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Retirement in Thailand [1]

                                                   

Overview

Retirement is a time to relax and take it easy, so a country like Thailand could be ideal for retirees who want exactly that. Thailand is a laid-back country which offers a whole lot more, and so it is certainly a destination to contemplate for anyone who is thinking about retiring abroad.

 1.  Retirement in Thailand   

Thailand as a magnet

Since Thailand has held its hand out to foreign retirees contemplating a life in the country, the amount of people retiring to Thailand has escalated. As of 2008, Thailand is now right up there in the footsteps of Singapore as one of the best ranked countries in Asia for expatriates. There are numerous reasons why retirees choose Thailand to settle down.   

      – For some they spend their days away from it all in some remote rural village, while others enjoy all the latest mods, cons and treats which the country has to offer.

     – For others Thailand is bargain for money, a really affordable place to live the good times at only a fraction of the cost one would pay in a developed Western country.

     – Some folk retire in Thailand and enjoy the simple Thai-Thai way of life, mingling only with the locals and dining on traditional Thai food and fruits. For others however, they prefer to continue in the company of fellow country men while just enjoying the courtesy and smiles of the Thais – immersing totally in a foreign culture, is of course, not everyone’s cup-of-tea.

A map showing the location of Thailand

Thailand Facts

Settling down in an exotic foreign country is definitely not for everyone, there are so many things to contemplate first. For some, moving abroad was the best thing they had ever done while for others it was the worst. What is highly important before anyone even thinks of choosing a country to retire is to read up on the place first.

Weather:
Besides the southern region (which has only two) Thailand has only three relatively similar seasons. The first thing that one has to realize before they retire in Thailand is that most of the country is comparatively hot all year round. Thailand’s seasons are:

     – Cool Season: November – February
     – Hot Season: March – May
     – Rainy Season: June – October



The hottest regions of Thailand are the central and north-eastern regions hitting temperatures of up to 40 degree Celsius in the midst of the hot season. Even in the cool season, temperatures seldom drop below 20degree Celsius. The mountainous north of Thailand is a favourite with the middle-class Bangkokians, who head there for the area’s crispy fresh mornings and where a thick sweater is often needed at night, and especially during the cool season. The south of Thailand gets the country’s most rain, showers are frequent but they usually don’t last for too long.

Culture & Traditions

Actual Thai culture originates from 1. Religion and 2. Monarchy; and Thai people hold both institutes with the highest respect. The Thai religion, Theravada Buddhism, has over history, lead to an assortment of traditions such as religious festivities, rites and beliefs, some even originating from the mother of Thai Buddhism – Hinduism. The Thai monarchy over the past couple of centuries, has certainly made a distinctive mark with an array of superb palaces. Not only a historical legacy, the Thai monarchy with all the traditions involved, are still, to this day, very much part of everyday modern life.

Other Thai traditions which have become synonymous with Thailand include; Songkran Festival (Thai New Year), Loy Krathong (River Festival), Thai Boxing, Thai Dancing, Traditional Thai music, Thai arts and crafts, Thai massage and Thai Vipassana Meditation.

Thai People

The Thais are a friendly, laid-back, non-aggressive and non-confrontational people who are known world wide for their impressive smiles – even to complete strangers.

Thailand is 90% Buddhist with most others made up of Muslims. It is the deep south of Thailand, with its Malay and Indonesian influence which is predominantly Islamic. The Thai-Chinese make up the majority of the country’s urban folk while the original Thai-Thais prefer their more traditional rural roots. The northern Thais are Lanna in origin and their ancient roots lie in Burma, Tibet and southern China. The north-east of Thailand has a close relationship with the neighbouring country of Laos and the ‘Isaan folk’ still cling to much of the original Thai-Lao way of life, and especially the Lao language.

Language

Standard Thai, the official language of Thailand, is the mother language of the majority of the Thai people, but it is also spoken and understood by every Thai from every region. Spoken Thai is a small headache for most foreigners due to its five tones and complexity of vowel and contestant sounds, some unheard of in say any Germanic language. Written Thai originates from ancient Khmer, and Thai Buddhism is immersed in ancient Bali. There is also Royal Thai which is a specific offshoot of Thai language. It is used only when speaking to or about the royal Thai monarchy.


