Travel and Leisure

By Robin Westley Martin

For over two years world news was dominated by disclosures about Covid, and other Covid related issues – from its outbreak in December 2019, in Wuhan, China, to its transition into a pandemic that spread around the planet. 

But that all changed on 24 February 2022, this year, when Russia invaded Ukraine, and set about an egregious war against a peaceful country. Since that day, the conflict in Eastern Europe has been the predominant feature in the headlines of newspapers around the globe

Queen Elizabeth II of the UK calls a bad year ‘Annus Horribilis’, but it looks like the decade of the 2020s might become known as ‘Decadus Horrificus’. The economic and social turmoil that began with the pandemic is now being exacerbated by the invasion of Ukraine, and the war that Putin started. A war that even influential people in Russia are now starting to say was pointless, ill-advised, and with consequences that are damaging to both Russia and the rest of the world. Already flimsy economies and equally fragile fiscal recoveries are threatened anew by the escalating and deleterious effects Putin’s War is having.

Let’s take a look at what this latest … totally unnecessary … Putin-made disaster that has affected so many lives means to Thailand, and to the Russian people who come to holiday here, or to live and work. 

In 2019 Thailand welcomed close to 40 million international visitors, and Russia came in at fourth place, behind China, Malaysia, and Japan. Thus, it can be seen that the Russian market is very important to Thailand, as tourism around the world begins to pick up again. Covid is becoming more manageable, less people are becoming seriously ill or infected, and people are once more starting to travel. The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (WTO) has forecast that tourism figures in 2023 should have largely rebounded to pre-Covid figures.

The onset of Putin’s War in Ukraine generated a combined and united response from the free world in condemnation of his actions. Putin, and the Kremlin, did not expect this, and they have now become pariahs in the financial sectors of the world; with not a good word being heard from any quarter about Russia or the Kremlin. Added to this Putin did not expect the strong and steadfast response from the Ukrainian army and its people. 

What Putin expected to be over and done with in a matter of days, with Ukraine annexed as a vassal state, did not happen. Ukraine has shown strength and resilience, and Western powers are standing by them. Supplying them with billions of dollars in cash and armaments to support their fight against the might of the much larger Russian bear. David versus Goliath. And it is not even certain yet that Russia will win the war on the ground. The media war they have already lost. The financial war they have already lost.

When the war began this February there were thousands of Russian tourists in Thailand, who had started to return to a tropical country they love to visit, as the entry restrictions had begun to ease. 

Then the world began to react against the invasion of Ukraine. One of the weapons they had was to hit Russia in the pocket, and a swathe of measures were initiated. Sanctions began to adversely affect the Russian oligarchs, who had become wealthy because of their toadying up to Putin. Their bank accounts were frozen, their properties and luxury yachts around the world were seized. Russian businesses, including the lucrative oil and gas sectors, were hit, the Russian banks were hit, and they were taken out of the global money transfer system, SWIFT.

The action against the banks made things hard for the tourists in Thailand, and they had to make quick decisions … ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’. It was not their fault that their country had begun a war, all they wanted to do was to escape the frigid winter of Russia, come back to the tropical climate of Thailand, and enjoy the warmth of its peoples’. 

The Russian people I talked to in the tourist areas of Bangkok actually did not really want to go back to their own country at this time. They were as much in condemnation of Putin’s War as was the rest of the free world. But they have been left scrambling for ways to support an extended stay, as some of their plastic was no longer working. The ATMs were not responding in a friendly way to their requests for a withdrawal. They want to stay around, they don’t want to go back yet to a country that is doing something they don’t agree with or approve of. And they are looking for ways to do it. 

Thailand is doing what it can to help both the Russian and Ukrainian visitors that are in-country (about 7,000) by extending their visas at no extra charge. As for transactions via Russian banks, and credit cards that are blocked, tourism operators have been working with UnionPay, a payment platform from China, to offer this channel to Russian guests who are having difficulties.

But there are other Russians in Thailand who live and work here, in a country they call their home. I talked to two of them, and their story is an interesting and inspirational one. The two girls I interviewed were Anastasia and Olga, who both work in the modeling industry.

Where were you born and how old are you now? 

Anastasia: My name is Anastasia, I am actually a mix of different bloods; Russian, Polish, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Lithuanian etc. I was born and raised in Moscow – and how old am I? … come, come … that’s not a question you ask a lady (laughing). 

Olga: My name is Olga, I’m from Russia, and actually, I was born in the Communist era of the USSR. I was going to tell you how old I am, but I’ll go with Anastasia.

When did you start to become interested in modelling and acting?

Anastasia: I started modeling and acting when I was in high school, whilst I was studying for a degree in finance. I continued when I started working at an investment company, and I have kept it in my life as one of my main activities, part of my many hobbies and other interests. Visual arts have always been one of my greatest passions. I love cinematography, I admire fashion, I like being creative, and after all these years I am thrilled, excited, and even surprised that I can still contribute something in these spheres. It helps me feel alive, happy, and feeling fulfilled.

Olga: I studied at St. Petersburg university, where I graduated with a degree in drama and linguistics.  I then started to work in modeling back in Russia, where I worked on TVC’s and also had some parts in Russian language movies. 

How and why did you first come to work in Thailand? 

Anastasia: I have always enjoyed traveling, and at some certain moment I realised that I had never really felt welcome, safe or happy in Moscow. While Thailand always felt like home, right from the beginning. I remember how on the very first day of my first trip to Thailand I immediately fell in love. It is a place where I feel that I am a child of the Universe, that anything can be achieved. It is now almost a third of my life that I’ve lived here in Thailand and during these years I have discovered many things about myself and the world, I have learnt to prioritise happiness and inspiration, and to listen to my intuition. Moving to Thailand (after living for a while in Spain, a place that I also adored) was one of the best decisions in my life. It has also led me to choose a creative life and career over many other options, and I am really happy with the choices I have made. 

Olga: Before Thailand I lived in the USA, in Maryland, for about 2 years. I was on a student exchange program, and I gained a lot of useful experience in different kinds of jobs, like the ins and outs of the hotel industry, clothing boutiques, and the chocolate business, too! But it was way risky to stay in that type of work for very long … much too easy to put on the pounds for someone who loves chocolate and sweet things as much as I do!

