There is a saying in Thailand: “Same same but different.” I asked a Thai lady once what the meaning was and she answered “You and me the same, but different”, which I think sums it up. It has become quite a catchphrase here in Thailand, and it is seen on tee shirts, coffee mugs and heard all of the time, wherever you go. You might ask a local what’s the best beer in Thailand, Chang, Leo or Singha? And the answer would generally be “Same same but different”, or what’s the difference between Thai red curry and Thai green curry? “Same same but different”. So when I am asked what’s it like retiring to and living in Thailand compared to Australia, England or the USA? My usual answer is, “Same same but different”, very different, very cheap and very enjoyable. Thailand is a magical place and I feel blessed that I can live here. Thailand is within easy reach of many other Southeast Asian countries by airplane, car or bus, and I travel to these areas and try to have new experiences whenever I can. Being a retiree I have to look after my money to make sure that it doesn’t run out before I do, so I always travel within my means, on a budget, and with a plan.
It has been eighteen eventful months since I first arrived in Thailand to start my retirement. The time I have spent here has been full of highs and lows (mainly highs), and I know now that I made the right decision to make Thailand my new home. It hasn’t been easy, in fact, if you have already read my first book, The Retire in Thailand Handbook (The first six months) you would have seen that it was quite difficult to establish myself here and sometimes very frustrating and time-consuming. That was then and this is now. After the first six months, everything seemed to fall in to place. I moved from Phuket to Koh Samui and rented a nice villa on the beach. I met and fell in love with a beautiful Thai lady, who is now my partner. This book starts where the last one left off, in Phuket and will take you on an exciting journey through Thailand, stopping off at many of the cities and towns expat retirees now call home. I decided to take the road trip to find the ideal town in Thailand to eventually settle down and call home. Thailand has so many beautiful places to choose from, tropical Islands, beach resorts, rural towns, farming towns, large bustling cities, and fishing villages. The choice of where you may want to live depends on your outlook on life and how you want to enjoy spending your new life once you have retired. As Thailand is 95% Buddhist a lot of the attractions around Thailand’s rural and inland areas revolve around Buddhist temples, markets and national parks are also a big feature in rural Thailand. Bangkok, the coastal areas and the beautiful islands offer more entertainment, amusements, and nightlife, but if you want to see the real Thailand, not just the Thailand that the tourist see you should head to the heartland, to places like Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Nakhon Ratchasima, Udon Thani, and Khon Kaen.
Being on a pension, it was important for me to live within my means and within my budget, but I still wanted to be able to travel when I want to, and live my life to the fullest. To be able to do this and get the best deals you have to shop around. I am amazed at the people I have spoken to on my travels who have just booked their trip with a local travel agent, and not checked prices elsewhere. Though we may have traveled on the same airplane, gone on the same tour or be staying in the same hotel, the price I paid was sometimes half of what they had paid. This book will give you some great ideas on how you can save money when you travel, as well as an insight into great retirement areas within Thailand.
The way I look at it, the more you save the more you can travel and enjoy your life and your retirement.
Targeted Age Group:: Retirees
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Same same but different is the third book in "A retirees guide to Southeast Asia. The books are written for retirees and baby boomers who love to travel, many of them who may need to travel on a budget due to their limited income from being on a pension or living off their superannuation, and investments. I am a retiree myself, and I have been traveling all of my life, quite often for free, due to my work as a chef at sea, or if not for free then on a budget. Same same but different is about a month-long road trip that I took around Thailand to find the perfect place for me to retire to in this beautiful country, a country so diverse, and that has so many different choices, from exotic tropical islands to rural areas surrounded by rice fields, from fishing villages to sprawling cities. The inspiration for writing these books is knowing that I am helping other like-minded retirees travel to exotic places that they maybe could not have afforded to do if they had not read my book.
If you have already read my first book you will know that I arrived in Thailand in February 2017 to retire, and try to make some kind of sense of my life. My wife had finally had enough of me after forty-four years of marriage and had asked me to leave. I can't say that I blame her; she was a wonderful wife and the mother to my four children, and I can't fault her for not wanting me in her life, as towards the end of our marriage I wasn't the easiest person to live with. Thankfully we left on good terms, we still love each other, we just can't live together. My wife was happy with her children, grandchildren, and friends in Australia, and my children were all grown up and had their own lives, and I wasn't needed in their lives anymore. I decided to start my life again in Thailand. I had always loved Thailand and the Thai people since I first visited the country in the early 1980s.
