Does Living In Thailand Shorten Your Life?
In the last 25 years just 4 people I once knew have died in New Zealand. In those same 25 years about 40 people I was friends with have died in Thailand. It makes me wonder whether living in Thailand might shorten your life.
Of the 4 New Zealanders I knew who passed away, 3 were in their early 80s and one was 90.
Of the many people I knew who died in Thailand, all but two were aged between 48 and 74. The oldest – Bernard Trink – was 89. The youngest was 42. Most were aged in a tight range between late 50s and mid 60s, almost like that is some sort of death zone. The sample size is small but it certainly feels like my friends and family in New Zealand live a whole lot longer than my friends in Thailand do.
The average life expectancy for men in most Western countries is a bit over 80. In Thailand it is higher than I thought at a quite respectable 77. That number is obviously dominated by Thai males. What is the average life expectancy of Westerners resident in Thailand? I don’t believe any such statistics are kept.
I don’t know the exact age of all of my friends who have died in Thailand, but a quick spreadsheet with age estimates puts the average age of death in Thailand at 63.
But is it really any great surprise that the life expectancy of expats in Thailand might be considerably lower than that of their peers back in Farangland?
Many of those I know who passed away in Thailand were in poor health. A number died from a heart attack which in some cases was not their first. A good few were diabetic. Liver issues have also been a problem. Sadly some probably succumbed to diseases caused by their lifestyle choices.
Many expats enjoy a full and active social life. In Bangkok that may means a lot of nights out, and a lot of drinking. An active late-night social life is great fun, but might not be such a great recipe for a long life.
When I casually mention this to a couple of Bangkok friends, they are always quick to remind me of the research that shows how an active social life is an important part of living a long and happy life. That may be true, but I’m not sure that drinking every night is the way to go.
Of all the foreigners I know who have died in Bangkok, only one death was truly accidental – a road crash. That’s one out of about 40. The rest appeared to succumb to the result of lifestyle choices.
The nightlife is fun and most of us wouldn’t swap our time in it for anything. But let’s not forget that it can be a slippery slope. Heavy drinking can lead to diabetes. Questionable decision-making at the end of the night can lead to incurable diseases.
About a quarter of people I know in Thailand are diabetic, compared with just one person out of everyone I know in New Zealand. Sure, diabetes can be controlled, reversed even – but you’ve got to work hard at it.
Two people I knew in Thailand are HIV+, both contracting it there. They have each have left Thailand and as far as I know, each remains relatively well.
Fortunately I am neither diabetic nor HIV+. I do better health-wise in New Zealand than I do in Thailand. I just plain feel better here. I think it’s a combination of many things from eating better food (eating home-cooked meals as opposed to eating out), the cleaner air and the healthier, outdoors lifestyle.
The environment is a worry in Thailand, especially the terrible air quality in Bangkok (admittedly, there are parts of the country such as Phuket where the air is generally ok). When I was living in Bangkok, I often felt that my next cough or cold was never far away. At certain times of the year no sooner would you get over something then you’d contract something else. Whether this was due to the poor air quality or hanging around the bars where people from all over the world are flying in and bringing respective nasties from their part of the world, I don’t know. But for sure, you breathe much easier here than you do in Thailand and you feel better for it.
Many of my friends in Bangkok seem to be on one medication or another (blood pressure and cholesterol controlling drugs seem to be the big ones) but few visit the doc for a check-up. I never took any meds but admittedly, I was in the habit of avoiding the doctor. Between 2001 and 2021 I think I visited a doctor 3 times – and never for a general check-up.
The other half convinced me to get a check-up last year so off I trotted for a chat with the doc and a bunch of blood tests. I had arrogantly assumed I’d be ok because I lead a healthy lifestyle. All the blood tests came back fine. While I thought it would all be ok, it was still a bit of relief. In a couple of months I will be off again for this year’s check-up.
In retrospect, I’m a bit embarrassed that I never got regular check-ups in Bangkok. You needn’t go to one of the big hospitals with their packages that can run up to 40,000 baht and check you for all manner of obscure things – many of which needn’t be checked (and many of which developed countries don’t routinely check for). The cynic in me makes me wonder if they’re actually looking to find something so they can refer you to a department within the hospital for further investigation / treatment = money for the company hospital. But that’s going off-topic. The point is that you needn’t even make an appointment with a doctor (although I think it is a good idea to do so). There are labs all over Bangkok where you can easily get blood tests done for all the usual stuff like cholesterol levels & ratio / blood sugar / liver function / kidney function / PSA / testosterone etc. all for less than 1,000 baht. Anything outside the usual range is highlighted so you can seek a medical opinion.
