Activities and Adventure

Moving home?

I have recently moved from a 5 bedroom house on 3 storeys in Bangkok to a much smaller condo on the fourth floor of a condominium in Hua Hin.

Was it worthwhile trying to manouvere the quality king sized mattress down the stairs and then onto the fourth floor of the condominium – I made the judgment not to.

I looked at various alternatives but then stumbled across www.sleephappy.co.th online and I am glad that I did. Reading their website I saw that they delivered your new mattress in a 7’ long x a 18” square box!

The removal company probably could have struggled down from the third storey of my old house but I wasn’t able to move straight into my new apartment as it was being refurbished, so it would have had to have been put in storage for a month. Then moved again when I was able to move in. Sleephappy delivered it via a courier company. The topper that came with it in a 3’ long 18” box.

The mattress I chose is the same one used by JW Marriott – and they know a thing or two about beds. The topper makes it even softer and gives me a good nights sleep.

When we opened it up it was heavily wrapped and compressed in vacuum packed plastic. As it was released from its bond it sprang into action and was finished off beautifully. No scuff marks on it from the dirty floor outside and perfectly clean and ready for use. This is obviously the future for mattresses.

I can heartily recommend www.sleephappy.co.th – it is an evolution of Dreammaster, a company that has been selling beds in Thailand for years.

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It is easy to feel like you are at the Mediterranean or on some back small coastal road in Hawaii while cruising around Uluwatu, the southern surf town on Bali. These days, as we all make decisions where we want to be based if one cannot travel, I have decided to ease my small Ubud village life by integrating some “Uluwatu-vibes”. I am still here on Bali dear expats, missing Thailand here and there but have made a decent life here as I await where in the world can I go if I even want to go. I am pleased that Nick, our editor and publisher, has moved to the coast and that we can still share online our stories and interests. Living in SE Asia is a wonderful life as we all know but we are all being challenged for I am sure, like me, we all enjoy popping to Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines and Laos sometimes for a bit of a change, even Singapore! Finding one other place within Thailand could be an answer to keep travel in your life and some varied interests. Below I share some ideas and ways I have been managing.

Uluwatu holds interest for me even though I am not a surfer. There are upscale cafés and restaurants, small boutiques for a different style dress than the yoga wear life I lead upcountry in Ubud. Over the last 6 weeks I have found a 5 star hotel to stay at for $23 a night due to no tourists here (yes, we have a vaccine only entry from Jakarta and at present a 14 day quarantine). The hotel boasts two huge lap pools and a gym, a golf course and has easy “small road” access to the various beaches by scooter. (Le Grande, Uluwatu) From this space I can zip to my favourite coffee café, Drifter’s, a surf café with surfboards, barefoot kids and tussled blonde locks all over, coconut milk lattes and avocado on toast. The holistic health food still permeates Uluwatu as it does in Ubud so that is an easy transition as to not strain the diet!  Bingin and Uluwatu beaches are the best for sunning and being able to grab a cold drink. They have stunning rock formations in which one can enjoy some wonderful photography, mollusc admiring, sea urchin gazing and swimming through these tall structures to get to the wide open sea.

For early evening, I go to Ulu Cliffhouse. This is the friendliest high style place to see and be seen, which I like to do sometimes living on a small island and slightly missing the urban way. Most of the restaurants on the coast have a pool and lounge chairs, Mana is another of these with an open, friendly feeling. Ulu Cliffhouse put effort into a bit of a social scene however, with Monday night movie night. They bring out a huge screen for everyone to sit and watch as evening falls. The décor at Cliffhouse is also very modern and clean, reminds me of a Malibu home with all the white, blue and views! Management there is kind with no pretentious feel so even though the atmosphere is “expensive”, the kind of people it draws are very “chilled”, softly spoken, mature and easy on the eye too I must say! Because of the swimwear industry here on Bali, there are young Ukrainian and Russian models swanning around with their elegant style, tanned surfer’s and some posh Europeans in their white and cream linen. With the sun touching people’s complexions and a relaxed feel, one can forget the turmoil of the world we are all going through for the evening. I myself have started a swim/activewear  lifestyle items line (MEJSPIRIT) using my own designs from my paintings and taking in inspiration down here in Uluwatu to inspire me. 

Again, as to the feeling of the Med, while scooting around all the small roads to the beaches and such, bougainvillea pours over the walls, prickly pear cactus sprouts up into the air and hibiscus colours drench the hills. The police aren’t on the streets here checking people’s masks and driver’s licenses. In Ubud and elsewhere, they are on all the main corners to, what I feel, hassle us expats/tourists, to get their monthly quota, which is a real shame. There are very strict laws here repeated over and over that if a tourist is caught without a mask they will be deported. We also must buy a local driver’s license for $200 if we don’t want to be ticketed for not having a license, or make sure you get an international one based on your at home license before you come. This is the unpleasant side to living in paradise here on Bali. You would think they would cherish having us here and bringing in money but instead, I can rightly say, we are hassled a lot. To deal with this issue, a lot of people are actually leaving and not many are coming in. This is why, in order to ease the strain, I am commuting between the beaches and jungle a bit more often now. I won’t move to Uluwatu for I enjoy my Ubudian village life in general and have established quite a community of friends here and with the Covid prices, my rent is almost halved so going to the 5 star makes for a lovely 5 day break a few times a month that I can afford. 

If you’re feeling restless in the area you are living and want to travel some, this option to create a second home within the same country could be a great way to continue to live in joy during these times. A positive thing that has come out of the various lockdowns around the world could be that people are making home more, developing close friendships more and realising how important community is. I hope wherever you are these days you have support and good friendships around you. It is nice to have some change once a month or so to keep creativity and interest alive, get a feeling of some travel and perhaps make some new connections. 

Drifter’s Cafe surf boards with a collage of cute shops in Uluwatu

My creative side has been bursting with my new line of items; swimwear, active tops, flip-flops, water bottles, loads of different bags and a day backpack, notebooks, coffee mugs, throw pillows and yoga mats… all made from my watercolour paintings. The service is called “print-on-demand” (there are many print-on-demand companies to choose from). If there are any other artists/photographers out there that would like to try their hand at developing items on a website through Shopify or similar and connecting all the different print-on-demand companies to it, this is something you may want to experiment with. If someone goes to your website and clicks on and item and buys it, the print-on-demand company you’ve chosen will make the item and send it to the person and you get a direct deposit once a month. It is something to think about for passive income once you’ve created your chosen items with your designs and set up an Instagram and Facebook Business page too. It sounds complicated but all things can be done one small step at a time. Once your website is developed you then just do one Insta post a day and share it with your FB Business page and slowly can begin to get followers and surprisingly, buyers! If you would like to see my sight as an example, I will list it in my bio below. Anything, these days, to turn your creations into an income is welcome I am sure, across the board for everyone!

Manager Dedy at Ulu Cliffhouse.

Another way I am “staying sane” (I prefer this saying over “stay safe”) is by keeping my fitness up. If you have a gym open next to you, please join and go. If you can walk the cities or the beaches, please do. We all must stay healthy and vibrant as the world collective is learning how to cope individually and collectively as time moves into the end of 2021 and who knows what is in store for 2022. 

