Koh Samui, Thailand: Why We Couldn’t Stay Away

Well, here we are again in Koh Samui, Thailand. We’ve been here since June 1st and we couldn’t be happier about our decision. This blog post isn’t going to be so much about what we’ve been doing but more about how we got here and why/how we decided to come back to this little island in the Gulf of Thailand. I’ve been severely lacking on giving updates, and most of it is out of pure laziness, to be honest, but I do miss the blog and have had a couple gentle pushes from family and friends to pick it back up again. So, after a few broken promises – here we go.

Our decision to come back

When this blog started, it was because Kile and I were embarking on a year and a half journey to do some traveling and explore the planet. Little did we know – it would literally change our lives forever. We spent a year and a half traveling around SE Asia (with 4 months spent on the Yucatan in Mexico), bouncing around the beautiful countries in this part of the world. One place, in particular, stood out the most – Koh Samui.

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Before we ever visited this part of the world, we had done a fair amount of traveling and had heard stories of people visiting a place and never going home again. Wherever they were, it was a place that made such a mark on them, grabbed so tightly to their hearts and minds, that they could never look back. For us, we had never visited a place like that until we stepped foot on this island. Specifically, a tiny little town on the “unpopular” side of the island, up on a hill, with the most incredible view we’ve ever witnessed (and to this day, it stands to be true).

What’s funny is that the very first time we arrived at our Airbnb on Koh Samui, we were actually completely terrified and extremely uncomfortable. Our bungalow was located up on a very steep hill, and although it had a view to die for, we hadn’t driven a scooter before (we were transported up by taxi), so we weren’t sure this location was for us. How would we get food/groceries up here? How would we get water? It’s so far away from the touristy area, is this really where we want to be? Well, a scooter lesson and week later – we were in love. We didn’t know it from the get-go, but it was actually exactly what we were looking for.

The small city that our Airbnb is located is called Nathon (it’s actually the same complex we still live in now) and it’s located on the “locals side” of the island. It’s quaint, it’s quiet (especially up on our mountain), and it has the most insane views and sunsets we’ve ever seen. In fact, this is what it looks like while I’m currently writing this (thanks for the photo, Kile!).

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When we finished our year and a half of travels, we envisioned returning home to Portland, with thoughts of buying a home and returning back to “normal”. That, however, was not the case. When we left Koh Samui, we both knew that it had done something to us – it made our souls happier than they’ve ever been and we actually shed a few tears when we took the ferry back to the mainland to head to the airport. It was a place that made us finally understand what makes people go somewhere and never want to leave. Aside from Oregon, this was a place that really, truly made our hearts full and happy. For so many reasons.

So, we returned to Portland. We missed our friends, we missed our family, and we missed that crisp, amazing Oregon air. Within the first few months, things were wonderful – we caught up with friends, we were able to go around and shop at grocery stores with confidence, we could communicate with people again, but then – as corny as it sounds – our souls couldn’t stop nagging at us about the splendor of that little place on the side of the mountain on Koh Samui.

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As much as we absolutely adore our family and friends, and have so much fun being around them, we couldn’t shake the feeling that we were supposed to be on that island. We had never been more stress-free, we had never been happier, we had never felt just so…good than we did there. Plus, there were so many things that we had learned in that year and a half that just couldn’t be denied or ignored. America, as great of a country as it is, just didn’t feel “right” to us anymore. Now, I’m certainly not “America-hating” or unpatriotic, per se, however, let me elaborate.

America – a big, glorious, convenient bubble.

Traveling, I think, is one of the most mind-expanding experiences one can ever have. Whether it’s out of your town, out of your state, or out of your country – traveling teaches you that “your way” of life and living isn’t the only way. People, across the globe, are living extremely different lives than you. Their priorities are wildly contradictory to yours. And none of it is “wrong” or “bad” – it’s just…different. As Americans, as advanced as we are as a nation, tend to forget, or rather, be blind to that. For one, our country is massive. It spans 3,000 miles coast to coast with only 2 bordering countries. We can’t help but live in a bubble – as wonderful as that bubble may be.

When we returned to the US after our year and a half abroad, things about our culture, mannerisms of people, and the day-to-day happenings were looked at in a different light. We didn’t realize that spending that time away had done much so our thinking or psyche – but it really did. The normal worries and stresses of a middle-class American life seemed silly. The pressure of work and social groups seemed more apparent. Everything that once seemed so normal-American-life now seemed a bit foreign.

I want to make it clear that neither Kile nor I came back feeling “holier than thou” or something – it was just that, seeing how other people lived their lives, in countries where life is much more “simplified,” almost made more sense to us than what we had grown up knowing. It was like a piece of our brains, that we had never given much thought about, had totally opened up and it felt good to be in that once unexplored part. It made a lot of sense to us – morally, psychologically, emotionally, and even physically.

