I moved to Thailand, started a family, and can't picture ever returning home to Scotland

  • It's been 14 years since Duncan Forgan left Scotland and he's unsure whether he'll ever return home.

  • He says that bad air quality and traffic congestion can make Bangkok a difficult city to live in.

  • But shares four reasons he's continued living in Southeast Asia after all these years.

A friend recently said that living in Southeast Asia was akin to winning one of Willy Wonka's golden tickets. And it's impossible to dismiss a long list of advantages that include the cuisine, cultural heritage, diverse landscapes, low cost of living, and generally friendly, laid-back hosts.

There are trade-offs, including terrible air quality, horrendous traffic congestion, and temperatures that veer toward the inhumane. But on the plus side, I get sun-kissed winters, palm-fringed beaches, and a less stringently regulated existence.

Like anywhere, life in Bangkok has its difficulties. The city is enervating, largely incomprehensible, and as batty as Mr Wonka. Yet, overall, I do feel like I was handed the keys to the proverbial chocolate factory.

With its gilded temples, sci-fi-worthy skyline, and heady mélange of sights, sounds, and smells, Bangkok could barely be more vivid. This intensity helped me fall for Thailand's lovably deranged capital when I first traveled here 14 years ago.

Man with glasses standing on red bridge
It's been 14 years since the author arrived in Southeast Asia.Duncan Forgan

Here are four other things that have kept me in Southeast Asia's occasionally grubby grasp.

1. Food is one of the city's chief keepers.

From pavement vendors serving up banquets for just a few dollars to bustling markets packed with produce and vibrant with color, the city has a knack for whetting appetites, including my own.

Bangkok is often cited as the planet's street food capital. For high-quality street food in a safe, clean environment, it's hard to beat Or Tor Kor Market. It's a great place to sample a wide range of tasty creations, from som tam (spicy green papaya salad) and kao ka moo (braised pork served with rice) to mango sticky rice. Another choice destination is Yaowarat Road in Chinatown where delicious noodle dishes and roast meats such as pork, duck, and goose are the order of the day.

The diversity of options still floors me. On a recent Sunday, I started my day with a bowl of Chinese-Thai jok (rice porridge) from Jok Prince, where charcoal fire imparts added smokiness. I then had lunch at South Indian stalwart Tamil Nadu and finished the day off with a dinner at Ojo, the sky-high signature Mexican restaurant at the crown of the MahaNakhon Tower, Thailand's tallest building.

2. It's easier to tune out of the news cycle

This one is such an exile privilege that it comes with caveats.

Many Thai friends despair about the country's broken politics and surface-level media which favors soap opera-style stories over critical analysis.

But personally, I find it liberating to detach from the yoke of everyday consumption of Western news outlets through choice or osmosis.

The pandemic was a giant story in Thailand, as it was everywhere. Yet Western media obsessions — US presidential elections and divisive identity politics, to name but two — are not given the same relentless prominence here.

Social media makes it difficult to ignore the vicissitudes of the global news agenda. However, I appreciate the added scope to tune out the noise.

Two motorbikes on dirt road in Southeast Asia
After years of travel — including motorbike tours in Vietnam — the author feels he's barely scratched the surface.Duncan Forgan

3. The amazing destinations on my doorstep

I've experienced some transcendent moments across the Asia-Pacific region.

My travel writing gigs have encompassed dancing to obscure soul music in a sweaty underground club with Kansai's mod contingent, piloting a vintage Royal Enfield to hunt down the best bowl of khao soi in Chiang Mai, and hacking my way along the Nullarbor Links from South to Western Australia.

Recently, I visited Phong Nha in north-central Vietnam for the first time and spent three days exploring the karst scenery. A motorbike loop from the Phong Nha Farmstay was a worthy introduction to the area. But the grand finale — a one-day trek involving waterfall jumps and a swim into the extremities of a river cave — was unforgettable.

The cliché about there always being something new to discover is well-worn. And, in the case of Asia, it's true.

Father and sun walking on green grass in Scotland
The author traveling back to Scotland with his son.Duncan Forgan

4. Life at home gets harder to visualize

I'd be lying if I said I never feel the call of home.

When I left London for Asia at the end of 2010, I felt pretty done with the UK due to a combination of factors, ranging from relationship woes to despair about my spluttering career.

For a while, I was happy enough to redeem the return portion of my airfare whenever I made my yearly trip home.

The arrival of my son, Alexander, along with a nearly three-year pandemic-imposed gap between trips, and a long-term Bangkok resident's gratitude for clean air and quiet have helped soften my perspective. These days, the annual pilgrimage to Scotland is something to anticipate rather than to tick off.

For all my renewed appreciation of my homeland, relocating there still feels like a stretch. I've not lived in Scotland since 2007, and the axis of my life — wife and son, friends, work networks, clients — is almost entirely Asia-orientated. Also, years of encountering diverse cultures, ways of life, and perspectives in Asia have altered me to the point where I'm not confident of readjusting to home.

We are heading back to Scotland this July, and I can't wait to catch up with friends and family and show my son Alex the Highlands for the first time. But post-trip, I'll resist the temptation to place rose-tinted spectacles on overly misty eyes.

Got a personal essay about living abroad that you want to share? Get in touch with the editor: akarplus@businessinsider.com.

Read the original article on Business Insider