Looking Back on Life in Paradise

Confused on where we are? I’m taking this moment while my travels are grounded to care for my mom to catch up on my black hole of un-blogged content. Here, I’m covering my time in Thailand from March through May of 2017. My apologies for any confusion with the timeline, and thanks for sticking with me.

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I returned home to Thailand from Bali radiating — with excitement, with gratitude, and with curiosity for what would come next. I knew one thing for sure. I’d finally accepted that I was ready to start making a plan for the next chapter in my life, which I knew would start in about a year, when Banyan closed[1] and the mass exodus of my island family began. Ironically, mentally preparing to leave Koh Tao made me fall in love with it all over again. The months between returning from Indonesia and departing again for the US were full of joy.

Of course, writing this so far in the future makes me look back on this time with even more rose tinted glasses. I look back at these photos and read back through my journal and I just feel overwhelmed with this feeling of awe, thinking… I can’t believe this was my life!

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And they kicked off, literally, with a classic St. Patrick’s Day celebration at Banyan. Some of you may recall I extended my Bali trip[2] to the last possible second — the last possible second being, in this case, arriving in Koh Tao off a night ferry the morning of St. Patrick’s Day. I couldn’t miss it — not with a best friend with the last name O’Donnell. 

After three weeks of travel I essentially threw down my bags, scoured my apartment for anything green — pickings were slim — and took off down the road for a breakfast sandwich and a green cider.

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Around sunset, we took the party down to the beach — and it raged on well into the night. No one celebrates the holidays[3] quite like Koh Tao!

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The next big event on the Koh Tao social scene? A send-off concert by Simon Wright[4], our friend and an incredibly talented loop artist. Live music was always a big part of life on Koh Tao — rarely did a week go by when I wasn’t sitting at one open air bar or another listening to a musician make magic happen onstage.

Banyan concerts, of course, always took it to the next level.

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Ironically, over the years I found it harder and harder to find friends to fun dive with. Many of my friends were either active dive staff, meaning they were always running a course or guiding customers, or former dive staff, who were burned out and happy to stay on land. I’ll take any excuse to dive though, and so was thrilled when my friend Amy’s sister came to town, and they planned a day at Sail Rock[5]

An excuse to go diving, get some sun, and gossip with friends on the boat deck? Sign me up!

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We had a blast burning ourselves to crisps (inadvisable), trying to get Amy to smile with her eyes underwater (impossible), and cheersing with the ciders and beers we’d brought onboard for the boat ride back (unmissable). There is nothing, nothing, like a day out at sea with dear friends.

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Over the final few days of March (dang, was that a good month!) we braced ourselves for the excitement of Tao Festival, possibly the most ambitious event ever attempted on Koh Tao… which may be why, sadly, the 2018 edition never came to fruition. Still, someone got Arrested Development to perform on our little island.

Surely, that deserves a post of its own — stay tuned.

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It kinda felt like I just got back to Koh Tao when I was packing my bags again — but that’s kinda how life was in those days. My girlfriend Paivi and I were off to Bangkok for a Coldplay concert we’d booked before knowing it would actually be a party for three — Paivi was pregnant!

I’ll share more about our girly weekend in the big city, but suffice it to say we had so much fun that when we met up with our friend Kat at the airport on the way back down south, the three of us were having so much fun we decided to spend a spontaneous night in Koh Samui just to drag it out a little further.

And of course, we had a wild time while Hurricane Kat was in town — a face that will be familiar to OG Alex in Wanderland readers as one of my first friends on Koh Tao when I moved there in 2011! Since you always do the most exploring when you’ve got a visitor in town, fear not — I’ve got a post coming up about that too.

Her visit was strategically timed to line up with Songkran, everyone’s favorite water fight festival. Now, I’ve always written about Songkran[6] more than once, but I of course want to share another year’s worth of debaucherous stories and photos so, erm, stay tuned while I dream up an excuse to do just that.

