The 12th of June marked my first twelve months living in Thailand and I thought it would be interesting to re-visit the blog entry I made after six months HERE and see how my opinions have changed over the last six months.

Thailand for me has been split into three separate periods. The first, which lasted for almost a couple of months was holiday based, a lot of it in Phuket. The second three months were mostly centered on Chiang Rai and covered a slightly uncomfortable period where I struggled to settle into a lifestyle here and where I eventually made the decision to accept a redundancy and retire in Thailand. The last period has been in Chiang Mai and the happiest of my life. Thailand has become less of an oddity and more of “just” life, and what a great life period it has been.

A photo of a pretty content man in Thailand.

A photo of a pretty content man in Thailand.

My review of the first 12 months reflects that change from stage two to stage three coincidently timed around when we moved to Chiang Mai, but my comments are generic to Thailand not Chiang Mai. I thought I would start by reviewing my six months comments and then see what else I can add.

On the negatives I listed the following, which I have now updated based on my current experiences:

The Ugliness

Still alive and well. However familiarity has toned down the daily impact of  the developed landscape. It is still mostly pretty ramshackle, concrete based and unkempt but seeing it everyday has made it just part of life.

I am not the most visual of people, as my friends can attest to, and this helps sometimes over here. We were swimming in the Moo Baan’s pool recently and Gaun asked me if I had noticed the bees! It was only when she showed me a bee hive being constructed in a small bush beside the pool that I understood the significance of her question. I hadn’t even noticed the bush let alone the hive hidden away inside it! Mind you in my defence an Isaan person is automatically on the hunt for edible possibilities in the landscape in the same way as I notice cafes to try out :-).

Never truer words spoken.

Never truer words spoken. A cafe in the Old Town of Chiang Mai.

I think that even in the most beautiful of situations daily exposure blunts the emotional response. In Canberra it was only when I was showing visitors around that many of the city’s scenic natural aspects regained some of their initial impact.

Not a bad view for a country's capital city.

Not a bad view for a country’s capital city.

So in conclusion on this topic nothing has changed except my attitude, which means that everything has changed – if you get my meaning. Thailand is as Thailand is.

Bureaucracy

Although potentially a negative I still have nothing but positive news on the bureaucracy front. My last ninety day report at the Chiang Mai Immigration office took me ten minutes to complete and this is my only regular brush with bureaucracy. I also cover this topic as a positive later in this blog. If you are thinking of coming over to Thailand long term please make sure you read my good news visa story. It is the best tip you will ever get on how to get two years stay for the price of one!

Corruption

12 months and not a baht paid outside of normal charges. Yes there is corruption here as reported on both a large and small scale but my experience would suggest that Thailand doesn’t have it built into the fabric of society in the same way that it is in say Cambodia or Laos. I will no doubt get stung at some stage but I hope to roll with that and not get too caught up in outrage. Some people on Thailand on-line forums list corruption as a big negative but I suspect they are living a lifestyle that more exposes them to that side of Thai society.

Weather

I am still coming to terms with the weather but so far there hasn’t been too much to dislike. November to February in Chiang Mai was delightful with cool nights, down to 6 degrees, and daytime temperatures in the low 20’s. I expected a sort of Spring after that but evidently it just got really hot. We were in Australia from late February to April, so missed out on this extreme. The last two months have been very liveable with mid-20’s at night and around 30 in the day. Low humidity as it is still very dry. A one page summary of the weather in Chiang Mai can be found HERE.

You get used to living with fans everywhere. We have five in the house and there is always at least one of them on day and night. Chiang Mai has been a breeze-less city since we arrived in November. The only time ever you get movement of air is when a storm comes through. So even if the temperatures aren’t high we find running a fan is nice just to circulate the air. It stops that slight breathless feeling.

Our house has three air conditioners but we mostly only use the one in the bedroom. I have it set to just take the edge off the night-time warmth not to reduce the room to Canberra winter temperatures! Running this one every night cost us an extra $30.00 on our electricity bill for the month. However there are many nights this time of year where this is not a necessity and a fan is quite sufficient.

