The Swiss Jean-Michel emigrated to Thailand when he was in his thirties. That’s 20 years ago now. Jean-Michel now owns a luxury hotel where stars like Beyonce stay.

He’s standing there by the sea with his hands on his hips. Wind blows through the tousled hair. Shorts, a shirt, the ever-brown skin of an eternal summer on the equator shines.

And in that attitude, that of a crane pecking on the back of a water buffalo, is all the impossibility of living in this place. This man wasn’t supposed to be here.

This small island in the southwest of Thailand, which does not know the noisy prostitution, hardly any backpackers, but only peace and scattered vacationers. Here the Swiss Jean-Michel has fulfilled a dream. In his late thirties, 20 years ago, he arrived here on this island.

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No solid roads, electricity from the generator, mosquitoes that can still transmit diseases and rubber farmers. Not more. Here Jean-Michel decided to build an expensive hotel, buy land. But above all: to stay here.

“It wasn’t always easy,” he says. And by that he means the mentalities, the culture. But he was willing to learn for this country, the language, the culture, the way of doing business.

He has never regretted coming here because it gives him something he can no longer find in Switzerland. Namely spirit of discovery and activity. The opportunity to take risks.

“You can still do things in Thailand,” he says. “Small ideas can turn into big things here,” he explains, referring to his hotel, among other things.

Because the hotel he co-founded is now a place where the big stars come. It became a chain that internationally stands for real luxury, not junk.

Beyonce, Tom Cruise and Ronaldo sleep in the Six Sense Yao Noi. “But not because it’s extremely luxurious, but because this island is just so beautiful.” And probably also because Phuket Airport is only 30 minutes away via helicopter.

When Jean Michel talks about his island, he’s dreaming, he enthuses. As if, like a traveller, he had just arrived yesterday. Right next to the Six Senses is a smaller hotel, a slimmed down version.

The Koh Yao Island Resort, tradition meets delicate western modernity. Pool meets flying fox, fine Thai cuisine with adders scurrying through the meadow by the sea. Not mass tourism, but an experience.

“I could live here too,” he says, meaning that he built the hotel to meet his private needs. It’s not perfect, nor should it be. But so is his life.

Not perfect, but special. For this man, life in Thailand also means renunciation, being a better father for his Swiss children, taking care of “home” more.

The world moves on at home, in Europe, without Jean-Michel, and this world moves so fast that when he visits his home, he often has the feeling of losing touch.

But what is home for a man who has been a citizen of the world all his life and has now found a refuge on this small island? Who today, now, dreams of expanding into Myanmar. Who still checks himself whether the nuts at the hotel bar are refilled?

Thilo Mischke was born in Berlin in 1981. He works as a journalist, author and TV presenter. He has received numerous awards for his journalistic work, for example he won a Bavarian television prize in 2020 and was named “Journalist of the Year” in the “National Reportage” category.

“I emigrated,” he says. “I live here, my life is centered here, my wife, my child,” he explains. And he says it so convincingly that it becomes clear: Jean-Michel defines home differently than the vacationers who come to him.

Who dream of doing what he just did after three or four days: staying here. On this island that feels far away from everything, yet so close.