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.
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.
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!
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:
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.