Professional Expatting Around Bangkok...

Living in other countries isn't a new experience for Catherine; she's been doing it for so many years. Now she lives in Bangkok, Thailand, where she plans to stay permanently. Read her interview to find out why Bangkok is just right for her, the things she likes and dislikes about living there, and her passion for learning Thai.
 

Catherine Wentworth

-In which country and city are you living now?

 Bangkok, Thailand

-How long have you been living in Thailand?

I followed the tsunami in.

-When did you come up with the idea of living in Thailand?

After years of experimenting with different countries and cultures (all extraordinary in their own ways), living in Thailand became the dream.

Considerations: Decent cost of living; ease of travel; not too westernised, but with enough infrastructure to be comfortable; interesting culture; pleasant locals; assortment of education on offer; range of entertainment venues; wide choice of foods for eating in or eating out; tropical weather, yet without dangerous monsoons; top class medical facilities; and the cream, a plethora of photo opportunities.


I have to laugh as my search comes off like the children’s book, Goldilocks and the Three Bears - too hard, too soft, just right.

And I’m sure others have experienced similar reactions when paring down a list of possible retirement countries.

I was in the majestic Pyrenees (France) for two years, but even on a decent income (oil industry) living comfortably was too expensive for it to be a long-term home. Money didn't go far, with hidden taxes ultimately being one cross too many to bear.

Same goes for the UK. Even now, with prices in Thailand rising, there's just no comparison. Some expenses in the UK are outrageous - the almost £140 per year TV tax for starters. And paying crazy prices for parking everywhere drives me around the bend.

Although the US has an expansive range of lifestyles to opt for, none fitted my bill. With a decent cost of living (at the time), I was able to sample many states but none came out just right: too modern, too clean, with too many same same suburban mores back to back.

Moving from France to the tropical island of Borneo, I was more content than not. With no local taxes and the government covering housing, my cost of living was low. The weather was wonderful (constant 32° all year around), work was plentiful and the locals laid back. It was during my first year there ('94) that I discovered Thailand on a jaunt off-station. From that point on, I ran to Thailand many times a year.

After six years in Borneo, a leap back to Europe was overdue. Three months after unpacking my container in Scotland, I realised that I had developed a preference for SE Asia over the West. Paying £200 per month council tax did have something to do with it; not being able to afford luxuries I was used to in Borneo (live in maids, inexpensive entertaining, cheap travel) further aided the realisation. So after a year, back to Borneo I went, for another three years.

Knowing that Borneo was not a permanent option (island fever was a real problem), at this point I started to seriously look around the region for something more to my liking.

And while I loved living in New Zealand (God's country), it's too far from Europe, making travel a pain. Literally. And as I love to travel but dislike the bum-numbing experience of long-hauls, NZ was out.

I also fell in love with Australia, but it has the same difficulties with getting most anywhere from there. Another downside, both Australia and New Zealand are too Western for me. A sure sign of this is when there is no noticable need for the 'sidewalk mindfulness' practiced not only by Thai monks.

Singapore is perfectly situated but in their push to modernise, the city state is now mostly stripped of character. And with Singapore being too squeaky clean, it was, again, too Western in my eyes. With costs being a concern, there was the downside of everything from basic necessities all the way to buying cars and accommodation being markedly higher than in Borneo. And there's that island fever again...

Malaysia has wonderful people and offers interesting places to live with easy retirement opportunities. But after experiencing a Muslim country for nine years, I knew that being surrounded by a tight focus on religion was not for me.

Cambodia and Vietnam – even though both are perfect backdrops for photo opportunities, when it comes to a comfortable infrastructure with enough to keep my attention, they have a ways to go before being just right.

I lived in Japan as a child but now it's too expensive, too busy, too focused on attaining that modern, upwardly mobile society. A pity, as the countryside has an amazing beauty!

Two visits to India and I knew it would be too uncomfortable on too many angles (but I do fancy the impressive photography opportunities).

Tsunamis, bird flu, coups and Yellow Shirts aside, Thailand is just right. With its low cost of living, fun-loving locals, inspiring scenery, peppery politics, excellent food and comfortable accommodation, Thailand is both a writer and photographer's heaven, with just enough of everything to keep me stimulated.

-Was it hard to get a visa or a work permit?

No. If you are a teacher or work for a corporation, the company handles the paperwork. If 50 and over, getting a retirement visa is an easy option (although you’ll need to do your own paperwork). 

-How do you make your living in Thailand? Do you have any type of income generated?

I don’t work in Thailand, although I do prefer to call myself semi-retired rather than retired since being retired the way I'm going about it is hard work.

When opening a company that's physically in Thailand, the bureaucracy can hold you back. Same as Borneo, you need a local partner to open a business. Unlike Borneo, the process is much more convoluted, with the very real possibility of financial risk at some point in the venture.

