When I left Bangkok to return to New Zealand it was not just readers who said I would never adjust to life in New Zealand and I would be back in Thailand within a year. Some friends said the same thing. After so many years in such a vibrant and exciting city as Bangkok, who was I kidding to think I would be happy in a backwater like New Zealand?
It’s two years since I left Thailand and I am doing very nicely in New Zealand, thank you. Things have worked out well. I still enjoy visiting Bangkok but the idea of living there again does not appeal. There is life after Thailand.
That’s not to say that the transition back to New Zealand has been without its challenges. Things have worked out well but they have not always gone how I expected.
With one – admittedly, very significant – exception, moving back to New Zealand has been easy because it was what I really wanted. If you were forced to leave Thailand then you might not feel that way but I had been keen to escape for a while. The major challenge moving back? Housing.
New Zealand has seen rampant house inflation with house prices soaring in recent years. An average house in Auckland will set you back over a million dollars. Rent for a small house in a dodgy suburb, or a basic apartment downtown starts around $600 per week. Compared to the 25,000 baht a month I was paying for an elegant, fully furnished condo of almost 100 square metres in Sukhumvit soi 16, rent and house prices in New Zealand were a huge shock.
With Auckland house prices at crazy levels, I joined the white flight for the provinces. Hawkes Bay was my destination, a region on the east coast of the North Island with the best weather in the country and a magnificent lifestyle for those who like to get outdoors.
Can one adjust from living in a vibrant international city of more than 12 million people that never sleeps to one of just 60,000 people – and be happy?
In Bangkok I seldom strayed far from the Asoke area. There were perhaps a couple of dozen places – bars, restaurants, the local park, a few shops – I ventured out to and that really was it. Most of these places were within a 2 km radius of where I lived. An international supermarket was a 5-minute walk up the road. The area where I lived had everything I needed and I came to realise that while I lived in a city of 12 million people, I – like most people – went about my life without venturing outside a relatively small area. You could divide Bangkok in to 50 areas and you’d probably find everything you need (shops, eateries, medical facilities etc.) in any one of those areas. With that in mind, I thought the move to a medium-sized town would be no big deal as it would have everything I’d need. And that has turned out to be right. Decent Indian food aside, Hawkes Bay has everything I need.
But what about the bar scene? How is that in Hawkes Bay? There are bars here where you can sit outside in the sun, enjoy fine local wines and watch the fishing vessels come and go by day, get a great burger or fish and chips, and fight for a table next to the large fireplace inside once the sun has gone down.
As for naughty bars, I have no idea what’s out there and no interest in finding out.
Here I have beaches and mountains and walking tracks. For someone who likes to spend time outside, Hawkes Bay offers a dream lifestyle.
Traffic jams don’t exist and no matter how hard or for how long it rains – and it doesn’t rain that often – the traffic doesn’t snarl up. Unlike Bangkok. If you want to go somewhere you just jump in your car without the need to check the time and think about traffic conditions. It might sound like a small detail, but the ability to go anywhere, anytime, makes me feel like I have regained control over my own life.
Hawke’s Bay is one of the top three regions in New Zealand for sunshine hours and while it can be a little colder than Auckland in winter, it is much warmer in summer. It never gets too cold and while some here say summer it gets too hot, unlike Bangkok it cools down at night. You might get mid 30s by day, but it will drop to 17 or 18 at night.
I started to miss the seasons after a few years in Bangkok where the weather is much the same most of the time and it seems like only the temperature and rainfall changes. Sorry, but rainy, hot and wet are weather conditions and not seasons. I never bought in to the nonsense of Bangkok having 3 seasons.
While some expats may enjoy Thai food, I think most gravitate back to Western food. Admittedly the Thai food in this part of New Zealand isn’t great. Ethnic food is first-class in Auckland, but in Hawkes Bay, it isn’t. No sweat, we make Thai food ourselves.
