If you’ve been with me here for a while, you know there are few places on Earth special to me like Koh Tao.
Koh Tao has been a home to me, the only place outside of the state of New York to ever really earn that spot in my heart. So it was inevitable, really, that it would be the first place I made a beeline for when I got back to Southeast Asia.
How could I not, with sunsets that looks like this?
And sunrises, on the rare occasion that I get to see them, that look like this?
With bars that look like this…
and restaurants with views like this one?
With modes of transportation that range from this…
How could I resist coming back to friends like these, friends I’ve missed so dearly, friends who make me feel home wherever I am?
And how could I miss ringing in 2013 with my little Koh Tao family, dancing on the beach while another year passed us by?
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I had two and a half weeks back on Koh Tao, during which I watched time pass at a speed I didn’t know possible. I settled quickly back into my life there — I spent the mornings working, the afternoons at Muay Thai or yoga or getting massages or laying at the beach; the evenings spending indulgent time with friends. Here, it truly is sabai jai — the good life.
My sister was with me for her school break and while we largely did our own things, I made sure to bring her to some of my favorite places, which of course the lovely beaches ringing the island.
I got to go diving a few times as well, both for work and fun. The best part was taking Olivia diving for the first time. It was such a feeling of happiness and pride to see her dancing underwater!
I also brought her down to the Muay Thai stadium, where the trainers adore me and were the first people to ever make working out fun for me.
Of course, I can’t stop through Koh Tao and not visit my favorite ladyboys over at the Queen’s Cabaret…
And it wouldn’t be right not to stop by Sunset Bar and watch the whole island go from day to night. We certainly kept ourselves busy. In a blink, two and a half weeks passed me by.
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This was an emotional trip for me. When I last said goodbye to Koh Tao, I was in pieces. Through the fog of pain that I was in I felt confident that I would someday return to this blip in the Gulf of Thailand, and eight months later there I was — stronger, happier, more at peace. I even came prepared with the idea of restarting my life here again, and armed with a business plan that I was considering returning in the fall to implement.
That’s not going to happen.
Those two and a half weeks were a rollercoaster. The first few days I had a hard rock of anxiety in my chest that followed me everywhere, even to my favorite bar where I was laughing with friends who I adore, and even to my favorite restaurant where I was eating massaman curry I had dreamed about back home. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by that — this is the place on earth where I have felt not only my greatest happiness but also my most shocking and devastating sadness. This is ground zero for some of the most emotion filled moments of my life.
Yet each day, the island charmed and coaxed me back to it. Each day, I remembered the reasons I loved my life here so much that I stayed in a bad situation just to preserve it. Each day, I felt myself melt back to island time, remember the rhythms of life in Thailand, and ease back into my Koh Tao smile. By the time I had to book my ticket up North, my eyes were filled with tears and I was flipping through my calendar trying to decide if I really needed to go to The Philippines on this trip.
But with time comes clarity, and as I write this a month later I know that I am making the right decision, and that I won’t be returning to Koh Tao to start a business, or probably even to visit again on this trip. The island is changing — many of my best friends are moving on, a hospital and a TESCO are under construction (hospital good, TESCO bad), and it is slowly morphing it it’s next iteration on the Thai paradise island scale, just one tiny step closer to being another Phuket or Koh Samui. But more than any of those things, I think it’s time for me to move forward. Koh Tao is a messy and beautiful part of my past, and maybe, just maybe it needs to stay there. Perhaps its time for me to find my next piece of paradise. It’s a big world out there.
So I said goodbye again, and this one — it was the saddest. I’m not saying goodbye forever — I’ll always pop in to visit when I’m in this part of the world — but I’m saying goodbye to the idea that this could be my forever. I know that someday I’ll look back on my life, and Koh Tao will be one of many places that made me — the good times and the bad.
This little island will always have my heart.
I have many more posts coming up about my time back on Koh Tao. In the meantime, have you ever said goodbye to a place that meant so much to you? How did you deal?