Connect with us

Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Skål International Bangkok’s helps to repatriate a mother and her teacher son




PHOTO: John and Nicolette de Villiers - mother and son reunited at their home in Paarle South Africa - SKÅL International

by Andrew Wood

A mother’s plight to rescue her 23 year old son, John de Villiers, who was stranded in Asia and his mother’s wish to return him safely home to South Africa, led to a fantastic story that has to be told. The amazing story involved using key contacts available via Skål International’s global reach, embassies across 3 continents, an ambulance-get-away vehicle and a one-way journey of 27 hours in the air, over 3 days flying 22,000 kilometres, quite literally half way around the world.

Nicolette de Villiers recounting her extraordinary story told me.

“In January 2020 my husband and I enrolled our son John at the Explore Asia Academy in Hua Hin, Thailand to complete a TESOL course with the idea that he could teach English whilst completing his on-line BCOM Degree. It was with much excitement and anticipation that we, as a family, went to Hua Hin to visit the Academy and make sure that their operations looked legitimate.”

Once back in South Africa with her daughter (her husband had to return to China where he works), she was informed that her son would be placed in Myanmar to teach English. John full of enthusiasm flew to Yangon in Myanmar from Thailand.

The school was privately owned and operated by Ms Chan a Chinese/Burmese lady who acted as the School Principal. She recruited approximately 100 pupils for John and the other foreigners to teach. John was sent to a school in Mawlamyine which was a six hour bus journey from Yangon.

With Covid-19 becoming more prevalent the family continuously enquired from John on the status of the virus in Myanmar. Initially the school remained operating but there were less pupils. Some overseas teachers had already left and later the school was shut down altogether. Two teachers plus John remained.

With South Africa announcing on March 23 2020 that it was going into first stage lockdown, Nicolette requested the South Africa embassy in Bangkok for assistance with the repatriation of her son.

In Myanmar there was local mistrust and fear that foreigners spread the coronavirus, the teachers were becoming increasingly isolated and shunned by all locals. In the end, the school principal moved them to Thanbyuzayat, 64 km south, where there was no Covid-19.

Nicolette told me, “One evening I met up with a family friend Helmut Amos and explained to him my situation that I didn’t know what to do but that I had decided to try to get John out of Myanmar where he was stuck so far away from Yangon with no transport options,” she recounted.

“The need to get John out of Myanmar was becoming increasingly urgent. I was uncomfortable and I noticed that John started sounding less optimistic during our WhatsApp calls. Initially he was positive that the school would re-open and that they would return to teaching. Often when I called him the township where he was staying was having a power failure for hours on end,” Nicolette recalls.

After days, weeks and months of phone calls and email exchanges it was looking impossible to get John home until a chance conversation, showed a possible way forward. It was good fortune that during the conversation with her friend Helmut, he suggested making contact with mutual friend Reni Hildenbrand, owner of Hildenbrand Wine & Olive Estate in South Africa. Reni knew Bangkok Skål member Allan Riddell.

With Allan’s global travel and tourism association contacts and his links with the South African Thai Chamber of Commerce. Along with Mr Graham Macdonald, Honorary Advisor to the SATCC chamber, they all played an important part to coordinate all the arrangements in the complex plan.

In Myanmar the country was becoming increasingly locked down due to Covid-19, internal movements from one province to the next, were difficult, with ever increasing reams of paperwork required by the authorities. Getting John to Yangon without delay was imperative. With no direct flights to South Africa and all borders to neighbouring countries closed, the only way out was via the international airport in Myanmar’s capital.

With the help of all concerned and in particularly John’s mum Nicolette, arrangements were finally made after much work, to fly John out.

Flying first with Korean Air, Yangon to Incheon then on to Amsterdam.

In South Africa Nicolette contacted TTS KLM Repatriation. The agency was helpful and informed her she could book with two separate tickets and that the time period for connecting flights may not extend longer than 48 hours. She checked and there was a KLM repatriation fight to Cape Town that would connect with the Korean Air flights coming from Yangon- Incheon – Amsterdam. “There was hope and I had faith,” she said.

At the same time Nicolette instructed John to find out how and what mode of transport he could get from Thanbyuzayat to Yangon. He was told that buses operated for locals only but was also informed that with new legislation that there were no taxis or buses (even for locals) permitted to drive to Yangon due to the lockdown.

John was also told that a town between Thanbyuzayat and Yangon had gone into lockdown and that he would need to go into quarantine for five days to get through there to Yangon.

On September 18 John received a very important letter of Laissez Passer.

On Saturday September 19 John went to a Health Centre for a covid test. It cost US$200. On Sunday, September 20 the results and certificate were released and John was negative. A vital part of the paperwork trail had been completed. Now things moved fast.