Outside of the greater central region of Thailand, most of the people are grown up speaking their own dialect (Standard Thai is used in the Thai education system regardless of the area). The three main dialects are:

     – Southern Thai dialect – this dialect is difficult for any other Thai to understand and it is spoken very quickly.
     – Issan dialect – this dialect, spoken mostly in the north-east, is simply an offshoot of Laotian. There is however, no written ‘Isaan’.
     – Northern dialect – this is a softly spoken dialect which is a favourite with many Thais because of its smooth rhythm. Some northerners however, will argue that ‘Northern’ is not a dialect as there was once a form of written ‘Northern language’ used in the temples.

Besides Standard Thai and the three main dialects, Thailand is also home to numerous other languages and dialects – dialects such as Yawi, Khorat, Neur, Galung and Nyaw. Many older Chinese still speak Taizhou. All the hill tribes of Thailand also have their own distinctive dialect. As for other languages, many rural areas bordering the Cambodian border speak an offshoot of Khmer. Vietnamese and Indian languages can also be heard, spoken by Thais as a mother language, in some parts of the country.

Religion

                                                

Buddhism: Thailand has no official religion but Therevada Buddhism is engrained in everything Thai (it is taught to every school child). It is also the religion of the masses with more than 90% of the population adhering to Buddhism. Thai Buddhism is Theravada with a sprinkling of Hinduism, Brahmism, ancient Ancestry Worship and even Animism. Buddhism is still of major importance to the lives of Thai people and especially those in rural areas – where everything operates around the local temple. Thai Buddhism beliefs are everywhere and all weddings, funerals and even house warming ceremonies are carried out by monks. Thai monks can be spotted a mile away in their attractive saffron robes often carrying a bowl to collect alms. Until this day, it is Thai tradition that every Thai male joins the monkhood at least once in his life (typically 1 week to 3 months). Anyone who doesn’t is considered ‘unripe’ and even unworthy of becoming a good child or potentially decent husband.

Besides Therevada, Mahayana Buddhism is the religion of many Thai-Chinese and Chinese temples can be found all over the country. Chinese New Year, the ‘Wai Jao’ ceremony and the Chinese 10 day vegetarian festival are all still very much enjoyed in urban Thai-Chinese communities.

Islam:
Islam is the religion of most people in the deep south which borders Islamic Malay. It can also be found in certain parts of the central region and picturesque mosques are evidence of their roots. Traditionally though, Thai Islam isn’t as strict as that found in other areas of the world.

Others:
Christianity and offshoots of it are still very much the religion of the hill tribes and especially the Karen people. In the major cities, many of the land’s prestigious schools are Christian (most attendees are not though) and a plentitude of converts can be found. Bangkok especially, is also home to a stealth Thai-Indian community who still profess to either Hinduism or Sikhism.

Thai Currency
Obverse                                                                                         

The currency of Thailand is the Baht, and as of April 2008 1 Euro = 50 baht, 1USD = 31 baht and 1GBP = 62 baht.

Thai Coins

There are 100 satang to the Baht but they are used less and less frequently these days (only in supermarkets/convenience stores and buses)
Thai coins used are:

     – 25 Satang
     – 50 Satang
     – 1 Baht
     – 2 Baht
     – 5 Baht
     – 10 Baht
Thai banknotes are:
     – 10 Baht (now rare) – Brown
     – 20 Baht – Green
     – 50 Baht – Blue
     – 100 Baht – Red
     – 500 Baht – Violet
     – 1,000 Baht – Grey

For currency exchange in Thailand, main banks are open 9:30am – 3:30pm Mon – Friday with some smaller branches (in store) operational at the weekends too. Otherwise, currency can also be exchanged at major hotels at a slightly lower rate. Travelers’ cheques are widely popular and offer the best exchange rate, it is advised though that they ought to be carried in only major currencies such as the Euro, USD and GBP.
Debit and credit cards, like Master Card, Visa and American Express card are widely accepted in Thailand.


There are no restrictions in Thailand to the amount of foreign currency brought into the country, but there are however, regulations concerning the import and export of the Baht. Currently, no more than 50,000 baht per person can be imported or exported at any one time. For anyone intent on importing or exporting anything around 50,000+ baht it is advised to speak to an officer in the know beforehand.

                                  
Thailand’s Airports

Suvarnabhumi airport is a legend in itself, first thought of in the 1970s – it took a record breaking 30+ years before it was finally completed. The airport, opened in September 2006, is now one of the largest and busiest airports in Asia accommodating approximately 58 million passengers in 2008. Even though the airport is known as Bangkok International Airport, Suvarnabhumi is located just outside of the capital in Samut Prakan province. The airport can however be easily and conveniently accessed from Bangkok at any time of the day.

