time to compile this interview Here’s to future interviews in person meetings at Swiss Embassy with chocolate!

Jenny Littlewood

Interview 17 August

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As we start what we hope will be our final countdown to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic here in Thailand, some of us will be looking for our final getaways to enjoy our adopted country, whilst we still have the beaches and hotels all to ourselves. But before you look to escape our City of Angels for our usual haunts, have you thought of a Phuket staycation?

Phuket I love you. In 2020 I visited Phuket travelling solo, as a couple and with friends. Every time I leave, the yearn to return gets stronger.

As the second wave introduced further travel restrictions around Thailand, we remained in Phuket where my husband and I had been holidaying for Christmas. The island has been deathly quiet, the local expat community launched #onephuket to support those helping feed islanders in need. It’s been grim times for many in Phuket and the surrounding islands.

A handful of hoteliers, unwilling to re close their hotels in such desperate times, remained steadfastly committed to keeping their doors open,

‘If we close we lose money, if we open we lose money, 

but at least we have jobs’

This letter is a testament and a thank you to the hotel industry staff from gardening to the General Managers who, with a decimated tourism industry turned up day after day to greet a handful of guests. Their determination to ‘keep calm and carry on,’ and to provide an outstanding guest experience, when a number of hotels were forced to close their doors some never to reopen, has been a bright light in our continuing Corona virus days, here in Phuket.

I see your pain, I have witnessed your struggle to operate shorthanded of staff, serving food in restaurants and running hotels without your managerial staff. I have seen jobs lost and I hear salaries have been reduced. I’ve seen the empty streets, your empty resorts and rooms with your pillows out for airing awaiting the tourists to return…

Since living in Phuket, I witnessed you stripped bare without your tourist friends. I’ve seen how amazing you are. I’ve stayed in your world class hotels, wandered your incredible empty beaches, swam in your crystal blue sea and eaten in your Michelin awarded restaurants. 

I loved as well a whole host of less grand but equally memorable Phuket experiences. Like arriving on Kata beach a few hours after a Super Mum turtle laid her eggs – the first time in twenty years! Or wandering at sunset along a tranquil Patong beach. 

First some hard talk. Phuket you feel like the popular girl at school who never had to try too hard. You were beautiful, with incredible beaches and people who flocked to you from all over the world. You mingled with ease with this crowd, you were multi-lingual and you had been educated at the best Swiss hotel management schools. You cooked the best food and you were known to put on a great party. You were popular for a reason, you are friggin’ awesome! 

When Covid hit, none of your international friends who adored you could get to you and you were left all alone. The problem was that none of your local acquaintances were that interested. The popular girl of Phuket never had us on her Christmas card list, telling us how we must join her and how wonderful she was. Oh no, she directed all her marketing at her rich friends overseas. 

Some of us remembered Phuket from our teenage party ‘Let’s go to Thailand’ years, it was Phuket and the Patpong ping pong show that stick in my mind from the 1980s. Later in the 1990s and 2000s we returned with our kids and found the family friendly side of Thailand. How many of us have photos with our children and the baby elephant at Laguna Phuket? I know, I know, we wouldn’t encourage that now, but that was then…

We may have ventured back to Phuket when we arrived to live as Expats in the Land of Smiles. But generally we found that your prices were high and your taxis never gave us a ‘local price’. Our indignant few words of Thai never helped either; you wanted real foreigners with deep pockets! For decades, your beaches were packed with party going internationals and quite frankly we live here, and when we holiday we’re not going where the tourists go! 

Phuket I wish you had told us more about yourself before. We never ever knew how amazing you are for the couples and friends market! All those things that make you incredible have always been there underneath the layers of tourist hordes. You are still the beautiful lass that became popular for a reason.

For the past three months, we have enjoyed a hither too unseen Phuket, and I’ve been visiting for forty years. Over the course of the year 2020 I visited three times, I did the same for Chiang Mai and Koh Samui, but Phuket has somehow attracted me to linger.

During our staycationing we have stayed at many Phuket resorts and hotels and we will keep going. You are all that is acknowledged below. This letter is for you! You are doing an amazing job in difficult circumstances. These are the experiences and memories I absolutely treasure from my time with you.

North Phuket (close to the Airport) 

Nai Yang Beach – The Slate, you win the award for the most fun, artsy, luxurious and romantic resort with wow upon wow. We loved all the features Bill Bensley designed into your resort, based on Phuket’s old tin mine industry. Our dinner at your Michelin Plate awarded Black Ginger restaurant and stunning setting will linger with us forever.

Nai Yang Beach – Dewa, You win the prize for having the best and lushest gardens. We were so happy to make this one of our WFB working from the Beach home away from home staycations. Your apartment overlooking the pool gave us everything we needed. In your brilliantly run resort of apartments, villas and suites nothing was too much trouble.

Thalang – Trisara, You win my praise for being of the utmost elegance with your own private jetty and beach and Michelin Star restaurant PRU. Your pool and beachside area are absolutely stunners.

Naithon Beach – Pullman Arcadia, you win my gratitude for the incredible view over the beach, wonderful food and fantastic staff. Your hotel is effortlessly managed by your exceptional guest orientated staff who love to go all out to give them the best experience.

Mai Khao Beach – Renaissance Hotel, we love how popular your resort is and we’re not surprised, as your sales and marketing team are super responsive. Your lagoon rooms are lovely, your breakfast memorable and your activities program from Yogalates to bike riding around the lake wonderful.

Phuket City: 

Woo Gallery & Boutique Hotel: You are a winner for the best owners’ passion project brought to life! You are loved for lovingly restoring your historic storefront building and your Woo Gallery museum. You are fantastically located tight at the heart of old Phuket town.

Casa Blanca: You are a standout in the best for the solo female market. You have a great Phuket city location, new modern styled rooms. Here’s looking at you kid!