They would first take a taxi before changing vehicles to an ambulance. The purpose of the ambulance was to increase the chances to get him through the quarantine roadblocks and to get to his flight on time!

It was subterfuge but it worked!

The confident former military driver bluffed his way in the ambulance and was not stopped and was allowed safe passage with his ‘sick’ patient without delay.

Skål International Bangkok’s helps to repatriate a mother and her teacher son | News by Thaiger

Home on South African soil – John on his arrival at Cape Town International Airport

John flew on September 21 at 21:00 from Yangon to Seoul/Incheon arriving September 22 at 5:25.

John would then fly from Seoul/ Incheon 14:05 to Amsterdam arriving 18:55 and later depart Amsterdam on September 22 at 21:50 arriving home in South Africa landing at Cape Town September 23 at 9:20.

Nicolette’s husband Villiers, (still in lockdown in China), offering long distance emotional support, told his wife that she only had 2 priorities, one to get John out of Myanmar and the second – to get John out of Myanmar. She did!

by Andrew Wood, SKÅL International


Get more from The Thaiger

Looking for your next home in Thailand? Let us match you with a local expert in minutes!

Thank you for your interest!

One of our agents will
reach out to you soon.

I want to:
  • Thailand (ไทย)+66
  • United States+1
  • United Kingdom+44
  • Australia+61
  • Afghanistan (‫افغانستان‬‎)+93
  • Albania (Shqipëri)+355
  • Algeria (‫الجزائر‬‎)+213
  • American Samoa+1684
  • Andorra+376
  • Angola+244
  • Anguilla+1264
  • Antigua and Barbuda+1268
  • Argentina+54
  • Armenia (Հայաստան)+374
  • Aruba+297
  • Australia+61
  • Austria (Österreich)+43
  • Azerbaijan (Azərbaycan)+994
  • Bahamas+1242
  • Bahrain (‫البحرين‬‎)+973
  • Bangladesh (বাংলাদেশ)+880
  • Barbados+1246
  • Belarus (Беларусь)+375
  • Belgium (België)+32
  • Belize+501
  • Benin (Bénin)+229
  • Bermuda+1441
  • Bhutan (འབྲུག)+975
  • Bolivia+591
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina (Босна и Херцеговина)+387
  • Botswana+267
  • Brazil (Brasil)+55
  • British Indian Ocean Territory+246
  • British Virgin Islands+1284
  • Brunei+673
  • Bulgaria (България)+359
  • Burkina Faso+226
  • Burundi (Uburundi)+257
  • Cambodia (កម្ពុជា)+855
  • Cameroon (Cameroun)+237
  • Canada+1
  • Cape Verde (Kabu Verdi)+238
  • Caribbean Netherlands+599
  • Cayman Islands+1345
  • Central African Republic (République centrafricaine)+236
  • Chad (Tchad)+235
  • Chile+56
  • China (中国)+86
  • Christmas Island+61
  • Cocos (Keeling) Islands+61
  • Colombia+57
  • Comoros (‫جزر القمر‬‎)+269
  • Congo (DRC) (Jamhuri ya Kidemokrasia ya Kongo)+243
  • Congo (Republic) (Congo-Brazzaville)+242
  • Cook Islands+682
  • Costa Rica+506
  • Côte d’Ivoire+225
  • Croatia (Hrvatska)+385
  • Cuba+53
  • Curaçao+599
  • Cyprus (Κύπρος)+357
  • Czech Republic (Česká republika)+420
  • Denmark (Danmark)+45
  • Djibouti+253
  • Dominica+1767
  • Dominican Republic (República Dominicana)+1
  • Ecuador+593
  • Egypt (‫مصر‬‎)+20
  • El Salvador+503
  • Equatorial Guinea (Guinea Ecuatorial)+240
  • Eritrea+291
  • Estonia (Eesti)+372
  • Ethiopia+251
  • Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas)+500
  • Faroe Islands (Føroyar)+298
  • Fiji+679
  • Finland (Suomi)+358
  • France+33
  • French Guiana (Guyane française)+594
  • French Polynesia (Polynésie française)+689
  • Gabon+241
  • Gambia+220
  • Georgia (საქართველო)+995
  • Germany (Deutschland)+49
  • Ghana (Gaana)+233
  • Gibraltar+350
  • Greece (Ελλάδα)+30
  • Greenland (Kalaallit Nunaat)+299
  • Grenada+1473
  • Guadeloupe+590
  • Guam+1671
  • Guatemala+502
  • Guernsey+44
  • Guinea (Guinée)+224
  • Guinea-Bissau (Guiné Bissau)+245
