“We don’t want to come back to the UK because we have nothing there now. We gave up everything”
A dive-obsessed family relocated to Thailand a week before coronavirus chaos closed down the island – now they’re homeless and without work.
Lauren Edwards immigrated to Koh Phangan with husband Greg Wiseman, 45, and their two boys Ifor, three, and Gryff, one, on March 2nd.
Having worked on the island as dive instructors in 2015, the pair thought they knew what island life would involve.
But three days after Greg started his job as a dive instructor, all the island’s businesses closed due to coronavirus.
Lauren, 29, said: “It’s kind of Chinese whispers at the moment – it’s hard to get reliable information so we are on a beach and kind of in a little bubble at the moment, and trying to think of what to do next.”
“We were living in Devon and decided to just have a complete change so we sold everything.
“We really wanted to do something fun and adventurous before the boys got to the age where we were really stuck, like they needed to be at school.
“Initially we decided to do a little bit of round the world travel – we thought that Greg could dive in places and earn a bit of money, and I could teach some English.
“Then he got offered the job back with the company we had worked for before and we were like ‘okay, we’ll go and base ourselves there for a while.’
“We know the island – we know that there’s infrastructure, we know there’s hospitals and pharmacies so it was kind of piece of mind with two young children, knowing where we’re going.
“That’s what brought us here – knowing roughly where we were going.
“Our plan after this, if we had funded ourselves, would be maybe to go on to somewhere else.
“But three days after he started work, everything got shut down.
“Now we’re not sure what it’s going to bring – if we use all the money that we had put by then we will just have to come home.
“The plan was to be self-sufficient – we planned on earning some money.
“But it’s deadly quiet – the beach that we’re living on, Thong Nai Pan Yai, 20 resorts are spread along that little village and one of them is left open.
“For a while we thought we’d ride it out and then it got much more serious back in the UK and we weren’t that sure what to do.
“However we thought if we go home, we have no home.”
After three weeks the pair decided it was best to return to the UK – but they had sold everything ahead of the move, including their home in Exeter and their car.
Living with family wasn’t an option either.
Lauren said: “My mum has been working at a school, but obviously now they’re locked up.
“And Greg’s parents are in their mid-70s so we couldn’t really go to them.
“So we just decided that we might be better to stay here – as far as we know, there’s only been one case of coronavirus on the island.
“We’re trying to make ends meet here by teaching a little bit of english online, but it’s sort of $8-$10 dollars a day.
“We can cover a little bit of our costs but it’s hard – it’s hard to know what to do.
“We go in waves – we go from thinking ‘we’re in the best place, this is fantastic, we’re doing the right thing for the boys and we’re safe.
“And then we think ‘what happens after all of this, what happens in 30 days or if we’re stuck here for two or three months.’
“We’ll have no money left by that point.”
The pair have been able to extend their visas, they claim thanks to a letter from the British Embassy that asks for british citizens to be allowed to stay an extra 30 days.
However this came with a £500 price tag – meaning the pair are now eating into the money they had saved to set up their life on the island.
Although Lauren claims the locals have helped them massively: “We have got a little house on the beach, purely because the local people have been so amazing.
“They know that we were here to work and that all fell through.
“Everyone has been so kind – someone has given us a house for a quarter of what it would be going at.
“All the restaurants have now closed down but they are delivering food to everybody.
“We’re really being looked after and it feels like a really nice place to be – but obviously that could change because when businesses start closing down, there isn’t really any government help.
“Things could potentially turn nasty quite quickly – we don’t really know what the next few weeks hold.”
For the pair, the ideal scenario would be to stay on the island, with business returning to normal.
“In an ideal world, we will stay here and in a couple of months it will all blow over.