-Do you speak Thai and do you think it's important to speak the local language? Please add your thoughts on local customs and whether it's important for expats to respect/observe local customs.

I'm learning Thai (the reason for my site – Women Learn Thai). And I have no doubts that the process will be a long and fruitful one for me.

Do I feel it's important to learn the local language? Certainly. Maybe not in locations such as Borneo or Singapore where the majority of the locals speak English as a second language, but absolutely for a country such as Thailand. Without a working knowledge of the Thai language, you'll miss out on the real essence of the people, religion and culture.

As for respecting the customs of any country you reside in, I feel it's a must - so much so that I was surprised the question was even asked.

-Do you miss home and family sometimes?

When I relocate to another country, I do go through a mourning period for the last place I called home, but that’s about it.

I was raised in the expat life, so home has always been where I’m living at the moment. So I guess my answer is no to missing the country where I was born but yes to missing close family and friends left behind.

And as my relatives are also in far-flung places, moving to be closer is totally out. Phone, email and travel are the answer. I haven't had much luck with skype (it keeps breaking contact) and since long distance charges are cheap from Thailand, I don't bother trying anymore.

-Do you have other plans for the future?

Who knows what life will bring, but the plan is to stay in Thailand permanently.

For business, I'll just have to see how long I can last not working (I'm a workaholic so lazing around doesn't suit my nature). Right now I've filled my hours sufficiently with the different learning opportunities available – Thai language and culture, photography and travel writing.

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?

After living in different locations around Bangkok for the first couple of years, I finally settled in a quiet part of town with close BTS (Sky train) access. At first I rented. Then satisfied with the location, I searched through backstreets for a suitable condo to purchase. Before moving in I had it renovated (an experience I wouldn't want to repeat anytime soon).

As Bangkok has no recognisable zoning, housing costs are variable. A new one-bedroom 40-60 sq metre condo can run to 1.5 – 2 million baht. In a decent location (near the Sky train) a reasonable two bedroom 150-200 sq metre condo can run anywhere from 7-10+ million baht. And as with any country, you can find lower and higher on each end.

Bank loans for expats are iffy to impossible (and ever changing), so expect to pay 100% cash up front. The money must have a trail coming from outside the country so pay special attention to the instructions given by your estate agent.

-What is the cost of living in Thailand?

Cost of living anywhere is what you make of it, and that's especially true with Thailand.

A meal for two with Singha (local beer) in a small Thai restaurant in Bangkok can run around 200-400 baht. A meal with alcohol in the Sukhumvit area can easily come to 2000-4000++ baht. Both are equally enjoyable.

If you want or need to live on a restricted budget, in Thailand (unlike in the West), you'll find ways to survive quite well.

And if you surround yourself with Western imports you can spend a great deal, paying more than for the same products in the West.

One given is that each expat needs to find the balance that suits them best.

Do they choose to shop at Villa Market and Emporium for Western products? Or do they eat on the street and depend on local markets?

Most expats combine an Eastern with Western lifestyle, with the degree being up to their chosen lifestyle (and sometimes their budget).

-What do you think about the Thais? 

Over cost of living, the locals are my main reason for moving to Thailand. I love to laugh so it's great fun to be around those who love to laugh too.

Of course there are exceptions in any population, but Thais will generally respond to a smile with a smile. And unlike in other countries, Thais will often smile first.

After a while you'll grow to understand the degrees of smiles in Thailand, and what a Thai smile really means compared to the West. It certainly makes for interesting people watching!

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Thailand?

Positives:

  • Money goes further.
  • Maids are inexpensive.
  • Thais spell as badly as I do.
  • Less stress in their mai bpen rai culture.
  • In my opinion, the best local food of any country.
  • Beautiful scenery, with unexpected pleasures.
  • Dramatic rainstorms, so no more wimpy British rain!
  • Decent enough entertainment (Bangkok).
  • Cheaper overseas travel (from Thailand to elsewhere).
  • Amazing what one can get delivered (Bangkok).
  • Medical facilities are excellent (for the most part).
  • Enough Western products to get by.
  • Fantastic shopping on the streets.
  • No major problems with mail (knock on wood).
  • Locals are above the norm in attitude and ease.
  • Weather is decent most of the time.
  • No real need to own a car.

Negatives:

  • Hibernation as a necessity several months out of the year (heat).
  • The high number of undesirable expats attracted to Thailand.
  • Corruption at all levels of the population, this includes expats.
  • The tedium of expats constantly linking Thais to the sex trade.
  • Pollution, disregard for the environment and littering.
  • Insane drivers (but I semi-miss driving a car).

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Thailand?

