I landed on Koh Lanta in the middle of a personal crises, my relationship had collapsed and I’d been hopping from country to country trying to figure out what to do next, but it was also the beginning of a global crisis. Just weeks after arriving in Thailand the whole world came to a screeching halt, and due to COVID-19 I ended up locked down on Lanta.
After meandering from Bali with plans to work at a trade show in Mumbai I was looking for a rejuvenating place to spend a few weeks between Kuala Lumpur and India. I settled on a little laid-back island, booked a flight, hopped in a van, boarded a ferry, and arrived on Koh Lanta. As soon as I checked in and walked down to the beach I knew I’d made the right decision.
For the first two weeks I tried to balance getting work done with exploring the tropical paradise, devouring pad thai, attending the Laanta Lanta Festival, and dipping my toes back in the dating scene. As my flight to India approached and news feeds filled with pandemic alerts, it became apparent that I needed to consider a Plan “B”.
First, the trade show in Mumbai was postponed, then India closed its borders, so I booked a flight to Sri Lanka, planning to meet my dad there for a month. Not long after India closed, Sri Lanka did too.
With 3 weeks spent of my month-long visa in Thailand, I moved to Plan “C” and bought a flight back to Malaysia because they offered a free 90 day tourist visa and I planned to wait things out in Penang. I packed my bags, reserved a van to the airport, and prepared to say adios to Thailand.
On the morning of my departure I was waiting for my ride when I scrolled through the news and saw that Malaysia was going into lockdown that very night. It made no sense to travel somewhere just to get stuck inside, so I moved on to Plan “Stop Making Plans” and on March 17th I had 3 flights booked out of the Krabi airport, to India, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia, none of which I took.
Instead, I unpacked my bags and settled back into what was apparently going to become my home for the foreseeable future.
Luckily I was staying in a great little bungalow just minutes from the beach with an incredible host family and a few other stranded neighbors. If I was going to get “stuck” somewhere in a global pandemic, a tropical island seemed ideal.
As the world went into lockdown I set up an office in my bungalow. For the past 5 years it’s been a nice perk to be able to work from anywhere, but in the midst of COVID-19 it became an asset. Around the beginning of the pandemic I started working with 2 new clients, so while many people were bored and locked down at home, I had more work than I knew what to do with.
After a few weeks working inside with sweat dripping off my elbows I decided I needed to be outdoors in the breeze. I could have turned on the air conditioning, but I prefer fresh air, so I moved my desk outside and spent the rest of my days working from my balcony in a tropical garden while listening to the waves crashing on the beach.
In addition to work, I caught up on some creative projects, published a film of my brother’s Western States 100 Finish, redesigned my website, and Zoom called friends along with the rest of the world.
The extreme lockdown coincided with Ramadan, and my Muslim host family invited me to join their daily iftar, the evening feast to break a day of fasting. Those evenings were truly unique and incredibly special to experience.
I was lucky to get “locked down” with a few friends. My neighbors included a couple from Spain, and as the isolation continued I leaned on them for human interaction and English conversations.
Going though the pandemic in Thailand and watching the news from the western world felt like vastly different experiences. Wearing masks was ubiquitous even before the official lockdown measures were in place. Foreigners had their motorbikes confiscated and travel was limited to the community level, at one point I couldn’t even go 2.5 miles from my home to the main grocery store, and depended on local markets and 7-Eleven instead.
Thailand really clamped down on the virus, but one of the biggest differences I noticed was that each time I went shopping there were vast amounts of toilet paper stocked on all of the shelves. There was no panic buying of TP in Thailand!
As the pandemic continued, my friends on the island started moving away or going home. Pretty soon I was the last farang (Thai for foreigner) left in my bungalows.
The Spanish couple had been teaching in China before getting stuck in Thailand, and with no work they adopted some kittens and started daily English lessons with the host family’s kids. When they caught a repatriation flight back to Spain I adopted the cats and became the defacto English instructor on the property.
My tourist visa had long since expired, but the Thai government was offering visa amnesty. At times it was unknown if the amnesty would continue, but eventually the government always extended my ability to stay rather than sending me back home.
In addition to work, feeding the cats, and helping the kids with English homework, I got back to spending time on the beach, doing daily barefoot beach runs, and taking a few cheap beers down to catch the sunset.
Since 2015 I’ve never stayed longer than a few weeks or months in one place, so when I realized that I’d be “stuck” for the foreseeable future I started creating a “home” on Koh Lanta.
I contacted a local bicycle shop, secured a long term mountain bike rental, and began exploring more of the island. With my new wheels I was spinning longer distances, cycling jungle roads, and even crossed the bridge to the north island for the first time in months.
Work was busy, I lived next to the beach, I was running, had a bicycle, and Thailand was letting me stay so I could avoid the craziness of what was happening back home in America. Life was pretty good!
Unfortunately, while I was hitting the lockdown lottery, the pandemic was testing me personally, as I’m sure it was everyone else around the world as well.
First, my English speaking friends left and I was alone with cheap beer and anxiety about my relationship problems. Then, the wifi went out in my bungalow, and after several days of trying to figure out if it would ever come back, I really needed to get some work done.
I’d actually found Koh Lanta through reading about other digital nomads who come here to work at KoHub, the local coworking space. I tried coworking for the first time a few months before in Bali, and I really didn’t like it. During the lockdown an article was published in Business Insider, interviewing James Abbott, the founder of KoHub, and he talked about the value of “community” for Digital Nomads. I read it and thought, “nah, I don’t really need that, I’ve been traveling for years on my own and I’m doing just fine.”
I was ohhhh so wrong…
With no wifi and lots of work to get done, I begrudgingly went to KoHub. Little did I know how much I was going to love it, and how much of an impact it was going to have not only on my work life, but my new life here in Thailand…