This “postcard” is meant to be a stimulator, a fresh idea zapper and maybe even a mover and a shaker if you’re an artist wondering what to do next! I hope you enjoy the pictures I’ve included with this message of love from Bali to you in Thailand. I’m eating dragonfruit like nobody’s business these days too, one of the best fruits for vitamins, minerals and lots of fibre. Enjoy the season as it comes in and let us stay positive and bright as we make decisions daily that can affect our futures. Perhaps you’ll pull out that map and choose another destination within Thailand you would like to begin to create a new community or home. Enjoy the process of discovery, exploration and seeing parts of Thailand you’ve been meaning to see. There are always different ways and styles to live and it can be fun having an urban and a country life or the country mixed with some beach life. You may even find a good hotel that you can leave a large suitcase with the concierge in their storeroom and stay one week a month and experience the “hotel lifestyle” for a while. Once you’ve gone a few times, they get to know you and you can develop a lovely rapport, a second home. Thailand has so much to offer and even though I am not there, I am making the most of my small island life here on Bali. Ciao for now!

******************************************************************************

Margaret is enjoying Bali continuing with her painting and writing however is excited to share her new passion with us at www.mejspirit.com. If interested to know more about “print-on-demand” online income, she is more than happy to share what she knows with you, Expat Life in Thailand reader. She can be reached through her website. Meanwhile, surf vibes and jungle life fill her days as she stays sane!

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About two hours away from Bangkok there is the small town of Kaeng Khoi, off of Highway 2. Just on the edge of the town is one of those small roads that weaves through the countryside full of dogs and of old men puttering along on scooters that should have ended up in a junk heap ages ago. Twenty minutes later you have to strain your eyes to spot the hidden road on your left, tucked behind tall bushes that obscure a small, painted wooden sign. As you bump along the pothole filled road until it turns to dirt, up a rocky incline, down again, and to the end of the forested dirt road, you realise that the fact that this place is so hidden is what makes it so magical. Welcome to Nam Pha Pa Yai; my paradise.

As you step out of the car, the camp’s dogs come up, barking and wagging their tails. You take a deep breath, notice the sun shining through the trees, and suddenly hear the wind. All your senses start to wake up and your vision widens, noticing all the different forms of life around you. Under a beautiful, airy, earthen structure covered with a palm leaf roof Joy, the camp owner, sits. As you set down your bags and take a seat, all the worries you left behind in Bangkok are carried away with the soft breeze and the sounds of nature. Your signal starved phone is turned off and stashed in a bag for the weekend and is replaced in your hand by a coffee or a bag of homemade cookies, and you are at peace. 

Hopefully, you’ve come with a plan, and soon your friends are waiting at the edge of the restaurant with all their climbing gear on, looking more like they’re ready to leave on an expedition than take the easy, 5 minute stroll to the riverside. Until recently the two riverbanks were connected by a zip line and you would grab a pulley, strap yourself on, and fly to the other side with hardly a moment to take in the beauty of the cliff in front of you or the river below. Equipment must be maintained though, so these days you walk down to the sandy beach at the riverbank where a silent, smiling boat man waits to paddle you across to the other side. I’m still not sure which I enjoy more, so I’m glad we’ve had the chance to see the cliff from below lately, where it looks much more impressive. 

The 40 metre high vertical cliff face is marbled with beautiful orange and white limestone and capped with grey karst. The entire cliff face is bolted with climbs ranging from 4 (beginner) to 8b (elite). As you stare from the river or the ground beneath the climbs you can see several prominent limestone tufa’s that have formed over tens of thousands of years, which is exciting enough, but not long after you are standing on top of them, heart pounding and chest heaving, having just danced up 20 metres of vertical cliff face on small edges and pockets. Victory is not yours yet, though, as the ultimate goal in climbing, the ‘send’, means you still can’t fall or rest on the rope as you scale another 15 metres. Of course, the hardest move on the route waits here for you and while telling yourself to be calm and breathe, you must reach high for two pockets only large enough to fit a single finger in each and somehow coax the rest of your body into following. Balance is key here. You move your feet precisely and deliberately and despite all the falls and failed attempts before, you have complete control over your body, and it suddenly feels easy. The elation you feel as you pull past the final move and clip your rope into the chains is unparalleled. You look around at the valley carved by the river, the mountains in the distance, and the vibrant orange of the rock and think that though you know you don’t belong here, that no human does, you can’t help but feel that cliff was made to be climbed. Soak it up. Send days are rare, as they should be. 

Climbing is incredibly addictive. You always have something to challenge yourself with, but you feel constant progression. Even when you can’t finish a route, you find yourself getting higher and higher, sometimes metres, sometimes by just centimetres, but the progress is very real. You see yourself quite literally reaching a new level. Like many sports, it’s more mental than physical, which makes it all the more rewarding when you gain control over your mind, push through the (very rational) fear of falling and find the flow in the movement of your body. 

Climbing has an addictive community, too. You don’t compete with your fellow climbers, but encourage them from the ground to breathe slowly, push hard, and get to the next rest. Your climber is literally putting their life in your hands when you belay, and for the 20 minutes that are connected by that rope when you climb, you can feel their calmness or their anxiety travel through the rope to you. They have the power to calm and relax you, to psych you up, or to make you nervous all by how they handle the rope and without saying a single word. When you send, you celebrate with your belayer, you say “You kept me calm. I couldn’t have done it without you.” Your friends’ achievements are yours and at the end of the day, after exhausting yourselves, getting back in touch with nature, and admiring the beauty of the world, you all share a beer and a laugh together. 

I have so much passion for climbing but it all grew in this place. I love it so much that I’m worried although the climbs that the camp was built for are incredible, maybe you aren’t a climber and feel you aren’t welcome. You are, and you should still come. Perhaps I should convince you by telling you about the hiking, which leads to a stunning view of the river worn valley and, if you time it right, reveals the mountain landscape bathed in the light of dusk or dawn? Maybe you would prefer a more relaxing adventure, and you should kayak down the river and wave to the local fishermen along its banks, take a swim, or just bask in the sun. It’s not unlikely that you already spend enough time running around for work or getting your kids to school and their activities and you just need to glance around the camp on your own long enough to find the hammocks and the yoga mats, and to listen to the creaking bamboo and the breeze rustling the leaves. You can always wander over to the vegetable garden where our friend Natalie is starting to grow Thai cocao for her young and blossoming artisanal chocolate brand, Xoconat. The truth is that you don’t need my help once you arrive. Just get yourself there, and I promise you will fall in love with this little escape.

No matter what your motivations are in going, you should absolutely try your hand at climbing. Climbers are a friendly crowd and are happy to share their knowledge. The camp offers harnesses, climbing shoes, and other gear for rental, as well as guides available for hire. There are routes for all levels of difficulty and please trust me when I say that you do not need to be a skinny athlete to try this amazing sport out. I was a complete beginner when I first came to Nam Pha and I have fallen on every route there. Climbing rock, just like climbing a ladder, is not about strength, but balance, body positioning, and how you use your feet. Try it out and you just might fall in love with it!

Contact information

Bookings at the camp can be made with Joy Sirilak, she is reachable on the Nam Pha Pa Yai Climber’s Camp facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/nppycamp). She speaks English well enough to assist you with any enquiry. Camp information is located on the page as well, such as the location, and she can also provide information and contact for anyone who wishes to visit the camp without their own transportation, such as by train, bus, or taxi. Xoconat by Natalie is also best contacted through Facebook and I strongly recommend her artisanal chocolate: https://www.facebook.com/xoconat/

If you have any other questions about the climbing camp or anything in this article, you are welcome to contact me directly at the email address listed below.

