The Nice Things About Thailand
With all the doom and gloom written about Thailand these days, I have put together this piece as my view of the positive aspects of life in Thailand.
Just to let you know where I am coming from, I was a regular visitor to Thailand from 1999 to 2004 at which point I met my Thai wife and we now live part time in Chiang Mai with our 2-year-old daughter. I work for 7 months of the year in the UK and other countries then holiday for 5 months in Thailand with my family.
I am sure many will disagree with what is written, but here are my reasons for choosing Thailand as home: –
My days of bar fining girls are long gone but I still get out and about on my own and have a chat with the ladies of the night. Thai bar girls are still amongst the friendliest fun loving girls anywhere in the world. They always have time for a chat, will flirt, smile, tell stories of their life, and most seem happy to share the company of a middle age expat for the cost of a lady drink or a small tip. I used to indulge in the PFP scene and it still makes me smile thinking about some of the wild nights I had in Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket and Songkla…nights out that people who have never been to Thailand just wouldn’t believe. I have a lot of time for bar girls, many dream of a better life, waiting for Mr Farang to marry them and take care of their little ones and some just seem to want to have fun. I never get bored of having a beer or seven with a pretty, fun loving bar girl.
The party atmosphere
I worked in Malaysia for 3 years and although there were bars and restaurants where we lived there was always a dull atmosphere, possible something to do with the Muslim police I don’t know. Me and a few other expats used to pile over the border to Songkla at least twice a month and the atmosphere was just….different. Even though the residents of Thailand appear less well off than those of Malaysia, they seemed to be a lot happier. People smiled, they said hello and would be happy to have a chat, even the taxi drivers were friendly. You can strike up a conversation in Thailand, on the bus, in a bar, in a restaurant in a national park and people will be happy to have a chat. Try that on the London underground, a bar or any public place in England and just watch the reaction of the person you are attempting to talk to…they will think you are weird.
The cost of living
The strength of the Thai baht and the weakness of the pound has seen my cost of living in Thailand rise by almost 50% in the last 3 years but I am fed so up of all the moaning and groaning by expats about how ‘expensive’ it is now. It is not expensive now; it was just exceptionally cheap then. 18 months ago, the missus, the little one and I lived in Edinburgh, Scotland. A meal out saw little change from £50, a pint of beer was almost 4 quid, a taxi from our apartment to the town centre was a 7 minute ride, but it cost more than a taxi from the Thai/Malay border at Sadow to Songkla…a 90 minute journey. The cost of living in Chiang Mai is very low… provided you stay away from the tourist bars and restaurants. I estimate the ordinary folk who live in our village have a monthly income of between £100 and £200 per month (double that per household if both couples work, which most of them do). It covers the rent, repayments on the motorbike, food bills, kids schooling and there is still enough left over for a BBQ and a few Chang beers at the weekend.
On my 5 months off we spend about 50,000 baht per month, we don’t scrimp and save. I guess you could just about live on £1K per month in the west but it would be a grim life.
I wouldn’t say that Thailand has the best beaches in the world as the sheer number of tourist visiting places such as Phuket, Koh Samui and Pattaya make it a rather crowded experience, but there are some gems to be found on Koh Chang and some of the less well know places south of Hua Hin. One of the nicest beaches I have been to was on Taurutou Island; a small island with National park status off the coast of Satun in the South. If you want to be the only person on a beach with no one in sight for 1+ Km in each direction, that is the place to go. It takes a bit of effort to get there though and there are no bar girls…in fact there is not much of anything.
The relaxed Thai approach to rules and regulations.
I worked in Hong Kong for about a year and everywhere there are signs telling Joe public what he can and cannot do together with a notice indicating the fine payable for non-compliance. As such everyone wears a motorbike helmet, nobody eats on the underground, nobody plays ball games, music or lights fires etc. on the beach, UK and Europe are the same. Although there are rules in Thailand, it appears to be up to the individual whether they apply them or not. This has two sides to it, on the one hand it gives people freedom to do as they like, on the other hand some people just do things which are downright dangerous. I don’t think Honda design engineers had any idea of the size and weight of the sidecars that the Thais would attach to their scooters, and as for 4 (or 5) passengers on a 125 dream…it just isn’t safe. However, I like to be able to choose what I do without having to comply with rules out of the fear of being arrested, my license revoked or a hefty fine.