Don Mueang International Airport:
Don Mueang, built in 1914, was until the opening of Suvarnabhumi, Thailand’s major airport. The airport was first shut down after the opening of Suvarnbhumi, however, due to the enormous amount of traffic coming in and out of Suvarnabhumi, it was decided to re-open Don Mueang for some non-connecting domestic commercial flights. The airport is situated in northern Bangkok and is easily accessible.

Chiang Mai International Airport:
This airport is the gateway to the north, accommodating approximately 2 million passengers a year. It currently serves 10 different airlines.

Hat Yai International Airport:
This airport is located in the southern province of Songkhla in Hat Yai city. It is a major hub airport in the south of Thailand serving more than 800,000 passengers per year.

Phuket International Airport:
Phuket airport situated on the island of Phuket is a major destination for tourists visiting this tropical island. In terms of the amount of passengers, this airport is second only to Suvarnabhumi.

Chiang Rai International Airport:
Even though it is officially called an international airport, this airport located in the very north of Thailand has yet to accommodate any international flights. It serves around half a million passengers a year.

Islands & Beaches

Suvarnabhumi International Airport:

Thailand is home to undoubtedly some of the most stunning islands and beaches in the world; evidenced by the innumerable amount of Western movies which have been shot there. Many, especially in the south of Thailand, are ideal for snorkeling, rock climbing, sunbathing and all kinds of water sports. Some of the most popular Islands in Thailand include:

     – Phuket (Patong Beach)
     – Ko Samui (Chaweng Beach)
     – Ko Phi Phi (Maya Bay)
     – Ko Phang-ngan (Hat Rin Beach)
     – Ko Similan
     – Ko Samet
     – Ko Chang

 

                                    

The Thai Way of Life
One doesn’t have to be anywhere near a millionaire to enjoy a considerably decent standard of living in Thailand; the cost of living is extremely reasonable yet the standards are high. Many foreigners coming to Thailand very much appreciate the laid-back way of life and the easy-going nature of the people. The country’s quiet areas are quite idyllic for a non-stressful, contented and peaceful life.

Thai Food

The international popularity of Thai food has escalated over the past few years and has risen to the rank of one of the world’s most favourite cuisines. The food is made up of a combination of extra ordinary but wonderful flavours: spicy, sweet, savoury, sour, tangy, salty and bitter. Unlike the world outside of Thailand, Thai food can be enjoyed on every kind of budget, whether it be at a luxurious 5 star hotel or a street hawker stall. As for the latter, a handsome meal for two consisting of even seafood and meat should cost no more than ten US dollars. For vegetarians or vegans in Thailand wishing to ‘eat out’, it is advised that they learn some basic Thai language so being able to explain clearly to the vendor in charge.

Other Food in Thailand:
It is absolutely no problem to find typical Western fast food joints in the major cities. Popular ones with Thais and foreigners alike include KFC, Mc Donalds, Pizza Hut and Burger King. If such places aren’t to ones taste, there are a plentitude of Western restaurants in the country’s tourist areas. The major cities are also packed with Chinese, Japanese, Korean and even Indian restaurants.

Popular Retirement Destinations


Bangkok

 
Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand, is a busy sprawling city of more than 6 million people that never sleeps. The city certainly isn’t every retiree’s cup-of-tea, but its diversity is impressive. Not only home to traffic jams and air pollution, Bangkok houses some of the world’s finest examples of Buddhist temples. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the adjacent Grand Palace are definite must-sees.

The capital city is a shopping paradise with some of the best and largest department stores and markets east of Europe. Most popular shopping destinations include:

     – Siam Paragon
     – Siam Square
     – MBK (Mahboonkrong)
     – Central World Plaza
     – Central Chidlom
     – Emporium
     – Siam Discovery
     – Pratunam Market
     – Jatujak Weekend Market (largest of its kind in the world)

Bangkok is also famed for its exciting nightlife with everything for everyone’s taste.

Safety:
As with every other major city it counts to use basic common sense when out and about and especially at night.

Health:
Bangkok has plenty of international hospitals of the highest world standard, they include:

     – Bumrungrad
     – Samitivej
     – Bangkok
     – Yanhee
     – Bangkok Nursing Home

Embassies:
Most of the world’s major countries have an embassy in Bangkok.

Finance:
ATMs can be found everywhere in Bangkok. Retirees can open bank accounts in Thailand and their money can be easily accessed. There is presently at least one American Brokerage firm in the capital.

