Over the years I have written various stories about why I have lived so long in Thailand. I’ve had a great time here, lived with and loved many wonderful women, worked at various jobs; some good some not so good, but all interesting. I thought
I would end my days in this country. But that has changed and now it’s time for me to leave what I thought was paradise.
I saw the writing on the wall about three years ago. At that time I was running a real estate business. The market was collapsing as the political situation started to heat up. Thaksin was still PM and as far as I was concerned he was doing a good job. Until then, business had been good. Sure, Thaksin was corrupt, but which Thai politician is not? Even the holier-than-thou unlamented PAD leaders are demonstrably corrupt. That didn’t worry me. I think corruption is the grease on the axles of progress. But when I saw where the political winds were beginning to blow just before the military coup that ousted Thaksin I realized it was time to start putting my exit strategy in place. It wasn’t easy.
I had to re-establish my residency in Australia. Unfortunately, when I left there all those years ago I thought I was an Australian. After all, I had lived, gone to school, and worked there. I had even gone to war for Australia in the RAAF. It just never occurred to me when I left that I wouldn’t be welcomed back. So when I left all those years ago to start on my overland trip to the UK I didn’t give it a thought. Then when I got to Thailand I decided this was the place to stay. What started out as a short one-week holiday in Bangkok on my journey to the UK ended up being the longest holiday I have ever had; 30 years long.
To get my residency back I had to convince Australian immigration that I was indeed worthy of being allowed back home. It took me 12 months but a couple of months ago I was granted my returning resident visa. I made sure of it by returning to Australia as fast as possible soon after I got it to stake my claim to my residency. Luckily, my wife and kids are included in my visa, so we are all good to go down there and start our new life.
So what made me think that staying in Thailand was no longer an option?
First, the changes to the immigration laws at that time, and since, have made it abundantly clear that the Thais don’t really want us foreigners here long term. Sure, they want you to come here and spend as much money as possible, but they want you to do it in no more than a month: Longer than that and you become a liability as far as they are concerned.
Strangely, they made it much easier for older men to get a retirement visa. So it’s alright for them to come here to die. After all, they will probably hook up with a Thai woman and buy her a house, car, and all the other goods. Then she will inherit them when he kicks off the planet. But we have seen an increase in the number of old men kicking off, or getting kicked off their balcony – also known as the Pattaya Flying Club.
The PFC brigade was one of the early indicators that started me thinking it was time to leave. This was also related to the souring relationship I saw between foreigners and Thais, particularly in the tourist areas. Even though I was relatively insulated from the tourist trade by living out in the suburbs, whenever I traveled into Sukhumvit Road I could see a huge change in attitude. Instead of smiling gracious Thais all I saw were money-grubbing nasty Thais who were intent on ripping off the tourists without giving any real value back. Perhaps that was just my perception, but I don’t think so, as many other foreigners mentioned it too.
Another factor that influenced me was the declining economy. It has got much harder to do business here. In fact, after I sold my company a year back I decided not to do any business in Thailand again. That was a good decision, because with all the political unrest I see many Thais struggling to make ends meet. And the work opportunities for foreigners have shrunk to almost nothing as well. One of my friends left his job as an investment bank adviser two years ago. Since then he has not been able to get any work at all. But it’s worse for the Thais. My Thai friends all tell me how difficult doing business here has become. Some of them have gone out of business already. A lot more will follow soon. Until the deep divide that has riven Thailand is healed this country is not going to see any improvement. In fact, I fear the Reds and Yellows are on a collision course for a lot of bad violence. Thailand may even see civil war if things continue without any attempt to heal the rift. But that is not my problem any more.
My wife is solidly behind our decision to go to leave Thailand. She has a few reasons: the kids will get a better education; the environment is much better where we are going with lots of fresh air, greenery, and it’s clean; there are more opportunities for her too. She can get a job there and make good money. She has already been there twice and loved it. My wife and the kids already speak English, but not fluently. Moving back home will help hone their language skills.
Apart from the kids’ education, my wife has been urging that we leave Thailand long before I started making plans to leave. Like me, she saw the writing on the political wall. She talked to people in the neighborhood and then told me what they were saying. The news got progressively worse. People were losing their jobs. Now they feel disenfranchised by the constant political seesawing. Their vote counts for nothing. The PAD even told the many Thaksin supporters that they were too stupid to vote in a good government – a good government of course being one approved by PAD.
All these were factors affecting my decision. It wasn’t an easy choice to make. I love Thailand and the many freedoms it offers someone like me. Doing business in Thailand was easy and there was very little red tape. Taxes are very low here. And once you get away from the tourist areas most of the Thais I meet are very nice people. So deciding to leave has been very difficult. However, recent events have validated that decision and now I am relieved to be going.
