As some of you may already know, I spent over four months on the (for me) most beautiful island in Thailand: Koh Tao. Koh Tao means Turtle Island, and yes – a turtle is indeed one of the beautiful underwater animals you’re gonna encounter here. I never planned to stay on the island for so long, but as Corona happened I didn’t really have a choice. If it was me reading this article I would be asking myself a few questions: How did she end up staying on Koh Tao for four months? Who pays for that? What did she do? Were there any restrictions because of the virus? Well, let me answer these questions for you…
How it all began
On the 8th of March I came to Koh Tao with my friend from Sydney. Before that we travelled from Bangkok to Krabi, made a short stop on Koh Lanta and then went up north. As she really wanted to do her open water certificate we decided to come to turtle island. I myself felt a bit sick in the first week and had to work anyway, so I skipped that experience. Plus my interest in diving was literally not existent. All in all we had a really good time and when my friend left we thought we would see each other again after one week. I had a flight booked to Sydney on the 22 of March – a flight I’ve been waiting for for over a year. But then Corona happened, Australia’s borders closed and I was sitting in this cafe somewhere in the middle of the Gulf of Thailand, not knowing what to do and where to go next…
Staying or leaving
The following days were truly like a rollercoaster ride. Some days I felt so sure about staying. On other days I struggled a lot whether I should head back to Germany or not. I didn’t know whether my visa was going to be extended (I couldn’t do another extension as I already started my second month), if an island was a safe place to stay during the crisis and how long this situation was gonna last. Subsequently, I booked a flight to Germany – which got cancelled only a day later. So I stayed.
Day by day I got to know more people, found my favorite places and developed a routine. But then the rollercoaster ride continued. Some people were sure about staying and waiting it out, some planned to leave anyway and some went home because they were worried. All these uncertainties made me book another flight. But then things changed. The more days passed, the safer I felt and the less I wanted to leave. A few days before I was supposed to leave, I decided not to take the second flight. This was the best decision I could’ve made. The flight got cancelled in the end and on the same day I received a letter of extension from the German embassy. I got another 30 days in Thailand!
When a place becomes home
Home. A word. A place each person feels different about.
“the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household”
For me, home is where my family is. But also home is wherever I want home to be. Wherever I feel like I want to stay.
After living in different hostels and areas I decided to move into an apartment in Mae Haad – the main area close to the Pier. As I knew I was going to stay for at least one more month, I wanted to have my own space, unpack my bags and settle down. Due to the situation the hostels had to close anyway. So I found this little studio and started my daily life…
Daily island life
Nothing in life is free, not for me either. Luckily, my employer made it possible for me to work while traveling. So since I left Germany in January, I’ve been working 20 hours a week – mostly in the afternoons. I’m a Teamlead in Marketing & Sales at a German IT company, which focuses on cloud business. As we don’t have offices in Germany, we’re used to working together virtually. Therefore working from home in Thailand wasn’t too different from working from home in Germany. Same same. I never had any issues with the internet either.
How did my daily life look like? I spent my mornings going to a beach, attending yoga class or meeting up with my friends. In the afternoons I was working from cafes or from my place. The days ended with a beautiful sunset and we chilled out together and had some drinks.
Restrictions and freedom
As Corona got worse we could only get take away food and we had to wear masks all the time. We didn’t have any new incoming visitors – the ferry service was shut down. Furthermore gatherings with more than 10 people weren’t allowed anymore. All bars, massage places and restaurants closed. There was a curfew from 10 pm till 4 am. The island got empty and we experienced a Koh Tao which probably hasn’t been that quiet for over 20 years. The ocean came back to life and mother nature could take a break.
We were still allowed to go outside and started to explore the island: jungle hikes, beach days, rock climbing, sunsets, going to abandoned places, hanging out at the pool. We felt like the luckiest people in the world.
Time passed and another visa extension was granted – til end of July. Also our relationships developed.
Strangers became friends and friends became family.
I guess for all of us, this was one of the most special times of our lives. We spent almost every day together, shared our stories, our thoughts and made precious memories. We got so used to be around each other that by the time a person left, you could literally feel that there was a huge gap left behind.
Step by step back to normality
After 1-2 months shutdown (I can’t even really tell anymore how long it actually was) the restaurants started opening up again and life became more normal. To be honest, it was really weird being allowed to sit in a cafe again. Also the curfew gave our days a routine and a long good night sleep. Is it really bad to say, that I really enjoyed this quiet time?
As the diving schools reopened I decided to give my open water a try. With the open water license you’re allowed you to dive up to 18m accompanied by a dive buddy or dive professional. When I came to Koh Tao I thought my biggest fear was being in the ocean, the endless blue. I was proven wrong. Diving turned out to be one of the things I enjoy doing the most. That’s why I continued with my open water advanced straight away. In this course you learn 5 specs, for me: deep diving up to 30m, night dive, wreck dive, navigation and fish id. I ended up doing more than 40 dives and found a new passion.
Good and bad sides
Step by step the ferries started running again, the curfew was lifted and it felt like the storm was over. For me, this time was one of the best things that could’ve ever happened to me. I made friendships for life, overcame my fears and developed incredibly as a person. I know that I can consider myself really lucky to have had this experience and freedom while most of the world didn’t. To have had an income. To have had the best people around me.
Unfortunately for most of people this virus ruined a lot. Also the locals and all the businesses on Koh Tao have suffered and probably will be suffering. They say the tourism won’t return until end of the year. I hope that we can all stick together and help each other out. Not only in times like these, but every day.
I’m incredibly grateful for this time on Koh Tao. Thanks to everyone who was part of it, who was there for me in good and bad times. Also to the hospitality of the people, for giving me food and a home. Now we are all following our own plans again, but theses memories will stay forever. After over four months I left Koh Tao and went back to Germany. This trip might be over, but my journey isn’t. I don’t know yet where my path will go for the remaining year, but I’ll keep you posted…
Khop khun kah, Koh Tao.