Phuket



Phuket, nicknamed the Pearl of the South, is the largest island in Thailand. Once unknown, it is now one of the most popular tourist destinations in Asia. The island now ranks as the second wealthiest place in Thailand after Bangkok and the cost of living has risen alongside its economical growth.

Phuket is home to some of the most beautiful beaches the country has to offer, such as: Patong, Karon, Karen and Nai Han. Besides simply sunbathing, one can do a spot of island hopping, snorkeling, scuba diving or even bungee-jumping. Phrom Thep cliff is also a place not to be missed with its quite spectacular views over the Andaman Ocean. The island’s terrain is hilly, forested and full of varied vegetation.

It is not difficult to get out off the touristy area; with just a short drive outside of the main destinations, one can enjoy a beach to oneself.

The major beach of Patong has a swarm of condominium blocks, plush hotels and international restaurants. The neighbouring beaches of Karen and Kata are also popular for those wanting a quieter time.

Phuket’s provincial town is located around 20 kilometers from Patong beach. It is a commercial Thai-Chinese town but still offers some delightful old-European style architecture.

Pattaya
Pattaya Beach
Pattaya, a seaside resort located not far from the capital city, has been getting foreigners in hoards since the first Amercian GIs arrived during the Vietnam War. This destination may not have the finest beaches but it makes up for it with its amazing array of shopping malls and sizzling nightlife. Once rather infamous for its seedy nature, Pattaya has now turned itself into a family destination with a water world and fun park. There are also a multitude of golf courses, go-kart tracks, sports clubs and diving centers. Not only is Pattaya popular with foreigners, it is also a well-known destination for middle-class Bangkokians.

Due to its enormous amount of places to stay, Pattaya offers all sorts of accommodation at very reasonable prices. And that includes houses, condominiums and furnished apartments either for short or long time stay. One can also find some of the best-priced international food and seafood there too.

Pattaya is real easy to get to from Bangkok. The 150km distance can be done by either bus or taxi, the latter of which should cost no more than 50USD.

Health:
Pattaya has some excellent hospitals including the Pattaya International Hospital.

Crime & Safety:
Pattaya, due to its population density and amount of wealthy tourists, is certainly not one of the safest destinations in Thailand.

One should take care when going out at night*, avoid secluded places* and keep their consumption of alcohol under control. Most retirees though in Pattaya, in all their years there though, have seldom or never had any problems.

*
There has been a rise in crime against foreigners who visit the beach in the middle of the night, so stay away.

Finance:
There are plenty of ATMs, currency exchange booths and banks in Pattaya. All banks are more than happy to allow retirees to open a bank account.

Shopping:
Pattaya has all the shops to make a retiree’s life ideal. There are lots of places selling imported goods. Everything can be had at:

     – Lotus
     – Big C
     – Foodland
     – Tops

 

Chiang Mai

File:Chiangmai view.jpg
This mountainous Northern Province with its cooler temperature and morning mist is popular with retirees who wish to get away from it all and enjoy a relaxing, hassle-free life. The province is renowned for its traditional way of life spurring from the Lanna era, soft spoken language, delicious cuisine, Inthanon and Suthep mountains, delightful climate, beautiful flowers and even pretty fair-skinned girls.

The mountains of Chiang Mai are home to a diversity of hill tribes such as the Lahu, Lisaw, Akha and Yao. There are also some Long-necked Karen around the provincial town. For those who would wish to spend some or a considerable amount of time enjoying their traditional ways of life, it is very possible to have a stay arranged.

Most retirees though, end up living in Chiang Mai Town simply out of convenience. It has almost everything which Bangkok has. The provincial town is easy to get around, it can be done so by tuk-tuk, bicycle, songthaew (baht buses) or even on foot.

Chiang Mai Town has a huge assortment of eateries to fit everyone’s taste. There are a multitude of restaurants serving up cuisine from Thailand, China, Japan, India, Korea, Vietnam, France, Italy and Mexico etc. Most are cheaper than Bangkok. For those who enjoy a bit of nightlife, there are pubs, beer bars, discos and live music joints (both Thai and Western music).

Health:
Chiang Mai has several decent hospitals, they include:

     – Chiang Mai Ram
     – Chiang Mai University
     – Mc Cormack

Finance:
ATMs and banks can be found everywhere in downtown Chiang Mai Town. All banks are more than happy to allow retirees to open a bank account.