Smoky Season

We missed the worse of this by being in Australia but touched on the end of it when we returned. I think it would be the worst aspect of living in the North of Thailand. Everything is often covered in a fog-like smoke that takes all the colours out of everything and taints the air with its smell. If I did live in this area of Thailand moving to the coast for a couple of months until it passed would definitely have to be budgeted into life here as living through it is both bad for your health and just generally unpleasant.

Bathroom Showers

Ah. Finally a topic that still remains a negative. Thai showers are still woeful 12 months on! It is a combination of things and there always seem to be at least one of the following involved wherever one goes – low water pressure, inadequate water heating and no shower enclosure.

To obtain any sort of water pressure you need to install an electric water pump as local water is usually very problematic especially in rural Moo Baans. Sometimes this just doesn’t happen, as in Gaun’s family home, or the pump installed was done on a budget and doesn’t do a decent job. The water is dispensed through those small handheld type shower heads, which even on a good day is never going to provide a decent water flow.

The water is heated by a wall mounted electric heater and certainly in the North when we do have a cool season, they are often not up to the job. Most of the year you need very little assisted heat but if it is 6 degrees outside the air temperature just isn’t your friend! Both inadequate pumps and heaters are a weird Thai economy because both pieces of equipment are super cheap over here.

The last oddity is that even in good quality homes like the one I am in now, there is often no attempt at enclosing the shower area. As the wall mounted shower heads are usually pointed at the opposite wall it means the entire en-suite gets wet, not such a problem in a warm climate but still – why?

Our guest en-suite.

Our guest en-suite.

We have installed a shower rail and curtain not shown in this photo, which helps a lot but why not a simple fixed screen or wall as in our en-suite:

The en-suite in the main bedroom at least tries to contain the water. We have still added a shower curtain.

The en-suite in the main bedroom at least tries to contain the water. We have still added a shower curtain.

My house build in Isaan will have a bore to provide an adequate water supply, a larger pump, a small storage heater and big rain-shower heads! Showers are an essential part of life here, although not for the one bloke I read about on a forum who told everyone he only had one shower a day so didn’t need much water – a single man one presumes and hopes.

You can tell I am retired by the length of this topic can’t you. My life has become the quality of my showers! Read my blogs for long enough and I will be reporting back on my arthritis and knees. Speaking of which did you know you can get a full annual medical at Chiang Mai’ best private hospital for $100? And we make it hard for Thais to come to Australia!!!! Why do they want to?

Cost of Living

Nothing has changed here for the negative report. Imported goods are definitely expensive by Thailand standards and often the same as you’d pay in Australia. There is no point coming over here and expect to find cheap electronics, non-copy label clothes etc. Probably just as cheap/expensive as back home.

As I said previously after six months, if you want to eat as you would in your western country your shopping basket will be as expensive if not more so than home.  So unless you can adapt to some level of eating locally then you will need to budget accordingly.

Veg

Fresh vegetables at the local Sunday market.

We have a French couple living next to us and they run their air conditioners pretty well fulltime and their electricity bill will be considerably higher than ours. If you do suffer from the heat is goes without saying that this is not the place for you or if it is and you want to do it comfortably then your utilities cost will reflect this.

Cars, especially second hand cars are not super cheap to buy and you can check out a sample HERE. Probably cheaper than Australia but more expensive than say the UK, according to a friend of ours. The benefit is that maintaining them is a lot cheaper. I had a service done, which involved replacement oil, four new brake pads, the front disks machined and 2 1/2 hours of labour for under $100.00. A hand wash inside and out will cost you $5.00.

Losing Touch with friends

This is a new topic on the minus side of living here. I had thought that with the ease of modern communication the maintenance of friendships would be a natural thing. This has been the case with the majority of friends and I am extraordinarily blessed by the number of people who do keep in touch either regularly or from time to time when their busy lives allow.

However there have been a few people I counted as close who have never put fingers to keyboard for the entire period I have been here, even to put a comment on a blog post. I guess that is the “cost” of moving out of people’s day to day existence and it is nothing that comes as a great shock or surprise.

