Who Quits Their Life to Live on a Tiny Thai Island?

Expatriate. Merriam-Webster tells us that the meaning of the word is “to withdraw (oneself) from residence in or allegiance to one’s native country.” Why would anyone want to do that?

To find out, we travelled to one of the most beautiful islands that Thailand has to offer and asked the expatriates why they came here—and why they stayed.

“Well for starters, look around us,”  says Linzi Trafford, the owner of Master Divers and the Coconut Monkey Café. “There is nothing but ocean, beaches and palm trees.”

Linzi went on to tell us that she has lived on Ko Tao (or Turtle Island, as locals call it) for 10 years after originally coming to the island for just a quick time.

“I got to the island and stayed, and I’m not alone. There are a lot of empty plane seats on the way home from Ko Tao. I love the island, the diving and the lifestyle here. I wouldn’t say I ever made a conscious decision to choose Ko Tao; I’d say that Ko Tao chose me. I knew as soon as I left that very first time, that I would be getting home, quitting my job, selling all of my stuff and coming back to make a life here as soon as possible. Huge risk, but you never know unless you try.”

Her words gave me goosebumps, and made want to pack up my own life and head to paradise.

Linzi, centre, has been living on Ko Tao for a decade. (Outpost/Michael Fraiman)

We spoke with a few others about their decision to make Ko Tao their final destination. A good 80 percent of the expats on Ko Tao are there because of the world-class diving. Almost all the people we chatted with are diving instructors or in the process of getting certified for something related to diving. With water as blue as a Tiffany’s earring, a sandy ocean floor and reefs the shades of rainbows, who wouldn’t want to dive in the area? Not to mention the cheap rent, plethora of beachside bars, authentic Thai restaurants and trinket shops!

Then we met Gail. Fifty-six years old and going on 20, this go-getter from England now lives in Cypress and frequently visits Bali, Thailand and other exotic, tropical destinations. She too is a diving instructor and loves the nightlife of Ko Tao. She rents a small apartment not far from the beach and drives her scooter like it’s a Porsche. It was Gail’s birthday the night we met her, and looking at her birthday cake and warm reception, I couldn’t help but feel envious of her fabulous life.

Garret and Luke from San Francisco, California, also rent a small flat off the beach for a few hundred dollars a month. Both of them were visiting Ko Tao to get their open-water diving certifications before moving onto Cambodia and Laos. Their excitement over the vibe, music and community was palpable when they spoke to us on-camera.

ko tao island expats

Why would anyone leave? (Outpost/Michael Fraiman)

It seems that Linzi was right about Ko Tao. You come for a few days, then stay for a few months. We interviewed a group from Argentina who was making friends with a group from Australia while sitting with a group from Finland, proving yet again how Ko Tao was a mixing pot where all are welcome.

So why call Ko Tao home? No matter where you come from, what your interests are or where you plan to go, Ko Tao is a welcoming island full of friendly faces, inspiration and beauty. The island may be small but there’s always enough room for a few more! If it’s not on your next travel itinerary, maybe make a pit stop… just for a while. Then see how long you end up staying.

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