Thailand: 4 January to 28 July 2020

Updated: Sep 22


A cursory overview of our stay in Thailand. I may or may not add more stuff from time to time as things occur to me.


We flew from South Africa to Thailand via Hong Kong on the 4th of January, 2020. The start of our new lives as digital nomads!


While we were waiting for our flight at the airport in Hong Kong, we heard repeated messages over the public address system with the gist of "If you've been to Wuhan, China, and you're feeling a bit coldy or fluy, you'd better get yourself to a doctor, chop-chop!"


Well, we all know how that turned out.


We settled into living and working on the island of Koh Samui and, apart from a bout of temperature-checking at the border when we did a visa run to Malaysia and back, the budding pandemic didn't really feature big in our lives or in Thailand in general.


It took us a while to realise that you can't eat, drink, and spend like you're on holiday when you're a digital nomad - not good for the waistline, the liver, or the wallet. But it was wonderful to have the freedom to indulge in mid-week activities such as the kayak trip we did to two smaller islands off Koh Samui. Right at the end of this video you can see the start of what turned out to be a beach bar crawl by kayak.



This all changed late one night in March while we were having a massive party in one of my all-time favourite beach bars, Freeway (below, permantly closed now), on the neigbouring Koh Phangan. Police officers barged in and ordered the owner to close down the bar due to Covid-19, same as all the bars in Thailand.



Alcohol retail sales were also banned from time to time, and I joined the ranks of those who tried their hand at brewing pineapple beer. Mine turned out more like pineapple wine. But we drank every drop.



Looking on the bright side (for us), most of the tourists went home, so the bottom fell out of the holiday accommodation rental market. This meant that we could afford to live and work in digs that would have been waaaay beyond our budget before the pandemic. I would generally prefer a modest cabin with a great view over a luxury villa without one (within reason), but for a few months, we had the best of both worlds.


However, there were grim and sobering reminders that many Thai people were suffering. One by one, the shop owners in the tourist areas rolled down their metal shutters and left them down, until only a handful of diehard and probably desperate ones were sticking it out.


I needed a new beach towel and went to one of the few beach paraphernalia shops that were still open. I chose a towel and paid. As the owner handed me my change, he said: "Thank you. You are my first customer in four months." Fuck.


Beer


The three mass brands are Singha (meaning Lion, and I guess it's the most international one), Leo (Leopard), and Chang (Elephant). Maryke and I did a blind tasting soon after we arrived in Thailand. I preferred Leo and Maryke preferred Chang.


Blind tasting

In the end, we mostly drank Chang when we went out because it's so widely available. And anyway, most mass-produced lagers taste more or less the same, especially when they're cold.


By the way, what the Aussies call a "stubby holder" is informally known in Thailand as a "condom".


An elephant wearing a condom

Fine Art


Here's a collection of pictures that I simply call Foxy Figurines.



Leaving Thailand


The Thai authorities kept on announcing blanket extensions of the tourist visas of those who didn't or couldn't go home to avoid pandemic-friendly overcrowding at their immigration offices by people applying for visa extensions. I guess they also reckoned their tourism-dependent economy (and especially shop owners like the one I mentioned above) needed some life support from the few remaining foreigners.


However, it was never certain for how long this visa generosity would last. So, after about seven months of being "stuck" in Thailand due to Covid-19 we decided that it was time to up sticks and go to a country where we could sit out the worst of the pandemic, where they couldn't chuck us out, and where the climate was at least tolerable, i.e. not too cold in winter.


We left Thailand at the end of July 2020 via an eerily empty airport in Bangkok and flew to the Greek island of Crete, which would be our home for the next 17 months or so.