Memory on On On: You win the award for the steeped in history stay, go for this if you love history, you won’t get a better location.

Blue Monkey Boutique Hotel: You win for best elegant room with a fantastic bath, above a coffee shop. Your stylish, slightly out of the way location is worth finding, you are good value.

West Coast

Bang Tao Beach – Banyan Tree Lagoon beach: You deserve the everyone is happy here award. This all pool villa luxury resort with spa, 40m swimming pool, lagoon access, close to Bang Tao beach, and with an award winning golf course – a perfect staycation for a golfer and his happy to be left alone wife! 

Surin Beach – The Chava Resort, you win the best two bedroom apartment accolade. Your magnificent pool area opposite the lovely Surin Beach is always appreciated, as is your great coffee!

Kamala Beach – Intercontinental, you win the vibrancy award for being slap bang in the middle of the most lively night time action outside Phuket Town at Kamala beach. Your beachside rooms, your catering team and brilliant Sunday brunch and your activities program offered us a memorable stay.

Kata Beach – The Boathouse, You win my affections for the best food with a view. Your hotel is a firm favourite right on Kata Beach, with our favourite Executive Chef.

Kata Beach – Kata Rocks, You win the award for the ‘pinch me is my life for real?’  Staycation life doesn’t get any better than a stay at Kata Rocks, fun, exclusive and forever in my heart.

Southern Phuket

Nai Harn Beach – Nai Harn hotel you win our highest praise for the best value in a stunning location. Beautiful rooms overlooking our favourite beach.

Rawai Beach – Mangosteen Ayurvedic Resort & Spa, you win hands-down for your wonderful yoga retreat. Love your fabulous bungalow in pretty gardens with a choice of wellness programs.

Cape Panwa – Cape Panwa Hotel, you win our praise for your stylish, away from it all location in southern Phuket, two lovely pool areas and serene small but exclusive beachfront.

Ao Yon Beach – The Cove, wins the tiny hotel award, you take boutique to the extreme with only three rooms. You are quiet and remote, absolute beachfront, with a great bar and restaurant.

Khao Yao Yai and Khao Yao Noi

ParadiseKoh Yao Noi, wins the award for the prettiest beachfront and total Robinson Crusoe setting. Your pool villas are lovely. 

Yes, this, like my Bangkok Love Letter, is a shameless plug and thank you to these hoteliers for wonderful staycations. We have been happy to support you, we know of your struggles without many guests. I know that we’ve been saying this for months but the end of the pandemic IS edging closer. Whether it is October 1st or even better July 1st for Phuket to reopen to vaccinated international visitors, the time is edging towards the return of tourism throngs to Phuket. 

However, please don’t forget us domestic tourists who have fallen in love with you again and supported you when in need. Don’t hike your prices back up so that you are beyond our reach or interest. Now that your natural beauty has been unveiled, try to preserve it when the world returns to normal. This popular girl of Phuket can really have it all, both domestic and international guests, and we ALL will get the best of all worlds!

Little Wandering Wren is an International Travel Writer with her nest somewhere in Thailand. Her writing can be found at www.littlewanderingwren.com and all her staycations found on Instagram and Twitter @littlewanderingwren 

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There is no better pool brunch party on offer in Phuket at the moment, why not make a weekend of it like we did and throw in a weekend staycation?  

Up a nondescript little lane at the end of Kata Beach is an easy to miss driveway up a hill past Mama’s Seafood and SKA bar. Take this road to the oceanfront resort called Kata Rocks. Once there, your buggy awaits to transport you down to the rocks and into a world of infinite luxury.

Here you will find a resort and residences of 34 villas beyond your wildest dreams in this tranquil corner of Phuket. Unless of course, you’re here for a monthly Brunch Pool Party, or for the Ladies Hangout each Wednesday, when cools sounds, and a party vibe attracts.

Kata Rocks is as stylish and as hip and happening as you can get. How would we fit in? Don’t forget I came for Christmas and stayed on when the Thai Government said cancel all non-essential travel. We followed instructions and never returned to Bangkok!

By this stage, I’m looking like a shaggy Covid puppy that needs to go to the groomers. As to what to wear, well forget that! I tell anyone that will listen, that when we arrived, him-who-plays-golf took up half the baggage allowance with a set of golf clubs!

Let’s just say thank goodness Kata Rocks were either so very keen to get a full house, or they have to be the nicest, most inclusive, most welcoming place to stay that I have ever been too

I know it’s the later, as the Brunch Pool Party turned into a sellout event. Remember at this time Bangkok has gone back into tighter restrictions, schools are closed, offices requested to restart home working where possible, alcohol sales are off, and all bars are closed. My family in the UK and in Australia are in even tighter lockdowns.

There never was a truer feeling of living in a bubble, nor a more appreciative ready to party crowd, than those that turned up at the end of January 2021 to fill those empty tables ready to brunch!

The fact that the Kata Rocks Brunch Pool Party was a sellout event when Phuket is oh so quiet says a lot. Phuket ‘peeps’ know the best brunch on the island when it’s offered! The chance to unwind and enjoy the party by the iconic infinity pool overlooking the Andaman Sea at the Oceanfront Clubhouse well, who’s going to miss out on this invitation? Not I!

Won’t you take a wander with me to see our highlights from succulent cuisine to the best cocktails on the island? My favourite drink was rather aptly named The New Splash (Rum, Creme de Cassis and mixed berries).

There is a stylish, friendly vibe amongst the guests, but it was also nicely chill and I’m not just talking my Italian Rose…  We were soon chatting to the tables around us as if we were lifelong friends. Well, in some ways we were.

Would you believe I used to ride my pony through Nick on the next door table’s farm in England? Or that when Richard the Kata Rocks Founder and CEO stopped by to say hello, I was born in the same town he was from?!  I’m a firm believer that if you talk long enough you will always find a connection. Here in Phuket, the connections came as easily as the free flow wines.

