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Early Retirement in Thailand – Brilliant move or a Blunder?

Retire at 54 years of age and be happier?

Well aged 54 and separated from my wife and seeing my friends gain weight and have health problems made me think. I was gaining weight also, I was not happy with the direction my life was headed, so what can I do? I starting thinking of the alternatives.

Retirement? No one wants to talk about it or even think about. Perhaps it makes us feel older if we do that. So years go by and things do not change. We do the same things, eat the same foods until the doctor tells us to make some changes, and we carry on like we will live forever. Unfortunately we won’t live forever and we should be thinking of retirement before we kick the bucket. After all what did you work all those years for anyways?

Well to cut to the chase I was thinking of going to the Dominican Republic to live. But after going there twice I found that the power was unreliable, there were safety concerns, doctors and dentists were not easily accessible and it was pricey.

With time on my hands I sat in front of my computer and did some research. and discovered that Thailand was a popular retirement destination. In fact I read that Chiang Mai was the most popular retirement destination in all of South East Asia.

Hundreds of hours of research later by methodical, planner George and he has come up with the best retirement country and also the best retirement city in all of South East Asia and perhaps the world. Chiang Mai, a city of several hundred thousand inhabitants. Located about 420 miles north of Bangkok and less polluted, less expensive, and with less traffic than Bangkok and also cooler than Bangkok. Chiang Mai, unknown to most of North Americans yet visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists yearly, and home to thousands of foreigners who have visited there, found it to their liking and decided to make this their new home.

I arrived in Bangkok on Nov. 23, 2004 and that is where we will start our real life experiences, adventures and misadventures.

After the tiring trip I decided to stay over a few nights in Bangkok. Then well rested I was ready to continue onwards to Chiang Mai.

A quick one hour plane flight or a relaxing 13 hours train ride which one was it to be? With the extra luggage I was bringing including computer and golf clubs I decided on the train. The bumpy ride in a very comfortable reclining seat (2nd class A/C) set me back all of $15 dollar U.S. and this included two meals, a refreshment and a pastry. It was a bumpy ride with little to see but the forest. But I had all my luggage aboard, no extra charge, and the bumpy ride was just what my legs needed for their circulation.

My research enabled me to be well prepared for my journey and I am not one to leave things to chance. Things went as planned and I arrived at Chiang Mai train station and had reserved a room for 21 days at the Bossotel Inn which was directly across the road from the train station.

Like a normal tourist eh? Yes, I am Canadian how did you know?

I think in total I spent something in the neighborhood of 600 hours of research on the internet and I learned what I could but there was more, much more to learn.

I lived like a tourist at first living in a hotel, eating my meals there. I played pool before breakfast at a snooker establishment behind the hotel. After breakfast TV was the norm and then later in the day I would walk to the Night Bazaar shopping and tourist district about 30 minutes away. The walk there was good exercise, it gave me a chance to see the people and businesses along the way and get familiar with the city. Walk, look around, pop into O’Malley’s pub for a cool drink and to meet Scot, a fellow Canadian, and the owner.

The hotel rate was $16U.S. a night with taxes and breakfast included. I wanted to stay in a serviced apartment later but did not want to book it until I had seen it first. I was favorably impressed when I visited the apartment and proceeded to book it. So three weeks at the hotel and then on to the serviced apartment which would run about $250 a month with utilities and water included, and breakfast extra. The apartment had internet available in the rooms at an extra fee, or internet on site, massage spa on site, rooftop pool, motorcycle rental, beauty salon and restaurant which had entertainment in the evenings. The TV has a large selection of channels by way of satellite, there was free parking on site, and a great location near the Central Mall. So it had it all

Other retirees recommend staying in a condo or serviced apartment for 6 months or more to get familiar with the city before proceeding with any sort of long term rental arrangements.

I met a lovely lady name Nichaya. She was a hairdresser during the day and my tour guide, companion, means of transportation during the evenings. Although I weigh more than twice her weight we rode around town on her motorbike. Her driving the motorbike and me on back. This may seem odd but it is not uncommon. Unless you know the city and really know how to drive a motorcycle you shouldn’t. These motorcycles are 100 and 110 cc engines which means they are not powerful but they are very economical in terms of fuel. We could drive around all week all over town for only $2 U.S. in diesel fuel.