The one bit of advice I'd give over all else is to keep your cool at all times. Western ways are not Thai ways and while Thailand may be the Land of Smiles, it's also a proud country with face being a top importance.

I'm a huge fan of reading about a country before deciding to relocate, so last year I put together a post on the Top Books on Thailand and Thai Culture.

If you read even half of the books on that list, you'll have a basic idea of  what makes Thailand. But another given is that the advice may not sink in for a couple of years. If even that.

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Thailand?

In alphabetical order…

2bangkok.com
If you want to know what’s happening in Thailand, 2bangkok.com covers that and more. Don’t miss their extensive archives.

Catherine Wentworth: Photography
This is where I post my attempts at photography. Although other countries are included, the main focus is Thailand.

Expat Woman’s Guide to Living in Thailand
Home of the well-researched ebook by Amy Praphantanathorn, a Western artist married to a Thai translator. Amy’s experiences cover not just the female angle, but apply to men too. Her book is well worth the purchase.

Women Learn Thai
My Thai language blog where I share all things about learning the Thai language, as well as language learning methods.

Before tackling the subject of learning Thai, I never knew learning a language could be so interesting! And btw men, it’s not just for women… well, as long as you don’t mind the odd mention of a masculine butt or two ;-)

Be sure to stop by my growing resources section: Learning Thai, Living in Thailand and Living in Bangkok.

Regards,
Catherine Wentworth
Women Learn Thai... and some men too ;-)

GREAT interview

DavidAirey's picture

GREAT interview, Cat. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on Thai life. Having spent a month in the country, I got a little taste of it, and met a few people who had chosen to retire there due to the low cost of living. It's something I'll keep in mind for my latter years.

thanks...

thecatat's picture

Thanks David. Although I've read about some people retiring early, I know you are aiming to work for a good long time so it'll be a long time coming :-)

I'm looking forward to when you and your girlfriend come to Thailand for a visit as I'd love to show you 'my' Bangkok.

Some Clarification Needed

Sawatdee's picture

Catherine,
Please allow me to clarify, or at least to offer my opinion on some of the topics you touch upon for the delight of all readers. I will do myself a favor and write an interview also.

1. Bangkok is a dump. It really strikes me that it was voted best city to live in for 2007 by Travel and Leisure magazine. I attribute the results of the poll to an exhorbitant amount of sex tourists that would indeed love to live here. Bangkok is a dirty, extremely polluted third world city that aspires to look decent. Traffic is only second, in the negative sense, to Manila, Jakarta or India (which is by far one of the worst places in the world to go).

2. Thai food is simply boring. For all newcomers can say when they discover the array of food in Thailand, after a few months it is always the same, and it lacks any elaboration, unless you consider the ubiquitious use of fish sauce (naam plaa), without which food has no taste. Thai food is definitely cheap.

3. One mention about the restaurants: do not waste your money. The food is just the same as the one you can find along many street stalls. Contrary to what many may think, street food is safer, since at least you see them cooking it. Restaurant food is expensive for Thai standards. It is basically a rip-off. Definitely avoid any of the fancy looking restaurants around Sukhumvit, as you will just pay 400 baht for the same stuff you would have in the street for 40 baht.

4. Foreign Bars are a complete rip-off. Stay away from them to teach the owners a lesson. How can anyone conceive of paying 220 baht for a beer when the normal price is 80 or less?

5. There is a very large number of undesirable foreigners (of the farang kind) as you mention. A very large one. Most of them are low class, badly aged blue collar workers shamelessly displaying their trashy tattoos and beer bellies. There is nothing most disgusting to the human eye than the sight of decrepit looking old men holding the hands of young Thai prostitutes in the streets as if they truly believe in their love affair.

6. As a result of the above, a not small number of Thai women are selling themselves to one degree or another, and not only to foreigners, but to locals alike. Because salaries are low (7,000 baht a month is the minimum salary, applied everywhere), many Thai women look for older foreigners as a way to supplement their life style. The concept of Mia Noi or lesser wife is widely accepted among the locals. It basically means that older, married man, go on a monthly plan to support their lover on the side.

7. Thai people, contrary to all the optimistic posts I read here, can quite obnoxious, and this is because of what everyone likes to call the "Thai Ways". Thai Ways is nothing but an euphemism for a set of traits that anyone who has close ties with locals will not be able to stand. Thais believe that Thailand is the center of the universe. They are convinced that the ways the do things is the universal way, and worst of all, they are unable to listen. They are extremely superstitious, which sometimes is hard to tolerate. Working with them is a constant challenge, as they tend to just ignore any advice. Ambition is a word that is lacking in their vocabulary, and those who have it have completely mistaken it with corruption. Partly due to their Buddhist believes, Thais just accept their lot and look no farther. The tremendous lack of education does nothing to help the Thai people escape their Thai Ways.

