Durban couple stuck in Laos during lockdown become overnight travel celebrities

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By Clinton Moodley Time of article publishedJul 29, 2020

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Candy and Jonty King, aka Candy and the King, were devastated when they could not return to Durban when the Covid-19 pandemic caused destinations to close their borders and go into lockdown.

The couple were hired as teachers at an international school called Panyathip in Laos in 2017, but due to lockdown restrictions in the Southeast Asian country, they were not able to get back to South Africa in time.

The first few days after the lockdown was unbearable for Candy, 27, and Jonty, 32, as they wanted to be with family during the global pandemic.

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“We were in full lockdown, but there were no cases in Laos. We were so confused. Many questions ran through our minds, like ‘What if there are cases and the government isn’t telling us the truth?’ or ‘will we be okay here?’ The thing that really broke us was hearing that there were cases in SA. We cried for days thinking about our friends in rural and township areas. I messaged so many of my friends warning them to try their best to be safe,” Candy told IOL Travel.

The pair, who have since become influencers, have used the time to help rebuild tourism in the destination.

@candy_and_the_king

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“We wanted to make the most of the situation. We dove into photography, video editing and we even learnt how to code websites. At the same time, we saw that people around the world were slipping into depression. We could also see that in Laos, so we decided to learn a bit of Thai/Lao language and use our new photography and videography skills to inspire and make people in this region happy through ridiculous TikTok performances. Of course, it also kept us busy and laughing too.”

The couple decided to explore what Laos had to offer once the government opened provincial travel.

But, Candy and The King’s travel led them to discover that travel was on the decline, and a once thriving destination was slowly crumbling due to the impact of Covid-19.

With a combined social media following of 350 000 followers and reaching around 21 million people a month, the couple decided they needed to use their newfound fame to make a difference.

“Having travelled to Luang Prabang in Laos for our honeymoon five years ago, we were shocked and saddened to see that once thriving tourist destination was empty. Other towns that we visited are on their knees too. A lot of hotels and restaurants have closed. That’s when we knew we needed to use our influence to shake things up.

“We discovered a travel content creator on TikTok named Loris Faedda. He was in a similar situation. We started to create travel content and offer our skills to hotels and restaurants in need for free. Soon, our schedules were booked out for weeks. We were happy that the resorts we worked with are now getting almost 100 percent occupancy for the month of August from local travellers,” she said.

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The couple plan to return to South Africa when the Covid-19 situation improves. They have started a non-profit organisation, which they hope to use to train South Africans in rural areas to host tourists and develop their community into thriving tourist destinations.

“South Africa is rich in culture, I mean, have you been to Chatsworth? Have you seen the awesome religious architecture and markets? Not to mention, the landscapes in the villages, our oceans and mountains.”

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