Bangkok is fun and exciting, about that there is no doubt. But it’s also busy, noisy, fast, crowded – and not what I’d call relaxing. Life in Bangkok can be quite stressful. Add in toxic partners, lack of fulfilling friendships, visa worries, money worries, feeling like an outsider and whatever other worries are on your mind and for some the Thai lifestyle can be overwhelming. And long-term, stress is no good.
I think a big part of the problem is that some expats – especially some of those who retired early – seem to lack any real purpose. If you enjoy going to the bars every day, or binge-watching Netflix series after Netflix series, or spending hours on social media BS-ing with others in the same boat, all power to you. That may be fun for an hour or two, but I’m not sure it’s a great way to spend day after day.
Hobbies and interests will enrich your life and widen your social circles – but rather a lot of expats don’t seem to have any. If you speak Thai you’ll find that Thais are very welcoming of foreigners who wish to join them in social pursuits. One friend is the only foreigner in a local photography group and is treated so well that he feels like a celebrity despite some of the Thai members of the club being very well-to-do. Another helps out at a dog rescue centre. Each has made many Thai friends through their interests.
And then there’s the elephant in the room. Medical care. Do you have adequate insurance or sufficient funds to pay for medical help should it be needed? And sooner or later it will be needed. The good news is that world-class medical care is available in Thailand and it’s easy to get an appointment with a specialist. But the days of truly bargain prices for top-quality medical treatment are over unless you really shop around. And in the event of an emergency, you don’t have time to shop around, do you? One wonders how many expats’ lives have come to a premature end because they didn’t seek treatment from the best specialist because they couldn’t afford to.
The sample may be small but the expats I know who died in Thailand lived about 20 years less than people I know who have died in New Zealand. Whether those expats’ respective lives prior to Thailand contributed to their early demise or whether Thailand hastened their demise, I don’t know. I won’t say that living in Thailand will shorten your life – but if you get stuck in a rut as some long-termers do, fail to look after yourself and fail to seek medical treatment before major problems arise, it might. No doubt those who have passed away would say they had a whole lot more fun in Thailand than they would have had in their own country, just as I bet most would say they wouldn’t have changed a thing. Be that as it may, you don’t want to check out early. With a few tweaks you can live just as long in Thailand as you would in your homeland. Bernard Trink made it to 89. There’s no reason the rest of us can’t live that long either.
Last week’s photo was taken of the old house at Chuwit Park at Sukhumvit soi 10, or should that be the remains of said old house. The rubble in that photo was once part of a beautiful, traditional, Thai-style building in the middle of a jungle of dull concrete boxes. A bit of trivia for you, apparently they were asking 600,000 baht / month rent for that property a few years back, when Chuwit was behind bars.
Stick’s Inbox – the best emails from the past week
Bangkok today attracts a lot more variety.
I’ve been living here since 2014 and even back then it was very different from what I expected. Before that I was a frequent flyer to Bangkok on short-stop business trips, mostly heading for the bars by night. Now, I rarely come across the type of expat I used to see as a traveler. They may still be around but Bangkok has simply grown up and swallowed them in a sea of shopping malls, Michelin-star restaurants, and an urban army of aspirational office workers. Most nights out wouldn’t look any different to an evening in Sydney or London – start at a soft rooftop venue for sundowners, then an internationally renowned restaurant, and finish off in some urbane lounge bar. Looking around, I could be anywhere: Single white females mixing with office colleagues, a young urban Thai couple on a date, a group of 30-something Korean businessmen celebrating a deal, a 50-year-old Brit expat with his 40-something Thai wife celebrating their twin daughters’ birthday, 2 young Dutchmen with their online dates (the girls wouldn’t look out of place in any upmarket office). Of course, you don’t have to walk very far to visit the p4p scene in Cowboy or Soi 4, but I’m guessing most have probably never done so. It’s not that the p4p scene has got smaller (although it has), it’s more that Bangkok is so much bigger and attracts a lot more variety.
Working abroad, 2022.
