Living In Rural Thailand, So What …
“Living in rural Thailand, so what do you do all day?”
Two weeks ago I posted here about life in provincial Thailand. Potential expats have been sending emails and that’s been a frequent question. So here are some details about daily life. (And I welcome comments from other expats, either in a submission here or in personal email to me.)
First: Important to make the distinction between living in wife’s village compared to living in a small city. About village life, I can’t answer: never done that and don’t want to try. I’ll leave the topic of village life to others. The small city where I live has lots of modern conveniences – some of which I’ll mention below. But the essential factor is they are not as varied or sophisticated as in the larger cities.
Second: While there is a Thai lady in my life, I didn’t marry her and we don’t live together. She lives with and takes care of her elderly mother in a small village, about 20 minutes away by motorcy. I’m not part of daily life out there. I don’t know any of the neighbors or any of her extended family. Avoiding all of that makes my daily life very serene.
Third: Even though all daily needs can be met in this little city, there is almost no manufactured entertainment here, no artificial amusements. The biggest entertainment here, during the day, is going in to Big-C or Robinson department stores. At night, there are bars and brothels. That’s it. Other than that, an expat needs to make his own entertainment.
A typical day:
Waking up in the morning is important. Before you laugh at this, I’ll explain. Thailand cities, big and small, can be very noisy. People don’t care if a vehicle muffler muffles or not. Especially motorcycle mufflers. If you like to sleep with the windows open, living near a busy street is a bad idea, unless you enjoy being woken up at dawn by the infernal buzz of a motorcycle going past. And then another. And another. Fortunately this condo building is 100 meters down a small soi, well away from the main road. The rest of the soi is just small private homes. Very quiet. For anyone thinking about living up-country in Thailand, it is important to consider the “noise” factor.
Breakfast I usually make myself. The store-bought eggs in Thailand are better tasting than any store-bought eggs I’ve ever found back in the USA. Two eggs, a sausage patty, toast with strawberry jam and this expat starts the day smiling. 100% Western-style breakfast. So how does that Western meal come about in deep rural Thailand?
Everything is available at TOPS supermarket. While Thai-style food is available from several vendors at the top of the soi, the longer I’m here, the more I want comfortable Western food. If you move out to a rural area, consider what will you eat and where will you get the food from.
After breakfast, check email and browse a few regular pages on the Internet. So, what about Internet? This condo building has “free” Wi-Fi, but speed and reliability are, well, Thai-style. Instead of fussing and fighting with the Wi-Fi, I decided to get Internet by mobile phone. Much more reliable connection. Before signing a lease on any rental, make sure to verify the Internet connection, and consider a mobile phone link even if free Wi-Fi is included.
After checking emails I’ll go out to do errands, if necessary. Errands in the morning avoids the heat of mid-day. I don’t have a car, don’t want a car, and my motorcycle doesn’t have any air-conditioning.
Shopping at TOPS supermarket once a week. There is nothing exciting about TOPS, except the essential factor: everything is better quality than at Big-C. TOPS is identical to a small supermarket in The West, except for labels on the products.
At first I was worried about that – understanding what was inside the package or the can with the label in Thai language – but not a problem. Most Thai products have the name of the product in English somewhere on the package. And most groceries I buy are imported anyway: USA, Australia, England, so labels are in English.
I rarely buy Thai packaged foods – such as tuna fish or catsup. The quality of ingredients are far better with imported. I learned that lesson from sardines. I had been buying a brand from Europe. One time my brand was out of stock, so instead I bought a Thai brand. Mistake. The smell was odd — I’d say spoiled — but the Thais like well-aged fish so that may be unfair. But after one tiny bite of the sardines inside, I threw out that can and the other two I’d bought. I’ve had similar unpleasant experiences, although not so dramatic, with Thai brands of canned peas, tomatoes, catsup, jelly and jam, and other things. So now, as much as possible, I buy only imported products.
Before going into TOPS, every few weeks I’ll go to the barbershop. At first, I wondered how that would work without knowing the language. Can’t expect a barber to speak English. If he could, he wouldn’t be working as a barber. So I asked my lady friend – who speaks pretty good English – how to say in Thai, “Up to you.”. She told me and I practiced a few times. When I went in for my first haircut out here, I said to the barber, “Lay-oh-dteh”. His eyes opened wide when I said those words. So I repeated. And he smiled and got right to work with clippers and comb. The results were fine. The barbershop is like something out of an old-time movie. Peeling paint on the walls. Every mirror either cracked or has chips on the edges. The barber chairs are old and narrow. I have to squeeze in. The only thing new in that shop is today’s newspaper. Is the shop clean? Are the tools sanitized? Hah! Better you don’t even ask about that.
Lunch is sandwich and soup. I enjoy making home-made soups. Make a big batch, eat one bowl that day, put three or four remaining servings into the freezer. Yes, it takes time to prepare, but enjoy that much more than local food with rice, rice, and rice again.
Afternoon is time for projects and reading. “Projects?” you ask. “What kind of projects can you have living in a condo?” Plenty. Here’s a partial list:
Balcony has room for a dozen plants in pots. Water, fertilize, trim dead leaves, transplant from small pots into larger as needed. Easy, fun, pleasant project.
Fixing things. I just rent this condo, but I don’t want to bother the owner with little things I can do myself. Squeaking door hinge: small can of oil from Big-C. Leaking faucet in the kitchen: ordered a replacement from HomePro and crawled under the sink with a Crescent wrench and flashlight. Front door doesn’t close easily because wood swelled up in the rainy season: Bought a rasp (scraper tool) at a little hardware store, pulled the hinge pins, removed the door, and shaved off 2 mm. along the edge. Door closes easily now.
Another project – a major project for me – is learning about nutritional supplements. As I get older – and I assume most expats reading this will be older – maintaining health becomes more important. Plus, I am highly motivated to avoid Thai hospitals and doctors. So my first line of defense is nutritional supplements. Organizing them takes time: which to take with food, which away from food; which in the morning and which at night; which combinations work best together (such as Vitamin C plus Rutin) and which combinations to avoid.
Evenings are reading time. A small mountain of books waiting patiently for me to pick one up. Got a comfortable chair from Ikea in Bangkok. Next will install a small light out on the balcony so I can read out there in the cool evenings. (Another project: reading light, extension cord, small fan, small table for cool drink. See what I mean about projects?)
Wrap up: So, living in this small, small, city am I ever bored? No, never. So much to do plus plenty of books to read.
You may ask, if there was no connection with a Thai lady who lived nearby, would an expat want to live in a small city like this? Or would life be better in one of the larger cities: Hua Hin maybe, or Muang Thong Thani just North of Bangkok? Difficult to answer that question. If not here, I don’t know where I would have lived this past year. But the opportunity to observe Thai life in the countryside has been worthwhile as a way to learn about Thai people.
Opinions and comments welcomed. My email is: [email protected]