By March 2020, the Covid pandemic had hit Thailand (where I was living at the time), and the country started implementing lockdown restrictions. I had to make a big decision. Do I stay at my winter home on Koh Lanta, a remote island near the Malaysian, or return to Ottawa, Canada?
There are a lot of expats on Koh Lanta during the winter months, and they started leaving. The prospect of travel with thousands of frantic people was not attractive. We heard stories of flights canceled and people stranded for days. None of this encouraged me to leave.
Then Thailand closed its borders. Nobody was allowed in. Not just tourists and expats like me with a Retirement Visa, but Thai nationals as well. The borders were closed, period, so if I left, I didn’t know when I’d be able to return. We had about a week’s notice that this was going to happen and decision time had come.
I’ve had an amazing place on Koh Lanta for almost 10 years and have spent the winter months on this island for over 15 years. My home, the Happy Cat Villa, has a huge garden, with my small one-bedroom bungalow near the entrance, and a guest bungalow at the back of the ½ acre property.
It’s a 3-minute stroll to the beach, and a 5-minute walk to Lanta Animal Welfare, the animal rescue charity where I volunteer. The weather is hot and dry during the winter and hot with some rain during the summertime. I have a lot of friends from all over the planet, which makes the social life always interesting.
My daily routine wouldn’t really changed with the government restrictions, curfews and lockdowns. I shop at the local wet markets and eat mostly at home. I write in the mornings and do my charity work early afternoons. Late afternoons walk the beach and do some cardio/yoga at sunset. I’m pretty happy with my lifestyle here on Koh Lanta.
Ottawa is far away. It takes about 35 hours, door-to-door, to get there, if I have good connections. There are 4 flights, with 2 of them long-hauls of over 10 hours sitting in a tin can hurling around the planet. With the long layovers between flights and the risk of flights being canceled mid-trip, I was hesitant to embark on a long chaotic journey. Back in Ottawa, I live in a small townhouse. The location is wonderful, adjacent to a parkway with lots of running and biking trails. But with the lockdowns in Canada, I’d have to stay at home.
At the time when I had to make my decision, people were only allowed to go out to get food and supplies. Everyone was working from home, and most of the city was shut down and under curfew.
I was, and still am, high-risk at 67. The thought of being out in Ottawa and exposed to the virus in the grocery stores was terrifying. Everything about being back in Ottawa was stressful. Between leaving my wonderful home, the hectic trip, and being confined to a small house, Canada was just wrong.
I also took into consideration that if I did go back to Canada, I wouldn’t be able to return to Thailand with the boarders closed. With so few people left on Koh Lanta, there was no one I could ask to house-sit, and I had no idea how long I’d be gone.
My house, left without someone it in, was an invitation for vandalism and squatters. I knew it would be a long time before the country opened and coming back to house problems was too stressful to seriously consider.
This all made my decision easy as pie. I stayed locked down in paradise. I knew that the restrictions wouldn’t ease up in Thailand for a very long time, but it would be like this wherever I was. I’m happiest at Happy Cat Villa, so that confirmed I made the right decision for myself.
The past year has definitely been weird. With no tourists, there were no customers for 80% the businesses and services on this island, so they shut down. Most of the Thais working here come from other parts of Thailand for the tourist months. They all left.
Restaurants have closed and re-opened several times, but the weirdest thing is the resort closures. It’s really post-apocalyptic here with so much property closed and abandoned. I wander through one of these resorts every afternoon to feed the 18+ cats that have been dumped there by people who left the island.
I walk by bungalow after bungalow and see no one. It’s spooky and way too quiet. I’m hyper aware of even the smallest noise, almost expecting a zombie to shuffle out from behind a tree.
When I walk the beach, I bring a plastic bag to collect garbage that comes to shore with the summer monsoon winds. But my garbage collection isn’t so random anymore. These days my focus is on lighters, from which I’ve learned to create sculptures.
First, I created a giant cat, and it’s now mounted on the side of my house at the entrance-way. Then I made a giant cat head for a friend’s restaurant as a birthday gift. Another friend was fitting up a children’s playground for a local fishing village, and I made her a giant cat to mount near the swing-sets.
People are noticing my sculptures. Strangers are friending me on Facebook and asking me about my garbage art. People are bringing me lighters; some just leave them at my gate. A few local businesses are interested. I’m currently building a giant turtle for The Fat Turtle, an upscale beach restaurant nearby. I’m also discussing another sculpture and having fun coming up with cool ideas.
I’ve stumbled upon other garbage art sculptures, and it’s been an absolute blast. No way any of this could have happened to me in Ottawa. I’d have gone crazy cooped up in my home for over a year, with all the stress and worry about getting Covid.
At the start of the pandemic most of my Koh Lanta friends returned to their home countries, but surprisingly, I’ve also met new people and so many of them have been here for over a decade. This has definitely been eye-opening and enriched my social life on this abandoned remote island.
There have been a few Covid cases here on Koh Lanta. When a new one is discovered, the authorities quickly isolate the patient and investigate their movements, testing anyone they interacted with. We all wear masks and mostly keep to ourselves.
Last week the government started vaccinating the Thais. Foreigners are not included yet. I know I will get a vaccine within a few months. If I want it sooner, I can always return to Canada, but I have no plans to leave. I’m staying flexible with no expectations.
As I write this, the government has again locked down the provinces due to the Delta variant. I feel safe here and welcome this newest lockdown.
Why mess with a good thing? I’m happy, safe and fully engaged in my lifestyle. I love walking the beach to collect lighters and feed my beach cats and maybe one day a zombie will appear. And I have my garbage art giving me a bit of notoriety here in paradise.
It’s all good!
Where were you when Covid first erupted? Did you decide to leave your whereabouts and move back home? Do you feel safe in your home country? Or has your home away from home felt like a blissful paradise for the past year? What is the current situation at your present location? Let’s swap stories!