I note your comments of the ease of working in Thailand these days. The same can be said for the Middle East where the old school expats have been chased out by the new guard and life can be just like at home (so why bother?). It’s why I prefer Africa these days, which is still a little too difficult for those other than the more traditional expat, and where most capitals have not been taken over by the global corporate chains. It will be a shame when Bangkok, inevitably, becomes another sanitised global city; but I am hoping there is still sufficient old-school life in the old place to see me out. Otherwise, it seems parts of Africa will be the last stand of the lifestyle Thailand once offered.
Last week you linked to a Bangkok Post article about rising restaurant prices, which claimed that prices have risen by 50 – 70% since early this year. I can certainly confirm that. The massive rise in pork prices at the end of last year was well publicised, but now many other things have been added to the list. Chicken has risen by the aforementioned 50 – 70%, my potatoes that used to cost 30 now cost 50 a kilo, the chicken carcasses my wife buys for the dogs have risen from 18 to 35, a can of beer has risen from around 50 to nearly 60. Gas, which the government says has not risen in price for two years, has increased three times in the past six months. In the real world prices generally rise by 2 or 3% but in Thailand the increases are ridiculous. It makes you wonder exactly who is to blame and just how long the locals are going to put up with it before taking to the streets and the water cannons are brought out again.
New direction for Patpong?
If there is a problem with the 3 main bar areas in Bangkok, maybe Patpong can adapt and transform into a ladyboy-centric bar strip so anybody interested in that life doesn’t need to do the Nana / Cowboy walk of shame. Just a thought.
You can take the girl out of the bar but…
In 2014, I met a girl on soi 6 in Pattaya. There was something different about her but I didn’t go with her because she was with my friend. I went back to Pattaya in 2015 and we hooked up. She was no angel, had been working in bar for 4 years and had probably had more men than I’ve had breakfasts. But I still I fell for her. A year later we got married. A year after that we were finished, she went back to work and I had lost everything. I used to say, “She cost me everything” but in truth it was my own stupidity that cost me everything. She was just doing her job and she was really good at it. When I fall for someone I go for it 100% so I insisted we get married and I decided to build a house in her village (never finished the house). I lost my job and spent all my money. When the money ran out, the love stopped. But I believed all the lies and all the times she said, “I love you” or “I miss you”. The one thing I learned from the experience was that I’m an idiot when it comes to women. I’m not bitter anymore about what happened. We had an adventure and I saw other parts of Thailand I would never have seen if I hadn’t been with her. We had a lot of fun together. So if anyone here falls for a bargirl I say go for it. Either it will work out ok or it will fail. But for sure you will have a lot of fun finding out. And the craziest thing of all is, after everything that happened I still miss my wife. Maybe I need professional help?
This Week’s News & Views
What’s the latest from the ill-fated bar complex at Soi 7? Not a peep I’m afraid and it all remains in darkness. At this stage bar operators are waiting for the landlord to sort out the license for the land. When that is done it is hoped that it won’t be long until it reopens.
Elsewhere on Sukhumvit, things seem to be pottering along. Feedback from a few Bangkok-based readers has been consistent, saying that there is a good vibe in Pattaya. A number of readers head down that way seemingly every other weekend. The pandemic has not stopped that late Friday afternoon dash down to Sin City. Oh, how I remember those days – it was something I have fond memories of in the second half of 2001. A couple of readers tell me that the atmosphere around LK Metro and Soi Buakhao is livelier than Bangkok where some complain that in Soi Cowboy especially you keep seeing the same old faces. At the same time they tell me that Bangkok has the better looking ladies. In that respect it sounds like not a lot has changed.
Erotica on the ground floor of Nana Plaza is celebrating the opening of its inside bar with two new promotions that depend on where you sit. On Mondays and Tuesdays starting April 4, ALL DRINKS (excluding lady drinks) are just 100 baht again from 6 – 9 PM, but only in the outside bar. And, no, you can’t buy a drink outside and sit down with it inside. Those that prefer the cooler and cosier confines of the inside bar, can enjoy standard drinks or their choice of Chang / Tiger / Leo in bottles on a buy 2, get 1 free deal, with all the aforementioned drinks priced at 160 baht. That works out to less than 107 baht each. Erotica, which took over the space that was for so long Playskool, has the nicest-appointed outside bar in all of Nana Plaza with a big-screen TV where live sport is played and plenty of attractive hostesses to attract you, or is that distract you.
Away from Nana, Cowboy and Patpong, venues on Sukhumvit soi 8 are said to be doing well some nights with a decent buzz. There was always a nice vibe on soi 8, I thought, even if I never spent that much time there.