All eyes were on the fashion show and the captivating clothes from Endless Summer.  I especially loved seeing a couple of models my age who looked fabulous. Go ladies you rock!

With an endless summer of free flow alcohol, the party was kicking off. It didn’t take long for the first guests to be needing a quick cooling off dip, beer and wine in hand. The music by Armenia the DJ was spot on. It was just the best decadent fun I’d had…. all year.

Ha! Only kidding! This is brunch my style!

“Brunch is an opportunity to be a little naughty — or a lot extravagant — at the table.”— Kit Wohl

We just had the chance to strip off ourselves for a quick dip. I mean it had to be done didn’t it? A cocktail in the pool? To view these and more photos check out the Kata Rocks Facebook Page

Come the evening we returned after our wellness treat at the Infinite Luxury Spa (amazing do not miss!) to find the party was still going strong and a singalong happening!

Come to Brunch and stay a while

Welcome to our one bed loft pool villa.

It would be remiss of me to tell you of the joys of a weekend staycation at Kata Rocks without giving you a tour of the villa. I am not surprised Kata Rocks has won over 50 international awards and accolades including ‘Best apartment in the world.’

Starting at the front door don’t do what I did and report your key not working when you’ve pressed the high tech key fob on the wrong panel! It’s a taster of what is ahead. But forgive me for not exactly being on the ball. When we arrived, I was so wowed by the whole stunningly gorgeous apartment that maybe I was a tad distracted…

Our villa was on two levels from everywhere is that view. The one that makes you feel a million dollars. Not to mention the Rock Star service.  Whilst you are at Kata Rocks you have the personal service of the team, cutely called Rock Stars. Oh, the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Who wants some of this?

Your own private indoor/outdoor area greets you. How tempting is it, I just want to jump straight into that infinity pool. The shaded outdoor terrace and padded loungers are perfect to appreciate the beauty of a Rocks sunset.  Be warned it’s hard to leave.

The villa has everything and more. If you just wanted to bunker down and escape from the world, this would be the place to do it. You can come for a night and stay for a month. You could so do WFH here (Working from hotel there is a big work desk if needed) Anyone interested?

The clean, fresh, light, airy space adds to an incredible ambience. I feel so happy here and love the design and artwork.

There is a high-tech experience as I mentioned. The interactive entertainment system for me was the fun of putting the blinds down at night! There is even a TV set into the roof above your bed. That view from the bed is wonderful!

The bathroom is just my sort of place. I’m a bit of a bathroom snob, and I love a bath wow! This was a stunning bathroom with its open ended design to encompass the views.

At breakfast the next day the wow factor continued. We loved our breakfast by the Clubhouse pool and as we did, we savoured the moment reflecting that Kata Rocks really does offer it all.

You have all the seclusion of your own one private villa, and at the Clubhouse, you’ll find a conviviality where you can mix with others if you want.

A couple of things to be mentioned. Kata Rocks dining overlooks the pool, this is what some of us, ok Mr Wren called a posing pool. You’re not exactly going to be best buds with your neighbours if you demonstrate your athletic butterfly strokes here. Equally well, if you don’t want everyone looking at you whilst having their lunch, swim in your villa pool!

Kata Rocks is built on a hillside. You can order a buggy service to take you up to reception or back to your room wherever you are situated. It’s a good fitness workout for the hardy who chose the demanding walk from the clubhouse to the hotel entrance and it’s guaranteed to get your heart rate up. And finally, there is no beach on site. My favourite beach in Phuket, Kata beach is at the bottom of the hill a two minute buggy ride away.

The story of my stay at Kata Rocks has to finish as it started out on the rocks with the very essence, the soul and the heartbeat of this 5 star luxury resort. When you are not partying, I want to share with you the peace, the connection to this world, and to drown in both the wonder of sunrise and the glory of a sunset at Kata Rocks.

Just you, me and a few fishermen who gather on this small cape between Kata and Kata Noi for their catch of the day. Thanks to Magda the wonderful yoga instructor for my Sunset Purification Meditation.

Look closely at these photos, close your eyes and imagine the warm sun on your face, and the energy from this planet, listen to the sounds of the waves crashing on the rocks with the ebb and flow of the tides. Picture the glimmering Andaman Sea in Phuket, the paddle boarders gliding past, a yacht moored off the jetty.

Take in that healing light of the Thai sunshine and imagine you are here with me on the rocks or by the pool watching the sunset.

Or better still pick up the phone and make a booking.

The thing about Kata Rocks is the very foundation of the place has energy, that even in today’s quiet and tourist bare Phuket warms the soul. You come for the day, the night, the week, or more, you will find there is infinitely more on offer than you thought, and your memories of the epic times will last forever.  

The pool brunch will return on  27 March 2021

Further details at www.katarocks.com

Disclaimer: Little Wandering Wren stayed as a guest at Kata Rocks.

Little Wandering Wren is a Bangkok Blogger happily stranded in Thailand for the duration. In the past 12 months this Staycation Queen has completed over 100 nights in hotels across Thailand. She knows a good place to rest her weary head when she finds it. More can be found at www.littlewanderingwren.com

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OK, OK, I so get it. You’ve been “pandemic stuck” in Thailand for an interminable length of time because of ‘the job’, in what all your friends the world over see as living the dream. You’ve enjoyed the freedom to move around the Kingdom over the past 12 months, give or take the occasional Thai Government Emergency Decree roadblock. You’ve grown to know and love Thailand for giving you such travel opportunities at a time when your friends across the globe are in hard lockdowns. And so, it continues. But what now? 

The enduring pandemic is taking a toll. You’ve had over a year without seeing, hugging and touching your family. Relatives have been born, grandchildren have yet to be met, and sadly family and friends have died without your final goodbyes. Your partner is frazzled, and relationships are suffering. Are you digging in for the long haul or could you, should you, would you, change things up for a bit… no for the better?