After my return to Russia for a while, I had thought I would go back to the USA, but for some reason it didn’t happen. I started to travel further afield, and came with some friends to Thailand, which we immediately felt was the sort of place we had all been looking for. We opened a Russian food restaurant and hotel, which I managed for six years. At the same time I had started modeling and acting in Bangkok. I was shooting for international movies, cosmetics brands, fashion TV, was cover model for Milan-based magazine ‘Adversus’, and was brand ambassador for Italian jewelry designers Barocco Amor. I worked freelance, because I had to look after two businesses as well.  

 Which agency or agencies do you currently work with?  

Anastasia: I have never been exclusive to any agency, since I prefer to be in control of my schedule, assignments, and choice of work. 

Olga: I prefer to work freelance, as I like the freedom of being able to choose when and who I work with, and on what type of projects.

How did you meet each other, and do you ever work together?  

Anastasia: I have met lots of inspiring, creative, amazing people over the years of my life of art and culture in Thailand, and some of these gorgeous people have become my beloved friends, and family of choice. Including Olga, who, despite her tender looks, is one of the strongest people I have ever known. We met at a video shoot for a restaurant, and have become inseparable ever since.

Olga: At one of the many shoots I went to I met a Russian girl, Anastasia, who has become a true and dear friend. We have done a lot of shoots together, and have even switched with each other at the shoots. She is a person I can absolutely trust and rely on, and we have an amazing time together with each other, at work or at play.  

What has been your most exciting job in Thailand? 

Anastasia: In the last few years my main focus has been on acting, fashion shoots, creating films with my partner in art, director and actress Olga Andrievskaya, from whom I’ve learnt so much about acting, production and directing. And I’ve been organising and curating cool art shows for (and together with) my other huge friend and inspiration, abstract conceptual artist Leyla.

Olga: Honestly, modeling and acting jobs in Bangkok are really interesting, fulfilling, and exciting … you meet different people from all over the world, doing all sorts of different jobs and professions – and then become friends with them. One of the most fun and interesting times I have had was shooting a French comedy with Jean Dujardin. Amazing team, beautiful location and an all-round great experience to have had. 

 Why have you stayed here and what is it you like most about living in Thailand?  

Anastasia: Thailand has its otherworldly charm, and one of the best climates on earth. The eternal summer vibes, the happiness of people, the tropical nature, combination of paradise beaches, mangrove forests, mountains and waterfalls, the ancient history, majestic temples and palaces, unique cuisine, and of course my beloved city of contrasts, Bangkok. Really, what’s not to like?

Olga: When I first came to Thailand I fell in love with this country … its culture, nature, animal and plant life, the people, the incredible beaches, fruits and food that I had never imagined, and I just didn’t want to leave it. Now I’d say I feel like I am more at home here than ever. 

Outside modelling what are your interests, what do you do when not modelling? 

Anastasia: During these years in Thailand I have been indulging myself in everything that excites me and sparks interest, inspiration and joy. I have been a TV news presenter and reporter, art director and food stylist, shot commercial portrait photography, photoshoots and parties, walked in fashion shows. I have also organised art events and exhibitions, in particular for one of my special friends, the super-talented abstract and conceptual artist, the crazily-fun girl about town, Leyla Sandshiko. I have worked as an ambassador for several brands and acted in feature and short films, TV series, music videos, TV commercials and art performances, written and translated scripts, articles and a travel guide, edited a novel … I have been incredibly lucky, and I’m so grateful for it.

Olga: When I have free time away from work I love to travel, listen to music, visit art exhibitions, etc. There are a lot of art galleries and studios in Bangkok. and I have a lot of friends who are artists, musicians, writers and journalists, etc, many of whom I have met through Anastasia.

Do you meet tourists or other people from Russia sometimes? 

 Anastasia: My friend, talented, bright, kind-hearted fashion photographer Max Martin, moved back to Kiev a couple of years ago, and is now involved in helping out with informational and humanitarian services. It all breaks my heart – he should be shooting at international fashion weeks, not sheltering and sleeping in a bomb shelter. One of the most renowned and talented Russian poets, Vera Polozkova, (who recently decided to vacate Russia with her three small kids) has written that bombing Odessa is like bombing one’s childhood memories, and this can’t be more true for me. Odessa is my second hometown, one of my most beloved places on Earth. I can’t stand what is being done to Odessa and the rest of the Ukraine. This is all terribly wrong. This so-called ‘special operation’ has destroyed and taken the lives and homes of millions of people – it’s terrifying, ugly and unbearable.

Olga: The two years and more since the pandemic began there have not been as many Russian people in Thailand as there were before. Russian people like travelling to Thailand as it’s warm all year round, great massages, fresh tropical fruits, sun, best beaches in the world, warm seas. But unfortunately, these days it’s quite complicated and expensive for Russians to travel to Thailand, because the rouble is so weak, and not too many airlines are able to fly.  

Has Putin’s War created any problems for you in, work, personal, financial etc? 

Anastasia: It’s illegal in Russia to call it a war, even though we all know it is. Despite the fake news that state controlled media put out, the people know. Thousands have been arrested at the protests against the invasion of Ukraine and the indiscriminate shelling of the country. And thousands of people, especially the young generation, are now fleeing Russia. Several families that I know have chosen to become political emigrants, and have left their stable and prosperous life in Russia for the complete unpredictability of living in another country. Because they don’t support the murderous war. 

Olga: Of course, nobody, least of all the Russian people, expected or believed this would all happen. I was actually in Russia when it all started. I believed it wouldn’t last long. And of course, we didn’t expect all these sanctions and consequences. I have had to close the restaurant business here in Thailand,, as it was for Russian holidaymakers, who haven’t been coming since the pandemic, and now the war. It has not been good for my financial situation.  But luckily I was able to leave Russia and I’m actually really happy to be back in Thailand with my friends, where I can feel alive again.  

What would you wish to happen with Putin’s War; what would be the best way out of it for both the Ukraine, and Russia? 

Anastasia: I don’t think there can be any ‘best way out of it’ unless you have a time traveling machine and can go back into the past, and prevent all this destruction and sadness from ever having happened in the first place.

Olga: One can never adjust to death, poverty and war, and that’s why I feel so sorry for every single Russian and Ukrainian person. I think the aftermath of the war will have a huge impact upon the whole world, not only economic and politically, but psychologically as well. 

I always try to stay positive and believe in good … positive thoughts attract positive things and we all need to have hope.  

So I do believe that one day, hopefully sooner rather than later, this will come to an end, and people can enjoy their lives again, travel, and be happy. 

Because nothing … even the most terrible or painful things and situations … lasts forever.

