Thailand is Hot

20 March 2019

And that post title isn’t referring to either the attractiveness of Thai ladies or Thailand as a holiday destination!

The motivation for this post came about as a result of a recent comment left on the blog by Mel, an Australian who wrote:

Hi Tony. I enjoy reading your posts especially as I am considering a move on a more permanent basis to be with my partner and family who live in Surin province. I have a very simple question that I’m hoping to shed some light on. How do you cope with the weather there? I have lived in Brisbane for 30 years and still have some reservations about our hot & humid summer. But I see that your weather (like Surin) is positively stifling for about a 3-month period and then of course comes the wet with all the uncomfortable humidity it brings. Your best tips for farangs? Oh yes, my partner lives in her sister’s home sans air-con, so investing in someone else’s house isn’t ideal, lol.

I have to say it isn’t a topic I have given any special thought to before in a blog sense except for endlessly banging on about the importance of designing and building a cool house, if you enjoy your comfort, and the occasional comment about how hot it does get and for what an extended period it continues.

This question about living in a hot climate is, in fact, a discussion that is worth having because the heat has a huge effect on how you cope with every day and your retirement lifestyle. Funnily the impact of heat may come as a surprise to newly retired expats and I will quickly explain how that might happen because it doesn’t sound logical.

Just before I do, I need to qualify any specific remarks about the climate I make in this post, because it is mostly based on the weather in my part of Thailand, in the northeast, which is different to the more southern and coastal regions. Also, I am Australian so all temperatures are in centigrade.

Why might the impact of hot weather come as a surprise to some people who have packed up and moved here permanently? I believe this is because most people have their first or repeat pre-retirement experiences of Thailand while on holiday, as I did. We specifically select a place like Thailand because it is tropical and hot, which has an obviously positive payback of a more relaxed atmosphere, warm water if close to the ocean, lying around, cool drinks and all the other benefits of a couple of weeks in the sun. Many of us are escaping cold temperatures at home and the blast of hot, humid weather is a relief, not a burden.

As with most holidays, we have a terrific time and go home with the image of what a permanent retired life replicating that holiday period might look like, which fills in work time boredom. Some of us eventually turn that brief escape from reality into a totally new life and that can end up being a brilliant life change, as it was for me, or less so for others. The catch is that some people think that a permanent life here will be exactly like that holiday dream but never-ending, which for all sorts of reasons outside the scope of this topic, is not likely to happen.

The weather is one aspect that relates to the holiday/retirement comparison. The heat and humidity, which helped knock the stress out of us on holiday and was entirely wonderful for a few days might not look so attractive on a semi-permanent basis. Life as a retired person may involve some of the maintenance stuff you coped with fine back home in a more moderate climate. Unfortunately, it most likely isn’t all lying around the pool with people to bring you a cold cocktail or beer. Normal life now includes shopping, home repairs, gardening, sporting activities (even golf in the ’40s might not look so attractive), just walking around is more uncomfortable in high temperatures. If you are used to contrasting climate then the constant heat can either be a blessing or sometimes it can become boring and repressive.

For those of you who plan to end up in the south of Thailand, you will find humidity is an extra consideration to add to your list. I personally hate it and prefer the north, where humidity is far less of an issue. I remember my six weeks in Phuket when I came to Thailand in 2013, and the humidity was a real energy sapper. You only had to leave the aircon and in moments you were dripping perspiration and your clothes were damp. I suffer from claustrophobia and in a scenario, you’d never think of, I had a couple of times in Phuket where the heavy humidity felt like it was restricting my breathing, which was an unpleasant feeling. Needless to say, I had a rental property that had standard Thai maintained aircon, meaning it was both underspecified and also installed and then forgotten so worked to 50% of capacity. It was no great help in making life comfortable.

So, after that lengthy introduction to provide some context here are my thoughts in response to the blog comment. If you are considering retirement in Thailand please have a think about the following:

1. Do you believe that you would enjoy living in the heat (and humidity sometimes) on a semi-permanent basis? Don’t put on your holiday glasses but have a think about living every moment where outside air conditioned spaces it is in the mid-30s plus. Some people just aren’t hot weather types. My dad loved the sun and would lie in it all day if he could. My mum was the opposite and much preferred a cooler climate. I have a friend who was useless in the heat and ended up returning to the UK from Australia for a bunch of reasons but climate (heat) was one of her considerations.

2. What type of retiree will you be? If sitting inside watching sport on TV and doing not much is your plan, then what’s happening outside is less of a concern. You can go from an air-conditioned house to an air-conditioned car to an air-conditioned supermarket. The bits in-between are just an inconvenience. If, however, you want to continue to enjoy say your sporting interests such as cycling, jogging, golf, tennis etc then are you physically the type that can cope with doing these activities in the heat? If not, then will a change in list of hobbies or activities make a big difference to the quality of your retirement? You need to ask the question because it will become an issue.