How about spicing up your Thai life with a sea change?

Do you daydream of having a partner who can work remotely and work from the beach? A partner who says, ‘I am leading from the front, I’m going to put our emotional health and wellbeing as a priority?’ A partner who says, ‘Let’s try something different, I know the last twelve months have been tricky for you, disconnected from family and friends’ back in your homeland. I’m going to organise a WFB workcation!’

In January 2021, my husband and I did just that. Well, we came to Phuket on holiday and at the time of writing we are still here. Yes, we are paying for an apartment in Bangkok and a villa in Phuket, but the funny thing is, compared with 2019 we are still living within our budget. Life in Phuket is cheaper than Bangkok and we are loving it!

The rise of the ‘working from beach’ grey nomad!

It is something that all the digital nomads have known for years. Thailand and its high-speed Wi-Fi connectivity is fantastic for remote working.

Covid-19 created a remote, flexible, home working workforce with large degrees of success. Here in Thailand employees have bounced in and out of home working, depending on the local pandemic requirements.

With home working came the rise of new terms. WFH or working from home, became over the months for some of my lucky expat friends working from hotel, and indeed the ultimate “I’m so jealous now’ ‘he’s WFB’, working from beach. The opportunity to work from hotels around Thailand largely depends on whether the expat working partner is required to manage people in the office directly from the front at their office desk, what has become a rather old fashioned notion that today’s world.

I’m here to challenge that notion, indeed today I would say that leading from the front means demonstrating business acumen and an appreciation for a work life balance that ultimately brings out the best in your workforce, for the benefit of the organisation.

Once the dream was set in motion, those of us who partook in it here in Thailand just loved it! Working from home, hotel or beach morphed into the notion of an extended Workcation. Putting out ‘feelers’ showed that some 87% of respondents in Thailand found an extended work-cation appealing, in fact the most positive response of the countries surveyed in the Asia-Pacific region.  https://www.bangkokpost.com/business/2021523/the-rise-of-the-work-cation: 

Whilst some executives may be uneasy about managing teams where they suspect their focus may be less on the ‘work’ and more on the ‘cation’ part. This has not been our experience, quite the opposite.

Advantages to employers

Be seen as a great employer… staff retention… staff happiness…. staff resilience

Forgive me for a moment, for regressing back into my old HR management days or should we now call this talent management?! But it’s basic business operations. In my experience, no one ever listens to HR unless they could prove a difference to the bottom line.

Post Covid recovery will be no different, employers across the globe are always looking to attract top talent, cut costs and increase productivity. Never in the history of most organisations has this much needed priority been more sought after than now, with furloughed staff, reduced work forces, and in the case of hospitality this means in some instances skeleton staff with employees taking on broader responsibilities.

As we come out of the pandemic, have employers retained their key workers and strengthened their reputations with their employees to continue keeping them? Or are we about to see the biggest redeployment of staff with massive resignations as employees reassess their working and life priorities to depart in their droves for pastures new?

Once the workforce has the taste of flexible working opportunities, will future employees look for it on an ongoing basis? This is an opportunity for those in business whether in the corporate world, diplomatic world or in education, to stand out as a top employer at a time when in many instances staff bonuses and salaries are cut. You need something attractive to offer your star performers! 

Since employers have widened their embrace of flexible staffing arrangements during the pandemic, the best will look at opportunities to develop this further and perhaps build a hybrid workforce for the future – one that includes both remote and on-site teams.

“A key reason is that so many businesses and their employees are discovering that productivity, rather than diminishing, often increases with remote work. However, it may still take time for some leaders, and even their workers, to change their mindset about when and how work gets done”. Forbes: Laying the success for a future hybrid workforce: 

https://www.forbes.com/sites/paulmcdonald/2020/12/16/laying-the-foundation-for-a-successful-hybrid-workforce/?sh=670c34d21e5c

Employers who offer and encourage remote working conditions for their team members without them feeling guilty, will in the long term benefit strong mental health and wellbeing of the employees while creating loyalty and improving productivity. 

Advantages to employee: A change is as good as a rest!

“That view and the sea air just energises me. We are convinced that rather than the beach being a tempting distraction, we are more focused and completely grateful for this opportunity”

Extending resilience

Many expatriates in key jobs are exhausted. Their workloads increased immeasurably because of this unplanned and unpredicted pandemic as companies scrambled to adapt to the new normal. Whilst once upon a time they were jet setting across the world for various meetings, now all that is needed to prepare for global meetings virtually. Coordinating the meeting time can be an issue. The European have it best in the eyes of Asian and American expats, as the only way to successfully get a global team virtually together is to do it on European time. Worst still if here in Thailand you are working for a European company, your big boss has no idea!

Avoiding burn out
Burn out is a real threat now given the longevity of the situation. Most working expats didn’t get where they are today in the immortal words of Reggie Perrin without a high degree of stamina and resilience, but this is unchartered territory.

Reducing stress
There has been no relief, the continued uncertainty of the global economic trading situation put immense stress on all aspects of the workforce. There has been no extended vacation. Sure, our families abroad see us on differing weekend escapes across Thailand, but gone is the annual home leave, a time to take a breath and concentrate on something different.

A healthier lifestyle
We are exercising more in Phuket, getting our 10,000 steps is no problem when we wake to the roar of the ocean, the birds singing and the beach waiting for us for an early morning stroll before work.

Saving annual leave
Many expats are trying to hold on to their precious annual leave holiday just in case the borders miraculously open up for home leave; a workcation gives you the best of both worlds.

We have found working from the beach far from being a distraction, gives a refreshed mindset. An early morning barefoot walk sets the day up nicely and certainly the post work winddown on the beach happens quicker than commute home on the BTS or sat in traffic on Sukhumvit Road.