Photography, thanks to: Kimmo Kauko; Olga Volodina; ADVERSUS magazine; Darina Chu; Maritimari; Zhurochko; Mark Fiddian; Damian Black; Katherline Lyndia; Olga Volodina; Anastasia Timoshenko; Kraisak Chirachaisaku; Daniel Topic

instagram.com/asiamint

http://instagram.com/olga_official_

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by Kathleen Pokrud, President of Hong Kong Ladies’ Group in Thailand
Photographs by Teresa Biesty
 

Pattaya on the East of the Gulf of Thailand remains one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. I have lost count how many times I have visited the beach resort since my arrival of Thailand 30 years ago. Be it a short weekend family getaway, attending a corporate convention held, or a day trip to visit the new Pattaya tourist destination, the city has evolved over the years. With the completion of the Chonburi motorway and underpass throughout the city from South to North, travel to and from Bangkok to Pattaya is seamless. 

Covid has strongly hit Pattaya like all tourist places around Thailand. Overnight there were disappearance of large Chinese tours and Russian families crowded the beach. I recently found myself in Pattaya again after Covid over three years. First reason was to attend the Rotary District Conference, which was postponed from last year. It was fortunate to be held as the Thai government relaxed the large gathering restrictions.

When traveling through the city, it is sad to see closures of many hotels, restaurants, shops, bars and spas. On the other hand, optimism remains as new properties sprung into life such as the opening of new Courtyard by Marriott in North Pattaya.

Courtyard by Marriott North Pattaya
Courtyard by Marriott, the trailblazing brand with the largest global footprint of hotels within Marriott Bonvoy’s portfolio of 30 extraordinary brands recently added its newest hotel in the popular leisure destination, Pattaya in Thailand. Courtyard by Marriott North Pattaya is set to welcome guests in comfort and style with inviting spaces, thoughtful amenities and technology catering to the needs of the next generation of business and leisure travellers. 
Located a few minutes away from the Wongamat Beach in Naklua, North Pattaya, the new hotel is only two hours’ drive from Bangkok and 1.5 hours from Suvarnabhumi Airport, making it easily accessible for local and international guests alike. Visitors continue enjoy many of the local attractions in the city, from world class waterparks and retail malls, including Terminal 21 and Central Festival, to cultural sites such as the Sanctuary of Truth, the floating market, championship golf courses, beautiful beaches and Pattaya’s famous but now somewhat battered Walking Street.
Dining options at the hotel include Café 22, the all day dining venue that serves a wide selection of local and seasonal cuisine along with international favourites in a vibrant ambiance with open kitchens. This is the perfect place to kickstart the day with an energising buffet breakfast, grab light bites and healthy snacks throughout the day, or to enjoy memorable evening meals. The poolside Surf Bar is a great spot to enjoy refreshing drinks whilst gazing out over Pattaya’s skyline. The Spart’s Bar where guests can relax and unwind over crafted cocktails, cold brew coffee, and more by an expert mixologist and barista. 

When visitors are not working or exploring the area’s many local attractions, they can work out at the 24/7 Fitness Centre, with its state-of-the-art equipment, changing rooms and showers, or soak up the sun at the inviting rooftop pool, while children are kept fully engaged and entertained at the Kid’s Club, with its indoor and outdoor play zones. 

For business travellers and meeting planners, Courtyard by Marriott North Pattaya’s Grand Ballroom can host exceptional events. This impressive 230 square metre, pillar free function room can host mid-sized meetings or social occasions, or be divided into two smaller spaces for more intimate events. The foyer also provides a great option for coffee breaks and cocktail receptions.

“Pattaya is a great destinations and has a lot to offer to all kinds of visitors, from business travellers visiting the vibrant business parks of the Eastern seaboard to couples seeking a spot of beachfront relaxation, and families or friends planning an energising break with plenty of activities. 
We look forward to welcoming travellers to Pattaya and extending to them the same amazing levels of service excellence and great hospitality that our guests have come to expect from Courtyard hotels across the world,” said Shashank Singha, General Manager, Courtyard by Marriott North Pattaya. The new property upholds the highest health and safety standards under Marriott International’s global “Commitment to clean”, and also has been certified by the Amazing Thailand Safety & Health Administration Extra Plus (SHA++) programme.
The Sanctuary of Truth
My trip to Pattaya this time has taken me to visit The Sanctuary of Truth for the first time. As many visitors alike, I am in awe of the one-of-a-kind teak structure. According to TAT, the monument is one of the tourist attractions that received a Thailand best travel industrial reward in 2008. Located in North Pattaya, it is presented as a magnificent wooden castle by the sea with beautiful sculptures and carvings that reflect the worldview of wisdom. Lek Viriyaphan, the founder of ancient city and Erawan elephant museum, built the wood sanctuary.
 
Only wood was used with ancient Thai carpenter style. Inside the museum, there are wood statues and carving pieces that tell the philosophy of life. It tells of the importance of philosophy, religion and art have played in human development. In the pursuit of materialism, humans often neglect morality and spiritual contentment. None of the wood used has been treated or chemically protected. As one section is completed, another has often succumbed to the tropical conditions and must be replaced. The complex is a beautiful and humbling demonstration of human endeavour and skill.
As Thailand is seeing the gradual reopening of the country, the relentlessly combination of calm and crazy as Pattaya shall one day spring back to life!
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Amata B. Grimm Power recently joined the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Embassy of Germany in Thailand and Amata Foundation to preside over the opening of Pha Kluay Mai-Haew Suwat Waterfalls Nature Walk on March 2.  The opening of the 3.4-km trail in the Khao Yai National Park was to commemorate the 160th anniversary of Thai-German relations.  General Surayut Chulanont, President of the Statesman Foundation, presided over the opening ceremony with Georg Schmidt, Ambassador of the Republic of Germany in Thailand, Dr. Harald Link, chairman of B. Grimm, and Mr. Vikrom Kromadit, chairman of Amata Foundation attending the event.

This nature walk is a tripartite cooperation among Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, the German Embassy, Amata Foundation together with Amata B. Grimm Power Company.  The trail is meant for educating and enhancing tourists’ experiences on sustainable conservation of natural resources and the environment.  It connects the two famous waterfalls along the route that traverses the Lam Ta Khong creek through bamboo forests interspersed with evergreen and dry forests.

Along the path, a loud rumbling of Pha Kluay Mai Waterfall in the rainy season could be heard.  But when the water recedes in the dry season, traces of volcanic lava flow originated hundreds of millions of years ago is visible along with the ‘stone flower,’ a new type of plant in the world that will emerge from the water.  Then there is Wai Daeng whose red flowers bloom in April on the cliff of the waterfall, which is named after it. The walk takes about 2-3 hours on foot.