In Australia, I was a keen gardener and DIY type person on weekends. I thought that this would continue to be a core activity when I retired and started to develop my new home and garden in Isan. The reality is that it hasn’t worked that way. Firstly, I have a wife who is a mini-superwoman and has made ‘our’ garden her life’s work, much to my visual enjoyment. Secondly, I find that I just can’t put in the hours doing manual projects these days. I am older of course and the back and wrists aren’t what they used to be, but also while 35 degree plus is fine when sitting in the shade, once I become active it becomes a real effort after an hour or two. It is just too hot and the body won’t cooperate any more.

 Luckily the blog, the amazing number of contacts it has generated, my ongoing interest in local events and enjoyment of watching other people work 😊 has come to my rescue, all of which doesn’t require me to be highly physical. If I was totally reliant on the garden as my main time-filler and ‘feeling useful’ activity I would be in trouble.

  1. What standard of home base will you have? This gets back to my pet hobby-horse aimed at encouraging people to build a cool, comfortable home that copes with the heat without endless reliance on air-conditioning. If you build a Thai-style home, which is often badly positioned, with basic concrete blockwork and no insulation, then the heat will be an ongoing pain. High levels of air conditioning is the only answer unless you enjoy life in whatever the outside air temperature is at any moment. I don’t. For me, part of coping with a hot climate is having a home that feels like a 7/11 when you walk in without the aircon even being turned on. My home sits 10 degrees below outside air temperature, which for most of the time means we don’t need to run cooling

The shade temperature at 4:00 pm outside today (21 March 2019) 

And inside – no airconditioning. 11 degrees cooler.

And the same sort of hea the next day (22 March)

Although this photo is taken outside for improved lighting it reflects the inside temperature of 28 degrees – 13 degrees les than outside with NO aircon.

Two hours later still a little warm.

Inside hasn’t changed – still 28 degrees.. Oh, the joy of building a cool house.

4. Create large outside undercover living areas. Why move to tropical Thailand and then spend your life trapped inside? Insulated outside areas knock 5 degrees off the temperature and makes for a liveable experience with fans only. Forget your cold weather house designs with all the emphasis on internal spaces. A new life needs new thinking

5. Greenery cools the surroundings. Even if you only want a limited garden make sure it provides shade and visual enjoyment to the key areas around the house.

I am getting carried away yet again. I won’t ramble on with more point about house design because I have started to update my eBook ‘Building a House in Thailand’, HERE, which is going to add a lot of these basic design aspects to the introduction. A steady seller and essential if you are considering building here.

  1. Do understand the weather patterns in the area you have selected to live. The simplistic tourist concept that the weather here is ‘hot and dry and hot and wet’, isn’t the reality everywhere. The far north, Chiang Mai/Rai/Nan etc (top left on a map) as well as the northeast, where we live (top right on a map) has a climate that is not the same as Bangkok, Phuket or Pattaya areas. If heat is a concern and you’re not committed to a beach retirement then you will get some relief in these regions. It may well be hotter during the brief very hot season (April/May) but as these months are normally pretty dry the humidity is relatively low. Southern Thailand may have lower temperatures but the high humidity makes it seem hotter in my opinion.

We do actually get a real cool season, in relative terms, from November to February/March (not March this year which has been a scorcher so far). Evenings can drop to low 20s and night-time low to mid-teens. You will see fires on the side of the roads in the early mornings and everyone dressed up in beanies! Days will be high 20s, although the last couple of years have been warmer but even so ‘only’ very low 30s. Low humidity too as this is the dry season with little rainfall between Nov – May.

Nong Bua Lamphu

April and May are super-hot here and it can get around 40 plus for weeks. The following charts compare Phuket in the far south (bottom on a Thai map) to Nong Bua Lamphu, our province, and they really demonstrate that not all retirement destinations are the same when it comes to weather. These charts come from a terrific website BTW HERE. Well worth entering your potential home and seeing how the statistics rate with your ‘heat’ comfort levels!

Humidity in Nong Bua Lamphu.

Compared to Phuket. We get some relief from humidity in the cool season.

And in another example see how we have a temperature drop Nov – Feb compared to the more consistent level in Phuket.

Phuket is more consistent, which for heat lovers and holiday makers is a plus. For others like me, the cool season is a real enjoyable break from endless hot.

So, in summary, don’t just ignore the reality of the heat in Thailand. It definitely needs to be on your list of topics to assess how it fits with your expectations along with the culture, the people, language, driving, food, living costs and possible isolation. All good fun for two weeks but a whole different ball game for the rest of your life.