8. Corruption is rampant at all levels. It is extremely evident and transparent and it will never stop. The saying goes that anything in Thailand is possible. Money goes further in Thailand than anywhere else in the world, and not to noble causes.

9. The PAD, or the yellow shirts, are the best thing Thailand has ever had. After many decades, Thailand has now for the first time a semi-decent government with possibly the only apt prime minister they have ever had, and all of this is because of the selfless efforts of the PAD members, who sacrificed their lives for months to stand against corruption. Had these heroes not staged their massive protests, which included very rightfully closing the airports, people like Samart, Somchai or even Thugsin would still be running this country poorer and poorer.

10. Hospitals, contrary to what you say, are a disaster. Bumrumgrad Hospital, to which you probably refer, is nothing but a resort/mall style hospital where patients feel very comfortable and which has done a great job in clearing out the sterile image of the white walls. The quality of the doctors in Thailand is quite mediocre, despite the fact that some of them have pursued degrees in the West (just which university is left to be seen). This has to do with the Thai Ways or unambitious attitudes. Doctors, like all Thais just go as far as they have to. If you start reading real reports about the quality of the doctors here you will be surprised.

11. Sure, it is cheap to travel, and that is the problem, because everyone does it. There is practically nowhere in Thailand where you can enjoy a decent vacation without hordes of disgusting foreigners breathing all around you. That leads to overpriced hotels. Hopefully, the economic recession will get deeper and there will be less of these people here.

And just to leave on a good note, I think there are some good aspects about living in Thailand, such as the low cost of living and the higher standards one can enjoy by being able to buy anything one wants, or the fact that it never gets cold. Thai people, when dealt with at a distance and without too much interaction can be quite pleasant, especially if you respect them enough to speak to them in their own language.

Thanks and enjoy Thailand

Sawatdee, When I listed

thecatat's picture

Sawatdee,

When I listed 'the high number of undesirable expats attracted to Thailand' as a negative, it includes those who have nothing better to do than run the country down.

They complain on forums day after day, week after week, year after year.

They chose to rub shoulders with the dregs of society, whether Thai or Western. They hang around the lowest of areas. And then they wonder why they dislike Thailand so?

But I've come to the realisation that these same people most likely wouldn't be happy anywhere. And unlucky for the rest of us, they've chosen to unhappy in Thailand.

Not wrong, just different

Amyji's picture

It doesn't sound like Thailand is good place for you to live, Sawatdee; I hope you're living in a different country. For Catherine and many others (including myself), the perspective we share is quite different from yours. Not wrong, just different. Catherine is not saying Thailand is perfect (read her negatives list!) but it's pretty good comparatively with other countries she outlined in her interview.

Catherine, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your informative, beautifully written interview. It was humorous and engaging with gorgeous photos. I found the comparisons to living in other countries very interesting, particularly the reasons why you didn't like living in those other countries (ie high taxes and cost of living). Thank you for all the helpful resources you listed as well.

No Place is Perfect

Sawatdee's picture

Amy and Catherine,

I was not trying to put Thailand down, just to emphasize a few of the points that many people do not realize when they come here. I think I was being quite objective in my observations. For example, you may love the food for years to come, but gastronomically speaking Thai food cannot compare to some European food. The hospitals may look very nice and comfortable, offer you free drinks and even have McDonalds inside, but the quality of the doctors is not comparable at all to western standards (unless you exclude some cosmetic surgery procedures at which they have become quite adept), and that is a fact. Why else would you think there is currently such a push to ban lawsuits for medical malpractice? Where in the world have you seen such an extreme measure? This is because the medical profession, which has the necessary cash, has lobbied government very aggressively to protect them in their incompetency. Bear in mind that most lawsuits are actually against doctors in the "better" hospitals.

There is indeed no paradise, but I think it is just fair to tell people who do not live here all the reality about the place, so that they do not come here with the wrong expectations. I have seen far too often brainless farang that come here with nothing and just pursuing a silly dream. They end up working as teachers (because they are good at nothing else) and living in a rathole in din daeng or a place like that and doing visa runs every three months in cramped buses to Cambodia. Those are actually the people that go on the forums and complain about the place.

I do live in Bangkok because of different reasons, one of which honestly was to get to know this place that has become so extremely popular (more expats than in any other Asian city). I work in Bangkok, and working here with locals (and managing them) is a very important way of understanding Thailand that many visitors do not get to experience. Fortunately, I get to escape Thailand very often, so I can keep my sanity.

Bangkok is just another big city. There is not need to write guides about how to live in Bangkok, or anywhere else. That is simply an attempt at dramatizing and alienating a place. This city is just like many others, with its good and its bad.