To learn more about living in Chiang Mai one has to live with the people. Find out what they eat, where they shop, what they do daily.

By this time Nichaya or Wan her nickname which everyone has here and I were becoming very close and fond of each other. I invited here to Patong a beach resort for a weeks holiday. She refused but each day I would ask again. Finally she relented and agreed. Have any of you heard of the December, 2004 tsuanmi? Well guess where I was at the time? Right. Right there.

The tsunami hit a few days before we were scheduled to return to Chiang Mai. We lost a camera, some clothing, some pictures but found each other. She handled the situation calmly and we were unharmed. In case you are interested this is what happened.

Tremor about 3 a.m. Woke me up and I wondered whether it was an earthquake. Around 4:30 a.m. another tremor. Awakened me again. At around 7 a.m. a large boom sounded like a shotgun blast and then a minute later another such loud boom.

I thought it may be terrorists out by the pool area and I recommended staying in the room. Nichaya told me to get out of the room. We grabbed a few valuables, passport and ran out of the hotel. Our hotel room was on the lower level facing the pool area which is about 6 feet lower than the lobby area of the hotel. We ran by the pool, up the stairs to the lobby and out the front entrance. Just as we crossed the road water gushed out from the hotel and on to the street. So the water level needed to be at least 6 feet high just to reach the lobby area. Motorcycles, vehicles were being carried down the streets in all directions by the sudden gush of water. We were on higher ground across the street and took off our shoes and I rolled up my pants.

After an hour or so the water level began to recede. It was about this time when a motorcycle policeman drove by and alerted everyone that there would be another wave coming shortly. He was right. Another similar wave went through the lobby and on to the streets again. Now the water level was back to where it was before and we could do nothing but wait.

The day before the tsunami hit we were on a boat cruise to Phi Phi Islands. Two days before the tsunami hit we rented motor boats at the beach. If this had happened a day earlier or at a different time then you would not be reading this article.

When the water level receded and it deemed safe we re-entered our hotel lobby to find a young boy who was in the pool when the tsunami hit lying of the floor with someone trying to resuscitate him. Unfortunately the boy did not make it. The hotel staff were totally unprepared. Nice people as they are they did not have a clue what to do. Guests were yelling out, Call a Doctor, Have you called a Doctor? The hotel staff smiled politely but either did not understand or were unable to reach anyone.

When we approached our room we found it was devastated. The outside window smashed by the water, the door broken, mattress and furniture upside down and the room inaccessible.

Hotel guests were taken to higher ground by buses and trucks. We sat by the roadside on higher ground waiting. The hotels found alternate accommodations in nearby Phuket which was about one half drive away from Patong. We left the others who sat by the roadside and went to some hillside shacks where Wan was able to greet the people, speak their language and explain the situation. They offered us refreshments and a place to lay down and wait.

Only when we reached the airport a day later did we realize the true extent of the devastation. There were tourists at the airport with cuts, bandages, broken bones but worse yet there were many people unaccounted for.

Wan and I were unhurt but learned something about each other through the experience. We showed how we react in emergencies and also we learned something about hotels and Thai people. After writing to hotel management at the Patong Merlin hotel on at least 6 occasions to that location and to their sister Phuket hotel which was undamaged by the tsunami we received one reply after 5 weeks. They did not try to clean any of the clothes left behind, did not try to return any of the contents, did not even try to contact us with a letter or e-mail saying sorry about this experience. We stayed there for a week at $100 U.S. a night and will never stay in a Merlin hotel again.

Would it have been handled differently or better in North America?

Well a one hour flight back to Bangkok for some shopping and then the short one hour flight back to Chiang Mai, my new home.

Now life is different. Wan and I live in her townhouse with her daughter and mother. Her husband passed away and she has been the one they rely on. Wan has a beauty salon downstairs in her townhouse.

What is different now?

Well I have learned how to live here on less. There are accommodations to be had here from $80 a MONTH and excellent accommodations can be had for $200 U.S. a month. By excellent I mean similar to a hotel room, TV with cable or satellite, pool, restaurant on site and in a good location with twice weekly or weekly cleaning.