Others around us enjoy greater productivity because of less distractions of being in the office, some says the distance helps with a sense of perspective.

Are we happier? Hell, yes!

Does being happier make us work harder, not as such, we are professionals but loving the working environment and being more positive does have an impact on all aspects of our lives, including work.

Any negative impacts of working remotely?

When asking around whether business has suffered because of the home team working situation, the general consensus is that people have proven that home working is possible when needed. Meetings by Zoom, Google Hangout or Teams work, helps business survive.

Sure, there are mumblings that 2020 was costly in terms of business innovation and development, without the water cooler meetings, and internal communications needing greater focus, but then everyone is in the same boat, but how many are at the same beach?!

Why is Phuket such a great choice to WFB workcation?

Location (1 hour flight, flights more regular and cheaper than say Koh Samui) 

Medical support

Cheap

Used to internationals

Welcoming

  1. Medical Facilities: 

Phuket’s two main private hospitalsPhuket International Hospital and Bangkok Hospital Phuket are both staffed with doctors and coordinators who speak English and other foreign languages. We have a high degree of confidence in the medical facilities here in Phuket.

  1. Our lifestyle here is cheaper than in Bangkok. My husband needed a medical exam to renew his driving license, it cost 100B here, and I paid 850B at my private hospital in Bangkok. The hotels and restaurants are offering unbelievable deals. 
  2. Phuket is used to the international visitors. We have found the English language and services excellent, better even than in Bangkok
  3. Happily, I have found Phuket Immigration helpful when I needed to complete my 90 day report for my visa. All you need is a proof of local address, which can be registered for you by any hotel. Note, make sure you ask for a copy to show at Immigration. You can even do a drive through 90 day report. A huge cheer for Phuket Immigration.

Here are the answers to some of the questions asked by our friends about our WFB experience

Paying for an apartment or a condo in Bangkok and a hotel, or villa in Phuket – isn’t that a waste of money? We are trying to stash and save.

We firmly believe life is too short not to be living to its best now and maximising of what is on offer here in Thailand. This is a temporary window of opportunity, once the tourists return prices will increase, beaches will fill up, it may be less attractive!

We are fortunate to have retained work, when many have lost their jobs or are on a reduced salary. Our expenditure in Phuket is providing us with work and income, and it is our way of putting something back into the local community.

I need to lead from the front; I can’t be seen dossing off at the beach!

This was easier than we thought – apart from comments like “you look well, tanned, happy” the office life continues as always. We like to remind employers of the advantage as stated above!

My team in the office needs supervising, I need to be there

In a previous life you were away from the workplace travelling the world the whole time anyway… your team coped. The bottom line is that working from Phuket you are only an hour’s flight away. Easy and quick to return!

This is a new approach to working; you can demonstrate good business leadership by not being in the office! 

I need to sign important banking documents which can’t be handled electronically

Come and a take a bow Kerry Express, Thailand’s leading parcel delivery service. It is impressive how quickly a package can get from Phuket to Bangkok given the traffic jams on Sukhumvit Road and other major traffic arteries in Bangkok. The Kerry Express next-day (ND) delivery service covers 99.9% of the Thai population and 97% of the parcels are delivered at the first attempt.

Our experience in Phuket is that same day delivery service works well, if a parcel is posted before lunchtime. Kerry Express has a strong presence in local communities with plenty drop off points. In a multitude of closed businesses, this one seems to be riding the storm well.

How to successfully WFB workcation

  1. Try it short term, book into a hotel to initially test the waters!

There are plenty of hotels around Thailand offering tempting deals, see below.

  1. Go week by week and make connections with local expats

Here in Phuket my husband found a keen golf community; he could be playing every day if he was retired! The golfers are a welcoming group even with just the occasional golfer. This group has been a valuable source of information and can be a support group if needed for anything from IT help to renewing your Thai driving license in Phuket. Also, there are many International Women’s Groups on the island who I have found welcoming.

  1. Ensure you have the basics for working from another location. Check the Wi-Fi! We bought a keyboard and a mouse, we were lucky that the villa we rented has a decent desk, with a sea view of course, and a comfortable office chair. No one ever swapped regular office work for beach desk facing the sea to find they had less time at their desks.

Where can I go for a WFB workcation?

Here in Phuket, you have many options from villas to clever hotels unable to reach the international markets all are now reaching out for city dwellers within Thailand to make the ‘oh so’ attractive move.

We booked the Work and Play in Phuket package at the Pullman Phuket Arcadia 3999B net per night including breakfast with discounts for longer stays. If you are looking to combine a five star luxury work hard by day options, whilst still having a ‘this is brilliant’ conversation with your happy partner at dinner, look no further : https://www.pullmanphuketarcadia.com/specialoffers/

Aleenta Phuket workcation package on Natai Beach in Phang Nga   https://www.aleenta.com/phuket/special-offers/workcation/ Prices start at 3,990B net for single occupancy includes working space, breakfast and daily gourmet lunch 3-night minimum stay: [email protected]

The Chava Resort: We always love the spacious apartments at The Chava on Surin beach, the Wi-Fi works well, the resort is stunning and Surin beach is one of our favourites. https://thechavaresort.com/  

I hope this has given you and your partner some ideas to support you in your quest for a Thailand workcation lifestyle or at the very least a mini break. We can thoroughly recommend Phuket. The pearl of the Andaman Sea has so much to offer, for so little. Come join us!

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When life is full of confusion, gratitude unlocks the fullness of life

Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more 

Gratitude turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity

Gratitude can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend

As we reach the end of what most of us have found to be a turbulent year, I am grateful for my time spent at Kamalaya. This was my second visit and I brought a friend. Over 50% of Kamalaya guests return, I was one them, drawn to return by the lure of what we sojourners describe as the ‘Kamalaya magic’. 