Dr.Harald Link, Chairman of B.Grimm, Chief Executive Officer of B.Grimm Power Plc and Director of Amata B.Grimm Power, said the opening of the nature walk celebrates the relationship between Thailand and Germany, which dates back to the reign of King Mongkut.  The relationship has flourished in various fields including economic, academic and technology transfer, product enhancement promotion, sharing of production technology in agriculture and environment, sustainable management of water resources and cooperation to develop neighbouring countries.

In terms of trade relations, the private sector in the early stages had a wide range of trade, with B. Grimm being one of the companies that has still been operating in Thailand for 144 years. B.Grimm started out with pharmaceutical business before spreading to many other many types of ventures in the fields of industry, health, lifestyle, transport, with energy business becoming a core venture.  All of these businesses have focussed on creating benefits for society, economy and environment in Thailand.

Dr. Link added that the opening of nature walk underscores the importance of natural resource conservation and the environment the two countries have placed. In addition, the cooperation involving the trail development also fulfils B.Grimm’s vision of conducting business compassionately, creating civilisation under oneness with nature, by focussing on creating benefits for people and society, placing importance on the conservation of the environment and wildlife.

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Earlier this week Expat Life was in Bangkok for official functions, a business dinner and a hospital visit and I stayed at the excellent Hyatt Regency Sukhumvit alongside Nana BTS.

The hotel is still relatively new at 4 years old but has rapidly established itself as a key destination hotel in the middle of Sukhumvit under the stewardship of Indonesian GM Sammy Carolus.

I arrived Sunday afternoon and on Sunday night the 30th floor night bar was throbbing to the beats of DJ’s and filled to the gunnels with 30 something Thai HiSo’s enjoying cocktails and the music of a Belgian private group called ….. that arrange one of the coolest parties in town every Sunday. Tickets are available at …..

Far too old for the likes of that Expat Life enjoyed some delightful views and perhaps one too many cocktails on the 29th floor but I slept like a baby whilst the youngsters upstairs partied the night away.

The following evening the top 3 floors were booked for a private wedding party. This is a GM that realising that room nights are down because international visitors are not yet coming to Thailand in any great numbers seems to maximise his hotels facilities.

I attended a private dinner the following night along with 3 top international businessmen from the famous Khao restaurant. All four of us were suitably impressed by the delicious food and the superb service provided by the hotels staff.

In my humble impression there is no other hotel in central Bangkok that rivals the Hyatt Regency Sukhumvit. I heartedly recommend it and know that you will be as impressed as I always am.

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We are a strange trio; one international blogging star, Richard Barrow in his Amazing Thailand corporate wear, one 195cms ex British policeman (my publisher) and one Little Wandering Wren whose been plucked from her Thailand holiday nest in Krabi.

Although to be fair between us we probably hit most of the expat demographics except perhaps the gorgeous instaQueens. They all left town when Covid-19 closed the world, and so it is just little old me!

Thailand Village Academy:

We have gathered in Surat Thani to participate in a community based travel experience. This is a final opportunity to showcase and tweak the Thailand Village Academy Season 2 programme before it is launched onto the market. 

We are part of tour full of media, travel agents, Department of Culture representatives, bloggers, influencers, magazine publishers and You Tubers all chosen to assist with promotion.

My publisher arrives dressed in off white from top to toe with a jaunty white Panama hat and a walking stick!

‘Did he get the memo?’ Richard asks me as we head off to start the day. 

A fly on the wall with Richard Barrow (with lots of smoke)

I love, love, love, media trips with Richard. It’s always a pinch me ‘is my life for real?’ moment to watch the master at work as we explore Thailand. 

We tried to engage Richard in approving this copy, but he knows whatever is published about him personally will cause controversy and he has reluctantly agreed to ‘this unauthorised account.’ He knows that he hasn’t got a choice – my publisher has decided to publish it.

This initially sends me into an apoplectic frenzy about trying to do the great Richard Barrow justice, but on reflection I take it as a ‘sod it’ rather liberating decision! This man is a legend to amateur bloggers like me.

My publisher says, ‘don’t blow too much smoke up his ass… he doesn’t like or appreciate it’ knowing my natural tendency to be somewhat over enthusiastic and in awe of the master.  

I have called Richard a ‘national treasure.’ Like many of us, I could not have got through our Thai Covid-19 lockdown without Richard’s daily updates and so I am going to ignore my publisher’s pleas. 

Introducing Richard Barrow

Somewhere along the line Richard’s name is incorrectly recorded by our hosts and so we were told we will be joined by a Richard Burrow. Of course, we wouldn’t be the bunch of fun loving expats, if this does not provide much entertainment for us all (especially my publisher) and he delights in merciless teasing. Mr. Barrow is nothing but a true gent throughout and takes it all in his calm, focused stride.

On arrival at the Led Lee community we were asked to introduce ourselves. Richard offers a typically understated and unassuming introduction. Something like: 

‘My name is Richard and I’m a blogger.’ 

Those around nod, knowingly.  Enough said… although this might explain why Thai people don’t know his surname! 

Nick introduces himself “as an old man” and I keep it simple and say, “Hi I am Jenny and I am an expat blogger”. We make an odd trio. 

All in a day’s work

It is impressive the way Richard can experience the trip, distill it into four pictures and a few lines on Twitter to his 167,000 plus loyal followers, whilst constantly on the move. He never stops, every momentary interlude, minibus ride or brief pause before, or after meals, is an opportunity to edit and publish on his far reaching social media channels – Twitter, Facebook, IG.

I am the opposite I never stop to think about what I am about to write and live in and for the moment. I throw myself into every possible “do you want to try it” experience. I have to feel it, to write it, and that always requires some period of reflection and about 60 million edits! 

Oh, to be like Richard… all done and dusted by the time he’s finished the trip.

My publisher produces this beautiful publication and the humour. At one stage I am ankle deep in mud, crouched down in a froglike position in front of a boat load of people to plant the next generation of mangrove trees, Richard is taking photos and I hear ‘Jenny, your pants have split!’

Nick, and our national treasure Richard, I was going to call him Dick, but I thought that might be a step too far in our friendship, make a right pair. They get along well, like two brothers, with Nick being the slightly annoying older brother. There that has probably just lost me two friends and a publisher! 

