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Kimberley first visited Koh Phangan 9 years ago for the Full Moon party, making the common mistake of only coming for that event for a few days and not exploring what was beyond the outskirts of the Haad Rin area.
“I realize now what a mistake that was, as the island has so much more to offer other than the Full Moon party”.
This time after getting stuck on Koh Lanta for the lockdown, and once we were finally allowed to travel within Thailand she arrived in Koh Phangan in May. After a bit of exploring, Kimberley immediately fell in love with the island and the vibe. She knew she wanted to find a way to stay as long as possible.
“I am now going on 5 months and I simply cannot imagine being any happier anywhere else”.
Kimberley decided to ‘stick it out in Thailand’ once the COVID lockdown came, she subsequently formed a Facebook Group helping others who made the same situation with advice and as a means to make new connections.
When and why did you set up 'sticking it out in Thailand'?
Back in mid-March, I was in Cambodia. At this time, things started turning for the worse and I decided if there was anywhere I wanted to be stuck (thinking this will all be over in a month or 2), let it be Thailand.
Going home during that time was not an option for me. I immediately booked a flight and landed in Phuket on 19th March. The troubling thing was, I did not know anyone there, nor where to go, as I did not want to stay in Phuket. With so much uncertainty amid the looming pandemic, I was terrified at the thought of the situation getting extreme and I would end up being stranded with no friends and no support. I attempted to connect with other people via other Thailand Facebook groups, yet all I received was negativity and slander. This is what prompted me to find a way to create a positive and safe space for those who decided to “wait it out” in Thailand.
I wanted to create a small online community and a platform for people to connect with others in real life, wherever they were in Thailand. Hence the birth of the “Sticking it out in Thailand” Facebook group. Within the first 2 days, there were about 50 people in the group, I connected with a number of them and decided to head to Koh Lanta, based on some suggestions from group members. The day I arrived, there were about 13 of us who connected there from the group.
Creating this community to make new friends is how it started back in March, yet since the visa amnesty happened, especially since July, the group has gained a lot of traction. Most of the posts are predominantly related to the amnesty or long term visa advice, as this is where people are left feeling most unsure and confused. In addition to this, I'd promote the group as a social platform to connect people, plan meet-ups and trips, and share other advice about Thailand, besides exclusively about the visa topic.
What benefits have you had from it?
I have met some of my best friends thanks to this group. But besides that, this group has given me a tremendous sense of purpose during these times, I love assisting others and creating a sense of community between people. As I am the only group admin, I have had to ensure I am on top of the latest news and updates from Thai Immigration - I have been called “the Visa Queen”!
I have always been one to trust my intuition and this has certainly supported me in my own decisions through this process. So for me, it’s been a mix of information and intuition which I have shared amongst the group, and have found it to be quite gratifying to be of so much help to others.
And how has it helped others?
I have received plenty of brilliant feedback on how helpful and positive the group has been and what a different “vibe” it has compared to other Thailand related groups. The visa advice has been an enormous help to people during these ever-changing times of uncertainty. And of course, many people have made new friends through the group, which was my main objective.
Is it from people all over the country?
Indeed, people are scattered all over Thailand. In addition to travelers, we have many locals, ex-pats, and business owners within the group as well, who have offered advice and assistance. We also have some members who have joined from outside Thailand, hoping to see updates on inbound travel, which is occasionally shared within the group.
What are the main reasons for people sticking it out here?
Many people, like myself, do not feel safe to go home due to the uncontrolled COVID situation where they live, perhaps no job lined up or place to live either. Many of us have been traveling long term and/or are Digital Nomads. A number of people who would go home to live with family members who would be considered high-risk, do not want to put them at more risk.
Thanks to the successful efforts of Thailand controlling the virus, we feel remarkably safe here. The cost of living is incredibly affordable and we are living in an exquisitely beautiful country with amazing food, friendly locals, and minimal restrictions. It’s a safe-haven bubble of paradise. Why would we want to be anywhere else?
What does the group help with?
Currently, it’s mostly advice and updates on visa options, amnesty, Extension processes, and immigration office visits. In addition to that, as people are traveling around Thailand, questions are being asked about the situation in certain places such as things being open and if it seems busy or more ghost-town like. I am also promoting the group to people who are looking for “travel buddies”.
How are you dealing with the influx of members?
I had no intention for the group to grow to what it has (now 1600 members and still growing), however, I haven’t found it to be too much work for myself. I have enjoyed assisting others and although as the group grew, more challenges did arise, I have still managed to keep it as a positive space. Most members remain cooperative towards the main objective of the group and are extremely helpful to one another. Any negative comments get reported and those members are removed. Overall, I am immensely grateful to the members of this group, they have all had an intrinsic role in building this wonderful community.
Can people help?
Anyone who feels they can contribute to the group and/or help out people in any way, please join our community.
In general, during these times of exceptional uncertainty and stress for many, the best way we can help is to be kind and support one another. We are living in unprecedented times and the only thing that is certain is the fact that we are in this together. So be kind, we don’t know everyone’s story or what their struggles could be.
What are your plans for the future? And any advice to others sticking it out here?
I am hoping to stick it out until at least next March. Sadly, it looks like the situation back home is only going to get worse before it gets better. Unfortunately once again, we are left with a bit of uncertainty regarding the situation with visa extensions here. However, I do have faith that the process going forward will be more in our favor.
My advice is, as long as you have ways and means to support yourself financially while in Thailand, stick it out because there is no better place to be. There are other options available, even without a visa amnesty. Many schools are desperate for teachers and will arrange your visa for you. Or why not learn Thai while you are living here? Education visas are available at select language and Muay Thai schools. Pop into a visa office near you and explore the options. I would advise being extra vigilant during this time, there are a lot of visa businesses popping up all of a sudden and it's questionable whether or not they are legit. Unfortunately, there have been some people who’ve been scammed. My best advice is: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t.
In the meantime, let’s be grateful to Thailand for allowing us to stay in this beautiful safe-haven thus far, we are incredibly lucky to be here after all. I cannot imagine a better place to be during these times.