Months after being back in the states, renting a home, getting back in the “grind,” we found ourselves back in the routine of the M-F, 9-5, living for the weekend habit that we were in before we left – and we didn’t like it.  Don’t get me wrong, the amazing and wonderful things America has to offer were extremely apparent when we returned – infrastructure, conveniences, social groups, but we couldn’t help but think about our life abroad and the way it made us feel. If it was possible to create a life without stress, mundane routine, and magnified happiness – why not create that for ourselves? So – we made a plan to come back.

So, what makes Thailand so special?

How we think and what we want out of life isn’t going to be the same as everyone else’s. We know that. But, what I think most people can agree on is that the number one aspiration in life is that they want to be happy. Isn’t that the ultimate goal? It sounds morbid but I try to base my day-to-day decisions and interactions as something I’d be proud of on my death bed. As much as my early 20s were used for screwing up and making bad decisions, ultimately, I want to look back and know that Kile and I lived our lives the best and fullest way possible.

We haven’t been everywhere in the world, obviously, but so far, Thailand (specifically Koh Samui) made the biggest imprint on us. What was it about this place that made us fall so madly in love with it? Why were the people and the culture so inviting to us versus other places we’ve been? Well – that could be an entire blog post on its own but I’ll try my best to try and explain.

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Now – I want to make this very clear – I, nor Kile, are experts on the Thai culture. In fact,  we really don’t know much except for what we’ve experienced and observed. We haven’t spent a significant amount of time with someone from the Thai culture and we haven’t done extensive research on their culture and how/why they act the way they do – so, keep that in mind as you’re reading because it is strictly our opinions and observations as ex-pats and English-speaking people in a non-Western culture.

As a foreigner in Thailand, one of the greatest things is being able to submerge yourself in their lives and activities without feeling any sense of judgment. We’ve been to a few countries, specifically Malaysia and parts of the Philippines, where we felt a bit uncomfortable being with the locals – going to the restaurants, bars, etc. without being stared at or feeling a bit uncomfortable. Our experience with Thailand and the Thai people? They have almost a bit of indifference toward foreigners that is really quite relieving.

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Many people speak a bit of English, but in some situations, it’s a game of charades and hand gestures. The Thai people seem to happily engage with you with a smile on their face and will try their best to understand – if you get to that point of understanding, then great, but if not? It’s a friendly understanding of “no, I can’t help you” and you move on. No hard feelings.

Another thing that is very fulfilling for us being on this island and in this country is that life has been extremely simplified. You have to work a little bit harder than you would in the States to get the things you want – but life really is simple. Sure, you have to go to a couple different markets to get fruits and vegetables versus canned foods and meats but it makes you feel more part of the community. There are, of course, massive grocery stores here on the island but you can’t always find the most seasonally-available fruits, veggies, or fresh eggs or meat that you’d find at the local fresh markets, for example. Not to mention – everything is so cheap!

Back to life being “simplified,” our day-to-day worries and stresses have gone from the typical American monetary or social worries/pressures to “oh, we’re almost out of drinkable water, we’ll need to accomplish that today” or “the WiFi is down because there’s a thunderstorm, which coffee shop should we drive to so I can work?” It’s really kind of amazing. It’s a refreshing and wonderful feeling to have those be our concerns over things that really have no bearing on our overall happiness in life.

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Another interesting and unique thing about being foreigners in this country is the sense that we’re immersed in another culture but still almost completely on our own tiny planet. As ex-pats in Thailand, we’re living in this foreign country, but not as a local. We don’t speak their language, we don’t fully know or understand the inner-workings of their culture, yet, we can live and exist here happily without any questions. It’s like this micro-bubble of an existence that is wonderfully removed from everything we know but still warm and welcoming at the same time.

One thing I’ve noticed though while being here is that even though we’ve moved thousands of miles away, with the help of the internet and social media, there’s still no escaping where you’ve come from, right? My upbringing and culture are very American, my friends and family are obviously still a giant part of our lives, and thanks to social media – you can’t help but still be a part of it even if you’re away. So – the juxtaposition of our physical and mental location with our cultural connection to “home” can be a bit contradictory and confusing at times.

Americans abroad

Now – we can’t help but be who we are. We are Americans. That’s where we grew up, that’s how our behaviors and beliefs were instilled, it’s completely shaped us as human beings. But, what we now know for sure – it’s certainly not the only or “right” way to be.

Being Americans abroad, I can’t even begin to explain how much its taught me about our own culture. Things about “Americans” are very unique to us – the way we communicate, the things that upset, disappoint or frustrate us, the social expectations we have of people, the “way life is supposed to be lived” – it’s all clearer now that we’ve seen other cultures and met people from other countries. But, just because it’s clearer doesn’t mean that it’s something we can change easily.