If you do make a major change in your life, as I have, then you do need to be prepared for the natural outcome that some friends will come along for the ride and others will stay behind.

Finally

I guess you couldn’t leave the minuses without mentioning the political situation in Thailand. I have to say that putting a coup on my retirement CV wasn’t what I was expecting but leaving aside the politics that led to the overthrow of the government, as coups go this one, as with most of Thailand’s coups, was pretty painless. We endured a 10.00 pm curfew for a couple of weeks and then a midnight curfew but we battled through and survived OK thanks to the food parcels from friends!

There are some potentially rocky times ahead especially with the royal succession question to be confronted at some stage. However for a farang in Thailand who is committed to stay out of any discussion of politics, as I have no right to express an opinion on something I have little understanding of and it is not my country anyway. Politics is off my agenda period given the absolutely dismal and depressing performance of our representatives in Australia.

I think the military junta here would do better than Abbott and his lot. No better on the other side I hasten to say in giving a balanced thumbs down to ’em all.

THE PLUSES

I previously had a number of pluses for living in Thailand under the headings of Thailand Beauty, Smiles, Getting Older, My Home, Things to Do, Cost of Living, Building a Home, Food, Driving, Holidays, Medical and Broadband. Most of the comments I made six months ago I stick by. The pluses then are still pluses and none of them have turned bad in the ensuing six months. So I don’t intend to update them other than a couple:

Thailand Beauty

I have to qualify any broad statement about the scenery of natural Thailand by saying that I haven’t seen as much of it as I had hoped after 12 months. The last six months have been surprisingly busy settling into Chiang Mai, hosting four lots of visitors and a travelling to Australia for a month. I haven’t even travelled in the North of Thailand outside of the immediate Chiang Mai area very much.

What I can say is that from what I have seen of Thailand there are areas of great beauty. Certainly once you get beyond the Chiang Mai city boundaries especially heading roughly North you are quickly into some attractive country, whether under crops or not.

The hills or Mae Rim.

The hills of Mae Rim under cultivation.

A misty day in the hills today.

A misty day in the hills.

We are driving to a Chinese tea village called Mae Salong next week, spending a night and then on to Chiang Rai for a couple of nights. This will give us an expended experience of Northern Thailand and takes us through some lovely countryside. This will be the subject of a separate blog post so keep an eye out for that.

Mae Salong.

Mae Salong.

Holidays

Like everywhere airfares are a matter of picking your time rather than working to a fixed schedule. Easy for those of us who are off the work/school holiday cycle but more difficult for others. Chiang Mai has an international airport with limited destinations but enough to get you into the local area.

Hong Kong city lights from Gina’s houseboat – not really.

With such an interesting and diverse area to explore I am planning to visit many of our neighbouring countries while living here. Airfares can be very cheap if you pick the time. We are travelling to Hong Kong early September for a week to spend time with my ex-wife on a houseboat she and her husband own on the harbour. An opportunity not to be missed – blog to follow!! A direct 2 1/2 hour flight from Chiang Mai to Hong Kong return for two people cost us $280.00. Cheap enough for a weekend.

Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia are driving distance away. Vietnam, China and others a short airflight. Even going to Europe from Thailand is easier as it is 14 hours to London from Bangkok, which is still a long time but far better than that deadly trip from Sydney. A return ticket is costing around $900 last time I checked.

Bureaucracy

As promised I am including this topic in the pluses as well as the Minuses as in general, if prepared with everything required, Thai bureaucracy works as well if not better than the Australian version.

I thought I would especially include a few words on the subject of retirement visas for any of you about to join me here 🙂

The best visa you can get for a long term stay here is called an OA or retirement visa. There is an O visa, which needs to be renewed after 90 days, however if you add the multiple re-entries option it is then called an OA visa and is good for 12 months. The only stipulation being that you report to the local Immigration Office every 90 days and advise them of your address.