I remember one Patpong bar boss saying to me that if I really was stupid enough to move back to New Zealand – yes, he used the word stupid – then I wouldn’t be able to go for an afternoon short-time like you can in Bangkok. I’ve never been for an afternoon short-time and neither have I ever played Bill & Monica at Lolita’s. If the availability of commercial sex is of great importance to you then Hawkes Bay would be a terrible choice.
I think at the end of the day, leaving Thailand and moving back to your own country comes back to two things: choice and money. You have to genuinely want to return to your homeland. And you have to have either a decent income or a substantial nest egg to make it work. The cost of living is very high in New Zealand. With that said, you do get a much higher standard of living.
Like I said already, housing is outrageously expensive in New Zealand. Contrast that with Thailand where most foreigners rent because rent rates are modest. A foreigner in Thailand earning nothing but a state pension from their homeland could afford to rent in Thailand and survive. It’d be a shitty life but it’s doable. You can’t do that here – the money would not stretch that far, hence money is a big deal for an expat moving back.
I don’t know anyone living in Thailand who has property insurance / contents insurance. And then there are property taxes. What I pay in property taxes and house and contents insurance exceeds what many of my foreign friends in Thailand pay in rent. That’s the downside of living in the West, but to me it’s worth it.
I don’t want to sound like a smug bastard, but ever since I started this site I have been beating the same drum – don’t lose sight of your financial goals and don’t piss around Thailand for too long doing nothing, or teaching for peanuts year after year after year otherwise one day you might wake up and realise you have few options and you might just find yourself stuck in Thailand.
There’s nothing wrong with living in Thailand if it is where you genuinely want to be but let’s be frank: one of the big, dirty secrets of Thailand expats is that many grow to dislike, even hate the place. They tell anyone who cares to listen the complete opposite – because they are embarrassed that they don’t have any options and essentially, they can’t leave.
On yet another stunning morning here in Hawke’s Bay, I sit in my front room with a view down the street with a view of the mountains. Clear, blue sky in every direction. Winter is only a couple of weeks away but the sun heats up the computer room and it’ll be around 20 degrees come lunchtime.
As much as I like Hawkes Bay, I don’t plan to stay here forever. In Bangkok I lived in 6 different condos in 5 different areas. I’ve always thought there is something to be said for moving reasonably often. It keeps things new and makes your life interesting.
Do I ever think about moving back to Thailand permanently? No. It doesn’t appeal anymore. That’s the honest truth. Thailand has changed and I have changed and New Zealand is a much better match for the lifestyle I want to lead.
There were times when I wondered if I might be happier back in Thailand but then I remembered all of the reasons why I left in the first place and those thoughts quickly disappear.
I never adopted a Thai lifestyle; few foreigners do. We crave food from home. We follow the same sports teams we’ve supported all our life. Sooner or later we discover that we have little in common with most Thais. Few of us have Thai friends, all of which begs the question: why live in Thailand? For me it was a 17-year adventure. At times I think I hit the sweet spot in Thailand, and through luck, again, returned to a New Zealand even better than the one I left. The decision to leave New Zealand for Thailand was a good one just as the decision to leave Thailand and return to my homeland has proven to be the right one.
I’ve been lucky and things have worked out well. It’s 2 years since I left Bangkok and I think that is long enough for me to say that I am happy to have left when I did and happy to be back home. If you’ve ever thought about leaving, let me assure you that there is life after Thailand.
Where Was This Photo Taken?
Last week’s photo was taken inside Black Pagoda in Patpong soi 2 and like so many of the photos taken inside a bar or in a bar area, few readers knew where it was. This week’s photo is somewhere in central Bangkok….but it’s not Lumpini Park.
Stick’s Email Inbox (The pick of the emails from the past week.)
The innate morality complex.