**Since the writing of this article, the river wall has been temporarily closed. Nam Pha is an amazing place with many other wonderful things to experience and I strongly urge all of you to go, but please respect the temporary closure of this part of the camp.

Nick Bernhardt is an American who has been living in Thailand for 9 years. He owns a consultancy firm that performs market research and due diligence work and enjoys climbing, motorcycles, and exploring Thailand’s paths less travelled. He can be reached at [email protected]

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It took me three trips to Mae Hong Son to get to the bottom of the sinkhole. The first trip was just reconnaissance. I bought 120m of brand new rope on the second trip, but after throwing it in, very quickly realised that we needed more rope to reach the bottom. You don’t plan an open air rappel into a 200m deep sinkhole in an afternoon. You need to do some prep work, and you need a good partner. 

I met Kelsey while climbing at Nam Pha Pa Yai, one of Thailand’s hidden gems. He has bolted hundreds of his own routes all over the world. I thought this seems like the right kind of guy. I asked him, “Hey Kelsey, do you want to rappel 200m down, all hanging in the open air, into a sinkhole that has no other access, camp at the bottom, and try to climb out of it the next day?” Of course, he was. This guy was born for adventure. That’s what I love about Thailand; it attracts the right type of people. He even had the rope!

At one point while packing for the trip, Kelsey said offhandedly, “We should probably bring a knife, just in case…” So we loaded up Kelsey’s haul bag with 400m of rope (and one knife) and set off towards Mae Hong Son. When we arrived at Ban Luk Khao Lam we sought out the village head immediately. In nine years in Thailand I have never actually needed my Thai. I needed it that day. 

We were shuffled around a few times before finally finding the village head and learned that we actually needed to talk to the forestry service, who had an office back in Bang Ma Pha, a town about 40 minutes away. Amazingly, we managed to get the permits inside an hour. We snapped photos, joked around, and we were good to visit, and good to descend, and good to climb out. We even had time to set up ropes on the hotel’s rafters and practice passing a knot on rappel, which we had have to do the next day. Thank God for that.

We woke up early and convinced one of the villagers to let us rent two of their motorbikes to get up the steep hill, and I do mean steep. This thing was a struggle on the way up, but it was pure terror on the way down, especially with 40kg of gear on your back. Somehow, we made it to the top of the mountain and pulled out the machete to find the descent point. It took a lot of bushwhacking, but we found the right spot and, we think, the same four trees that I used to anchor the ropes on the first attempt. It took 60m of rope and about 3 hours just to make the anchor, but we felt confident about it when it was all said and done. We had to be after all, lives depending on them and all that.

I went first and Kelsey went around to take photos. The initial part of the descent went smoothly, though my heart was beating out of my chest when I first went over the edge. The giant tufa’s had not changed since my first visit, and they had not become any less impressive. The sinkhole formed when a cave collapsed onto its largest chamber, which would have been around 200m high at that point. At one point the cave had access through the mountain and prehistoric civilisations used it. The first descentionists found artefacts in the 100m cavern beyond the arch that formed after the collapse. Our descent point was at the highest part of the arch, straight down in front of the large cavern. As I dangled in space I couldn’t see the end of my two ropes, but I could admire the huge limestone formations which looked both close enough to touch and yet as far away as the opposite wall of the sinkhole, some 150m across. The sinkhole itself was nearly completely round, though the depth varied from about 150m at our point to 100m on the opposite wall. Every wall was a sheer drop, except for the roof of the cave I was hanging in front of.

The formations beneath had formed underground for tens of thousands of years from the rainwater seeping through the cracks in the mountain, forming shapes that boggled the mind, and were larger than any individual rock formations I had seen before. Inside nested sparrows which flew in huge flocks near dusk, swooping and turning above trees that reached 50m high and shot straight up as arrows, but were still dizzyingly far below.

I inched down the rope and the ground did not seem to grow larger for quite a while. The two ropes I was on were actually made of three, with one that was 200m and reached from the top straight to the bottom uninterrupted, and the second made up of a 100m and 60m rope tied together. When I reached the knot, I was only just above the trees and finally realised just how massive they were. 

The author descending into the sinkhole, still about 150m above the ground
Photo by Kelsey Gray

This is when it got interesting. The condensed process of how to pass a knot on one of your ropes involves securing your harness above the rappel device with a small cord called a prusik, taking then your weight off the rappel device, move the device below the knot, re weight the device, and take the prusik cord off from above. The carabiner connecting my prusik cord to the rope above the knot jammed during this process, meaning I could not move up or down. It was in this moment that Kelsey called me on the radio:

“Hey uh… Nick… there are some guys up here, and they seem pretty upset. Uhhh (nervous laugh) they have guns, haha.”

“What?? I’m stuck. My carabiner’s jammed.”

“Oh, that’s not good. But yeah… I think they’re asking about the permits… “

“Shit. We don’t have the actual permits, they just sent us photos… they’re on my phone.”

“Well uh… maybe you should talk to them?”

“Ok, ok, put them on.”

Luckily, though I didn’t realise it at the time, I had left my phone in a bag at the top of another vantage point. Apparently these were soldiers and I’m still not exactly sure why they were patrolling the area, but dangling on that rope above the treetops that didn’t really matter. I explained that we had the permits, saying everything was fine. Then they explained to me that everything was not fine, that I needed to show them the permits, and that I needed to get out of the sinkhole right that second. They weren’t very sympathetic to the fact that I had gotten myself stuck, either. It was a stressful time, but once Kelsey tracked down my phone and found the photos, the patrol became a lot nicer and even hung out for a few minutes to watch as I continued to struggle with my knot in vain. 

Luckily, after Kelsey’s offhand comment, I had my knife on my harness. I cut the prusik cord that secured me above the knot and continued my descent with that damn carabiner still stuck to my leg loop. I couldn’t get it off until I got back to Bangkok and sat down with two pairs of pliers to unscrew the locking sleeve. Finally, after about an hour since starting, I reached the bottom and radioed to Kelsey. His descent went smoothly, and I explored the huge space beneath while waiting for him to make his way down.

The plant life down there was incredible. Truly Jurassic. There were ferns the size of living rooms and vine systems covering areas the size of football fields. A huge chunk of the roof had collapsed and formed a small canyon with walls 20m high on each side. A 20m tall stalagmite under the main arch looked like something out of Alice and Wonderland with its otherworldly platforms, mushrooms and pedestals. The dirt was loose and the ground steep, but in the centre was a more or less flat area where we ended up setting up the tent for the night and trying to start a fire. Never have two men tried so hard and accomplished so little as the two of us tried to start a fire by hand.

The next day we hiked to our ropes hanging down, rigged ourselves up, and began the long, hard task of climbing out. When we reached the top, we were exhausted, and after the harrowing trip down we finally made our way back to Pai and enjoyed the greatest bowl of Khao Soi I have ever had in my life, checked the news, and found that during our night in the cave with thousands of bats, the last three days saw an explosion of virus cases and the Covid pandemic began.

The main arch, viewed from the opposite side of the sinkhole
Photo by Kelsey Gray

Contact information

If you would like to attempt the rappel into the sinkhole, please hire a professional guide. It is an extremely dangerous activity and should not be undertaken by anyone without extensive climbing or caving experience.  When speaking with the villagers I was told that only one or two trips are organised per year, and they did not know the name of the company. 

If you would only like to visit the viewpoint at the sinkhole, please still remember to stop by the forest service office in Pai. I do not have the location as we went to a different office in Bang Ma Pha, but were told that they were only making an exception for our case. 