  • Guyana+592
  • Haiti+509
  • Honduras+504
  • Hong Kong (香港)+852
  • Hungary (Magyarország)+36
  • Iceland (Ísland)+354
  • India (भारत)+91
  • Indonesia+62
  • Iran (‫ایران‬‎)+98
  • Iraq (‫العراق‬‎)+964
  • Ireland+353
  • Isle of Man+44
  • Israel (‫ישראל‬‎)+972
  • Italy (Italia)+39
  • Jamaica+1
  • Japan (日本)+81
  • Jersey+44
  • Jordan (‫الأردن‬‎)+962
  • Kazakhstan (Казахстан)+7
  • Kenya+254
  • Kiribati+686
  • Kosovo+383
  • Kuwait (‫الكويت‬‎)+965
  • Kyrgyzstan (Кыргызстан)+996
  • Laos (ລາວ)+856
  • Latvia (Latvija)+371
  • Lebanon (‫لبنان‬‎)+961
  • Lesotho+266
  • Liberia+231
  • Libya (‫ليبيا‬‎)+218
  • Liechtenstein+423
  • Lithuania (Lietuva)+370
  • Luxembourg+352
  • Macau (澳門)+853
  • Macedonia (FYROM) (Македонија)+389
  • Madagascar (Madagasikara)+261
  • Malawi+265
  • Malaysia+60
  • Maldives+960
  • Mali+223
  • Malta+356
  • Marshall Islands+692
  • Martinique+596
  • Mauritania (‫موريتانيا‬‎)+222
  • Mauritius (Moris)+230
  • Mayotte+262
  • Mexico (México)+52
  • Micronesia+691
  • Moldova (Republica Moldova)+373
  • Monaco+377
  • Mongolia (Монгол)+976
  • Montenegro (Crna Gora)+382
  • Montserrat+1664
  • Morocco (‫المغرب‬‎)+212
  • Mozambique (Moçambique)+258
  • Myanmar (Burma) (မြန်မာ)+95
  • Namibia (Namibië)+264
  • Nauru+674
  • Nepal (नेपाल)+977
  • Netherlands (Nederland)+31
  • New Caledonia (Nouvelle-Calédonie)+687
  • New Zealand+64
  • Nicaragua+505
  • Niger (Nijar)+227
  • Nigeria+234
  • Niue+683
  • Norfolk Island+672
  • North Korea (조선 민주주의 인민 공화국)+850
  • Northern Mariana Islands+1670
  • Norway (Norge)+47
  • Oman (‫عُمان‬‎)+968
  • Pakistan (‫پاکستان‬‎)+92
  • Palau+680
  • Palestine (‫فلسطين‬‎)+970
  • Panama (Panamá)+507
  • Papua New Guinea+675
  • Paraguay+595
  • Peru (Perú)+51
  • Philippines+63
  • Poland (Polska)+48
  • Portugal+351
  • Puerto Rico+1
  • Qatar (‫قطر‬‎)+974
  • Réunion (La Réunion)+262
  • Romania (România)+40
  • Russia (Россия)+7
  • Rwanda+250
  • Saint Barthélemy+590
  • Saint Helena+290
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis+1869
  • Saint Lucia+1758
  • Saint Martin (Saint-Martin (partie française))+590
  • Saint Pierre and Miquelon (Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon)+508
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines+1784
  • Samoa+685
  • San Marino+378
  • São Tomé and Príncipe (São Tomé e Príncipe)+239
  • Saudi Arabia (‫المملكة العربية السعودية‬‎)+966
  • Senegal (Sénégal)+221
  • Serbia (Србија)+381
  • Seychelles+248
  • Sierra Leone+232
  • Singapore+65
  • Sint Maarten+1721
  • Slovakia (Slovensko)+421
  • Slovenia (Slovenija)+386
  • Solomon Islands+677
  • Somalia (Soomaaliya)+252
  • South Africa+27
  • South Korea (대한민국)+82
  • South Sudan (‫جنوب السودان‬‎)+211
  • Spain (España)+34
  • Sri Lanka (ශ්‍රී ලංකාව)+94
  • Sudan (‫السودان‬‎)+249
  • Suriname+597
  • Svalbard and Jan Mayen+47
  • Swaziland+268
  • Sweden (Sverige)+46
  • Switzerland (Schweiz)+41
  • Syria (‫سوريا‬‎)+963
  • Taiwan (台灣)+886
  • Tajikistan+992
  • Tanzania+255
  • Thailand (ไทย)+66
  • Timor-Leste+670
  • Togo+228
  • Tokelau+690
  • Tonga+676
  • Trinidad and Tobago+1868
  • Tunisia (‫تونس‬‎)+216
  • Turkey (Türkiye)+90
  • Turkmenistan+993
  • Turks and Caicos Islands+1649
  • Tuvalu+688
  • U.S. Virgin Islands+1340
  • Uganda+256
  • Ukraine (Україна)+380
  • United Arab Emirates (‫الإمارات العربية المتحدة‬‎)+971
  • United Kingdom+44
  • United States+1
  • Uruguay+598
  • Uzbekistan (Oʻzbekiston)+998
  • Vanuatu+678
  • Vatican City (Città del Vaticano)+39
  • Venezuela+58
  • Vietnam (Việt Nam)+84
  • Wallis and Futuna (Wallis-et-Futuna)+681
  • Western Sahara (‫الصحراء الغربية‬‎)+212
  • Yemen (‫اليمن‬‎)+967
  • Zambia+260
  • Zimbabwe+263
  • Åland Islands+358