Reading the emails in your column, I find it fascinating how many people have an innate morality complex. They want to be in the bars but feel they have to hide the fact that they were there. They are against videos but actively view them. I really find it amusing that they have the attitude that some dickhead was filming and could cost you a marriage. Says a lot for the marriage and one’s loyalty to the institution.
Hidden video puts some punters off.
I think the time is coming where the bar industry will take another big hit. Why would I want to go to Nana or Cowboy and risk finding myself on YouTube? It is not worth the risk. And if I want some fun, I no longer need to go to such places because it is easy to order in, online, discretely without the risk of idiots with cameras.
Female Thai Keyboard Warriors.
I can relate to your reference to the anti-farang, racial movement (mainly single Thai women) doing the rounds on social media. Living in a suburban up-market condo complex in Bangkok (nearly all Thai), I can tell you this same attitude exists (to a certain extent) in even the everyday “girl next door” females you come across out here. After 10 years I stand by my observation that the majority of self-sufficient and well to do Thai women (and we are talking those from affluent Bangkok families, NOT from Isaan) have little need or interest in farang males. It is this demographic that has helped create the fertile breeding ground for hatred and jealousy. IMO, apart from the obvious (they don’t need farang money), it all boils down to 2 factors: 1. Being constantly bombarded throughout life with pro-Thai, anti-farang BS nationalistic propaganda. 2. Jealousy handed down from the insecurities of Thai fathers who drum into their offspring that farang are basically stupid drunks and no-hopers not to be trusted. Having said that, one must learn to accept these negatives for what they are as it is not just Thais and Thailand that display this sort of behaviour. You can witness similar in every country if you look hard enough. Corruption, inequality between rich and poor, the state of education systems, lopsided justice, killings, road rage, decline in morals etc. Not unique to just Thailand! I might also add that a huge percentage of single Aussie females have attitudes tenfold as bad as their Thai counterparts! I do not get bent out of shape by things I can’t change, and I don’t stress over things that don’t immediately affect my everyday life. Those are my rules for life and IMO Thailand is still as great a place to live as it always has been.
Girl of the week trifecta.
Don’t get me started on your latest Girl Of The Week. Blonde hair, blue eyes and braces, yeesh, the trifecta! At least she can change all of those things and isn’t covered with tattoos. That’s something, I guess.
Digital nomads feeling travel burnout.
On the subject of making a living in Thailand via e-books, I’m researching on the situation of being a global nomad. Interestingly, Chiang Mai features highly in the locations in which to live. However, many of the original nomads now speak of travel-burnout. Also, the further you delve it is interesting that many online businesses seem to promote the lifestyle in itself and sell it on but have no real end product away from that.
Thailand has become the “been there, done that” country of Asia, not just South-East Asia. Even me, who feels the near black hole gravity pull of Nid, Daeng, Gee, Sue and others on a daily basis may either never go back or only go back on occasion while exploring other parts of the world. I’ve lost count of the friends and friends of friends who have bought motor scooters and ridden them up or down Vietnam and either skipped Thailand or swung by for a quick visit. Or did Thailand some time ago and are now heading to Laos, Myanmar, China, Sri Lanka or elsewhere.
No mobile / photo / video zones.
I went to see FantaSea in Phuket. Amazing elephant show and definitely worth seeing. What’s interesting is that before you enter the show you have to line up and hand in your mobile phone. No joke. The lady acknowledges how many phones you hand in and gives you a ticket. After the show, everyone rushes back to the lines to get their phones back using the ticket they got. Very organised and that’s one place where there definitely won’t be any photos or video footage done in the show. Probably a very smart idea, I’d say.
Speaking Thai seen as a negative by some women.
When I lived in Thailand I was often asked by Thais whether I could speak Thai. Considering this, I was very surprised, after contacting a Thai woman on a dating website here in my country with the words, “Sawasdee khrap. Sabai dee mai?“, to receive the reply, “Sorry I don’t like to talk with a man can speak Thai”. I wonder whether is this a new trend i.e. is being able to speak some Thai a negative? Things must have changed recently. Should I tell someone I meet, ‘I am for the first time in Thailand, and I do not speak a word of Thai.’?