If you have any other questions about the sinkhole, you are welcome to contact me directly at the email address listed below.

Nick Bernhardt is an American who has been living in Thailand for 9 years. He owns a consultancy firm that performs market research and due diligence work and enjoys climbing, motorcycles, and exploring Thailand’s paths less travelled. He can be reached at [email protected].

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Periodisation training! What is it? For non-athletes or athletes who haven’t done much research on different training styles, it is a method of training to try and improve your performance above and beyond what is possible with over simplified repetition.  

You can go to war with yourself, sure. You can do this in any session, on any day, anywhere. It’s simple, you increase the lactate in your blood, then increase it some more, then some more, then try to keep going… and you are at war. 

But are you winning? Is your strategy any good? What would Napoleon think? If he were to survey the battle landscape and analyse your strategy, I’m not sure he would think much of platoon after platoon or company after company charging in, straight into the enemy. You could see him with his hands clasped behind his back, a brooding frown growing, ‘imbeciles!’ He would secretly also be impressed, but to win a war you must not show just brawn, but equal amounts, and if not more, brains.

Periodisation was explained to me by a pro athlete/coach, so a reliable source, as the focus on 1 discipline at the expense of the others with specific periods of time and with specific amounts of intensity. And these levels of time and intensity are specific to the athlete and what they are trying to achieve.

I decided to periodise my training towards swimming at some point in 2018, and then thought about it again in 2019, and then finally actually followed through in 2020, towards the end of the year. It took a while to get there. It sounds easy to implement, just focus on 1 discipline! But, weirdly, you need discipline for this. How to calculate time periods and intensity? And even more difficult, is the conscientiousness to stick to this despite how you feel.

Swimming could be argued is the least important discipline in triathlon. Definitely, in terms of time spent in a race, and the only discipline where drafting counts and is legal, so you can rely on stronger swimmers during a race. So many triathletes would prefer to focus on the bike or the run. But, personally I believe periodising the swim could prove to be a keystone for my future improvement.

A keystone is the stone you’ll find in the middle of a traditional and simple stone bridge. It is called the keystone because it is shaped different to all the others and is the one that holds all the others in place. And swimming could do this for me. It is helping me improve the length and strength of my body which in turn then helps me improve my movement efficiency on the bike and in the run. But instead of having specific times and intensities I am part of a club that pushes my limits, and then makes me go further than where I thought the limits were.

It feels like I’m ‘Prince’ and it’s 1999. Or Bonnie Prince Charlie and it’s 1746 and the sea is to my back and the horde is to my front. If some rescue ships had been docked in the North Sea, north of Inverness, no doubt they would have done what the British did at La Corunna in 1808 escaping the forces of Napoleon. It’s the easy (more intelligent) option, you jump aboard, lick whatever wounds you might have, get home, take a break, set your feet on a rug, watch the fire flames dance around the fireplace, have some of your favourite homemade hot chocolate, and rethink your next move.

But, I don’t want to retreat. Perhaps my abysmal end of 2020 season was a type of retreat, however unwanted. Perhaps I should have retreated, and take some cool off period much earlier. But either way, standing firm or reentering the melee, I would use swim periodisation as my weapon of choice. And standing on the hilltop, looking down at the amassing mass of enemy, swarm the horizon, endless columns of well-disciplined, well drilled, orcs, trolls and wargs – it is the swim that will ride up to my position… in their glittering armour they observe my current situation, ‘you know you have ships back there right?’ I don’t want to look to the north, I am looking at the field ahead where the horde of red-eyed, salivating, inhuman, snarling enemy lie in wait. 

I turn my gaze from the enemy and stare back at the newly arrived cavalry. It then dawns on swim, ‘you want to attack right down the middle?’ an edge of incredulity in their voice. They turn back to assess the enemy again. Swim weighs up my chances, taking into consideration that retreat is no option, ‘we will move to the west and wait by the outcrop of trees. If needed we will cover your flank, otherwise, we will time our attack as best as possible.’

Up to this point standing on this small hill at one end of the field, staring down at the enemy, the only real worry was not their demonic stares and taunting, but once the melee had begun I would be swamped from all sides. Now, with this fresh cavalry aid, I would stand a chance. I could go full heartedly down the centre, without distracting thoughts of an inevitable all encompassing enemy encircling me and forcing me to fight on all fronts. 

I watch the cavalry make their deployment to the west. I see them take position in amongst the tree outcrop. Out of sight of the enemy. The plan was set. I nod to the standard bearer and the flag is raised a loft. I can feel the energy all around me. I can feel the spirits running high. The courage seeping into the veins. The attention honed in. The enemy staring back are ugly, but that is all. The previous mass of drums beating, feet stamping, faceless, nameless endless dots in the background all blended together, but now beginning to take shape. I can see their individual faces, their legs and arms, the clothes they are wearing. I can see their weaponry, and hairstyles, the shoes they are wearing. It is so clear to me. I know who they are. I could guess each one’s names, where they are from, their families, dreams and goals… and I charge, arm raised, fist clenched, and as I feel the ground pounding underneath me. The beats get faster. As the enemy grows clearer and clearer, the beats of the feet get quicker, until we reach the enemy line and we are now at full speed…

Anyone actually watching would question what was happening. They would turn to each other in their warm mittens, wooly hats, and Goretex jackets. The cold wind forcing them to huddle together a little closer for each others’ warmth. The rain forcing them to use their jacket caps and tightly pull down on the toggles to get as cosy as possible. And having looked at what I was doing with deep disturbance they would look at each other and there would be sympathy for me etched on their faces. This crazy guy on a small hill, at one end of a muddy empty field. Just standing there. Ignoring the cold wind and rain. Then raising his arm before suddenly running towards the other end. Getting faster and faster. That’s all they could observe. And they would be totally confused at to what I was doing. Putting it down to ‘he’s a bit nuts’. 

And an alien millions of galaxies away looking down their telescope onto planet earth, inspecting this scene. Observing the individual, me, and the group of onlookers in their confusion. And it would roll its eyes and mutter ‘homo sapiens’.

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The year 2020 which ushered in the horrific Covid-19 pandemic has been a traumatic one for all of us. Having been cooped up in Bangkok for the last eight months, I was getting itchy feet and ready to travel. The invitation from the Thailand Incentive and Convention Association (TICA) to visit Chiang Mai in November for three days was a timely and welcomed offer. 

It has been years since I visited this popular Northern city Chiang Mai. When I saw that the first item in TICA’s programme was a visit to the indigo dyeing community of Lhong Him Khao, I signed up for the trip without hesitation. I remember fondly the happy times I had making tie-dyed T-shirts at the backyard of my friend’s house as a teenager. I thoroughly enjoyed the art of tie-dyeing. The only drawback was that my family and friends, to their chagrin, had to tolerate seeing me in my vibrant creations for many years to come.

Those of us living in Thailand have been more fortunate than those living overseas in many ways. We are very grateful that we can move around quite freely to do our day-to-day activities and travel to other parts of the country, as long as we are careful of course – wear masks when we are outside, maintain social distance, avoid crowded places and wash our hands often.

