Thanks to my Dad for providing all photos in this post. I dropped the documenting ball for once!
The day that sparked our international family reunion had finally arrived: Christmas! While we kicked off Christmas Eve with the unseasonal activity of cross-island ziplining, we dedicated the rest of our celebrating to wining, dining, and more traditional holiday trimmings.
Christmas Eve dinner took place at The Whitening, my all-time favorite Koh Tao restaurant. Mark and I had our first date here nearly three years ago (cue the awwwws) and I still think it’s one of the island’s best special occasion spots.
Unsurprisingly, some of the best food on any island is found off the beach, which is often lined with mediocre tourist places. So I love that The Whitening combines beach-front real estate, trendy island design and delicious food and cocktails. My dad came prepared for the occasion with Santa hats for all!
This year, as I am living out of a backpack and my family had traveled across the globe, we decided to curb our usual gift-giving frenzy. I love that we have such a generous family that loves the act of gift giving so much, but receiving my typical Christmas swag this year would have meant buying about four new backpacks, and personal assistants to carry them!
Instead, we did a Secret Santa gift exchange and used an email elf to get our assignments virtually. Not to brag, but if gift giving is a game then I kicked everyone’s butt this year with the goody bag I put together for my sister. A $25 price cap goes much further at the Chatachuk Market in Bangkok than it does at Crossgates Mall in Albany, NY.
We had a lovely, laugh filled meal that included a visit from the restaurant owner’s lovely dog, who served as a surrogate for our missing canine family member, Tucker. After dinner, it was time for the grown-ups to head home and the kids to play. While reindeer and a sleigh might have been more seasonably appropriate transportation, we were in Thailand, so we hopped on a motorcycle and an open air taxi.
In Koh Tao, Christmas Eve is a major party night. We started out by meeting up with one of my best expat friends, Suze, whose house is filled with ceiling-hung snowflake cutouts that you might remember from this story.
Soon after we were dancing the night away with locals, expats and tourists at the beach-front bars of Sairee. It was actually one of the best nights out I’ve ever had on the island. Not only was it packed, but everyone was brimming with holiday cheer. Mark and I finally made it home at around 6am- a mere four hours before we were to meet our friends Steffi and Anton off the ferry!
So, Christmas didn’t start too merrily. Every other Christmas Eve of my life has been spent at church, so it was a first to wake up to a massive hangover and three-ish hours of sleep rather than a stocking. Still, it was one of the best Christmas gifts a girl could ask for to see one of her best friends after months and months apart. We unleashed our new guests to explore the island while we flailed around trying to feel more human. Around dinner time, it finally happened.
We all reconvened for dinner at Koh Tao’s most upscale restaurant, Darawan. Mark and I had never actually been here but thought Christmas dinner was a fitting meal for such an event. The weather stayed decidedly moody but the restaurant was all cheer with a Christmas tree, festive lights, and a looped CD of children screeching out ear-bleed-inducing holiday music.
It was yet another meal filled with delicious food, embarrassing stories, and hearty laughter. I was overwhelmed and grateful to spend the day with my family, my boyfriend, and friends old and new. It’s an odd sensation spending Christmas abroad, and not something I ever had aspirations to do. We certainly made the most of it, and had a fantastic vacation together. But if I’m honest with myself, it didn’t feel like Christmas, despite our best efforts to dress the part.
I may be a world traveler and an adventurer and a whole lot of other things, but I’m a traditional girl in a lot of ways. For me, part of the allure of living abroad was escaping the monotonous routine I’m so quick to fall into at home. But the holidays aren’t part of that monotony- they’re one of the highlights of my year. From finding the perfect gifts to hosting my annual dinner party to listening to my favorite Christmas album and a million other small joys- this is what I live for. I realized this year that whenever logistically and financially possible, I would like to spend the holidays at home. But when I can’t, I sure hope I can once again convince everyone to come to me. Because it was a great time, and a special gift to spend part of my travels with my loved ones from back home.
Have you ever spent Christmas abroad? Did you love escaping all the consumerism and the madness, or did you miss the Santa and the snow?