Oh, we did laugh, and it seemed like at every interlude. Well except for the moment Nick had to return ill to our hotel urgently in our minibus complete with Richard’s photographic equipment. That was the nearest I saw Richard to having a sense of humour failure. Mr. Barrow is stuffed without his night lens on a firefly tour of Thailand’s amazon. 

The point is as you can see from the photos, how much we enjoyed this weekend. I am personally excited for the Thailand Village Academy to move into my age group the 50 years plus (grey or silver) market. Thailand has finally realized that when the kids have grown up and you have discharged your responsibilities you have money to spend and are not afraid to spend it. Even as an expat, living long term in Thailand, it is seriously hard to have authentic rural experiences.

Richard in action

Richard starts his day before 6am with a tweet:

‘Good morning from Don Mueang airport. Today, I am flying down to Surat Thani in Southern Thailand to visit the Lee Led community. This area is apparently called the “Amazon of Thailand” due to the mangrove forests…’

Before the plane has taken off, he has posted two more tweets, one including a map of the area affected by the anti-government protests in Bangkok and another about the lack of social distancing on the airport bus. I am following his tweets avidly as here I can be a reader and also watch what he is seeing, experiencing and commenting.

After landing in Surat Thani Richard informs his readership of the purpose of the trip. 

…I have been invited to help promote a campaign for ‘Silver age tourists to visit small rural villages.’ There are a total of 16 cultural tourism communities that have been chosen around Thailand…”

In our convoy of three mini vans, ours with a large sign ‘Mass Media Silver 5.0’ Richard positions himself so he can jump out first at any location. With over twenty people trying to obtain the same photo, timing is everything, it can get rather crowded. My publisher who was in Richard’s way at the first stop and held Richard up has now assumed his position in the front passenger seat and is instructing the driver, us, indeed anyone that will listen. Even if they won’t!

Getting a photo without someone else’s phone or camera in the way is a skill which as you can see this little Wren has yet to perfect!

As bloggers we are trying to get the best photos, we also have a film crew and photographers trying to get great photos of us at every stop enjoying ourselves.

Happier behind the camera than in front

This trip is chocked full of activities – local crafts, cooking and tree planting. The Lee Led community is based on a river so most of what we do involves long tail boats and water.

The information throughout is given in Thai and translated into English for us. Richard politely corrects the English translator telling us the shrimp and sea salt paste is fermented for up to one month, not one week as we are told! He knows his readership is an intelligent, knowledgeable crowd; he will get a lot of stick if he makes any errors.

Whilst some of us make Khanom Chak desserts, shrimp paste or basket weaving, Richard and Nick do not participate in any of the hands-on activities. Richard does not put down his precious camera nor want to be photographed in action and does not deviate from live blogging throughout. Nick either sits it out in his command position in the minivan or is up to no good somewhere. Or is eating, drinking and laughing at it all!

Moi, I am doing it all enthusiastically, trying every experience firsthand. 

Food photography:

Back at the Led Lee community, lunch is one of many feasts served up during the trip. Before any food is eaten it needs to be photographed. Out comes Richard’s light which he holds over the food with one hand whilst taking the picture with the other. 

He normally has plenty of polite opportunity to take whatever photos he wants, there is an unwritten rule on tour that no-one eats before all the bloggers have finished. Honestly, sometimes on media trips it feels like we take more time photographing the food than actually enjoying it! 

However no one briefed our publisher and Richard misses the shot as Nick’s hungry paw frequently appears at the critical moment ruining the shot.

 Richard whilst disappointed puts up with Nick’s enthusiasm and hunger. 

Photographic equipment

Richard offers a high standard of images to support his posts. He uses a Canon 6D Mark II camera however he finds like most of us that his smartphone is the best for working on the road. 99% of Richard’s photos are taken with his iPhone 11 Pro Max.

He tours with all the best toys, on the boat trip out comes the Insta360 X which is a 360° camera on the end of an invisible 3 metre long selfie stick. It produces some uniquely stunning aerial photos without flying his Mavic Air 2 drone. 

Nick meanwhile relaxes totally knowing that we are travelling with two professional photographers, a You tube star and a film crew. Not to mention that we all know that generous Richard can be tapped up for sharing his photos along with the precise GPS location the correct spelling of the name, location and any detail required to complete the story.

His wish is their command

Whilst out on a longboat in the Gulf of Thailand we spot a fisherman’s hut way out in Ban Don Bay; it is picturesque but we are going in the opposite direction. Richard asks to go closer and not for the first time plans are altered to enable his photo shoot. 

Bed but no breakfast!

Richard’s up early and at work, posting his daily Bangkok Post headlines, along with a tweet of our 3 star hotel. ‘Luxury’ he declares, as often his press trips involve a shared room. 

Who says that being a top blogger means he gets 5 star treatment everywhere? Not him! Having just completed my 50th Thailand hotel staycation since February, I am keeping quiet. I may not be an ‘instaqueen’ but I am not having them call me a posh princess either!

Richard does not join the team for breakfast, we learn the only way he survives not overeating on the media trips, is to avoid ‘brekkie.’ Nick having been down for his breakfast before the restaurant was actually open having persuaded the staff to cater for him privately – Bircher muesli, café lattes and poached eggs, is by now in the front seat of the minivan sending us both messages asking “where are you”? Richard and I both panic thinking we are keeping everyone waiting… only to find Nick sat on his own in our minibus in the front seat and in the air con raring to go!

Planning ahead: 

Our days are busy packed full of a diverse range of cultural activities. Richard questions the organisers about the upcoming schedule of the day and decides which cameras are required. 

I have got used to going with the flow, whilst our publisher seems hell bent in boosting the local economy. He returns from every stop and attraction with either antiques – a beautiful 30/40 year old …., never used costing 3,000B, twelve artisan handbags, various pashminas, snacks, ice creams or some freshly cooked chicken for a scruffy malnourished soi dog with a pretty face that he felt sorry for!

Pra Cha Rat traditional floating market – Bang Bai Mai 

The highlight of the morning is the 90 minute long (Richard logged the time) tail boat ride through the natural tunnel. Richard checks the options for his readers seeing some other people on paddleboats. 

In Thai, with local operators, he verifies the market opening hours and shares the information so we can all post correct information for our readers.

Wat Phra Borommathat Chaiya Worawihan

Our final stop offers Richard the time for a quick drone flight. He finds a field and some shade under the canopy of a local vendor for a quick post flight photographic check. 

Whilst the rest of us are exhausted and snoozing, Richard surrounded by Nick with his shopping, antiques, OTOP and handbags, tweets the Wat aerial photos on the way to the airport.

