We are speaking today with Lesley Naylor, author of the new book ‘The Land of Trees’
by Leonard H. Le Blanc III
When did you first come to Thailand?
First trip was in 2010. My partner (he had already fallen in love with Thailand and been visiting for years) and I made the three hour bus ride from Bangkok to Ban Phe and then the boat ride on to Koh Samet. Having lived in East London for the past 20 years, a place dear to my heart but high in crime and deprivation, I was impressed by the friendliness of locals, the cheap availability of delicious foods, the lack of crime and the rocky and isolated beauty of the island with its forest covered coast and sandy beaches. I went to my first and only full moon party, joined by a coach load of ladyboy revellers and had the time of my life!
What has changed here the most?
We moved to Phuket in 2012 and it has since changed dramatically. The airport was a one terminal building, there were no streetlights over much of the island, no dual carriageways and no Makro or Villa Market’s near us. You could drive from one end of the island to the other in an hour. Over the past decade we have seen the airport expand to an international hub capable of bringing in five times as many tourists (about ten million people) pre-Covid. The frenzied development of villas, hotels and beach clubs and subsequent removal of flora and fauna has been shocking to witness.
What has changed here the least?
In spite of all the commercial development there are still local vendors and restaurants that remain unfazed, particularly in Phuket town.
What are you working on now?
I am writing academically for the first time in 20 years as I complete a master’s module in Education, specifically on raising the achievement of learners.
What do you do for fun?
I love yoga, music, reading, roaming beaches, swimming in the sea and hanging out with friends.
Where are your favourite places to visit?
Since Covid, our world became very small, and we have not left the island in almost two years. Pre-Covid we loved driving to Penang in Malaysia and flying to Cambodia. Within Thailand we loved spending time in Khao Sok with its ancient tropical rainforest and multitude of animals.
What are your favourite foods to eat?
Noodles and dim sum!
What got you interested in writing about SE Asia?
I have an uncle who escaped China by swimming to Hong Kong. My family, as you can imagine just from that, has a crazy history of migration. I want to write about it as migration has always deeply affected me, but I lack the confidence. When Covid happened it kind of gave me the excuse to stop writing for a while. But it is often on my mind. I am getting ready and keeping busy in the meantime.
What advice do you have for anyone that wants to move to Thailand (or SE Asia)?
Do it. But remember you are a guest in a culture that you will need to be able to genuinely love and respect. So, visit first! Phuket is not the best place to practice the Thai language because so many people speak English and are proud of the fact but learn as much as you can. Also, give as much back as you can: recycle and reuse things and support community initiatives.
My partner says do not move to Thailand if you are a hot tempered kind of person! And he is absolutely right because Thai people have a kind of philosophy that involves being mellow at all times: Jai yen (cool heart). Confrontation and yelling at people is kind of repugnant. Obviously not every single Thai person is perfectly behaved! But you are guaranteed to meet far, far less irate people than you would in London. Thais, mostly, are kind, welcoming and principled folk. They are a big part of why we are still here.
What do you see in the future for yourself?
I have never been good at seeing the future, even with my wild imagination! Do not know where we will be on this planet or what we will be doing. I will probably be writing though.