Girl Of The Week
Madam Butterfly, gogo dancer, Butterflies, Nana Plaza
* photos kindly provided by the Nana Plaza marketing department.
Following on from the story I’ve mentioned in recent weeks at Cactus where renovations left a tiny gap that most customers struggle to squeeze through, it can be confirmed that the gap has been widened / fixed and no-one should have any problem getting in or out. Cactus is undergoing several changes. The removal of the architectural blunder is an improvement but if you are sitting on the left side of the bar, you can’t exit directly out through the front of the bar. Instead, you must first walk down to the back of the bar, loop past the dance floor and then make your way back to the entrance at the front. Cactus won’t be putting a no mobile phone policy in place any time with the recent installation of free wi-fi for customers. The departure of the previous owner John who was tolerant of smoking has seen a change in policy whereby smokers are now banished outside where they get the added bonus of the friendly Indian watch sellers befriending them. Back inside the bar, the pissing trough has been replaced by individual urinals and the number and general attractiveness of the dancers is up. Cactus used to only ever have a handful of girls but the current crop numbers about 20. Apparently the change in smoking policy was due to complaints by some new girls who said they would not work in a bar if smoking was allowed which just goes to show that the girls have more power than ever. Bar managers who tolerate smoking take note: if you are short on dancers, remember most dancers do not smoke!
All is not well on Sukhumvit with staff in two big name chrome pole bars scamming customers. Once referred to as the old “Patpong bill padding scam”, in a couple of very popular foreign-owned bars the staff are adding drinks to the bill and pocketing the difference. The MO is simple – staff target customers who have run up large bills and who appear worse for wear. They assume that customers know how many drinks they have had so they pad the bill with soft drinks and lady drinks that were never ordered. What typically happens is that they scribble on a piece of paper what the total bill amount is – a number over and above what the actual bill is – and they pocket the difference between what is paid and what the actual bill is. It goes without saying that you should always watch your order and if you suspect something is up, pay your bill immediately and start a new one or better still, pay after each round. Most bar staff are not interviewed before they are hired and many are friends of friends. Most are offered a job in less than 60 seconds after one or two questions to determine if they understand basic English and if they have worked in a bar before. Background checks? Don’t be silly! Some staff have a horrible employment record having bounced from bar to bar, bar area to bar area after being caught and fired for scamming customers. They move to a new bar and revert to their old ways and the scam starts again. I was provided this information under the promise I would not reveal which bars it happens in, but what I can say is that it is ironic that one of the bars where this is going on is in Soi Cowboy and the other is in Nana Plaza – yet it’s known as the old “Patpong bill padding scam”. If you’re watching your pennies, watch your bar bill too!
Dollhouse in Soi Cowboy has big plans starting June 1st. A new show will be introduced featuring a lady performing 2 sexy pole dancing shows on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. There will be a new drinks menu with reductions in prices. Woohoo, one bar is listening to customers. Dollhouse will also introduce a new premium liquor menu. And finally, the outside patio bar area will open earlier – from 5 PM – and happy hour will run every night from 5:00 PM through to 8:30 PM. All of this is coming in June.
If you’d asked me whether The Game – sports bar between Sukhumvit sois 9 and 11, and adjacent to the Nana BTS station – would still be around 5 years on I would have said, No way, Jose! Given that the main guy behind it (who has since died) behaved like a gangster and was very open about running boiler rooms, I did not think The Game would last. 2 years, maybe 3 years tops, I thought…but obviously I got that all wrong. The current management of The Game is gearing up for a party on Thursday, June 8th, to celebrate the venue’s 5th anniversary with a one-hour free finger foods buffet. Why only one hour? Ace Bangkok-based performer Lee Shamrock will provide the entertainment.