One thing I’ve noticed on a personal level, as a total introvert, socializing will forever be one of the hardest things to do – but being an American introvert abroad? It’s even more interesting. The expectations I have of the “way things should go” or “how people should act/behave” have been completely thrown out the window. As uncomfortable as it is for me at times, it’s also part of the reason why I love being abroad so much. That fear and uncomfortableness I’ve lived in for so long prove to be a product of my culture and upbringing – not the way of the world. Being in a place that’s foreign, new, and a bit uneasy at times has been a godsend – not a curse.

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We’ve met a few locals, but mostly non-American ex-pats, that have been truly eye-opening when it comes to seeing how much culture influences our behavior and actions. Meeting friends here on this island we now call “home,” it’s incredible how apparent it is that I expect them to behave and act the same way my American friends would (why aren’t they picking up my social cues? why didn’t they say or do this when I did this or that?). When really – it’s ridiculous. Living and being abroad is quickly teaching us that there are so many different ways of thinking, acting, and doing than what we’d normally “expect” or want to happen back in the States. It’s absolutely enthralling to us.

Another thing I’ve noticed is my behavior on social media. Although I’ve been abroad for over 3 months now, and are so proud of us for making this step into the unknown, I can’t help but maintain my “American attitude” with many things – no surprise, it’s hard to shake 35 years of mindset. For example, in a world where Instagram and Facebook are the places where people update others on your life, sometimes I’ll stop myself from posting things and say “oh, I don’t want to look like I’m bragging.” Like, what?! What is that mentality? Why shouldn’t I post my day-to-day happenings online to show my friends and family? Shouldn’t people just be happy for someone else being happy? Sadly, we all know that’s not the case. So, sometimes I refrain – but, honestly, I think that’s garbage.

Our daily simple lives and long-term goals

Even though we moved to this tropical paradise, our day-to-day lives are still fairly routine. We wake up, eat breakfast, I work for a few hours (I still work full-time), we go to the gym, run some errands, then use our afternoons to do fun things like go to the beach, explore the island, or lay by the pool. It’s really not the most exciting thing in the world – but, that’s kind of the point.

In making the decision to come back to Thailand, we realized that we could live comfortably off of my one income (we live modestly, but Thailand is so inexpensive, it’s incredible how well you can live on a budget), do fun things, and still save money. I mean – it’s pretty amazing. If it’s possible to do, why not do it?

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As of right now, we have plans to be on the island until March (with a month-long visit home in November). During that time, we plan on continuing to build our savings account and soak up all the experiences we can. After that? We’re not entirely sure. One thing we do know for sure is that we have every intention of continuing to travel. There is so much we haven’t seen and we have so much more to learn.

The point of this update and rant is that I want friends, family, and complete strangers to know that seeking your own happiness isn’t just rewarding – it’s crucial. We miss our physical closeness and proximity to those we care about the most, but ultimately – we know that this is the exact experience that will allow us to love more deeply, think more thoughtfully, and live most fully.

I could keep writing about the details of the hows and whys of everything we’re doing, in fact, it could honestly probably be a book’s length – if you are curious about anything I’ve mentioned or maybe even left out, I’d love to hear your thoughts, questions, and insights.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Inger says:

    Hello AK Brewers! Thank you for this well written, beautiful blog. I’m so happy for you both and have to admit a lil jealous. The demands in, especially American life, (mind you I know no other) can be very grueling and quite maddening. I’m always proud to tell people about my daughter and her hubby that have chosen to live in Thailand…honestly, most people get a twinkle in their eyes and say I can understand why.
    Keep living your dreams! I love you both!

  2. Julie Zanio says:

    Ashley,

    Life is to short not to be happy. Enjoy every day in your beautiful life’s. You have an amazing spirit to be free to fly. Never let go of it. Enjoy the aligning of your internal & external life ❤️ I am looking forward to Traveling to Thailand in the future

  3. hcshelton says:

    I love this post! I’m two weeks into a five-week trip in Phuket (learning Muay Thai) from Maui and I wrote a post today about being American in Thailand. So many things you said I also mentioned, but the American Bubble idea is unique AND SPOT ON. What a great way to put it! I’m definitely gonna follow y’all since after 15 days I know I WISH I could move here quasi-permanently like you! Thank you so much! – Clay

    1. A.K. Brewer says:

      Wow! Thank you so much, Clay! That really means a lot. I really hope you’re able to spend some more time in Thailand, it’s so incredibly easy to fall in love with this amazing country, isn’t it? Have fun with your Muay Thai and best wishes for your future travels!

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