On the day of the familiarisation trip, I packed my masks and alcohol and boarded the Bangkok Airways’ one hour flight to Chiang Mai. There were about 30 of us in the group. After we landed and collected our luggage, we travelled by coach to Lhong Him Khao village for our indigo dyeing adventure. Our party was warmly welcomed by a Thai musical band and we were soon ready to get to work. Unlike my previous experience where we used strings to tie-dye our T-shirts, the equipment for this procedure was quite surprising. They had on the table for us, chop sticks, clothes pegs, paper clips, round and square boards and rubber bands. Each of us used whatever we fancied to tie the cloth however we desired. The finished pieces were then taken for dyeing and after that process, VOILA! I was quite pleased yet intrigued with the design that I created. Unfortunately, I will never be able to repeat that pattern again.

Soon, it was time to head for the Ratilanna Riverside Spa Resort for a short rest and to get ready for a networking dinner at Kiti Panit, a fine dining restaurant housed in a 132-year-old teak tree mansion which once operated as a General Store run by Chinese immigrants. We were served Lanna and Tai Yai dishes, many of which were tasty yet quaint. It was a marvelous gastronomic adventure, nonetheless.

Early the next morning, we early risers had the pleasure to offering alms to the monks at the hotel’s beautiful riverside pier. Conveniently, the hotel staff has already prepared the alms for us. All we had to do was offer them to the monks. One of the TICA members gave a short explanation of the Buddhist ritual of alms giving to the non Buddhists in our entourage.  Although I am a Buddhist myself, I even learned a thing or two from the narrative.

A lovely breakfast by the river followed. The weather was pleasantly cool, perfect for breakfast outdoors, but not cold enough for me to show off the several jackets that I had dug up from storage to wear them should it get cold in Chiang Mai.

After breakfast, we headed off to the Araksa Tea Garden located in the foothills of Mae Tang District. It took 90 minutes of driving on winding roads to get up there. The organic tea garden spanned over 100 rai of land. It was my first visit to a tea plantation and was pleasantly surprised that the tea trees, over 20,000 in number, were planted on fairly flat land and not on a plateau. That made it easier for us to carry out our assignment for the morning — picking tea leaves.  

We were given a briefing on proper tea picking by the friendly staff. Thereafter, we each got our own basket and attempted to pick as many tea leaves as possible. We were going to make green tea, which meant we had to choose one bud with 2 leaves. For white tea, we would only pick the bud and for black tea, we would pick the bud and 3 leaves. Time passed quickly as we were having fun playing farmer and before we knew it, it was time for us to turn in our tea collections for the next step. Mae Jan, our tea expert, began kneading the tea leaves and thereafter began roasting the leaves. After some time, the big pile of tea leaves shrunk to perhaps one tenth of the original size. My earlier inspiration to become a professional tea picker also shrank in size in proportion to the roasted tea leaves. I then got the understanding of how many tea leaves must be collected to produce a small package of tea. It’s a good thing I didn’t give up my day job before I left for this trip.

After all this hard work, we were invited to taste the 15 types of white, green and black tea at the plantation. Now, that was more my kind of thing and all of us happily obliged. It was very refreshing to sample the different tastes of tea, some more subtle than others. The aromatic “Kularb” or rose flavour was my favourite. I was pleased to hear that it won an award last year.  

In a little while it was time for lunch. The Araksa lunch menu included Thai rice salad with condiments or “Khao Yum” in Thai. The colourful ingredients, once mixed together, had the sweet, sour and salty taste (and hot if you add chillies). This dish has become very popular among health conscious diners since it has lots of fresh vegetables like purple cabbage, bean sprouts, coconut shaves plus flowers. I personally find that that this dish takes a bit of getting used to, since I still consider eating fresh flowers a bit bizarre. The fried crispy tea leaves with pork spicy dipping was quite delicious. It was addictive like eating French fries. Once you start, you cannot stop. Serving organic rice crackers made with watermelon juice (Khao Tan Nam Tangmo) accompanied by — you guessed it — hot or cold tea of your choice was a perfect way to end the meal.

Visiting Wat Umong, a 700 year old Buddhist temple was next on the itinerary. Located at the foot of Doi Pui Mountain, the temple was home of old ruins with meditation tunnels. After climbing up a multitude of uneven brick steps, we came to a large brick pagoda, made famous by a Thai popular soap opera. But honestly speaking, I would give this spot a miss.

We did a quick check in at the Shangri-La Hotel and got ready to go to dinner at Food for You by Chef Tutu. Chiang Mai is well known for its numerous restaurants and variety of international cuisine, and this homey restaurant did not disappoint. Soon after we arrived, the Chef, whose full name was Prapatsorn Na Chiangmai, started energetically cooking his signature dishes for us. Crab salad, fried duck, grilled shrimp, crab soup and steak… most dishes cooked to perfection. And a good selection of fine white and red wine served with the dishes made the dinner even more palatable. The only comment I would like to add was that the chef was too trigger happy with his chilies for someone like me who doesn’t take hot food.

After whisking off his last dish for our group, Chef Tutu came out to greet his guests. We found out he has been cooking since he was nine and has been serving special dishes to his clients for the past 30 years. He enjoys going to the local market daily to get the freshest ingredients for his dishes. He is very adventurous and is happy to concoct special dishes not in the menu for his customers. Just let him know.

The trip to Chiang Mai ended all too soon on the third day of our trip. After a leisurely breakfast at the Shangri-La Hotel, we headed for the airport amidst heavy traffic. We were amazed to find that the airport was very crowded. People are travelling again. The flight was also fully booked. After a one hour flight, we were happy to land in Bangkok and go home for a nice rest from our fun and informative excursion. 

Where in Thailand shall we go next? It took a lockdown for us to realise that we have so many interesting and beautiful places to visit right here in Thailand instead of going overseas for our vacation. Life’s paradigm has changed drastically and going abroad for a holiday is a privilege that is not accessible to us for the time being. So why not rediscover the amazing wonders of Thailand instead?

However, always keep in mind that wherever we go, we must keep our guards up against the possible infection of the Covid-19 virus. Always social distance and keep our masks on and of course wash our hands often. The pandemic is not over yet. We must remain vigilant when we are in public areas, especially in crowded places.  

———-

About the author.

Netra Ruthaiyanont is currently the Marketing Director of GT Auto Co., Ltd., authorised Volvo Car retailer. The former member of the print media enjoys writing stories about travel, education and the challenging lives of women.

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Nepal is a place associated with the distant and the incredible. I’ve always wanted to return to this mysterious country if not for this pandemic which made it impossible to travel. I can still remember the thousands of visitors who savour the spirit of Nepal each year going home laden with things considered “Nepalese” – religious objects, antiques, carpets, pottery, embroidered clothing, gems and silver. You can see the excitement on their faces as they carry their amazing finds.

It was closed to autumn when we visited, so you can just imagine the cool weather condition. Even during summer time, the weather is unpredictable and it varies considerably with elevation. Looking at the photos we took then, the skies were clear and sunny, temperature range from warm in the lowlands to crisp in the mountains. We stayed a week so we ignored the weather and just seized the moment and enjoyed its mystique.

Nepal’s splendour will forever be registered in your mind. As you walk through the roads and alleys, you experience the intense culture of the Hindus and slowly submerge into the quiet serenity of the Buddhists. The practice of religion in Nepal is a mixture of Hindu and Buddhist ways of life, which the Nepalese have merged. These beliefs are evident in their art as well as their surroundings.