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Finally, it was Easter. While it’s not a holiday celebrated with much fanfare in Buddhist Thailand, I’ve always used it as an excuse to scoop up friends for brunch somewhere — and this year delivered with a Sunday brunch at Viewpoint Resort, an exciting monthly addition to Koh Tao’s social calendar that my travel schedule finally allowed me to attend.

I don’t care how basic it is — I love brunch and Koh Tao needs more of it!

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Next up, Earth Day. Again, it was a holiday I was thrilled to spend on Koh Tao, because this is an island that loves an excuse to talk about sustainability. I had an array of Project Aware cleanups[7] by land or sea to choose from, and with Amy and a very pregnant Paivi as companions, we went with the scuba-free middle road — a snorkel clean up of Au Leuk Beach, one of my favorites on Koh Tao.

Read about all my favorite nooks and crannies on this island in my ebook![8]

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That evening, we all attended an enormous island-wide Earth Day party at Hacienda, where I actually won one of the big raffle prizes. Hurray! Honestly, I ended up selling most of them, except for a three day coral conservation course which I finally took in 2018 the week before it expired (ha) and can’t wait to blog about, eventually.

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Now, I know it seems like we were always just partying and socializing on Koh Tao, and that’s because we were always partying and socializing on Koh Tao. Ha. However, it was surprisingly hard to coordinate our attempts at a monthly ladies’ night in which we’d venture outside Banyan’s walls for a super girly confessional dinner followed by a night of dancing down on the beach.

With my summer exodus looming closer and closer, I was finally able to arrange one at Darawan, one of Koh Tao’s most beloved sunset spots — at least, in the “sells mojitos for the equivalent of $3USD” category.

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We continued the party down at Lego Bar, one of Koh Tao’s finest and most exclusive establishments, as you can see from the photos below.

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Okay fine, it was a truck with some folding chairs set out on the side of the road. The drinks are crap and they’ll give you a wicked hangover, but dang if they don’t let you plug in your own phone so you can perform a coordinated dance routine to Drunk in Love with your besties in the middle of the walking street!

All too soon, it was time for my farewell party. Many of my expat friends on Koh Tao worked second jobs managing villas for off-island owners, a tough (and often underpaid) job that came with some great perks — like using said villas when they are empty of guests. 

Perfect View Villa[9] just so happens to live up to its name — it has one of the best dang views on Koh Tao. And for one day and night, we were lucky enough to use it.

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It was the perfect party — my crew arranged everything and I just showed up, was handed a fresh passionfruit and vodka and let the good times roll, soaking up my final moments for now with these friends… friends who at some point as the years ticked on became family. I had to hold back tears when the globe inspired cake was unveiled. “Don’t wander away for too long,” it read. “We’ll miss you Alex!”

Dang, would I miss them too.

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Of course, most of my Koh Tao posts are a highlight reel — the big moments worth taking note of and taking a camera out for. Though now that I’m half a world and nearly half a year away from my big true goodbye to Koh Tao, it’s not really these big events I think back on most often. 

What I most often find myself reminiscing about is the simple stuff. Beach walks with Prada. Waking up in my apartment, my special treasures carefully places around the room. Long days working alone, just me and my laptop and my balcony and maybe a well deserved cider at the end of it. Getting foot massages and catching up with friends after what felt like weeks but was probably all of two days apart. Feeling the sun beating down on my scalp and my hair whipping around in the wind while I drove around the island doing errands. Spending lazy days laughing in bed after staying out way too late the night before.

These are the little moments that make up a life.

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Can you see it? We spelled out Koh Tao! <3

Stay tuned for more memories from paradise…

References

  1. ^ when Banyan closed (www.alexinwanderland.com)
  2. ^ extended my Bali trip (www.alexinwanderland.com)
  3. ^ celebrates the holidays (www.alexinwanderland.com)
  4. ^ Simon Wright (simonwright.com.au)
  5. ^ planned a day at Sail Rock (www.alexinwanderland.com)
  6. ^ written about Songkran (www.alexinwanderland.com)
  7. ^ Project Aware cleanups (www.projectaware.org)
  8. ^ in my ebook! (www.alexinwanderland.com)
  9. ^ Perfect View Villa (www.alexinwanderland.com)

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