I am not criticizing the place, just trying to add some more reality about the place. While it is good for those thinking about moving here to know the good things, it is much more important to know the bad ones. I hope you do not take these comments as a negative view on yours. In fact, we do share some common impressions.

Your excellent inerview and comments.

thetefldon's picture

Cat, great interview and in my opinion well balanced. I also enjoyed the contributions of the others.

Saving people from my glowing remarks about Bangkok...

thecatat's picture

Yes, you made it perfectly clear (now twice) that your aim is to save people from my glowing remarks about Bangkok.

As Amy pointed out, I did not ignore Bangkok's negative points in my interview.

* Hibernation as a necessity several months out of the year (heat).
* The high number of undesirable expats attracted to Thailand.
* Corruption at all levels of the population; this includes expats.
* The tedium of expats constantly linking Thais to the sex trade.
* Pollution, disregard for the environment and littering.
* Insane drivers (but I semi-miss driving a car).

But you see, the theme of my interview was not 'everythingsuckyaboutbangkok'. And that’s why - all the while keeping objective by including the negative - I did not saturate my paragraphs with the same.

My theme defined personal reasons for choosing Bangkok over other possible locations from around the world. And why did I do this? Because people looking for a retirement location will go through similar country checklists.

And don’t you feel that those at the checklist stage will have checked out Thailand already? The good points and the bad? And honestly, with all the negative forum chatter hitting, it is not possible to miss the bad. I know, I know. You are commenting at the tail end of my interview to make doubly sure readers don't miss any part of the downsides.

But my real point is this: while I don't agree with all your negative points for living here, I don't live my life wallowing in the ones I do.

Why? Because like everyone else, I have a choice. I can live in Bangkok or I can move on. And as mentioned in my interview, I've been coming here since '94 so it is not like I moved blind; after much consideration and with eyes wide open, I chose Bangkok, warts and all (and who doesn’t have warts of their own?).

And (already noted in my first response) I make sure to avoid the bad experience of some of the more unsavoury aspects of the city (again, refer to my list above). I'd do the same if living in Paris, London, LA or any other metropolis.

Defining a few points of disagreement between your list and mine... For me, Thai food is not a negative because I enjoy spicy food and get bored with the bland food of the West. Hospitals don't come into it either as I went through almost ten years of medical Hades in the UK (both England and Scotland), the US and France. After suffering through years of tests and hospital visits in the West, the first week after landing SE Asia it was sorted on my very first doctor's appointment. So much for fabulous Western hospitals, yes?

But getting back to the point I started to make... You know, when I was a child I listened to adults tear whatever country I was living in at the moment to the ground. Being a child, I obviously don't remember my personal opinions on the matter but I'm sure I was influenced. Who wouldn't be?

As an adult, for the two years l lived in France there was always an expat group somewhere complaining about the French, France, French food, French roads, French housing and anything not exactly how it was 'back home', wherever that was. And this happened at most every expat gathering. Tedious. Those from the UK and the US were the main moaners if I remember correctly (and I’m trying hard to forget).

When I lived in Borneo it was the same. Only, in addition to American and British expats, there were French, Australian, New Zealand, Singaporean, Indian and Malaysian expats chiming in (and I’m sure I missed a few).

And on a bad day (and sometimes a good), I would chime in too. Ah, what a carol of discontent that was! Only this time I was faced with nine long years of it.

A no-brainer, I found that by surrounding myself with the bitching, moaning and groaning of expats, I would quickly spiral down to a negative.

Some people are at their happiest when they are unhappy but it’s not for me. Unhappy is no way to live.

It was during my extensive time in Borneo when I started following the best policy for a peaceful life: avoid the wingers, enjoy what's on offer, and create a workable plan to sort out the rest.

Note: I’m not saying that I’m grumble free; I’m saying that I do my best to avoid the miserable expat-wallow. Ok, now with forums, the tiresome expat-wallowers are in their element so it does take a bit more effort than before.

There is no perfect country or perfect life, but you can get close and you should give it a try. Thailand is obviously not for you and that's fine. But it is for me, and (as I made perfectly clear in my interview) I'm having a blast because Thailand IS Thailand and not the UK or the US, France, Singapore, New Zealand, Borneo, Germany or anywhere else.

TIT ;-)

Thanks Mike! Ditto on the

thecatat's picture

Thanks Mike! Ditto on the contributions.