    Join the conversation and have your say on Thailand news published on The Thaiger.

    Thaiger Talk is our new Thaiger Community where you can join the discussion on everything happening in Thailand right now.

    Please note that articles are not posted to the forum instantly and can take up to 20 min before being visible. Click for more information and the Thaiger Talk Guidelines.

    Click to comment

    You must be logged in to post a comment Login

    Leave a Reply

    If you have story ideas, a restaurant to review, an event to cover or an issue to discuss, contact The Thaiger editorial staff.

      Follow Thaiger by email:

      Thailand7 mins ago

      Thailand women’s football pressing on despite defeat by Philippines

      Visa40 mins ago

      “Covid-19” visa extension deadline tomorrow, no word from immigration

      Pattaya2 hours ago

      Pattaya bar raided by police at 5am, some test positive for illicit drugs

      Sponsored5 hours ago

      What makes Supalai Icon Sathorn the ideal property choice

      Tourism3 hours ago

      Thailand Wellness Sandbox entry launching in coastal districts of Hua Hin, Cha-am

      Travel3 hours ago

      City Guide: Top gyms in Bangkok to achieve your fitness goals for 2022

      Thailand3 hours ago

      Government mulls legalising e-cigarettes to reduce number of cigarette smokers

      Join the conversation on the Thaiger Talk forums today!
      Crime4 hours ago

      Police officer charged following death of Bangkok pedestrian hit by speeding bike

      Visa4 hours ago

      Red tape remains for foreign retirees in Thailand

      Coronavirus World4 hours ago

      WHO says Europe could be heading for end of pandemic following Omicron surge

      Thailand News Update (weekday mornings)4 hours ago

      Thailand News Update | Easing of alcohol ban in Thailand

      Thailand5 hours ago

      Thai PM to visit Saudi Arabia as guest of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman

      Thailand5 hours ago

      Alcohol sales restrictions in Thailand ease again! I GMT

      Tourism5 hours ago

      Government to make more Covid insurance options available to foreign tourists

      Thailand14 hours ago

      Alcohol until 11 pm at food venues in 8 Blue provinces from tomorrow

      North East17 hours ago

      Local farmers accused of setting 100 elephant traps near sanctuary

      Thailand4 months ago

      Morning Top Stories Thailand | Police to end protests, Human Trafficking | September 14

      Thailand11 months ago

      Thailand News Today | Thai Airways in rehab, All go for Songkran | March 4

      Tourism11 months ago

      Phuket’s nightlife. Yes, bars and clubs are still open | VIDEO

      Phuket11 months ago

      Thailand News Today | Covid passport talks, Thai Airways heads to court | March 2

      Tourism11 months ago

      Phuket Thai food treats you need to try | VIDEO

      Thailand11 months ago

      Thailand News Today | Bars, pubs and restaurants ‘sort of’ back to normal | Feb 23

      Tourism11 months ago

      In search of Cat & Dog Cafés in Phuket Town | VIDEO

      Thailand1 year ago

      Thailand News Today | Gambling crackdown, Seafood market to reopen, Vlogger challenge | Jan 21

      Thailand1 year ago

      Thailand News Today | Covid testing for visas, Business impact, Vaccine approval | January 19

      Thailand1 year ago

      Thailand News Today | Weekend Bangkok bombs, Thailand fires, Covid update | January 18

      Thailand1 year ago

      Thailand News Today | Stray car on runway, Indonesian quake, 300 baht tourist fee | January 15

      Thailand1 year ago

      Thailand News Today | Governor off respirator, sex-trafficking arrest, condo prices falling | January 14

      Thailand1 year ago

      Thailand News Today | Chinese vaccine, Thailand ‘drug hub’, Covid update | January 13

      Thailand1 year ago

      Thailand News Today | Bangkok may ease restrictions, Phuket bar curfew, Vaccine roll out | January 12

      Thailand1 year ago

      Thailand News Today | Covid latest, Cockfights closed down, Bryde’s Whale beached | January 11