John Stewart, cofounder of Kamalaya, Koh Samui is the calm face of the place. He clearly delights in engaging with any guests interested in his spiritual philosophies.

John spent 16 years living a simple yogic existence, some of which in a Himalayan cave, before developing Kamalaya as a world leading wellness and holistic spa along with his wife Karina. As someone who has spent most of this year wishing I could crawl under a rock to ride this pandemic out, I’m happy to receive any of his wisdom.

Visitors seek the serene holistic wellness of Kamalaya for a number of reasons. On offer is a synergy of healing therapies from East and West to help guests recharge who are disillusioned, dissatisfied, disconnected, unwell or unhappy to recharge. 

Of course that was before we all bore the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic for most of 2020. I returned to Kamalaya on a girl’s trip away for some much needed relaxation, restoration and time away from it all in a beautiful setting. Oh and the Flash Sale bargain prices helped.

My friend who I believe said it more eloquently: 

Since Covid-19 cruelly arrived in the world, it made me stop. I had no choice! I have gone through so many emotions during this time and without realising, slowly became a shadow of myself, almost burning out. When my Bangkok bestie suggested we go on a girly trip, and after the nod from my husband, my case was packed!’

It is hard to explain but there is definitely something healing about this tropical jungle terrain with its ancient granite boulders. Or perhaps, I have just found my big rock to hide under?

From the ‘Embrace Life’s Potential’ cloth bag given on arrival, I search for my  Kamalaya journal where I have penned questions for John. After all, if there are any secrets to help us all live an authentic, joyful and fulfilling life particularly in Covid-19 times I want to know. 

If necessary, I’ll even take a good dose of yucky turmeric, or whatever elixirs are on offer here! Here are the secrets I discovered.

Don’t try to work out the Covid whys

I asked John for his explanation of what happened in the world and why he thinks Covid-19 occurred in the way it did? He tells me he made a conscious decision early on in the pandemic to turn his investigative mind off. 

‘It was not for me to micro examine how or why Covid-19 occurred. Was it a man-made virus? Was it political? This type of questioning did not interest me in this moment. Rather like confronting any tsunami in the world, where you would not stop to investigate whilst it is happening, a full investigation could follow at a later date. I turned my mind to my responsibility for my in house guests, my staff and to the land’.

I liked this advice. I have certainly been guilty of following each and every Covid-19 news release, statistic, while chasing glimmers of hope for vaccinations.

Don’t hold onto the old thought patterns or behaviours

I asked John what he suggested for how we could cope now – it seems to me that many of us got through the initial stages of lockdown reasonably well but this has continued long term, the ongoing uncertainty has been tougher.

His advice was clear, don’t hang onto your old ways of doing things. This will only frustrate in a world where life has changed forever. Create a new version of calm and stability in your daily life.

Create your own new normal

John also suggests we create a new normal for ourselves. Kamalaya offered me a habitat away from digital distractions, demands and deadlines so I can gently reflect on my life. Could there be a Zen Wren inside me somewhere? 

I am trying to ensure that each day I nourish my mind, body and soul. I have continued to start each day drinking hot water with freshly squeezed lime to get my metabolism going and a few minutes contemplative thought, I am trying to eat better and have time off from my digital distractions.

Connect with yourself

John proposes that a little introspection and contemplative thought is all it takes to make a big difference. He does not want to call it meditation, a word that he suggests can sometimes turn people off. Instead he recommends

Fifteen minutes a day of breathing exercise will create the pause in your life to start to build a connection with yourself’.

My friend again:’The more I engaged with the staff and guests; the more I walked through the beautiful tranquil spiritual grounds, where the cave used for meditation by Buddhist monks for 300 years sat, and walked amongst the stunning estate plantation and lotus ponds surrounded by the boulders incorporated into the architecture, the more I understood their philosophy… it’s all about “reconnecting, living gently and becoming more aware of yourself and your surroundings”.’ 

Create space for a pause

Before World War II, John reminds me there were national and spiritual holidays that people respected. These were a chance to return to family, to stop and to take a pause in our lives. This does not happen in the same way now. With constant connections to everything through technology, people need to find a way to hit the pause button.

I absolutely loved my time at Kamalaya Wellness and I can already tell I will be one of those frequenters who returns again and again.

These nurturing Koh Samui environs, offer over forty therapy and treatment rooms, wellness classes and talks. The real enticement for me lies in finding the answer lies very simply within and by building the connection with self. The magic of Kamalaya is that it offers guests the space to pause and reconnect with themselves. 

My friends and I left feeling more at peace with the world. I am more inclined to come out from under the rock and embrace the boulders of life. 

Thank you, Kamalaya through the healing power of nature, you gave me the space to find order in my world. You turned strangers into friends, and all our meals were definitely feasts! I have come to accept the impermanence of life and I am ready to accept whatever the next months throw at me.

More can be found at: www.kamalaya.com

Little Wandering Wren – Jenny is the content creator and chief explorer at Little Wandering Wren. She is both a Brit and an Aussie with her nest in Bangkok. She is constantly travelling and brings us her lighthearted, birds eye view of the world. Little Wandering Wren was a winner of the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s International Blogger competition 2019.

 

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Last week I took time out from my still ‘un busy’ schedule here in Thailand, waiting for the world to reopen, for some quality me time. 

Are you the same and not entirely sure where the last four months have gone? Have you also been managing Covid issues for your family across several continents and in several time zones? I found most of March, April, May and June went by in a flash and now it’s our summer holidays – not! Did your original plans for endless lazy days with family in your homeland long disappear? Do not fear Thailand is here!

Much has been written about the golden opportunity to explore Thailand without tourists. Thailand was hoping for 40 million arrivals in 2020. Now the most optimistic research is indicating that it will be the end of 2020 before visitors return in any number. The consensus is, that it will be years before Thailand will reach the glory days of 2019 when 39.8 million foreign visitors spent 1.93 trillion Baht in the country.