Bangkok

mkbfas's picture

I have visited Bangkok many times (though the bulk of my time in Thailand spent in Udon, where I once was married). I currently live near LA, but will be going back to Udon next month to live much of the year. I lived in San Francisco for 37 years, so I "know a great city" (ha). I have also spent time in most of the great cities of the world. Now, I happen to like Bangkok very much. Last September, I was visiting New York and while walking around Manhattan, I was thinking that the closest city to New York of ANY city I have spent time in is Bangkok. No, not in the look of the place (maybe one would consider Tokyo, London, Paris etc in this regard), but in the "feel" of the place - the "street feel" really, the food, the motion and just the attitude, the energy. This is all hard to explain as Tokyo certainly would seem to be more like NYC, but it's not (to me, anyway). When I read about Victorian London, I sometimes think of Bangkok, sort of a "ramshackle" city, with a "bit" of sin, some luxury certainly, but also a lot of what looks like crumbling buildings and many poor people. And tons of people just eating, working, living. And besides the new malls, there's also a new subway and the skytrain, the temples, etc. What's missing to me is the great museums you see in New York, Washington, London, Paris, etc. I happen to find the Thai people generally much more friendly than the people you find in San Francisco, by the way. Along with New York, the friendliest big city people (and they are VERY friendly out in the countryside). Bangkok is much cheaper than California and a lot of fun. Yeah, it's like a sauna much of the time, and there's no place to get real maple syrup.....but, hey, no place is perfect. AND WOULD YOU WANT IT TO BE?

The "street feel"... You've

thecatat's picture

The "street feel"...

You've described my Bangkok perfectly, and with only two words. I've spent a lot of time in San Francisco, but never in New York. I'm not a big city girl but I love Bangkok and with New York having the BKK flavour (if I have the time), on my next trip I'll see about taking a detour to the western edge of the US.

'...no place is perfect. AND WOULD YOU WANT IT TO BE?'

Exactly! And in some ways, it's Bangkok's seemingly 'imperfections' that grab me.

'...no place to get real maple syrup'

Villa Market has Canadian maple syrup and one can't get any more real than that (unless things have changed since I left the West?)

I lived in Southern Thailand

Martin A's picture

I lived in Southern Thailand for 15 years before moving down here to Phnom Penh to take a job. Next month I'll be returning to Koh Samui where I'm a partner in a business I co-founded 10 years ago. I've never lived in Bangkok but have spent a lot of time there. I also lived on Phuket. But it was the two years I spent in the fishing town of Ranong on the Burma border, that afforded me the chance to live in a provincial community that was not largely transient and/or completely mercenary. I think you will find the expats living in places like Isan are having a largely positive experience.

I had done zero research on Thailand prior to making my first trip many years ago. I wanted to be surprised. Traveling on a budget I took the public bus from the airport to Khao San road, when I got my first impression of the Thais. There was no air con and most of us were packed in for over an hour. I had been living in France, and found the heat and humidity in the bus unbelievable, but the placidity of the passengers considering the conditions, astonished me. People's forebearance and acceptance remains for me, one of the great things about Southeast Asia. But as we know, it also works to their detriment in many ways.

When I got off the bus at Democracy Monument it was late in the evening and I was in a semi-delirious state from the jetlag and general exhaustion. As I stood on the sidewalk trying to find someone who could direct me to Khao San Road, fireworks began streaming into the sky. I had arrived on the King's Birthday and had no idea. Times were good, and I later learned that the Sony corporation that year, paid for a pyrotechnic spectacle that went on for over an hour, and cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars. I stood there with my backpack, transfixed. That was my introduction to Thailand.

That night I had the first Thai food I had ever eaten. Five years later I co-founded a Thai cooking school for foreigners on Samui. I prefer the unbelievably hot southern curries that our staff eat, to the dishes we teach the students. But as Catherine pointed out, any cuisine gets boring if it's all you eat. I could and largely do, live on Thai and Mediterranean dishes. In Thailand you get it all.

I share some of Sawatdee's views, but home is indeed what you make it. As I approach 50 with the knowledge that I will almost certainly spend the rest of my life in Thailand, I find that quiet is the ultimate luxury. The country has become far too noisy and it is increasingly difficult to escape the scourge of unwanted din, even in my own house. For me it's crucial that I can afford to live somewhere where I have some control over this.

Martin

Hi Martin. I too love Thai

thecatat's picture

Hi Martin. I too love Thai cooking! A Thai cooking school for expats would certainly be an interesting venture. I once dreamed of having a pub-style restaurant. But, from experience, a cooking school may give more free time. Running a restaurant involves long hours. And the work usually heats up right around the time I want to enjoy quiet (evenings and weekends).

Comments on NY

braddockrd's picture

Having lived in NYC for 4 years (too long), I can re-assure you, Catherine, that you will not enjoy it, since you like BKK so much. NYC is certainly a third world city by all standards: it is extremely dirty, the subways stink of piss, there are beggars everywhere, nothing is taken care of, it is polluted and overcrowded, with a massive working class and a minority of very ricj people, for whom the working class tolls and commutes. Being third world is not bad at all, except that NYC combines the worst of the third world with very expensive places, a very bad attitude, horrible weather, excessive traffic and an unmelting pot of people from all places that come to NY with irrational dreams and end up being completely alienated. Nothing better that to arrive to a deli in the morning and be greeted by an overweight balding guy in a dirty apron speaking with a Sopranos' Italian-American accent (not that I did not say Italian) and ask you "what you want"?