It’s a wrap Surat Thani!

Before takeoff Richard is busy with his final jobs of the weekend. It takes seconds to design his cover image of the trip. He stops work for a brief chat and photo with followers who approach him, saying they have been keeping up his trip on social media and chatting excitedly about their weekend in Surat Thani. He was constantly approached throughout the weekend by adoring readers who all wanted a selfie with him. Somewhat awkwardly he agrees each time with a smile and stands smiling but you can tell that he is not really enjoying the spotlight. He is a quiet and humble man that does what he does with passion and as a calling not for personal notoriety. 

Richard posts a final: ‘That’s a wrap on my two day trip to Surat Thani in Southern Thailand. I hope you enjoyed my photos and that I have inspired you to visit’

I hope this inspires you too to visit Surat Thani and the Lee Led community. You too can enjoy a wonderful weekend in the ‘Amazon Forest of Thailand’

Thank you to the Lee Led community in Surat Thani for sharing your lives and rich culture. It was such a privilege to be invited and in such illustrious company. 

The boat ride under the dense canopy of a tropical rainforest with the green glow of fireflies at night, the birds in the trees all are magical experiences of an authentic way of life that I would not easily find on my own. 

Thank you, Thailand Village Academy Silver 5.0… these are unforgettable memories, which I will always cherish. 

More can be found at www.richardbarrow.com

www.thailandvillageacademy.com (Need to add in the right link at the moment it is:

https://www.xn--12cr3baig9d1f8azp.com/leeled-eco-tourism-community/

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 current nest in Bangkok. She is constantly travelling and brings us her lighthearted, birdseye 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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by Kathleen Pokrud, President of Hong Kong Ladies’ Group in Thailand
Photos by Jenny Chan
Photos of Chanbthaburi Gems Festival by event organiser

Chanthaburi is famous as an important source of gemstones, especially rubies and sapphires. It is located on the east of Thailand. The province is popular with local tourists for its plentiful tropical fruits like durian, often not found in other places. Chanthaburi is blessed with natural landscapes, magnificent waterfall, impressive hills, and beautiful beaches. The central area of the province is crossed over by three bridges that are located in different directions to the north, south, and southeast; totally separated from each other.

Only a short four hours drive from Bangkok, Chanthaburi offers an excellent choice for overseas visitors to spend a short weekend to explore a different aspect of Thai communities around the Kingdom. We took the opportunity to explore the province with a three day, two night trip, and visited International Chanthaburi Gems and Jewellery Festival.

International Chanthaburi Gems and Jewellrey Festival 2022

In a bid to promote the province to become a “world class city of gems,” the Gem and Jewellery Institute of Thailand or GIT joined forces with Chanthaburi province, Chanthaburi Gem and Jewellery Traders Association Thailand, Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB), and many other public and private organisations, in organising the “International Chanthaburi Gems and Jewellery Festival 2021-2022” under the concept “Chanthaburi: City of Gems” between February 3rd and 7th, 2022, at the Chanthaburi Gems and Jewellery Center, KP Jewellery Center, and Gems Market on Srichan Road. Boasting an excellent attendance of up to 11,480 persons, including buyers, the general public, and those interested, both Thai and foreign, the festival generated not only immediate sales of 64.83 million Baht, but also revenue for the province from both the gems and jewellery industry and tourism industry.

The International Chanthaburi Gems and Jewellery Festival was held for the third time, following a nearly two year hiatus, to further consolidate the country’s position as a global gems and jewellery trading hub — especially Chanthaburi, which is widely recognised as a city of gems, build consumers’ confidence in buying gems and jewellery, and stimulate the country’s economy. The festival serves as a platform for entrepreneurs both in Chanthaburi and from all over eastern Thailand and the country to showcase their highly curated selection of superior quality gem and jewellery products for gem and jewellery aficionados and large buyers, both domestic and international, to purchase.

Furthermore, there was a series of business matching activities organised with support from the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau or TCEB and Department of International Trade Promotion or DITP, Ministry of Commerce, where an extensive portfolio of domestic and international target buyers, most notably representatives from potential foreign Chambers of Commerce in Thailand, was invited to participate in the business negotiations with entrepreneurs, which were held in a hybrid format — both onsite and online. This includes the delegates from the Thai Italian Chamber of Commerce and world prestigious Italian designer Alessio Boschi, the Thai-Sri Lanka Chamber of Commerce, Hong Kong Ladies’ Group. As a result, the event generated a total trade value of 248.38 million baht from overseas importers, of which onsite business matching contributed 165 million Baht and online business matching contributed 83.38 million Baht, an increase of 205% when compared to the 2019 edition that had an immediate purchase value of 21.20 million Baht.

Throughout the event, the festival also brought revenue of more than 200 million Baht to the hospitality and tourism industry. The trade value and the number of people interested in attending the event are a testimony not only to the cooperation between the public and private sectors, including Thai gem and jewellery entrepreneurs from all sectors, but also to the strength of the Thai gems and jewellery industry, which is widely recognised around the world.

In this regard, GIT, as the main agency with a mission to promote and support the Thai gems and jewellery industry, has therefore planned to expand the activities and projects to develop the industry continuously and sustainably, in particular the organisation of this edition of the International Chanthaburi Gems and Jewellery Festival, which would lead the Thai gems and jewellery industry, along with its over one million industrial personnel, towards sustainable prosperity.

Chanthaburi Town

The French occupied Chanthaburi during the end of the 19th century. Its location borders Cambodia to the east. The French influence can be seen in the architecture of many buildings within Chanthaburi town. Mary Immaculate Conception Cathedral of Chanthaburi is a 100 years old, one of the largest cathedrals in Thailand and the biggest in the province. To this day, the Catholic cathedral caters to a sizeable Christian population, many of whom are ethnic Vietnamese, who migrated to Thailand in the 20th century. It was constructed in Gothic style, with high rooftop and curved arch ceiling in European style. The windows of the building were elaborately decorated by colourful stained glasses. The highlight of the cathedral interior is the statue of the Virgin Mary, which estimated to be covered by 200,000 to 500,000 semi-precious gems.

Chanthaboon waterfront

The Chanthaboon waterfront is an old neighbourhood charm filled with restored houses, alleys and new trendy cafes. Sri Chan road in the town is well known as the Gem Road for trading gems and jewellery. It is one of the big gem markets in Thailand. The area was developed as important trading centre of Chanthaburi. The waterfront settlement runs for a full kilometre, following the path on both side of Chanthaburi River, starting from Tha Luang road to Sukhapiban Road.