Some say it is too hot, but to me sitting outside a restaurant in the evening in a T-shirt in February is heaven. The weather suits me, and compared to the cold and drizzle of the UK and northern Europe there is no comparison.
I am going to be honest here and say that I am not a great fan of Thai food, especially the North Eastern stuff my wife and her friends go for, but this is not a problem. Chiang Mai appears to be a magnet for expat retirees and more than enough to support a chain of supermarkets under the name of ‘Rimping’. Walk into one of these places and you might as well be in Sainsbury’s in the UK. There is Norwegian salmon, New Zealand Steak, a huge selection of cheeses, HP sauce, biscuits and just about anything else you would expect to find in the west. The downside?… it costs a fortune…. more than it would in the UK but it is all there, whatever you want. They also have an entire isle stocked with wines from around the world… they aren’t cheap either.
The cost of houses.
We bought our first house 4 years ago for 600,000 baht (at the time £8,500). It was a 2-bedroom bungalow in a village 6 km from Chiang Mai centre. It was perfect for the two of us, the neighbours were friendly and I enjoyed living there. We spent a bit on it but it was just too small once our daughter came along. I had a bit of cash stashed away so we splashed out on a 3-bedroom detached, still in the same area but a bit more towards the posh end. The house is massive, a bit too big really but what a beautiful place…all for 1.9 million baht (£38,000). This would possibly cover a 15 – 20% deposit on a similar sized place in the UK. All the doom mongers reading this will be thinking…”Ah… but you cannot own it, it has to be in the name of a Thai National… you don’t own it your wife does”. Correct, but any guy married to a western girl will discover when the divorce proceedings are underway that although his name is on the house deeds he is unlikely to get a penny of it, especially if there are kids involved. It’s slightly different in Thailand, in that Khun Farang knows he doesn’t own the house from the start rather than spending several years pretending as we do in the west…been there, done that.
As for property being a bad investment in Thailand, I can only speak from experience, we sold are first property for 900K, compared to the 600K we paid for it, although we made little real profit, as I reckon we spent at least 300K on improvements. However we lived in it for 3 years and had no problem finding a buyer.
I have been learning Thai for 8 years now, and I like to think I am reasonably proficient. I spend a lot of time learning to read and write and getting the strange pronunciations and tones correct. It has turned into a sort of a hobby, which I can take anywhere; in my job I spend a lot of time alone in hotel rooms and it is a constructive way to pass time. Learning Thai is not easy but I find it interesting and get a great deal of satisfaction from it. Back to the bar girl thing, I really enjoy finding a nice Thai girl and chatting away for a couple of hours in her language, whilst drinking beer. The stories they tell and the life they have beyond “Hello handsome man, welcome sit down please” for me makes all the hours learning the language worthwhile. Pretty bargirl also gets something out of it apart from the glass of coke, in the form of a 500 baht note if she has shown some interest and enthusiasm, which is always appreciated. Another positive to learning the language is the ability to bargain the price of anything you want to buy in Thai, which can really bring the price tumbling down. I lived in the Philippines for 9 months back in the 90s where English is universally spoken, obviously it is easier to communicate, but the strange Thai language and script just adds another interesting quirk to life in Thailand.
During the last 21 years I have lived and worked in 10 different countries but in my opinion, despite all its problems and perceived downsides, Thailand to me is still the most beautiful place on earth.
Pretty girls, cheap beer, nice weather, beaches, good food, friendly people and a low cost of living, what more can you ask for?
P.S. I have intentionally left out the bad experiences I have had in Thailand, and I have had a few; the scams, the liars, the rip-offs etc. as this was to be a positive piece and most people will acknowledge there is nowhere on earth where life will be perfect. My only comment on this is that if you keep your wits about you, handle things with a smile and learn to speak Thai then the chances of getting ripped off drop considerably. Enough said.
It's nice to read something positive.