Learning Thai

braddockrd's picture

Let us say it again, for the benefit of all those lazy foreigners that do not care at all in adapting to the place: Learn the local language!!!

Interview Comments

nio's picture

Catherine I enjoyed reading your extremely well written opinions of living in Thailand. I loved your photos as well. "Johnny Depp" Pirates of the Caribbean in Chatuchak Market is a great photo. The clarity of your close ups is insane!

After living in Thailand for years, I believe people are entitled to their own opinions, good and bad. Each individual has their own opinions and these are based on the person's own experience living in Thailand.

What needs to be clarified in any interview or opinion is your real financial position in Thailand. Unfortunately, a person's financial situation in Thailand can determine the outcome of any interview to be positive or negative.

If you are here living in Thailand semi-retired, with a load of of cash in the bank, a condo all paid for, then you should state that clearly. Obviously this puts you in the minority of expats in Thailand and your opinions of life in Thailand can be skewed due to your financial position.

If you came to Thailand with little to no money and were trying to make a go on 30,000 or 40,000 thb per month teaching, then you might not paint the same rosy picture you do now of Thailand.

If is very important to clarify your financial position to the readers. Apples to apples, not apples to oranges.

I haved live in Thailand for years and until recently I thought I would live here forever.

I own a legal commercial aviation company here that has done very well and have a wife who is employeed with Emirates in Dubai. Finances are not my concern for a change in attitude about living here forever.

The things that are slowly changing my mind are as follows:

1. Tuition at English Speaking International schools for elementary kids in on par with tuition at Harvard per year. Most teachers I have experienced, if they have teaching degrees at all, are from mostly no-name Universities. The cost is not justified by second rate teachers and I am sorry if the shoe fits wear it. Schools are run as businesses here, not educational institutions.

2. Laws surrounding VISA's. Legal company owners and people that are married should not be tossed in the same boat with tourists.

3. Corruption. I do work with the government and I do work with the military. You can only scratch your nail on the surface of the corruption you think is going on and it is not even close to how bad it really is. Even the sidewalk vendors selling counterfeit goods are shaken down daily by the police.

4. Impossible housing laws for expats married to Thai's. If you are an expat and your wife dies, you are in a horrible mess.

5. The Thaksin error of money has become more important than religion, friends and family. Greed has overtaken and changed a once peaceful and content nation, where no amount of money is ever enough. I was here long before the Thaksin era and I can tell you, the whole country has changed radically and gets worse every year. Ask any Thai person if they want to have 500 baht right now or 50,000 baht in 6 months and 99.9 % will chose the right now option.

6. Politicians. The worst of the worst, authorizing themselves the power to change laws and the Constitution to cover up all the laws and corruption they violated. Please take a minute and read a review of politician's salaries in Thailand. Then ask yourself how life long politicians who have worked their whole life in govt for meager wages have massed 100+ million baht fortunes? A coalition govt is a coalition to split the different areas of govt among the coalition partners for the sole practice of profitting those groups. And yes, I will join your coalition govt if you agree to give me the Transportation Ministry. That is why a mile of road construction here costs 10 times more than it should. Govt House is filled with Mercedes Benz and BMW even though the politicians salaries could not even afford a Honda Jazz.

7. A lawless society where police conduct shake-downs of all motorists all over the city on a daily basis. To bad you do not drive. It is a shame to go through the Don Muang Toll way and pay a 55 baht toll, only to be stopped 3 meters ahead and make a "donation" to the shake-down patrol 100 to 200 baht. It is even worse because poor Thai people are most often the victims of this shake-down> Quite clost to my home is a one lane u-turn that goes under the main highway. Such a good spot for 2 motorcycle cops to set up a road block out of site and extort money from all the people using the U-turn.

8. The sensation of living in a country that every year continually goes backwards in all areas of environment, legal, education, govt and others.

9. Thai's as a whole cannot distinguish between a sex tourist and someone who has lived here, married and paid taxes for years; same as them.

10. Business as a whole. Sorry sir we cannot rent you that space at the airport because our brother, sister, cousin, aunt, eighth cousin removed will get that prime space and open the only restaurant we will license. hum? Bet you did not know that 99% of the business operating at the airport are owned by family members and relatives of the AOT and other groups that should be allowing fair business practices?

The law and absence of law is what is really of concern to me now. There is always a fear of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, guilty or innocent, it will not matter. Politics takes a turn for the worst it has been in years with riots , airport closures and opponents being shot.

