Hua Hin and Sun City, AZ
This submission is inspired by Stick's recent column, "Back to Bangkok". I read that column and found myself agreeing with so much.
After almost eight years in Hua Hin, I recently returned to America and settled in Sun City, Arizona. Sun City is an age restricted community. At least one member of any household must be 55 or older. Although Hua Hin is not a retirement community, it has many retirees. Virtually every westerner I knew there was retired. Here is a quick comparison of the two communities.
1. Staying there. Well, as an American, I can live anywhere in the country. Although I never had a problem with Immigration in Thailand and didn't find the retirement visa requirements onerous, renewing my visa every year and reporting every ninety days was a bit of a hassle. Not really that bad, just a pain. I guess any foreigner who made the effort to get a long term visa into the US would not be bothered until their visa expired. About ten years. But it is much more difficult to get a US visa than a Thai visa.
Winner: Sun City, but only because I'm an American.
2. Infrastructure. There is really no contest. My electricity, gas and water are safe and reliable. My internet connection is 50 MB / 10 MB and rock solid. The area is very clean. Crime is very low. The streets are safe. There are good medical facilities everywhere. Things work. Medical care is more expensive, but more reliable, too. If I get in an accident, real EMTs will come to the scene. The police will investigate impartially. In addition, as a Sun City resident, for nineteen dollars a month I have access to seven recreation centers with gyms and pools.
Winner: Sun City, hands down.
3. Dining. Again, no contest, but the other way. There are at least ten good restaurants within three miles of my house in Hua Hin. The only real weaknesses are in Mexican, Vietnamese, and Hunan/Szechuan Chinese food. Sun City, and even the entire western valley area of the Phoenix metroplex is pretty lame for food. I find myself driving further and further in search of a good meal out.
Winner: Hua Hin, hands down. It's not a foodie paradise, but good cheap food of many varieties is available nearby.
4. Nightlife, including women. Sun City has no nightlife. I've returned late (after nine PM) from a friend's home, and no one is out. There are no nightclubs, bars etc. Women are mostly over 50, and if you see a young hottie, she's probably someone's granddaughter.
Winner: Hua Hin, hands down. This isn't important to me, but might be to someone else. Trust me. Don't go to Sun City to get laid. Hua Hin is not Pattaya, but it's a million times wilder than Sun City.
5. Groceries and shopping. Although food is mostly more expensive in Sun City, the quality is substantially higher and the selection much greater. I do miss cheap pineapple and coconut sometimes. Electronics are substantially cheaper in the US, and the price of clothes and such is not much different if we compare items of similar quality. Cars are slightly cheaper in the US. Furniture is cheaper in Thailand.
Winner: Sun City, though I realize this could be subjective. It depends what you want. Pork ribs, which I love, are much cheaper in Hua Hin. Beef, which I also love, is cheaper and much higher quality in the US.
6. Cost of living. This is dependent on what one wants. In Hua Hin I had a motorbike and a small bungalow and ate out often and my cost of living was about two thousand US dollars per month. In Sun City I have a brand new car and a small bungalow on a golf course and cook at home more often and my cost of living is about two thousand seven hundred US dollars per month. Balance the new car vs. eating out and it's only a little more expensive to live in Sun City. This is a tough call. Aside from the car and cooking, my life in Sun City is very much like my life in Hua Hin. Some things seem more expensive, but month to month it's not that different.
Winner: Sun City, but your mileage may vary.
7. Weather. This is another tough call. The Phoenix area gets hot during the summer, like 115 °F (46 °C). It's really hot. But just as you would stay indoors in some areas when it's winter, in that area, you stay indoors when it's summer. I'm okay with it. There's a way in which you could say that Hua Hin's average weather is more consistent and pleasant. I'm fine in either place.
Winner: None. It's too subjective. If anything, it might come down to humidity vs. temperature. I seem to have a broader comfort range than many people.
8. People and quality of life. Again, this is subjective, but for me, Sun City wins. To put it in bare terms, no one thinks I'm an easy mark because of my appearance and no one is surprised or suspicious because I speak the local lingo, or Spanish, for that matter. When my wife joins me there, no one will try to take advantage of her because she's a foreigner. Most people in stores, restaurants, banks, at utilities, pharmacies and elsewhere are at least minimally competent, friendly, and honest. The locals, almost all of whom are retired, are really laid back and friendly. Although it's a conservative and Christian area and I am a very liberal atheist, no one bothers me about politics or religion. There are enough old hippy types and other eccentrics that I feel at home. I never have to feel on my guard like I did so often in Hua Hin. After a while in Thailand, one learns to trust almost no one, and especially not other westerners. It's a tiring way to live, and Hua Hin is probably better than many areas of Thailand like Bangkok, Phuket, or Pattaya. I like to bicycle, and I can ride every morning along broad, clean, safe streets. People can park their cars and pull out of parking spaces without some idiot with a whistle there to help. Although Arizona is an 'open carry' state, meaning I could wear a gun on my hip anywhere, I have yet to see anyone doing so. There are libraries, book stores and theaters within easy driving distance.
Winner: Sun City. This more than anything, is why I'm happy to live there.
As an American, my perspective is essentially American. I can't help that and I'm not a chauvinist. I realize that for many retirees in Thailand, their home countries don't have anywhere that's warm and pleasant year round. I don't hate Thailand. Actually, I love it and have family and friends here – I'm writing during a visit to Hua Hin. But I would encourage retirees who don't feel happy or comfortable here to look elsewhere. Thailand is not the only game in town
Great summary. Thailand has much going for it but there are alternatives…