It’s been exhausting hasn’t it? As women, many of us has spent a lot of energy concerned with the welfare of our family where ever they might be. Perhaps you too are spending the nights hoping that the resilience you tried to instil in your (adult) kids would be enough to maintain their sensibilities during this global pandemic and into our second waves. It’s hard knowing that if anything goes wrong, there is little that we can do about it. Hands up who needs a break – me!

Stop the world I want to get off!

Travel companies all talk about the rise of the solo female traveller as being one of the biggest areas to watch in travel. I’m wondering what impact the recent months of the pandemic will have on this market?

Hmmm, I’m thinking it’s about to explode, what about you? We have all proven that we can spend weeks in social isolation, some of us in testing times locked indoors with our loved ones. Maybe others have enjoyed this time… aren’t we for instance preparing for a baby boom? Whilst Covid may not be the birth name of choice, I’m certainly hearing of a pug dog in England that is called Covid, or was it Boris?! I forget, oh whatever…

I digress, the point is let’s go on some Thailand domestic adventures. To make it really fun, let’s go exploring on our own and give ourselves some precious time to take our own breath, regroup and recharge. We so deserve it!

There has never been a better moment in history to go off on your own. For those of us (happily) marooned in Thailand, we can’t leave the country without the fear of whether we’ll be able to come back. Why would we want to, when Thailand without tourists is this luxury not to be missed. The prices are good and for many of us, our partners are clamouring for their own me time too. 

For those of us living freely and independently there is a whole returning tourism sector that is desperate to welcome you. For those in a relationship and in close quarters during the height of Covid, I’m sure each one needs time on his/her own… we go with our spouses’ and partners’ blessing!  

Did you know that a booking.com survey resulted in a Solo Travel Report that revealed that 72% of American women are taking solo journeys. The biggest demographic was in my age group the 55 years plus. The next biggest was the under 25 years. There is something that I love at this stage of my life getting out there travelling with the under 25 years! It makes me feel youthful again!

They say that during Covid, more marriages than ever before dissolved and weakened. If you were one of the lucky ones that actually saw your relationship strengthen, then own that success and travel solo to reinforce the message. If you are one of the unfortunate masses and have now announced your Facebook status to the world as single, embrace going solo. It’s the new you and you’d better enjoy it! 

Last year I was invited to attend a product test for a Tourism Authority of Thailand e-publication Me, Myself & Thailand. We travelled to Nan, one of the five destinations highlighted for solo female travellers to consider, along with Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Kanchanaburi, Kong Khai and Phuket.

I loved all the extensive research and consideration that had gone into this e-book publication. TAT have identified that Solo Female Travellers in Thailand want:

  • To conquer mountains
  • Search for my soul  
  • Live like a local
  • Recharge
  • Make a difference

So as soon as we were able to travel between provinces I knew I needed to follow up with some solo travel. 

Friends had told me about a wonderful beachside boutique hotel called Aleenta Resort and Spa in Pranburi district, that they had enjoyed previously. When I saw that the hotel, just 30 minutes South of Hua Hin, offered a deluxe solo female package, I knew I had to check it out. 

I spent four nights in a beachside villa with my own hammock, Jacuzzi and sun loungers! 

My mornings were spent walking along the wide, sandy beach. Whichever way you walked there was something of interest. I was almost lost in this new world. As I paddled in the warm shallow waters of the Gulf of Thailand, looking for curious seashells and loving the colourful fishing boats. I found myself wanting to walk on and on and on. 

I walked 10,000 steps daily, oh how free and liberating it felt after all those pent up weeks inside my apartment block. I set up my own mini yoga and meditation studio in the room. The room included yoga mats and an iPad which offers a choice of mind, body and soul activities. 

I enjoyed long lazy breakfasts, which arrives rather quaintly, on a tiered stand, almost like an afternoon tea experience! It was all calling out to slow down and take your time. So I did. I lazed around reading my book, and in between I set up a little office for some writing. Oh if ever there was a place to get my writing mojo back it was here in Pranburi! 

When I felt the need to get out and see the world, I took one of the hotel’s free bicycles off to explore. I was up before dawn and the security guard pointed to the left and I ended up on an epic bike ride to the next bay. I found an enchanting temple for a wander, just me and some temple dogs. 

I visited the organic farm that the hotel uses for its wonderful restaurant, I love these sorts of things. I am all for nourishing every bit of me, from the inside out! Whilst there we spotted the butterfly pea used for the welcome drink and all manner of Thai herbs used in my Thai herbal medicine ball, later in the week.

I could have tried kite surfing, famous in the area, but for me the spa was calling. My afternoons were spent resting and rejuvenating with pampering massages and body scrubs in the open-air spa area to the gentle sound of the ocean waves.

The General Manager Alle kindly took me out to show me the area. Do you know Pranburi? 

It’s impressive and about to become the next big thing! Once the high-speed train link from Bangkok opens, and the marina are completed, and a proposed ferry direct from Pattaya starts to operate, it will shine in the region. (The ferry car park is ready and waiting…) 

It is definitely worth the extra drive on from the crowds of Hua Hin. At present all the drive-to locations from Bangkok are doing well. Pranburi was three hours travel time door-to-door to my Sukhumvit apartment bypassing Hua Hin. 

Thank you Aleenta and all the staff in Pranburi. I loved my stay with you. 

I hope that maybe I’ve inspired you to consider some solo travel. Much as I love the companionship of travelling with my husband and friends and family. My solo trips are so memorable, I cherish these days away just me, my book and my dreams! And maybe you will too.

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I am an expat, a blogger and world wanderer who became “stranded” in Thailand due the outbreak of the Corona virus. Was it by choice? Yes!!! 