Mandarin, on the middle floor of Nana Plaza, will party this Tuesday, May 23rd, with another Red Bunnies Party. There will be a Western food buffet and a bucket of raffle prizes. Win a kiss, or if you’ve got a rabbit’s foot in your pocket, maybe a free drink or shot. The festivities kick off at 8 PM and the party will rock in both Mandarin bars – Mandarin and Mandarin Table Dance.
Friends in Bangkok sent me messages on Line this week about the unseasonal thunderstorms and heavy downpours. One pal who lives at the end of Soi Nana said the rain was so heavy one night that parts of Soi Nana flooded and he had to wait for the water level to subside before he could get back to his apartment. Such heavy rain in the middle of May is not the norm.
May is usually the quietest month of the year for bars and restaurants in the capital. Mixed word reached me this week from Bangkok with one proprietor saying it was quiet and two friends saying it was busy and felt more like high season in the bars than the quietest month of the year.
And down in Phuket I hear things are very quiet also with May the second quietest month of the year down south, only September is quieter. The crowds are down and if not for all of the Chinese visitors it would be dire. The bars on Bangla Road are said to be full of….chrome poles. Word is it is even quieter than normal for May.
Following on from a reader’s enquiry in last week’s column about what’s happening at the Nana Hotel, it can be confirmed that guest rooms are being gutted and public areas are being improved in what is a major refurbishment of what just might be the best-known sex tourist hotel on the planet. Furniture is being removed and guest rooms stripped right back. Even bath tubs are being hauled out and taken away. Whether they can extract the smell of 50 years of steamy sex, you’ll have to check in after the renovations are finished to find out. It really sounds like the Mothership – as the inimitable Dana refers to the Nana Hotel – is undergoing more than just a subtle refresh. Word is that it will take about 3 months until it is completed. The question on some punters’ lips is whether the (very reasonable) room rates will remain the same once the renovations are complete, or will they be adjusted?
A reader has asked for a recommendation for a good, reasonably priced hotel in the Sukhumvit area with a good large swimming pool? He has used the Nana Hotel but the pool cannot be used after 7:00 PM which is far too early for him!
David Martinez was once the owner of Stampede and Cherry Bar in Angeles City, and was also involved in Infinity and Lollypop before he returned to the United States. He had long said that he would like to give Pattaya a go and a friend recommended him to the owner of Sweethearts A Gogo on Pattaya’s Walking Street. David has been hired as the new manager and started last week. Many know David from his time in Angeles so do stop by and extend him a warm Pattaya welcome.
In recent years the growth area in the naughty nightlife industry has been escort services which in Bangkok generally means home delivery i.e. the girl comes to your room. It’s the same in the hospitality industry where word is that home delivery is booming as more foreign residents lead a lifestyle not that different to what they led back home. One restaurant popular with foreigners has seen orders for delivery increase 4 times in just the last 6 months. If you operate a Bangkok eatery, make sure that you’re listed with the delivery companies (but just be careful as one is currently 3 months behind on payments to restaurants).
A friend has a highly rated boutique bed & breakfast offered for sale in the Sathorn area, near the river. The B&B has been running for 3 years with modest profits that have been reinvested back in to the business. It is currently breaking even monthly while supporting 2 work permits and a salary for the GM / owner after overheads. Plans to add a private on-site apartment could make it a great lifestyle choice. The lease has 9 years remaining with extensions and preferential extension beyond current lease terms. In the time it has been running it has been very highly rated. This project offers a great opportunity to take over an existing business that is established and very well-regarded. If interested, please contact Chris : email@example.com or call 090-948-7070.
I just loved the description of Bangkok by QANTAS in an email I received this week. “Chaotic, carnal and congested, Thailand’s capital Bangkok is….” The use of the word “carnal” made me chuckle.