When I first arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, I rented a car for two weeks and headed south, staying in towns that I had ticked off as potential places where I might like to live. I eventually arrived in Phuket where I decided that I would stay for a while and see how I liked living there. In June I was knocked off my motorbike and spent three days in Phuket Vachira Hospital. A lady found me lying unconscious at the side of the road. She called for an ambulance and stayed at the hospital all night. I was treated in the emergency department and when I woke up the next morning she was sleeping on the floor next to my bed. She came back every morning with food and drinks for me and stayed all day for the three days I was hospitalised to care for me. This wonderful lady asked nothing from me. Because she was the one to find me, she felt it was her responsibility to look after me until I was discharged from the hospital. When I left the hospital she insisted on coming to the hotel I was staying every day and changed my dressings, brought me food and kept me company as I was confined to my room for weeks while the wounds were healing. Her name was Tasanee and she was forty-nine years old, divorced with no children and nice looking. I could tell that she was attracted to me, but I wasn't sure if this was because she liked me or if it was because I was a farang who could perhaps change her life for the better. When I had recuperated I decided that it was time to move out of the hotel and rent a condo, as I needed to try to make a home for myself. Living in hotels made me feel like I was on holiday not starting a new chapter of my life. Tasanee was living in a tiny one room, with just a microwave and a single gas burner for cooking. She shared a bathroom with about ten other people who also lived in other rooms on the premises. I really liked Tasanee she was a lovely person, but I had no romantic feelings towards her, and anyway, I was not ready for a relationship. I secretly hoped that one day my wife and I would get back together so I was not looking for anyone else to share my life with at that time. I got along really well with her and I also felt I owed her for all that she had done for me when I had had the motorbike accident. I told Tasanee that if she wanted, I would rent a two bedroom two bathroom condo and that she could move in there with me rent-free, and that I would also provide food for us both. She would have her own bedroom and bathroom, and that I would pay all of the bills. I told her that I was not interested in a relationship, that we were very good friends and that's how it would have to be if she wanted to move in with me. She would have her life and I would have mine, but we would be friends and enjoy each other's company and it would cost her nothing. Tasanee agreed straight away so I started looking for a suitable condo, found one more or less straight away and we moved in a week later.
The first few weeks were fantastic. Tasanee was, interesting, fun to be with and she was great company. Having someone living with me was good because it meant that I had company and did not feel the need to go out all of the time. Being a chef I cooked for us both most evenings. Things changed about a month after we moved in. Now and then I would wake up in the night and find her lying in bed next to me. She would say that she was lonely and that she just wanted to hold me, but I knew that if I let her stay, I would eventually give in which, would complicate both of our lives, so I would send her back to her room. If I went out to meet friends for a drink or dinner, on my return she would be in a bad mood and would question where I had been, and who I was with, probably suspecting that I had been out with a girl. I explained to her that there wasn't any girl, but even if there was, that was up to me. She could have a boyfriend if she wanted and I could have a girlfriend if I wanted as well, we were just friends nothing more. To cut a long story short as the weeks went on I knew that I had made a mistake in asking Tasanee to move in with me. It was the wrong thing to do as she saw me as the person who could solve all of her problems and give her the life that she had always wanted. I had taken a six-month lease on the condo but after three months I knew that I had to move out as Tasanee was getting more and more possessive and life in the condo was becoming unbearable. I decided to move to Koh Samui to start again. I knew that if I told Tasanee that I was going to Koh Samui she would have followed me there and try to find me, so lied and told her I was going back to Australia. I told her I would pay the rent for the next three months, send her 5000 Baht a month for the three months for living expenses and also gave her my motorbike. After that I told her, she was on her own, but it gave her three months to sort her life out. There were a few tears but nothing like I expected. I think that she knew that she had done well, and even though her life had not changed significantly she had a six-month respite because of meeting me. It cost me a few dollars but I was happy to repay what she had done for me, put it down to experience and move on with my life.