Shopping:
Chiang Mai Town is great for retirees out shopping for food. There is plenty of imported foreign food and delicious cheese, bread and pickles etc. made locally by other retirees and expatriates. To fill up the your requirements, shopping can be done at:

     – Lotus
     – Big C
     – Carrefour
     – Macro
     – Kasem

Chiang Rai

North of Chiang Mai, bordering both Burma and Laos is the quiet mountainous province of Chiang Rai which has kind of stood still in time. Located in the province is the once infamous Golden Triangle known for its opium poppies. Nowadays though, the only action to be found there, is inside a museum dedicated to the now defunct drug trade.

Chiang Rai is often the destination for retirees who have become tired of the touristy scene of Chiang Mai province and really want to get away from it all, perhaps living a quiet life with their family. Like Chiang Mai, the area is home to a variety of hill tribes such as the Lahu, Lisaw, Akha and Yao whose very existence hasn’t changed over the generations. One of the most popular destinations for tourists (mostly Thai) is the mountain of Doi Tung, which was once the home to the mother of the present king, Somdet Srinakharin. Princess Srinakharin was said to have fallen in love with the area as its cool climate and picturesque mountains reminded her of her former place of residence, Lausanne in Switzerland. Visitors can visit her palace next to a delightful flower park dedicated to the princess for her diligent work on behalf of underprivileged northerners.

Another extremely popular destination, again mostly for Thais, is the mountain of Doi Mae Salong which is famed for its flowers. The mountain is home to remnants of the KMT who fled China during the Communist takeover. It is the only place in the whole of Thailand where Chinese (Yunnanese) is the main language spoken.

Chiang Rai is a crossing point for those traveling into northern Burma and perhaps up into southern China (the border is very much open to foreigner these days). Then, to the east, it is possible to travel by boat to the historically beautiful town of Luang Prabang in Laos. Should anyone wish to travel across the border it is advised to check first on the latest political situation, especially in Burma.

The provincial town itself is just a mini-Chiang Mai with a slightly more laid-back feel about it. And this is the place, out of sheer convenience, where most retirees end up.

Finance:
ATMs and banks can be found everywhere in downtown Chiang Rai Town. All banks are more than happy to allow retirees to open a bank account.

Shopping:
This can be done at the Westernized superstore of Big C.

Golf:
Chiang Rai with its wonderful weather and views is a golfers dream. Golf can be played at:

     Santiburi – a delightful golf course just 8km from Chiang Rai Town
     Waterford Valley – a championship golf course located in the mountains 40km east of the town

Hua Hin

This location, situated just 3 hours south of Bangkok, was the original tourist destination of Thailand, made popular by former (and present) Thai kings. Hua Hin is still popular with Thailand’s high society and the King and Queen still reside there from time to time.

The town lies just off a nice beach which gets more than its fair share of more elderly tourists who prefer the peace and calm of there more than Pattaya.

Nong Khai Town

This small provincial town has somehow, quite amazingly, developed into a new destination for lots of retirees over the past decade. In fact, this border town with Laos was recently voted as the 7th best place in the world for retirees by America’s Modern Maturity magazine. So, how come Nong Khai got so many votes to get such a high ranking?

     – Quiet roads
     – Reasonable cost of food and drink
     – Pleasant atmosphere
     – Reasonably priced and good standard of accommodation
     – Cool climate
     – Lovely views of the Maekhong River
     – Friendly locals

Nong Khai is just 20km from the Laotian capital of Vientiane and so it is also a popular stop over for long-termers on their visa-runs. The main language spoken in town is Isaan dialect (similar to Laotian) but the town also has a distinctive Vietnamese feel to it, and till this day the Vietnamese language can still be heard sometimes in the market area. The food too is mostly Laotian (north-eastern Thai) but the most famous dish of all to come out of Nong Khai is Vietnamese in origin, Naem Neuang (grilled pork).

There really isn’t that much to do at all in Nong Khai. Most expats and retirees can be found in their spare time sat around chatting, eating and drinking at one of the idyllic river bank restaurants looking over the Maekhong River. Some male retirees have also married a local Thai and started a new family.

Finance:
ATMs and banks can be found everywhere in downtown Chiang Rai Town. All banks are more than happy to allow retirees to open a bank account.

Shopping:
This can be done at either Lotus or Macro supermarkets.

Golf:
There are several decent courses around the province.

[To be continued]

Source of content and photographs  :

Tourismthailand.org    Wikipedia.org

 

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