Thailand is what you make of it and yes many people including myself have loved living here, but as the years roll on, I think we can see the country regressing further and further from the values and practices that made Thailand the LOS in the first place. We as expats are now seen in a different light. Pattayacitynews.com read it every day and look at the insane number of violent crimes against expats that never seem to make the major news (don't want to scare tourists away with the truth). Even the poorest expat is perceived to be taking away from the Thais.

I have kept a website here as a hobby, http://www.visualthailand.com that has over 15,000 actual Thai photos, stories and reviews. The reason I started this website was simple. I hated going on a trip or holiday only to find out the place was 180 degrees opposite what the website, travel brochures, etc actually showed. I am a firm believer in everyone that works hard for a living deserves a holiday or vacation void from fake advertising and rip-offs. This is part of the Thaksin era where it is ok to do everything you possibly can in Thailand to rip off foreigners. We can see the govt will get involved when it becomes an international concern, but for every international event there are 1,000's of people having their holidays ruined every day. Exposing false advertising, scams and unsavory businesses to others has become my main interest here.

Are you thinking about flying Orient Thai or 12 GO when in Thailand for their ridiculously low fares? Better read this first www.investigateudom.com

While you are at www.bangkokscams.com will open your eyes even more.

Each expat living in Thailand should share their opinions and experiences in order for those that follow, to make educated decisions about a life changing event to move from a home country to Thailand. I hope each writer will stick to their personal facts and experiences, and share this in the expat community. I read allot on the internet everyday and I learn something new about Thailand each and everyday. I hope people will continue to get involved and share the truth.

I apologize to regressing past the intent of Catherines opinions.

Summary is each of us will have an experience to share. The opinion need to be apples to apples, try to keep that in mind when making decisions. If you will come to Thailand as a school teacher, read opinions from school teachers. If you come semi-retired with money, then read those opinions. In the end writing the facts will greatly benefit us all.

Hmmm....

thecatat's picture

nio,

Thank you for the detailed comment. But, I am a bit confused. Are you saying that I did not state my true position in Thailand? Because I don't see how anyone would see it as anything other than what it is. And as for my exact income, it is no one's business but my own. I don't even tell my mother, so why would I post my financial details on a public website?

Expats have varied views of Thailand. And (not an original opinion) I feel that it is often down to time spent in the country.

I liken living in Thailand to going through a relationship. A bumpy relationship. Only, where relationships often have a seven year itch, with Thailand it is shortened to about three or four.

You fall in love. Everything is heady. Then cracks start showing. You push the negative thoughts away. The passionate heat rolls down to a slow boil. Then it chills. Sometimes it heats up again, but it is anger, not passion. The anger becomes a hatred. Nasty. You feel betrayed. Everything is crap.

If you stick it out, the anger and resentment fades and acceptance takes its place. Soon, you notice flashes reminding you of the different reasons you fell in love in the first place. But it is never the same, as underneath is all the the knowing. There is always the knowing.

If you are lucky, or unlucky (depends how you look at it), you come to terms with the reality of the country. If not, well, there will be other countries somewhere better suited for you. You just need to keep on looking is all.

Well said, Cat!

Amyji's picture

Three or four years sounds about right. Even your own home country has so many bumps in it but for citizens who never leave, they make it work. Same needs to be said for expats. It's ultimately a choice: Are you going to dwell on the negative or focus on the positive? It's the same no matter where in the world you live.

Absolutely... even our home countries have bumps!

thecatat's picture

Amy,

It was so very true for me in the other countries I lived in too. One day everything was fine, then over time life became untenable, so I left. And now I am here.

I do not avoid the negative aspects of Thailand (trust me on this one). But I do follow your advice by putting more of a focus on the positive.

And if Thailand gets to the point where I am consistently unhappy, then I will pack up and move on. And maybe I will keep the condo for visits, maybe not.

Until then, I will enjoy this fabulous weather we are having (I love the rain), and the wonderful food (as spicy as possible), and all the travel I can easily do from here.

Hai Cat. . Read your article

beingfriends's picture

Hai Cat.
.
Read your article (which is very much informative and simply too good). I would like some guidance from you. I am an Indian Muslim currently working in the Middle East. I am in Love with a Thai Lady here and we both are serious about getting married and starting a family. Is there any advise you would like to give as to how do i go about and marry her and settle down with her in Bangkok? (in terms of the formalities involved since i am Indian Muslim and She is a Thai Buddhist) and Also i would like to know what are the possibilities of jobs in Thailand, since i will have to support my Thai Wife (currently i work for a Bank in Middle East, but i tried applying in Banks in Thailand but not much of luck). A Serious solution or reference to my question, would be of great support and motivation.
.
Thanks in advance.