Opposite soi 8, soi 11 is opening up, albeit slowly. Above 11 is doing well some nights. Long-time favourite Oskar has reopened. Word is that soi 11 is like a badly tuned sports car – it needs a few things to happen before it starts humming. Soi 11 will rock again – and that is probably no more than a few months away. But for the time being with the majority of the armies of freelancers missing, it’s not quite the same. Many of the freelancers can be found online.
Moving more upmarket, the club scene on Rachada is like soi 7, in darkness. The Pimp has opened but it’s quieter than it was. Good on the owners for reopening and trying to make things work. It’s worth remembering that any bar which is not as good now as it was pre-Covid is through no fault of the owner. And just like the ladies of Sukhumvit, many of the Rachada troop can be found online. Some of these ladies look like models and used to easily command 5,000 baht or more a pop. Many are now asking 2,000 – 3,000. Like I have said a few times, despite many bars being closed and plenty which are open remaining relatively quiet, now wouldn’t be a bad time to be in town.
At the other end of the scale, neighbourhood bar area W District is doing ok and said to be very busy on Friday and Saturday nights. W District is not known as a naughty bar area and is more a beer garden style area with bars and restaurants around the outside. Despite this, the area has attracted some freelancers. The area was not previously known for freelancers (and in fairness, still isn’t really)…but they’re hanging around which may or not float your boat.
What has happened to the ladies who worked in the bars that have yet to reopen, or have reopened but in which there is only a small number of girls when once there was close to a hundred? Some ladies left Bangkok / Pattaya and went back to the family home in the provinces. Some are pottering around being financed by a generous fellow or two or three in Farangland. Plenty of ladies can be found online. One long-time reader mentioned that the prices for a naughty arranged online have gone back to the prices asked by freelancers 20 years ago. Desperate times call for desperate measures and some ladies are happy with a 1,000 baht note. Will these girls stay online when the bars reopen? Some might, but I think most will flock back to the bars. Many miss the excitement, the bright lights and as much as anything, the camaraderie.
It’s not just Schulz in Stuttgart and Chuck in Chicago that miss the bars, there are girls who genuinely miss the environment too. Remember, for some of these ladies it’s the only job they know. Plenty of ladies have been around the industry for decades, in many cases in and out of the industry between relationships. This is one of many reasons why I say the industry will bounce back when the borders reopen. When travel restrictions are gone and it’s as easy to get to Thailand as it was pre-Covid, there’s going to be a race to get back to the country.
And as the months go by, it’s getting easier to return to Thailand with entry restrictions slowly being rolled back. If things go the way some in government have planned (but it’s not yet approved), from the start of May anyone vaccinated will only need to take an ATK test at the airport in Bangkok on arrival and assuming it’s all clear, you can head straight to the Nana Hotel, shower, shave and once you’re looking your best, head straight across the road!
With Songkran around the corner, some bars will close for a few days. One bar which will remain open is soi 33 fetish house, Demonia, which will be open every night. And to thank those customers who stop by, Demonia will serve special drinks instead of the usual premium drinks served e.g. Macallan instead of Black Label, Grey Goose instead of Absolute, Hendricks instead of Bombay etc. Do stop by.
Down in Pattaya, Sapphire Club, located on Soi 15 off Walking Street, will host a birthday bash for Jason on Monday of next week, April 11th. The party is tentatively entitled F*** Me I’m Fifty and sounds like it will be a wild one! I have been told that you might like to stand well clear when they give Jason his birthday cake.
Still in Pattaya, Showgirls Gogo in Soi LK Metro reopened this past Friday night.
The same night on Soi LK Metro, Swing Charity pitched a tent outside Bachelors Bar where they gave away condoms to working girls. There was a lot of excitement and the ladies gladly accepted the offerings.
Former England international footballer Teddy Sheringham has joined the long list of celebrities and sports stars to have spent time in Pattaya. He was in town recently and social media shows that punters and bar owners alike were jostling to get a selfie taken with him.
