It’s a big, bittersweet day around here at Wanderland HQ. One month from today, I’ll be flying out of Thailand and towards Brazil. As excited as I am for my next adventure, I’m already – as usual – heartsick at the idea of leaving Koh Tao. How will I miss thee? Let me count the ways. Literally.
1. Three Meals (and Multiple Snacks) Per Day
I love me some massaman curry and mango sticky rice, but it’s not just the traditional Thai fare I’ll miss. Koh Tao is bursting with delicious restaurants serving up cuisines from all around the world, and I straight up don’t know how I’m going to live without the short list of health food restaurants that supply the vast majority of my meals. And giving up my daily fresh coconut? I’m thirsty already just thinking about it.
Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of foods I crave from home and elsewhere (I’m looking at you, cheese and plentily available flavored rice cakes). But when I leave Thailand, mealtime is one of the things I miss the most.
2. Massage Monday
And Spa Sundays, and Foot Rub Fridays, and all the other various holidays I’ve invented to justify my minimum two-a-week massage habit. Can you blame me? At $9 an hour, it would be rude not to.
Post-workout, mid-hangover, pre-bedtime… when I’m not in Thailand, my muscles literally ache for a rub down.
3. Effortless Commutes
Living on a 13 square-mile island has its challenges. Getting around in my daily routine is not one of them. The longest drive I make is about twelve minute from one tip of the island to the other, which I do once or twice a week to go to one of my regular yoga studios. The rest of the time, I’m rarely on my motorbike for more than a few minute worth of wind in my hair.
Koh Tao is one third the size of Manhattan, with like, however-many-roads-there-are-in-Manhattan-minus-one less roads. While there are crazy drivers just like anywhere else in the world, I appreciate that here on Koh Tao a traffic jam worth reporting to your friends at the bar pretty much means your bike had to make a full stop rather than roll through a turn.
4. The World’s Greatest Fitness Regime
I can’t begin to express how spoiled I feel by the big beautiful fitness paradise that is Thailand. I do yoga outside in a lush garden, hike to gorgeous island viewpoints, swing from an ocean-view trapeze and go for runs through tall palm forests.
Let’s just say it’s a bit of a shock to return to the US and work out in a strip mall.
5. Doing WTF Ever You Want
Want to buy your motorbike cash in hand with no paperwork? No problem. Want to ride that bike with no helmet? You got it. Want to pretty much just casually live your life without the constant fear of being sued or the relentless pressure of being micro-regulated? Thailand’s got ya.
I do appreciate many of the broader rules and regulations that some might find restrictive at home (you won’t hear this allergy sufferer complaining about indoor smoking bans). But not being immersed in an overly litigious society is refreshing, and I cheer every time I get to a viewpoint without a guardrail or go for a wild adventure without signing a waiver.
6. Living By The Sea
I don’t ever want to not, not ever again.
7. Not Getting Priced Out
In the US, I regularly think to myself, “I can’t afford that.” I almost never find myself thinking the same in Thailand. And yes, the low cost of living is a big factor – I live alone in a beautiful apartment, I eat out or take away almost every meal, I drop off my laundry and I hire a cleaner, and I save money that I use to travel to more expensive parts of the world later. Those are all luxuries I don’t know if I could afford at home. And that is great. But it’s bigger than that.
You know that Henry David Thoreau quote, “all good things are wild and free?” On Koh Tao, it’s true – and there’s not much else to lust for. There are no expensive clothing brands to covet – they aren’t sold here. There are no fancy nightclubs to splurge at – bars on the beach are the best we’ve got. There are no pricey outings to go shopping, see a show, or take an expensive spin class – instead we snorkel in the sea, summit a local viewpoint, or sit back and watch the sunset… all for free.
Does that mean everyone earns the same amount of money? No. But there just aren’t as many diverse ways to spend it. Sure, a few people have marginally nicer bikes or nicer apartments than others, but for the most part the economic disparities that caused anxiety in my circles back home don’t really ruffle my community here.
8. Endless Summer
Even as a child I despised the long gray winters of Upstate New York. Southeast Asia captivated me right from the get go with its simple lack of snow.
I’ll always remember traveling in deep Thailand and someone asking me, “When does it rain in your country?” Sure, in Koh Tao we have the monsoon every November, but I’d take rain over snow any day. Rain is basically god telling you to stay inside and binge watch an entire season of House of Gards. (The geckos in my apartment are really into watching season four with me right now.) Snow is god reminding you he’s still pissed about what you did at church camp. These days, I pride myself on not just surviving but thriving in three-digit temperatures.
9. The Exotic Becoming the Everyday
There’s a reason I chose to live the majority of my year outside the US and it’s bigger than cheap massages and forever sun (though admittedly, those are major factors).
I love losing myself in a world so different from the one I was raised in. I love when something foreign and unfamiliar becomes just another blip in my routine. And most of all, I love meeting the person I am when I am somewhere far away.
As Pico Iyer once wrote in a passage I tore a page underlining, “abroad is the place where we stay up late, follow impulse and find ourselves as wide open as when we are in love.”
10. My Island Family
The eight items above are nice and all, but there’s one thing that keeps me coming back to Koh Tao over and over (and over) again: my little island family. As with any transient community, this one ebbs and flows. Some of the friends I have here have been an integral part of my life for six years. Some just six months. But we share a bond that units of time can’t quantify.
When I strip away the commuting, the bureaucracy and the chores that took up so much of my time back in the states, I have a lot more space in my life for people. On Koh Tao there’s always a friend who has time to meet you for a sunset paddleboard, always a friend to meet for a fresh coconut, always a friend to marathon a documentary-athon with.
I adore my friends at home. But despite the fact that we made a pact to stay tipsy and commitment-free well into our fifties, many of them are juggling high-powered careers, many of them are starting families, many of them are bogged down by responsibilities to which friendship takes a back set. I’ve heard friends back in the big city say they can go a month without seeing one of their closest confidantes – here, I have separation anxiety if I don’t see my crew for a day. I don’t begrudge my busy babes at home a second of their success and happiness. But I’m grateful for a community here that places such a huge priority on face time with friends.
. . . . .
Thirty days. Four weeks. Ten reasons to take stock, count my blessings and appreciate all that I have. I know I’m going to cherish every moment of this next month ahead.
What do you miss about the place that has your heart?