I eat Thai food now with chicken wings, French fries, and some homemade potato soap several times a week. I read that Thai’s can make anything taste delicious. That is TRUE.

They use fresh ingredients in their cooking. There are many farms nearby and the produce from fruits, to vegetables is abundant year around and very cheap. There is also a fantastic selection of seafood’s to pick from. You can buy the seafood from the market or from a large grocery store where the selection is varied and fresh. If you want you can pick out a live fish, continue with your shopping and when you are checking out pick up your cooked fish to take home for dinner or lunch.

I recently bought pineapples at the large grocery store. Large, fresh, mouth watering pineapples. Ten baht each or .25 cents U.S. each. They will cut if for you and put it on styrofoam with cellophane wrapping for free.

Back to the cooking. The reason Thai food is so delicious is partly the freshness of the ingredients but mainly the sauces. Simple cooked rice with fried vegetables becomes a delicious meal with the right sauce added. Something to watch out for if you do visit here. Two small bowls are presented with many of the meals. One has a green paste/sauce and the other a red colored paste/sauce. These are added to fish or meat by way of dipping or by placing a small amount on a tablespoon from the bowl and then on to your food. WATCH OUT!!!! The red is spicy hot and should be added in measured quantities. The green should not be added at all unless you are Thai or Mexican in my opinion. The green one is the hottest of the two and can make you perspire, reach quickly for a glass of water and visit the washroom in the middle of the night and not to brush your teeth.

Fantastic food and bargain prices.

Great accommodations and bargain prices.

Friendly people who go out of their way to make you feel at home.

So many things to do that I can not even list them all.

Cable TV with 54 channels for $8.25 U.S. a month. Installation cost of cable was around $7 U.S. and $2.50 extra for the second TV. Internet and telephone for about $20 U.S. a month total .

People work hard. Many have their own businesses and work 16 hour days 7 days a week.
The business may consist of setting up a table and a few chairs and selling noodles, cooked meat, fruits or a small convenience store with home cooked foods on the side.

I see the parents take their children to school which is expensive here. About 80,000 baht or $2,000 U.S. per year for schooling, clothing and textbooks for a 7 year old. They teach the children English even at this age. The parents have to work damm hard to pay for the schooling but they are doing this in hopes of their children obtaining good jobs and having a better life with more to look forward to.

Cats and dogs here are numerous. Just about everyone in our neighborhood has either a cat or dog or both. Our neighbor has 6 cats plus 2 kittens and he does not have a fulltime job. It is difficult for him but I know he loves the cats. He has offered to give us a few but we do not have the space.

So to sum things up. It isn’t perfect here. You can find something to complain about if you look hard enough but for me it is as close to perfection as I will find.

I can tell you about one or two things that I do not like and I could tell you about the hundred things I like. I am a picky person so if I like it here and have very little or nothing to complain about then I am sure others will love it here also.

So enamored by Chiang Mai am I that I have created a website to help other retire here. First to come here on vacation and then to retire here.

If you want you can retire here on less than that, but to live a comfortable life here that is all that it takes.

Visit our website for Thai foods and recipes, to learn more about living here, and to see pictures of Chiang Mai.

So from a healthier, happier George who is living here on less and enjoying it
Khop Khun Khrap or thank you in Thai for reading the article. If you come here on vacation or to stay long term give me a call and we can go to a buffet and watch them make sushi, where you can select the ingredients of a soup they call Suki, where you can eat an unlimited amount of fresh salad with a choice of dressings and shredded chicken on the side, pick from an assortment of cooked meats, noodles, or fish, and then top it off with a variety of desserts and the best cup of coffee I have had in years for $2.50 U.S. after taxes and tip. The best selection of freshly prepared food and lowest priced all you can eat buffet restaurant in Chiang Mai in my opinion.

About the Author

Mr George Dowhan decided to take early retirement to Chiang Mai, Thailand, a city that thousand of foreigners call home and which is unknow by most in North America.
Find out how he made out.

Check out his website at:

http://www.retire-on-550-month.com

for advice, recipes, tips, and lots of useful, interesting info.

Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Carol Stream

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