Wandering into the heart of Kathmandu, up and down narrow alleys and passages, you pass little shops and old houses with intricately carved window frames. The shops sell thangkas (religious paintings) and shawls made from pashmina in different colours and quality. Their appearance startling in the dusty dimness. Every lane seems to lead to a little square. Soon you’ll find roving in Durbar Square encircled by gilded spires and domes of countless temples. I hate to think of the recent fire that gutted many houses, stores and temples in Kathmandu. I can just imagine the elaborately carved windows, pillars, domes and beams destroyed by the fire. Looking back, Durbar Square is an amazing sight. Every corner shelters a shrine which houses a God such as Ganesh (the elephant headed God) or Hanuman (the monkey God); carved on the side of a phallic representation of the Hindu God, Shiva is Buddha.  All around, pigeons flutter from rooftop to rooftop.

About thirty minutes from Kathmandu is the city of Patan. It offers a feast of diverse temple styles. The maze of temple shrines, small stupas and stupas, grinning Gods and Goddesses all intricately carved and ornamented give pleasure to the eye and bewilder the mind.

As you explore the Pashupatinath Temple area, you are surrounded by vendors selling all types of wares – from bangles to beaded necklaces with yak bone pendants to musical bowls. Swarming the temples are sadhus, Hindu holy men. Their bodies covered with yellow powder and ashes, they perform a myriad of self- mutilating feats as they go about their day to day existence. Saddhus have chosen to give up their material lives and walk about meditating in search for inner peace. They wander barefoot across the country on pilgrimage, receiving their sustenance from generous people.

At Bodnath Shrine stands the largest and most important stupa outside of Tibet. It sits on a flatland with the Buddha’s eye painted on four sides. These eyes seem to follow and watch your every move. Buddhists come from all over the world to visit this predominantly Tibetan shrine. Chanting can be heard from as far as five hundred metres reverberating around the site, adding to the feeling of peace that envelops the place. Colourful prayer flags have been strung by pilgrims. Even more fascinating than the impressive structure of Bodnath are the calm, spiritual people who throng to this temple.

At Nagarkot which is 2,195 metres above sea level with a magnificent panoramic view of the Himalayas, a splendid full moon covers the entire valley below. It’s breathtaking especially in the morning is the cleansing breeze, accompanied by chirping birds and the aroma of wild and yet delicate flowers.

Golden yellow mustard flowers fill the fields around Bhaktapur. Walking the village streets paved with bricks and cobblestones, is quite an adventure. Black eyed children peering from window smile sweetly as I pass. Men are seen sitting or chatting quietly with each other while the women are working so hard gathering wood for cooking or carrying large baskets of ripened fruits and vegetables. I see an older woman bent over almost touching the ground, carries a load of dried twigs and a younger woman driving a flock of goats.

It is a long zigzag and dusty road inside the village but it is worth it. There are woodcarving shops, you can appreciate the intricate window frames, so different from the ones found in other parts of Asia. You can appreciate the warm and friendly people. Their faces show no sign of bitterness because of poverty, instead they seem to be happy and content.

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There are plenty of hidden gems in Thailand and if you are an expat like me who has been doing a lot of domestic travel this year, chances are you’ve found a few of these gems yourself. I found my gem on a trip down to Koh Tao to get my SCUBA certification back in September, his name is Anthony Griffiths and he has been a dive instructor in Thailand for 25 years. Right in our backyard, we have the instructor who has PADI certified more people to scuba dive than anyone else in the world. I have been back down to dive a few more times since getting certified and asked Anthony to sit down with me and tell me his story and why everyone should give diving a try, especially now.

What did you do before you were a dive instructor?

I was a dancer with the Royal Ballet. I trained for 16 years and I danced with them for about 4 years; I toured the world. I was in Madonna’s show when she came to England, I performed on Top of the Pops, danced in countless contemporary companies – Twyla Tharp, Pina Bausch, Sadler’s Wells – I am going back 30 years though.  

When did you first come to Thailand?

  1. I came with a girlfriend on holiday because I wasn’t doing anything, I was just hanging around in London. My dance career had kind of wound down and I was about 28 years old. I had been travelling a lot before with my career but not really holidaying, and it just seemed like a good idea. So, she was coming to Thailand and I just came with her. And it was an absolutely brilliant decision.

When did you decide to make the move and why?

I didn’t have a set day where you could say like “I moved to Thailand on…”. It was a gradual transition. I was holidaying here for just 2 weeks and we changed our round the world tickets to make it 6 months. I did my PADI Open Water (Diving) Course, Advanced Course, Rescue Diving, Divemaster and fell completely in love with it. One thing led to another and the rest is history. Since 1991 I have pretty much been diving every day, besides my trips back home to the UK of course.

I have always used Koh Tao as a base though. I would go to Australia and Fiji, but I always want to come back to Koh Tao. It is a very special island with very special people. The local people are beautiful, and they have a lovely school and community. It has just been a great place for me to bring up a family.

What was it about diving that was such a magnet for you?

It is interesting, for me, diving was like a connection to dancing. I spent years trying to defy gravity and the weightlessness in diving was like a direct link for me. That’s why today I am still totally in love with moving in three dimensional space. It is a magical unbelievable experience where you connect technology with nature, and it meshes so many things together. And then, I did not know I was a teacher, but I have a naturally outgoing personality and I have always been able to connect with people. Combined with what I had done on stage, performing etc., moving into teaching was just really natural; teaching diving connected all the dots. When I look at my life now, it’s just a blessing how it all came together.

How long have you been an instructor? And how many people have you certified?

25 years. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but since you asked, I hold the most certifications of any PADI instructor in the world. It is roughly 18,000 people by now. The dive shop I work at, Ban’s Dive Shop, is the biggest dive shop in the world by the number of people we have certified – over a quarter of a million. We were going to have a big celebration this year for our 300,000th certification but because of Covid, we had to stop the plan. I have grown my career at Ban’s and even though I have been diving all over the world, this is the place I want to come back to.

Why should someone get certified to dive?

Diving is a way for people to reconnect back to the natural world that we all belong to. I believe people have become so disconnected because of technology (of course technology is a wonderful thing too) but when it gets to the point where it disconnects people from that natural way of being, it is concerning. How do you even put into words when a 6 metre fish with a mouth like a car front swims over your head, looks down and questions you. When you have that visceral feeling inside your stomach and your soul for one moment, everything disappears, and you have a brief moment of a connection back to nature. I am just happy that I can help people make a reconnection to the natural world.

What is going on with diving in Koh Tao right now? What is the good and the bad?

Well, the good is there are a lot of great instructors here that have held on. There’s a lot of beautiful positive energy surrounding those who have stayed, and we are supporting each other during these difficult times. There is a local market that’s booming, and the government has done some good stuff to help. So, it is great that more Thai people are exploring the underwater beauty of their homeland. The conditions are fantastic. The water is clearer, and we are seeing more abundant wildlife.

The bad, economically, it is a catastrophe, not only for diving. Needless to say, so many people have lost their jobs in tourism and it has been hard for everyone. In terms of foreigners, a lot of people who came from abroad to realise their dream cannot do it now.

But as one door closes in diving, another one opens. People have had to leave and go back to their countries so in the dive shops, things have changed, people are taking on new roles and getting promotions. We are learning new ways of thinking about diving, how to promote diving, how to keep diving going. I myself have had time and gotten back into the books, back into the study. I have just had a wonderful move within our own company where I am teaching dive masters and professionals right the way through from open water to the instructor development programs. Diving will never die, but it’s definitely on a low ebb.

Why is now a great time to come get certified or dive in general?