Other famous sites

Khitchakut Mountain has a Buddha statue; Wat Thong Tua is a temple where a 100 years old pagoda is situated. This temple is a place reserving antiques and ancient lintels in Thalaboriwat style. Each year between January and March, many Thais go to worship the Buddha’s footprint at the mountain in Khao Khitchakhut National Park. It is a popular pilgrimage site for Thai Buddhists to practise meditation. Namtok Philio National Park has a popular waterfall. Trok Nong Waterfall is a beautiful waterfall with the river flowing throughout the year. There is also a campsite for adventurers.

After the visit to Chanthaburi, we agree that the city owns to its famous name as the treasure of the east, with its historical significance as gems trading centre and the plentiful supply of exotic fruits. It is certainly a local destination one should not miss!

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After I officially married and moved to Thailand in June 1991, I recall my first impression upon arrival to Bangkok. Noticing the immigration channel for non-Thai that I had to take, I vividly remembered it said “Aliens”. Then, I thought about my new status, “an Alien wife?” Many “brides from abroad” who are foreigners marrying Thai husbands have carved out admirable and fulfilling lives here. Let us find out from them how they survived the cultural shock and learn some tips to finally call Thailand home.

Wynna Metharom (Hong Kong) 

Wynna comes from Hong Kong and has married to her Thai husband, Manu Metharom for 51 years. In 1962, she met her husband while studying university in the United States.  She happily recalled, “My wedding was officiated by the pastor in the school hall, and he proudly announced that my brothers and uncle were also graduates in the same university.” She described that it was not easy when she first settled in Bangkok. Quoting an example, “There are many things that I am not used to, in particular Thai food. I found it too sweet, sour and spicy. There were no hotels or good quality restaurants available at that time. Every time I went to the hairdresser, I had to bring a member of the house staff to accompany me as an interpreter.”

Despite living earlier in a buried reinforced household environment, Wynna shared that she was always been treated well by her husband’s family. She kept an active social life throughout the years, and built long established friendships with her participation in the Kwong Siew Association of Thailand. She proudly shared, “I have one daughter and two sons. They were all born in the United States. I am now blessed with six beautiful grandchildren.”

Rita K. Hingorani Indhewat (India)

Rita recalled that having spent most of her early life in Ghana, West Africa, coming to live in Bangkok, Thailand posed its challenges at first. “I met my husband, Krit, a Thai national now, at a wedding in India and we clicked off very well. A year later we were married and I ended up in this amazing country known as the “Land of angels” and Venice of the East as it was known at that time with its numerous canals. The canals have turned into roads these days!” She explained further, “One of my first impressions in Thailand was the Thai language which has many high to low tones and sounded so musical to my ears that it made me want to learn how to speak Thai as soon as possible. I attended Thai classes at AUA. I joined the family business of Fashion Fabrics and had the opportunity to practice my Thai, as our customers were celebrities and members of the elite including the Royal Family. H.M. the late Queen Rambhai Barni and H.R.H. Princess Soamsawali personally visited our House of Fashion Fabrics – “Royal Taj Mahal” at Rajaprasong at that time.” 

Recording other great impressions of Thailand, “It has to be the beautiful temples all over the kingdom. To understand the Buddhist way of life was not new to me, in fact I respected it and its many cultural aspects. The only cultural shock to me was “Thai kickboxing – Muay Thai”. I often wondered, “Why do they have to kick as well!” When I came here over 50 years ago, most of the sois (lanes) on Sukhumvit Road had names and soi numbers were not necessary on addresses. For instance I lived in Soi Phasuk, which is now Soi 2.” 

Rita has some genuine advice to future brides, who are coming to live in Thailand. “First, try to understand the Thai people who are very polite and humble and secondly, get accustomed to the hot and humid weather! Of course learning the Thai language is very essential otherwise moving from A to B is next to impossible!” She cheerfully declared, “Now I regard Thailand as my home as I have lived here happily for 51 years with my husband, Krit, my son Naresh, my daughter Roshini and my son-in–law Jackiy Ramani, and have three wonderful grandchildren.”

Cora Sukhyanga (Philippines)

Cora and her Thai husband, Rumpai Sukhyanga celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last year. She recalled her country; “Life was good in the Philippines during the 70s. Young Filipinos enjoyed a US influenced culture of music and dance, fast food, discotheques, gated communities and high rise condominiums. My parents were both teaching at the university where I studied architecture and Rumpai, five years my senior, studied mechanical engineering. My mother relives her days at Harvard Radcliffe, by inviting foreign students for Christmas Eve dinners at home. This was how I met Rumpai for the first time.

Tall, outgoing and fun loving, Rumpai was the son my parents never had. My three sisters and I were drawn to his gentlemanly ways, and he eventually became part of our family gatherings, and our unofficial chaperone.”

She candidly shared, “Compared to the progressive and modern city that was Manila then, I found Bangkok flat, dusty and rather old fashioned, yet at the same time, exotic and charming with tree lined avenues, narrow sois and khlongs, temple spires, and wooden houses – a far cry from the bustling cosmopolitan city it has become today. But dealing with the culture shock of a non-English speaking Buddhist Kingdom was frustrating to say the least.

Cora is grateful to the support of her husband and English speaking inlaws, “I passed the hurdles of the first two years. I was able to speak vernacular Thai in one year, and I got to laugh with the people who found my accent funny. Coming from a family of architects, I was disappointed that I could not practice architecture here due to the stringent language requirements at the time. Being bilingual gave me an advantage in my career choices. I would work in advertising, public relations and media publishing, as magazine and lifestyle writer and editor.” 

“For the past 50 years, my husband and I have been equal partners and supportive of each other. He encouraged and took pride in my creative passion. Despite a busy schedule presiding over a multinational company, he was a role model father to our two daughters, and my soulmate in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer. Thailand has become my home and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Cora’s advice and tips to newcomers, “Married life in a foreign country can be challenging even to the most knowledgeable newcomer. You just have to recognise the opportunities available and be committed to making your marriage work. Learn to speak, possibly write, the Thai language. This will keep you in sync with the Thai people at home and at work. You will never feel like an outsider. Lastly, be sincere and genuinely interested in people and everything that’s happening around you. It also helps to be adventurous and keep an open mind. A sense of humour could help you overcome daily challenges.”