Reasons to Return
Social & Cultural:
Ever since I came to live in Thailand I have felt like I am living in a land of mental midgets. This is not a reflection on the Thai’s intelligence, but on their education system. Try and talk to most Thais about world events, geography, politics, or dozens of other topics we westerners are exposed to, and the Thais are lost. Many of the poor don’t even realize they are part of a much larger world.
If the Thais were given a halfway decent education they could easily compete in the outside world. Instead, the current political system can only survive if the majority are kept in complete ignorance. They are not even allowed to question the status quo without risking imprisonment. How can a society thrive and progress when its people are too ignorant to even know they are ignorant? It’s a crying shame.
As the years have passed I have found it more and more difficult to put up with this. I crave the ability to talk to my peers about politics, TV shows, the antics of movie stars, music, books, painting, and so on. I’ve ached to be able to take a short walk to the beach or a clean park, or to visit a museum, or go to a national park without being gouged because of the color of my skin.
I can do all these things back home, and I can discuss them with others without having to explain what I am talking about. And when I go out I won’t be besieged by hordes of touts trying to sell me a whole bunch of crap I am not interested in.
Government & Other Support:
Although I don’t plan to go on social security when I return, it is good to know it is there if I ever need it. My wife and kids will have to live there two years before qualifying for free medical and other social services, so I will have to buy health insurance for those two years. After seeing the state of the health services down there I will probably continue the insurance for all of us after the two years so that we get the best health care possible. The waiting queues at hospitals for Medicare treatment are just too long. You get stuck in public wards, and while the health care is excellent, the service level is very poor. It can take months to get even a small operation. Who needs that?
As a veteran, I am entitled to a small pension if I want it. I can also join the Returned Serviceman’s League. They offer a lot of different support services. Their clubs also serve food and of course gambling for those who want it.
I will qualify for a pensioner’s card entitling me to travel at a reduced rate on public transport, as well as a few other benefits.
The biggest support though will be the feeling of belonging to a society that accepts me…something that Thailand has never offered me.
The Australian way of life is supported by a very high taxation system. Personal taxes vary, depending on income but they are still much higher than I have been used to. Compared to the very low personal taxes in Thailand that is going to be a hard pill to swallow.
Business taxes down there are also quite high. Unfortunately, Australia also taxes income earned overseas. Not nice.
Australian restaurants, pubs, and clubs still impose outmoded dress codes and other restrictive rules. I walked into a surf club while down there recently and was asked quite forcefully by the barmaid to remove my cap. She was quite offended. Darned if I understand that. No one ever mentions it in Thailand. And there were no girls willing to sit on my face…er lap, and help me drink.
Drinking hours are more reasonable these days, but the drink driving laws are heavily enforced. Nothing wrong with that. But I often drive home in Bangkok after downing a few drinks. I won’t be able to do that back home.
Shopping hours are better than 30 years ago but you can’t go out at 3 am for a quick snack at a noodle stall. And the food served up in most food courts or fast food joints in Australia is anywhere from horrible to barely edible.
The meat pies I used to love that were served from a wood-burning oven out of the back of a ute (utility car) are gone, as are the mashed peas. And pubs no longer serve counter lunches. Asian restaurants abound, but their food hardly matches the taste of authentic Thai food served up here.
Public transport to the suburbs is nowhere near as plentiful as Bangkok. Here you can jump on the BTS, MRT, or a public bus and get whisked to wherever you want to go within minutes. Or you can get a very cheap taxi. Not so in Australia. Buses and trains run to sparse schedules, and taxis are a lot more expensive. However, the taxis are all equipped with GPS and you don’t have to worry about the drivers detouring you to a jewelry shop or massage parlor.
I was surprised at the expensive cost of the internet down there, and the limited options available. However, that was only the impression I gained while using a pre-paid account. Once I get there and buy a home plan the price will probably be more reasonable. As long as the Aussie government doesn’t bring in that stupid plan to ‘censor’ the internet it should be alright.
TV in Australia is just as mind-numbingly boring and stupid as it is up here. The only difference is that I could understand the language. I won’t be buying a TV when we get there. I want my kids to grow up to be aware of their surroundings, and to read books and be more creative using their spare time. We’ll be going swimming at the beach, visiting various cultural attractions, going to markets, visiting friends and relatives, and much more. So I doubt they will miss the idiot box.
There are plenty of other things I will have to get used to when I return, but these are a small price to pay for the much better standard of living, the education my kids will get, and the happiness it will bring my family.
Good luck. You will be missed by many.