Those of us remaining in Thailand have now been here for many months. When the Big C (COVID-19) came around and borders started to close, we did not flee back to our country of origin. We stayed at personal and family expense, knowing also that if our ageing relatives in far off lands needed us, there would be little we could do except rely on the generosity of others. 

Why did we stay? Many of us stayed because of jobs, to provide support and leadership to those who brought us here. Most of us bunkered down for the unknown, trusting Thailand, not knowing what would happen at the time of this deadly pandemic. Although it had lasted longer than many of us had expected, we are fortunate to be able to go about our lives.

Our “new normal” is weird. We can do almost all of the things we used to do, except we cannot easily return to see family and friends in our countries of origin. Or if we do, we risk many weeks of quarantine, huge expense and the stress of trying to return to Thailand.

We can run in Lumpini Park, we can shop at EmQuartier, we meet friends for coffee and nice lunches. I can travel freely at weekends to wherever we want in Thailand, thanks to a company car and the Air Asia unlimited pass.  For me it has been a very, very privileged Bangkok lifestyle. I have lost count of the number of people around the world who have said they want my life!

Some expats, ourselves included, are not here on expatriate contracts but on local contracts. That makes us sort of locals, who arrived on a one-way ticket from Australia. No wonder ‘home’ has blurred into a difficult question. And when asked at the moment “Where do you come from?” We answer firmly “Bangkok!”

I say to those moaning foreigners that you read about, if you don’t like the place then leave. Go back to Brexit Britain, Europe in crisis, America in turmoil or Australia/New Zealand in its second wave of lockdowns. 

I can not say it loud enough, or strong enough, I am so fortunate to be here in Thailand.

We are committed to Thailand, make us part of the solution

We expats are here to contribute towards our chosen lives in Thailand. It is sad when we feel we are not part of the solution, but maybe seen as part of a problem.

The pandemic is having such a sad impact on the economy and in particular my area of interest as a travel writer. It was always our intention to support domestic tourism right from those early days of Covid lockdown. We are now approaching our 40th hotel stay since February, we have taken tours and we visit attractions across Thailand.

Accessing the support of expats in the Thai domestic travel revival

Embrace us, love us and lets work out together on the domestic tourism front and more, to help our chosen homeland at its time of need.

Don’t worry or be concerned about having us stay – in your taxis, in your countryside, in your shopping malls, or running in your marathon races.

This means don’t cancel my booking because you are afraid that I might arrive to stay with Covid. Yes! This actually happened. 

  • Plan and trust in your own COVID-19 protocols to pick out anyone arriving who is unwell from wherever they arrive.
  • Educate your staff on Thailand’s current situation regarding International arrivals. As I understand, unless at the government invitation, and even then… all inbound arrivals will undergo a 14 day quarantine. 

Yes, we may be arriving with a foreign passport, but we are no more, or less, likely to have COVID-19 than your last guest. Yes, you can check exactly when our last entry into Thailand date was, in my case 12 February 2020. No, I have not been able to leave the country since then. No, thank you, I do not need collecting from international arrivals in Phuket!

Thai’s changing attitudes towards expats

I don’t like the word’s Xenophobia but I do want to explain this.

We are getting more and more examples in our daily lives where we feel at ‘best’ uncomfortable in Thailand, and at worst we are unwelcome. 

I have had experience of Thai passengers not wanting to sit next to us on crowded planes…  Taxi drivers refusing to pick us up because of Covid concerns. 

Fortunately, our countryside bike tour went ahead, because the villagers were pre-briefed that the farang would be cycling through and that we were long stay people in the country.

The issue seems to be that as expats, no one can distinguish us from new arrivals and the inherent risks they may bring. Understandably everyone, ourselves included, are edgy knowing that all new reported Covid cases into Thailand have come on returnees from overseas. This situation is surely only going to worsen as Thailand looks to reopen borders?

Find a way that us farang can contribute

We would love to be included in the Thailand Together government-supported travel campaign. We applaud the suggestion made by the President of the Thailand Hotels Association to extend this initiative to grant expatriates the same residents privileges.

It has been suggested that there are between 500,000 expats residing here in Thailand. Reports show that typically expatriates spend considerably more per head than the average Thai traveller.

We pay Thai Tax, employ Thai staff, we are live here as locals. We enjoy travel, we generally spend well, we have holidays accrued, and we are unlikely to go on any of the overseas family visits and holidays we had planned… Encourage us to get off the beaten track in Thailand.

Let’s start a hashtag #AmazingExpatsThailand that lets us show you our contributions to local tourism and where we have been

Look at Richard Barrow’s Facebook page #mythailandbucketlist. There is a huge number of foreigners here in Thailand who contribute immensely and shine a light on incredible places to visit. The excitement for us to get out and explore Thailand is building.

We would love to do this and it could help domestic travel as well.

Look to the silver market!

TAT, try to focus on the ‘silver market’ (I detest the word that refers to those over 50). There has been talk of trying to attract the young millennials, believed to be adventurous and the first to return to travel. However, the older population with grown kids at uni or beyond have a greater disposable income. We also have time. We have so much holiday time accrued and saved for family visits overseas, but does not look like it will happen this year. Covid helped us realise that we need to seize the moment. We, the silver market, are beginning to see – how do we phrase this delicately – that time is pressing!

Look at the female traveller market

All the women I know in Thailand are travelling big time! We are seeing a rise as was forecasted for the solo female travel market. Girls’ trips away to Chiang Mai, Phuket and Nan are all big topics of conversations within the groups I attend. Thailand is ideal for this market, it’s safe and it’s fun and with so much to see and do.

There is the added benefit when the women in Thailand travel. They often return to great places they have found with family and friends.

We also have a constant stream of family, friends and overseas countryfolk come and stay in Thailand on recommendation from us so we act as referrers and influencers.

Change of attitude

Let us expats help you maintain and revive the wonderful travel industry and hospitality for which Thailand has been known across the world. 

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