Esperança (Hope) Pilunthanakul (Portugal)

Hope met her Thai husband, Praphan Pilunthanakul in 1973 through friends while they were studying in London. The happy couple celebrated the 46th wedding anniversary in May last year. Her first impression on her new country was, “Thailand is not only one of the world’s most beautiful countries, but also well known for its fun loving, generous people who are sure to welcome you in as if you were a long lost friend. I became a member of a big and supportive family. However, at first, it was not easy because I could not speak the language and did not have any friends. After a while, I started to work, managed to slowly adapt and made a lot of friends. Then things became a lot easier for me to get along.”

She admitted further, “I did not experience any cultural shock. I was born in Portugal. Thai and Portuguese cultures are quite similar. Living in an extended family helped me feel at home. During the big floods in Bangkok in 1995, we had to use a boat to travel from where we lived in Sukhumvit Soi 41 to the main Sukhumvit Road. It was funny having to use the boat on the flooded road.” Hope felt very proud with her professional achievements in a well-known logistics company, Agility, as Marketing Manager for over 25 years. Socially, she has been involved with International Women’s Club (IWC). She is currently the Club Treasurer.

Hope suggested to any newly arrived brides from abroad, “It would be nice if she learns about Thai culture and follows four values framework: Fairness, Respect, Care and Honesty. I love Thailand and consider it my “home”. Other than my Portugese name, Esperança, I also have a Thai name, Malinee. We have a loving family with three sons (who are married), three granddaughters, one grandson, and one more granddaughter on her way.”

After reading these true life stories, I say to our readers, whether you are a newcomer to Thailand, newlywed or not. Thailand is a fascinating country if you have an open mind to explore and accept the cultural challenges. 

I am proud to call this place my home!

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Introduction 

The date is January 2022, a period of restricted overseas travel, lock-downs and Covid. I had decided to escape the UK winter and visit friends in Thailand after the country eased their quarantine restrictions for overseas visitors in order to revive their decimated tourist industry. 

Pre-flight 

Besides the normal booking of flights etc I had to apply for a tourist visa and separately a Covid pass which required proof of vaccination, prepaid 7 day booking in a special quarantine hotel, and prepaid booking of 2 PCR tests on arrival in Thailand. Together these applications required the upload of 15 different digitised documents in the prescribed format. A process requiring a reasonable degree of computer literacy, image manipulation skills and copious amounts of me. Definitely not for the faint hearted or computer challenged and unlikely to encourage large numbers of tourists.  

After booking a British Airways flight to Bangkok they very conveniently decided to cancel all their flights to Thailand. I was rebooked on a flight via Doha with the Doha to Bangkok flight on Qatar Airways.  

Thailand then decided to change their quarantine rules invalidating some of the hours spent uploading documents and requiring a change of flights, new hotel bookings and of course another session on the computer uploading everything to the government website. 

The British Airways ticket was fully flexible with no charge for flight changes apart for an adjustment for any differences in the cost of the ticket. I worked out that the new flight was £300 more expensive. 

However after spending nearly 2 hours on the phone with BA customer services they insisted that the new ticket would only be £1,900 extra! Of course this was just a clever BA challenge to test whether or not you 

could work out that canceling the original ticket, ge;ng a credit voucher and then rebooking the ticket would reduce the price to £300 extra. As you will read later BA’s consideration for your mental and physical well being is second to none. 

The flight 

The BA business class seats are cleverly designed to create a social dilemma as you sit facing another passenger only 2-3 feet in front of you. 

On the one hand you feel obliged to enter into small talk with your neighbor but this requires raising your voice and leaning forward in order to be heard through a mask and the noise of the aircraft. On the other hand shouting at each other from a couple of feet away is not exactly Covid friendly and you feel uncomfortable invading your neighbour’s space. 

After a few minutes of awkward small talk I managed to ascertain that he was travelling to Kathmandu but my neighbour obviously did not like the look of me because as soon as we took off he raised the screen between the seats thus solving the social dilemma.

There are other clever design features with the BA seats. For example the decision to cram 8 seats per row means there is no room for seat storage or side tables thus encouraging passengers to regularly stand up to retrieve items from the overhead

lockers. This ingenious design of course reduces the risk of thrombosis. 

Obviously much less thought has gone into the design of the Qatar business class seats.

They only manage to fit in 4 seats per row and have ample storage space. The screens are 3 times larger so you do not need to exercise your neck and stomach muscles leaning forward to in order to view it properly. They even have a vanity mirror for the ladies thus reducing the number of toilet trips required. 

However they do also manage to create dilemmas for their passengers. For example: what would you like to eat and drink?; when would you like it served?; would you like your bed made with a soft.

maCress topper?; would you like some White Company pyjamas? etc etc.  

They are also the only airline I have ever flown with which have the temerity to offer you a freshly made fruit smoothie and even worse…offer you seconds and thirds! 

How can you resist the temptation to “fly the flag”?

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by Tom Crowley

Koehler Books, 2021, 190 pages. www.amazon.com[email protected]

           I am more disheartened as of late at the inhumanity of most people around the world. The “Me first, you last – Just take your silly little problem down the hall and Get it away from me” attitudes are both grating and depressing. Especially during these dark days when charity, a helping hand, altruistic motives, understanding, and humanitarian gestures are needed the most. The supply of all the above appears to be rapidly evaporating everywhere you look.

           Then comes along a real gem of a book, Mercy’s Heroes. Although it contains some vignettes of heart wrenching, gut punching (or actually soul punching) inhumanity, it also contains many snippets of real hope, authentic caring and genuine selflessness. Tom Crowley has done a real service to us all in bringing the plight of the Klong Toey slum denizens to a wider audience and, hopefully, more open wallets and donations. He should be highly commended for his literary skills and his noble service to the less fortunate.

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Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2019, 296 pages, www.marshallcavendish.com/genref

In my opinion, political scientists in the west have it so easy. Only three branches of government, two main political parties, the rest is just intramural spectator sports. But here in Thailand, political scientists are always completely exhausted – five branches of government (monarchy, military, legislative, judicial, and executive), an ever-changing kaleidoscope of multiple political parties, new-and-improved constitutions and laws, all combined with professional political contact sports including sharp elbows thrown (and always ready smiles). A winner-take-all view prevails on obtaining power.

James Wise has done all of us a great service in dissecting Thai politics with a highly readable, scholarly, and intelligently presented work. He has a lot of ground to cover but adroitly manages it by possessing an expert’s eye, an astute insider’s take on all things political here and a wheelbarrow-load of academic and scholarly research.

The author makes seemingly impenetrable, always confusing Thai politics clear and understandable. His book should be widely read, and he should be commended for it.

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