Because we have got groups of people now who are even more focused and devoted to giving excellence and quality, they know how precious every customer is. When there was a mass of customers, you could argue that we weren’t lax, but we would take it for granted that we had the next batch of people coming through the door. So, what tends to happen now, not saying that there was bad teaching before, but now clients just get an extra bit. People who are coming down from Bangkok, who are willing to come down here to give it a try are getting more bang for their buck. There are some great bargains and great deals to find now.

I’d say to everyone reading this article, please consider coming down to Koh Tao, get in touch with me directly, you can look me up at Ban’s Diving and we will have an absolutely amazing time. Now is a great time to clean out some stuff in your mind. Get away from the city a little bit, get away from the job, the day-to-day blues of Covid and come get in the water and express yourself. Feel weightless, learn something new and fresh, learn new ways to move and think. I have just had a student do a course with me and he was good on the course but there were a few little things that were not quite right. And he’s gone away and watched loads of YouTube videos and came back and now’s he is diving like I couldn’t believe. Fantastic! Diving obviously had a positive effect on him. He learned something, went away and learned more, came back and now wants to get really good at it. Diving can be a great way to lift yourself out of a bad spot.

What do newbies need to know?

Get on a bus, get on a train, get on a plane, come down to Koh Tao and we will take care of you. You do not need any equipment or any training. There is only one credential, you need to be able to swim a little bit, but even that, we can teach you.  

What are you up to these days to stay busy during this temporary lull?

I have become a barman! Like I said, this situation is giving us all a chance to try something new and different. My son and I have built and opened up a little bar here called DNA Bar. Now, I am on YouTube learning too, I’m just learning how to make killer cocktails. But I really just want to emphasise that diving is still open and as incredible as it ever was, so please come down and visit us and maybe come have a cocktail with me after your class!

When did you decide to make the move and why?

I didn’t have a set day where you could say like “I moved to Thailand on…”. It was a gradual transition. I was holidaying here for just 2 weeks and we changed our round the world tickets to make it 6 months. I did my PADI Open Water (Diving) Course, Advanced Course, Rescue Diving, Divemaster and fell completely in love with it. One thing led to another and the rest is history. Since 1991 I have pretty much been diving every day, besides my trips back home to the UK of course.

I have always used Koh Tao as a base though. I would go to Australia and Fiji, but I always want to come back to Koh Tao. It is a very special island with very special people. The local people are beautiful, and they have a lovely school and community. It has just been a great place for me to bring up a family.

What was it about diving that was such a magnet for you?

It is interesting, for me, diving was like a connection to dancing. I spent years trying to defy gravity and the weightlessness in diving was like a direct link for me. That’s why today I am still totally in love with moving in three dimensional space. It is a magical unbelievable experience where you connect technology with nature, and it meshes so many things together. And then, I did not know I was a teacher, but I have a naturally outgoing personality and I have always been able to connect with people. Combined with what I had done on stage, performing etc., moving into teaching was just really natural; teaching diving connected all the dots. When I look at my life now, it’s just a blessing how it all came together.

How long have you been an instructor? And how many people have you certified?

25 years. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but since you asked, I hold the most certifications of any PADI instructor in the world. It is roughly 18,000 people by now. The dive shop I work at, Ban’s Dive Shop, is the biggest dive shop in the world by the number of people we have certified – over a quarter of a million. We were going to have a big celebration this year for our 300,000th certification but because of Covid, we had to stop the plan. I have grown my career at Ban’s and even though I have been diving all over the world, this is the place I want to come back to.

Why should someone get certified to dive?

Diving is a way for people to reconnect back to the natural world that we all belong to. I believe people have become so disconnected because of technology (of course technology is a wonderful thing too) but when it gets to the point where it disconnects people from that natural way of being, it is concerning. How do you even put into words when a 6 metre fish with a mouth like a car front swims over your head, looks down and questions you. When you have that visceral feeling inside your stomach and your soul for one moment, everything disappears, and you have a brief moment of a connection back to nature. I am just happy that I can help people make a reconnection to the natural world.

What is going on with diving in Koh Tao right now? What is the good and the bad?

Well, the good is there are a lot of great instructors here that have held on. There’s a lot of beautiful positive energy surrounding those who have stayed, and we are supporting each other during these difficult times. There is a local market that’s booming, and the government has done some good stuff to help. So, it is great that more Thai people are exploring the underwater beauty of their homeland. The conditions are fantastic. The water is clearer, and we are seeing more abundant wildlife.

The bad, economically, it is a catastrophe, not only for diving. Needless to say, so many people have lost their jobs in tourism and it has been hard for everyone. In terms of foreigners, a lot of people who came from abroad to realise their dream cannot do it now.

But as one door closes in diving, another one opens. People have had to leave and go back to their countries so in the dive shops, things have changed, people are taking on new roles and getting promotions. We are learning new ways of thinking about diving, how to promote diving, how to keep diving going. I myself have had time and gotten back into the books, back into the study. I have just had a wonderful move within our own company where I am teaching dive masters and professionals right the way through from open water to the instructor development programs. Diving will never die, but it’s definitely on a low ebb.

Why is now a great time to come get certified or dive in general?

Because we have got groups of people now who are even more focused and devoted to giving excellence and quality, they know how precious every customer is. When there was a mass of customers, you could argue that we weren’t lax, but we would take it for granted that we had the next batch of people coming through the door. So, what tends to happen now, not saying that there was bad teaching before, but now clients just get an extra bit. People who are coming down from Bangkok, who are willing to come down here to give it a try are getting more bang for their buck. There are some great bargains and great deals to find now.

I’d say to everyone reading this article, please consider coming down to Koh Tao, get in touch with me directly, you can look me up at Ban’s Diving and we will have an absolutely amazing time. Now is a great time to clean out some stuff in your mind. Get away from the city a little bit, get away from the job, the day-to-day blues of Covid and come get in the water and express yourself. Feel weightless, learn something new and fresh, learn new ways to move and think. I have just had a student do a course with me and he was good on the course but there were a few little things that were not quite right. And he’s gone away and watched loads of YouTube videos and came back and now’s he is diving like I couldn’t believe. Fantastic! Diving obviously had a positive effect on him. He learned something, went away and learned more, came back and now wants to get really good at it. Diving can be a great way to lift yourself out of a bad spot.

What do newbies need to know?

Get on a bus, get on a train, get on a plane, come down to Koh Tao and we will take care of you. You do not need any equipment or any training. There is only one credential, you need to be able to swim a little bit, but even that, we can teach you.  

What are you up to these days to stay busy during this temporary lull?

I have become a barman! Like I said, this situation is giving us all a chance to try something new and different. My son and I have built and opened up a little bar here called DNA Bar. Now, I am on YouTube learning too, I’m just learning how to make killer cocktails. But I really just want to emphasise that diving is still open and as incredible as it ever was, so please come down and visit us and maybe come have a cocktail with me after your class!

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When the extra Songkran holiday was announced we knew this was our moment to grab one of the special half price promotional flights and return to my favourite Thailand Island of Koh Samui.

I was interested to see how Koh Samui is faring at this time without international visitors. My first top tip is be careful in your choice of Samui destination. Koh Samui is empty, it desperately needs visitors. There has never been a better time for those of us in Thailand to enjoy Samui. 

If you are after peace and tranquility, you will find your heaven, but most of us also need some restaurants, shops and facilities to be open. Otherwise it could be a rather dull and hungry existence!

The Anantara Bophut Koh Samui Resort was such a joy after a couple of extremely quiet nights at Chaweng Beach.