News reached me yesterday of one of the more bizarre things I have heard about, so bizarre in fact that I had to check the date. Yes, it was definitely April 2nd, and not April 1st when this news came through. Actually, the email arrived here on April 3rd but was sent on April 2nd so I’ll assume that it’s too late to be an April Fool’s Day joke and I’ll take it as genuine. A new venue is coming to Sin City called Adore. It’s being marketed on their website as – get this – Pattaya’s first strip club – which in some ways I guess it very well could be if it operates as just that, a strip club and nothing more. I know nothing more about it than what is on their website and the graphic below with 500 baht lady drinks and 1,500 baht lap dances, prices which seem awfully high for Pattaya. A Facebook page and website have also been set up, the latter of which very little effort seems to have gone into and which hardly seems fitting for a venue which would seem to be pitching itself at the top end of the market. Let’s try and keep an open mind.
One change in Thai society is a slow movement towards younger people becoming more independent, something which isn’t necessarily compatible with the traditional Thai ways where many generations of family live together and where there is a strong obligation on the family unit and on the younger members to look after the older. As some Thais fight to make their own way in the world, I note a new term is being used a bit. “Toxic parents”. To many older Thais this term is an affront and it’s not being widely used (yet), but it is being used by some who find that what they are being asked of by parents is beyond what they think is fair and reasonable. From a typical Westerner’s perspective, I like the idea of finding your own way in the world and I wonder whether this term will gain wider use.
Chuwit Garden – also known as Chuwit Park – was a private park at the corner of Sukhumvit Soi 10 and the main Sukhumvit Road. Last week’s mystery photo showed the destruction of the old-style Thai building at the back of the park area. The park was created in 2006 by former massage parlour mogul / politician / colourful character Chuwit Kamolvisit who owns that piece of land. The park is being dismantled to make way for a major development. Chuwit has donated 40 trees from the park to Bangkok Community Help Foundation to offer to the public. By making a donation to the Bangkok Community Help Foundation you can own one of these iconic trees which would be like your own piece of Sukhumvit memorabilia. The tree types on offer are Bodhi, Chamchuri tree, Royal poinciana and Shorea robusta. If you’re interested, contact Bangkok Community Help Foundation for more info.
Some people may have pushed the boat out a bit far when they applied for Covid visa extension after Covid visa extension. Some who used it as a method to stay in Thailand for a couple of years are having trouble getting back in to Thailand. With Covid extensions no longer available, some of these people left Thailand and flew either to Cambodia (which is now open without any restrictions) or back to their home country. When they arrived back in Thailand they faced problems. Many of these people have been refused entry on return at BOTH of the Bangkok airports. It seems Immigration feels these people were taking the piss for too long. There are reports of many people being refused entry and word has it that about half of one planeload from Cambodia was refused entry. To make matters worse, these people who were denied entry in to Thailand are then forced to return not to Cambodia but to their homeland. Nightmare! To get back to Thailand they had undertaken a Covid test prior to travel. They had booked and paid for a hotel and on-arrival testing plus Covid insurance as are the current requirements. The costs are not insignificant and it all takes a lot of time – only to find it was all for nothing. If you have been living on perennial Covid visa extensions, apparently the best thing to do is to either go to Cambodia or your home country and apply for a single entry tourist visa at the Thai embassy. You shouldn’t have any problem getting it. Then fly back to Thailand but instead of heading for either of the Bangkok airports, head directly to Phuket (or any other airport you can fly in to from outside the country). There have not been any reports of people being refused entry at Phuket or the other international airports. It’s Bangkok which is difficult. You will need to show a minimum of 20K baht in cash (not credit card or bank statements or anything like that) and have a return ticket – preferably to your homeland – within the period for which the visa would be issued. To repeat, this is only an issue for those who milked the Covid extensions for a long time. For a regular visitor who was not in Thailand during the period when Covid visa extensions were allowed, this doesn’t concern you and you have nothing to worry about.
Thailand-Related News Article Links
Reader’s story of the week comes from Anonymous, “Bangkok, First Half Of March, 2022“.
From the SCMP, what it’s like arriving as a tourist in Thailand.
A young Thai boy returns money he stole from a cash register after spotting a CCTV camera.
A British drug kingpin faces life in jail in a Manila hell-hole.
As of Saturday night I hadn’t managed to gather a lot of bar industry news for this week’s column and it was all looking a bit thin. And then bang, a bunch of bits and pieces came in overnight Saturday / Sunday morning and in the end the column filled out ok. To bar bosses, please do feel free to let me know what is going on in your bar and around your bar area including any upcoming events, planned parties, special promotions, live sports being shown etc. If at all possible, please try and get the info to me by Saturday morning Thai time. It makes things a lot easier for me if you can drop me a note before Sunday!
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org