Many people are unable to obtain the visa because it does require you to be over 50 years old and to prove an income of at least 80,000 THB a month, which is $2,650 or have 800,000 THB in a Thai bank, which is $2,650 x 10!

The wonderful AO Visa.

The wonderful AO Visa.

It is best to obtain the visa in Australia rather than apply in Thailand before your tourist visa expires, even though you will require a medical certificate from your doctor and a police check. I also found that the requirement to have the equivalent of 800,000 THB in a Thai bank for at least three months, if applying in Thailand, wasn’t required in Australia. A bank statement confirming that I had the money in an Australian bank without a defined period of deposit was sufficient.

The big plus for getting an OA Visa in Australia is that if you leave Thailand during your initial 12 months and then return before its expiry Immigration will stamp your passport at the airport for another 12 months from the date of arrival. That is you don’t need to go through the whole process of proving income/deposit in Thai bank to renew. You automatically get another 12 months. As I returned to Thailand after my Australian trip on 26 March, and my visa was due to expire in May, I was automatically extended to 25 March 2015 without any further paperwork.

It is always hard to believe when bureaucracy works in your favour so I checked at Immigration in Chiang Mai soon after I got back and they confirmed this situation. I have since had a 90 day report without any problems so it is as I have told you.

So there you have a good news story and Bob I hope you are reading this!

Thai Music

Yes a new topic. I have found that I enjoy some of the Thai music on offer. Gaun’s daughter Peng is up on all the latest of course and each time we visit she updates Gaun’s phone with the best in her opinion, although the result is a bit debatable. As far as I can make out 95% of Thai songs are based around love lost, love about to be lost, man has new lady, I am too sad to sing etc. It is the Thai equivalent of Country and Western.

On the upside there is that other 5%, which is racy – is that a musical expression – well it doesn’t have you looking for a long piece of rope, a beam and a chair anyway. My current favourite is definitely racy as according to Gaun the song is all about a girl who fancies a handsome guy with a long, hard, white dick that she wants to eat! Truly. I have provided the soundtrack below and if you have any broadminded Thai speaking friends over 18 you can ask them to translate:

For something a little more tasteful and mainstream try this one I like:

 

Finally Gaun

Without getting too personal the absolute major plus for Thailand has been my wife Gaun and the consolidation of our relationship over the last six months, which included our marriage – blog post HERE. Gaun has brought so much joy into my life and she is central to everything I do in Thailand. The oddity of meeting someone like her in a foreign country and from such a totally different background is one of life’s weird moments and one I still shake my head over.

My best Thai friend.

My best Thai friend.

So in conclusion what the coup did do for me was make me assess what other options I had to live somewhere other than Thailand if I needed to make a move. A return to Australia is the obvious one and will always be the final destination if all goes pear-shaped. The alternatives are a bit doubtful. Looking around the immediate region it just emphasises how advanced Thailand is compared with its neighbours. Extreme corruption in Laos and Cambodia would be unacceptable and they are decades behind Thailand in development. Myanmar is not a place you can or would want to live at this stage in its evolution. Malaysia is an option but I prefer a Buddhist based state to an Islamic one. I am told it is more expensive too.

Thailand is unique in that it offers an accepting culture, a friendly people, a great medical system, a good quality infrastructure, a fully functioning banking system including internet banking with BPAY etc, reasonably generous visa requirements way beyond the repressive criteria we have at home, cheap living costs, good quality housing and cheap labour, particularly important if you are just about to build a house!

Yuan on the phone running the family farm business while Gaun acts up.

Yuan on the phone running the family farm business while Gaun acts up.

The functionality of Thailand for me was summed up today when we went to top up a mobile phone with 12Call credits. You just go a 7/11 store counter, and they are every few hundred meters here, tell the cashier how much you want to spend and they print out a credit voucher. You type the number into your phone and you are good to go. Telstra are you reading?

Living here is mostly easy, comfortable and relaxing. Sabai, sabai is the Thai expression for the feeling you get when all is good with the world and you are laid back and unstressed. It is a good way to finish this summary of my 12 months. I am very sabai, sabai.

Thanks for reading.