I hate this coronavirus as much as the next person as I didn’t come to Thailand to spend my golden years moping around in my condo, and not even being allowed to swim in the swimming pool or go to the in-house gym and it is making me lethargic, slightly tubby and lazy. My mum always told me I would not accomplish anything by lazing around all day, but look at me now mum, I’m saving the world.
Having said that, my life over the past year has not been all doom and gloom. In between the first wave and the second wave of the coronavirus, although I couldn’t travel overseas I was able to travel in both northern and southern Thailand on a few occasions and loved every minute of it, which is how it should be when you’re retired.
Also, because of the coronavirus my British/Australian pension has stretched a lot further than it normally would as I have been unable to go out to the bars and restaurants that I usually frequent, much to the disappointment of the many ladies who have missed out on their usual lady-drinks. My travels around Southeast Asia have also had to have been put on hold, so I have saved a small fortune by staying home.
Another bonus that has come out of the pandemic is the Thai baht exchange rate to the Australian dollar has come back down to an acceptable level. Last May, B100 would have cost me AUS$0.50. The last time I looked, B100 was AUS$0.41, which is where it should be. When the pandemic is finally over and the world opens up again, I can use the money that I have saved by staying home to explore Thailand and the world again… and buy the lady-drinks that I owe.
I think that the pandemic is taking its toll on many people’s mental health, which is why the world needs to try to get back to where we were 16 months ago. Today when I was leaving my condo for my early morning beach walk, I saw one of my neighbours talking to her cat and it was obvious that she thought her cat understood every word that she said. I said good morning to her and I walked on thinking that the poor lady must be going stir crazy because of having to stay home with no one to talk to. During my walk I saw a couple of soi dogs, so I sat down with them and told them about my neighbour talking to her cat and we all had a good laugh about it.
I know that COVID-19 is not funny but most Brits when in adversity try to “Always look on the bright side of life”, as sung by Eric Idle in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, and we can find humour in most situations as we believe that if you don’t laugh you will probably end up crying. I know on a personal level that catching the coronavirus isn’t funny. In early March 2020 I was staying in the coastal town of Bang Saray in Chonburi near Pattaya while doing some research for a book that I was planning on writing.
On my second morning at the hotel two coach loads of Chinese tourists, about 80 in total, checked into the hotel and stayed for two nights. I would sit with them at breakfast and as it was a buffet breakfast everyone congregated around the serveries, piling their plates with food, coughing, spluttering and breathing over the food and each other. The day after they left, I checked out of the hotel and while driving home I started to feel hot and sweaty and later on the journey a tickle in my throat became a full-on chesty cough.
On arriving home, I felt sick like I did when living in England when I would often catch the flu in the cold north-eastern winters. The next morning, I had a high temperature and felt quite ill so I went to my local clinic and though they did not have a COVID test in those days, when I told the doctor about where I had been for the past few days and about the Chinese tourists that I had mixed with he told me that there was a good chance that I had COVID-19 and for me to go home and rest and quarantine for 14 days.
I never even gave it a thought that it could have been COVID as not much was being said about it at that time in Thailand; in fact the Prime Minister said that everything was under control and there was nothing to be concerned about. I felt better within the first week but I stayed home for the full two weeks and for me it was just like a bad dose of the flu, but for many people around the world they were not going to be so lucky.
Over the past 16 months the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the world and has changed the way that we live our lives probably forever as once governments take away our basic freedoms, they are not inclined to give them back without a fight. The UK where I am originally from has had some 6.3 million cases of the coronavirus resulting in 131,000 deaths, with the UK having a population of 68mn, which is virtually the same population as Thailand.
However, more than 47mn or over half of the population of the UK have had at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and more than 40mn have had their second dose, in the biggest inoculation programme the country has ever seen. Thailand to date has recorded over one million cases resulting in over 8,732 deaths, with 19.1mn people having received the first dose of vaccine, 5.5mn being fully vaccinated and a further 519,600 who have received a third-dose ‘booster injection’ – so they have a long way to go before the country will be fully vaccinated.
Credit where credit is due, Thailand has done a lot better than most countries when it comes to restricting the spread of the virus but the past few months has seen a third wave and a spike in the reported cases and it is imperative that the vaccine programme becomes number one priority to get the country back working again.
In 2019, 40 million tourists entered Thailand. Unfortunately with the arrival of the pandemic in 2020 tourism in Thailand came to an abrupt halt from March of that year with only 7 million tourists coming to the land of smiles last year, with the majority of them coming to Thailand in the first three months of the year.
At the beginning of this year everything was starting to look good and most people breathed a tentative sigh of relief when they thought they could see light at the end of the dark tunnel, but then came the second wave of the coronavirus and now we are into the third wave so it now looks like this year will also be a write off for tourism again.
Hopefully when the country starts to overcome this third wave, and if there is not a fourth wave, we should see the tourists start to trickle back into Thailand by the end of this year or early 2022 and hopefully the numbers will increase to acceptable figures by the start of the usual peak season in November 2022.
This will give Phuket a good 12 months to try to rise again and rebuild its devastated tourism industry, but they can’t do it alone. I hope that the Thailand government can loosen their purse strings and help those struggling to keep their businesses open or for those who will have to try to re-open their businesses when they see signs of tourism returning to the country, as without financial help many will struggle to rise from the ashes and be able to rebuild their businesses and their lives.
Maybe the government will finally shelve the B22.5-billion submarines they have ordered for at least another year and put the money saved into the vaccine program and the re-vitalising of the tourist industry.
Laew Jer Gan Krab
Originally from the UK, Ged moved to Australia in 1974. Since then, in the capacity of a chef he has travelled the world working in hotels and restaurants, gold mines, cruise ships, Antarctic supply ships, Australian custom patrol vessels, oil-rig tenders, European ferries and oil tankers. Ged has also lived in Jamaica, Bermuda, Singapore, the Falkland Islands, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and the USA.
He retired to Thailand in 2017 where he reinvented himself as an author and whenever COVID permits he travels extensively throughout Thailand and Southeast Asia doing research for his books. To keep active and to pursue his love of travel Gerald has written two books in the ’Thai Died’ series of books, ’Thai Died...Murder in Paradise’ and ’Thai Died… Bar-Girl’ as well as five books in his ’Retirees Travel Guide Series’ aimed at retirees and baby boomers.
His first book in the series ’The Retire in Thailand Handbook’ was released by London publishers Austin Macauley in 2019. Ged has also written his biography; ’You Will Never Amount to Anything’ and an historical novel about the first-time fingerprints were used to gain a murder conviction in the UK in 1905… ’The Deptford Mask Murders’.
All of his books are available on Amazon. Ged also is in the process of starting his own YouTube channel on Thailand and writes a blog to help expats who may be thinking of making Thailand their home in retirement. See Ged’s Thailand Blog at RetireInThailand.asia