The Bophut beach location

We have always liked the hip and happening Bophut beach area of Samui with its Fisherman’s Village. It’s a good choice now with more open. Here we found shopping, massage shops, a few bars including the ever popular local Coco Tam’s Beach Bar and a choice of food options. In previous visits to Koh Samui we dined at the Anantara’s Full Moon restaurant, which we remembered as exquisite, fuelling our desire for a return to stay.

Anantara hotels

I have to confess to being a massive Anantara fan. Their hotels have never disappointed, including for our honeymoon in Chiang Rai! In the current situation in Thailand choosing well managed hotels who put the guest experience first, despite the tough operating climate, is important to me.

My husband doesn’t get much time off work. When we go away everything needs to work and be perfect. The Anantara Bophut delivered.

Our arrival

The Anantara has some great deals at present which include an airport pick up, but my next tip is to hire a car. We paid 800B per day and with our own wheels we travelled all over the island. The roads are good, we ever found a brand new road across the middle of the island, since our last visit. There is little traffic on the road. Driving in Samui is a pleasure!

The moment we drove up the grand Anantara driveway to find the three monkeys at reception, we felt at ease.

They bang a welcome drum on arrival and with a giggle and the sound reverberating through us, we were escorted into the rather grand and refreshingly cool, library to complete our check in details. 

Emanuel, the new General Manager even stopped by to add his welcome which we thought was a nice touch. 

There is no doubt at present that every hotel in Samui needs its guests. There has never been a better time to get the right royal treatment!

The resort

The charm of the Anantara hotels is their emphasis on stunning grounds. As we walk to our room through the lush tropical gardens past the massive lotus ponds, which become wonderfully illuminated at night, we spot garden cabanas for relaxing and the impressive infinity swimming pool area. 

The birds are singing in the trees and you immediately know you can relax here. Don’t we all need that in this most strange of years?

Our Royal Sea View suite 

Our room is beyond stunning, I skip around it checking everything out. We couldn’t be more beachfront if we tried. Having said that, I love the way this low rise resort is laid out. All rooms either get a beautiful garden view or a stunning beach view.

Whilst I’m admiring the bed with the kissing elephant towel art surrounded by frangipani flowers, Mr. Wren has found the wine fridge. Or as it’s only lunchtime, Nespresso coffee anyone?

It’s a massive room, with a great bathroom. A very, very deep bath faces his and her basins. We don’t have any of this at home and it always gives me a thrill!

Anantara spa

Still, no time to sit around and do nothing as we’re booked in for a couple’s massage.

My husband raises an eyebrow with a quizzical look. They call me the Spa Queen of Asia on account of my insatiable appetite for a good spa. Yet I never want my luxury pampering spoilt by having him in the room. That couple’s massage stuff is so for newlyweds in my book! Don’t you agree?

We needn’t have worried, it’s happy spa days indeed as we are informed that the Anantara Covid policy means that we will have separate rooms (secret fist pumps all round!)

The spa is tucked away in the gardens, behind the herb garden, like a secret oasis. Their reception is an open air sala floating on a lotus pond. Across a wooden bridge we enter a gentle garden with three oversized doorways, behind which are two separate private spa treatment suites. 

The atmosphere is calm, majestic with an air of reverence. We split up, him to the right, me to the left.

Floor to ceiling glass windows face onto a private bamboo screened garden with an outdoor shower. As I drift off into oblivion, I feel wrapped in the serenity of nature.

Signature massage

We have chosen the Anantara Spa’s signature massage which is a combination of oil and Thai massage. We thought this was a bit different. Usually we prefer a relaxing oil massage, but for both of us with long times spent working at desks, this treatment was the best of both worlds. The relaxation of oil with the stretch of a Thai massage is inspired.

We emerge out of our separate spa room doors like figures in a cuckoo clock. Both at the same time, with a sleepy grin on our faces.

Dining at Full Moon

We dine twice at Full Moon restaurant. Normally we’re more adventurous and head out of the hotel for dinner but the combination of great food, a wonderful setting, and a well priced 3 course dinner set menu lured us to return. 

With the romantic setting of this fine dining restaurant looking out across the swimming pool to Bophut Bay, why go anywhere else?

Especially when I found that the Anantara have their own Origin gin crafted in Chiang Mai! Well, as a G&T lady, ever since my Australian Gin Safari tour, I’m happy to drink Botanicals with the best of them. Of course we’re talking Fentimans tonic.

The first evening we really enjoyed the new signature dry aged beef which Executive Chef David proudly introduces to us. Their beef from across the globe is dry aged in-house for a minimum of 30 days to maximise flavour and tenderness. 

For a mostly vegetarian Wren this is a big call for me, but one gin down, and I know it is my husband’s dream dinner… So of course we share a huge prime rib eye steak from the US. 

That was the best steak I have ever tasted, which is not as high praise from me, as my carnivore hubby who declared it excellent!

The steak comes with quite a performance. Firstly there is a salt choice. Now normally it’s pass the salt or pepper isn’t it? Not here at Full Moon. There is a choice of five different salts and then a massive case of steak knives arrives. Decisions, decisions! 

Breakfast

I’m a bit fussy when it comes to breakfast, for me I insist on the full works and we often “eat for England” to take us through the whole way to dinner.

The Anantara has it all apart from I didn’t spot my favourite smoked salmon and avocado, this is a nod to nourish the half Aussie in me! I’m not complaining, there was so much choice! We loved our lazy breakfasts. The egg station and noodle bar are set up in the garden with the main buffet, bakery, cereals, juices, salads, fruit, etc. inside.

I suspect they have adapted slightly to an increase in Thai guests but I am happy with my big test; an egg white omelette, no fat and a pot of fresh lemongrass and ginger tea.

Yoga and fitness

The next morning I return to the spa where they have recently built an open air yoga sala. From my yoga mat I get to really appreciate the tranquility of the spa gardens, although don’t forget to spray on some of the thoughtfully provided insect repellent. 

A 30 minutes yoga class is one of the complimentary activities offered for residents. Other options during the week were Pilates and Thai boxing. You have the option of booking a 60 minutes yoga private session with the instructor.

I never saw the gym, as we preferred a daily walk on the beach (it’s soft sand so it’s quite a workout!) 

Happy hour

Each night at the pool bar a chosen cocktail was on offer for a 50% discount. The beach area was set up to replicate the famous local Coco Tam’s Beach Bar, with its laid back atmosphere and bean bags on the beach.

Take a next tip from me, they were queuing for over an hour to get into Coco Tam’s, just enjoy the sunset from the Anantara.

Fisherman’s Village

Of course no stay at the Anantara Bophut is complete without the short stroll down the beach to Fisherman’s Village. The village compromises of a mix of old Chinese shop houses mixed with the new and modern. It works to offer a charming mix with a Mediterranean feel.

Even in today’s quiet days there is enough open to attract the in crowd. 

Travel safe

The Anantara Bophut Covid policy gave us confidence. Staff wore masks as did most guest in the public areas away from the pool and the beach. Our temperatures were taken on arrival, before dining and at the spa. Gym usage was regulated.

Thank you!

We would like to thank the Anantara Bophut and Minor Hotels for a much needed and relaxing few days. It is thoroughly recommended. We will be back!

Anantara Bophut Koh Samui Resort  

Telephone :  02 365 9110 

Email : [email protected]

Website : www.anantara.com/en/bophut-koh-samui

Little Wandering Wren stayed as a guest of Anantara Bophut Koh Samui. Her Thailand staycations can be found at www.wanderingwren.com and on Instagram and Twitter @littlewanderingwren

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