And I also had to chuckle when the Thai government started talking tough this week about Facebook’s non-compliance with the removal order of posts on the social media giant’s network in breach of Thailand laws. If you didn’t follow it, Thailand threatened to block Facebook completely meaning that anyone in Thailand would not be able to access what is for many Thais a very big part of their life. This was never going to happen. Facebook is now such a big part of many Thais’ lives that there are entire businesses built around it, and it plays an important role for many. Facebook is not just a place for Thais to hang out and bullshit with friends – even if that does seem to be what the majority use it for – many businesses are built around it. Blocking access to Facebook would be like taking away a very stroppy kid’s toy and the government would have seen a massive backlash. It was never going to happen.
Reader’s story of the week comes from Steve Rosse, “Sex, Lies & The Internet“.
One of the many hundreds of massage shops in Pattaya offering more than just vanilla massage is raided for offering a spicier version of massage.
The authorities in Thailand acknowledge it will take time to change Pattaya’s reputation.
Unseasonably heavy rain saw flooding in downtown Bangkok this week.
Two Brits are arrested in Bangkok after operating a pirate online TV channel for many years broadcasting English Premier League and other copyrighted material.
Police are looking for a savage Caucasian who belted a 10-year old boy in Phuket in a dispute over a 10 baht charge to use a toilet.
Sunbelt Legal Advisors is here to answer all of your legal questions related to Thailand. Email any questions you have to me and I will forward them to Sunbelt and run their answer in the column.
Question 1: 7 years ago I crossed over the Friendship Bridge from Nongkhai into Laos. I got a tuktuk in to Vientiane, stayed the day and was back in Nongkhai by late afternoon. I was told when I crossed back into Thailand that because I crossed by land my visa in Thailand was now only good for 14 days. This was not a problem because I was flying out of Thailand in just a few days, but I did not know about this until I crossed back into Thailand by land. It could have been a real problem if I had gone to Laos as the start of my trip. So my question is this: is this 14-day regulation still in place? I am going to Thailand in June and would like to go from Thailand to Laos, stay a few days there and then return to Thailand for more than 14 days. If I fly from Bangkok to Vientiane, stay a few days and then fly back to Bangkok will I get another 30 -day visa on arrival? Thanks for any info.
Sunbelt Legal responds: Members of G7 nations (that is the USA, UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan) receive 30 days at a land border crossing or by flying in. However, it is important to note that Immigration limits such land border entries to two a year.
Question 2: I am a US citizen, 57 years of age, currently working for an NGO on an F-visa with a work permit. I will be retiring at the end of October this year but wish to stay on in Thailand as a retiree. So I guess I would want to switch to a Non-immigrant O-A visa from F, correct? How hard is that? I have been away from the US 27 years now with little ties back home and would prefer to conduct the whole process staying on in Thailand without returning to the US. Would that be possible?
Sunbelt Legal responds: You will need to get a letter from the NGO confirming your resignation and retirement. You will also need to produce the NGO affidavit as well as the signed copy of the passport or ID of the NGO director in order to quit your visa and work permit.
You can then apply on the same day that you cancel your F visa for the non-O visa and then a visa extension with the following requirements:
- Applicant must be 50 years or older.
- Deposit of THB 800,000 in a Thai bank account for 3 months before visa application or a monthly income or pension of at least THB 65,000. An affidavit from the foreign embassy or consulate has to be obtained as proof of the income.
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors can assist you with the paperwork and navigating the Immigration requirements – please get in touch for a free initial consultation.
Thinking about today’s opening piece and how I am more than content in New Zealand begs the question of where this site is going. I still enjoy producing the column each week and doing everything that is required to keep it going. In fact I’d say that in recent months I have enjoyed it more than usual. That’s not to say that the column is better these days, but simply that I have enjoyed putting it together. I genuinely don’t know what the future holds and obviously one day either I or those who pay the bills will decide that the time has come to say goodbye. I do hope you continue enjoy my take on life in Thailand despite the fact that I comment from 10,000 km away.
Your Bangkok commentator,