I had had enough of Phuket and it was time to move on.
So the end of October found me on a bus to Koh Samui. From Phuket to Koh Samui is about a four and a half hour bus journey to Donsak Pier in Surat Thani, then a ninety-minute ferry ride to one of the three ferry ports in Koh Samui. I booked the whole journey through Ferry Samui and the total cost for being picked up at my condo in Phuket, to being dropped off at my hotel in Chaweng in Koh Samui cost me less than 800 Baht, (AU $30.00). I had booked my hotel in Chaweng, the main tourist area of Koh Samui online. November is the wettest month in Koh Samui so the hotels were cheap. I booked a 3-star hotel with a nice swimming pool and one street away from Chaweng Beach for 780 Baht a night including a full buffet breakfast. Two days later fell on my birthday, so that evening I decided to go out to celebrate my new found freedom around the Soi Green Mango area of town. It's where the majority of girlie bars are in Koh Samui. I still wasn't interested in finding a girl, in those days I still lived in hope of reconciliation with my wife, but for the price of a few lady drinks, it's always nice to sit and talk to a beautiful girl. Chaweng was great, although a little bit too touristy for my liking. The beaches were beautiful, with many bars and restaurants plying their trade on the beach. The main distraction was the many locals walking along the beach selling everything from, manicures, pedicures, sunglasses, beads and jewelry, clothing, beach toys, donuts, fried chicken and ice creams. It's the only way some of the locals can make a living to feed their families, so I don't begrudge them at all, but it can get a bit annoying when you just want to relax and read a book, and you have to stop every few seconds and decline what they are offering. After about a week of eating, drinking and fighting off bar girls I decided to move to Lamai, the next largest town in Koh Samui. I had rented a motorbike for a month by then, so I booked a hotel online for a week and balanced my suitcase on the bike and drove the scenic 20-minute drive from Chaweng to Lamai.
I preferred Lamai to Chaweng as soon as I saw it. The town was less busy, but there was still plenty going on, with many bars and restaurants and of course the usual array of massage shops every few meters. I had gone for a massage earlier that week in Chaweng and when I refused the "Happy Ending" the girl got quite upset with me. I am very wary of happy ending massages; I went for a massage in Patong in Phuket once. The beautiful girl took me into a curtained cubicle and told me to take off my clothes and gave me a towel to wrap around the lower part of my body. I did as she asked and I laid face down on the massage table. A few minutes later someone came in and started to massage my shoulders with oil. After a few minutes, a deep voice said: "where are you from"? I looked around and there massaging my back was a Thai ladyboy, not the girl who had shown me to the cubicle. I sat up and told him/her that I wanted a girl for the massage. If I hurt her feelings she didn't show it, she just shrugged and said no problem. It was easy to tell that this one was a ladyboy, but since then I have seen many ladyboys where I couldn't tell if they were originally born male or female, so I am very cautious when it comes to going for a massage. I can never understand how all these massage shops can make any money. Every time I drive past, the girls are just sat outside playing with their phones or eating. They are there from mid-morning until the early hours of the next morning and work seven days a week. The normal charge for a one hour Thai Massage is 300 Baht of which the shop owner gets half. So they get 150 Baht (AU$6.00) an hour but most of the time they don't have any customers, and in the wet season it's even worse. It makes make realise how lucky we people are, who grew up in countries like the UK, Australia, and the USA. There's no unemployment benefit or state pension in Thailand, if you don't work or have somewhere to grow food then you don't eat. Having said that, with all of the social security that is handed out in those so-called progressive countries, I have never seen homeless people living on the streets in Thailand, as I have seen in Australian, the UK or USA cities. Families and friends tend to look after each other in Thailand.
The hotel I booked, The Sand Sea Resort and Spa was situated right on Lamai Beach. And was less than 1000 Baht (AU$40.00) a night inclusive of breakfast. It was easy walking distance to the many restaurants and bars and was ideal for what I wanted. I stayed there for two weeks but the high season was fast approaching and the hotel prices were rising each week. The price of the hotel would be triple what I was now paying when the main season started soon. I had to make a choice, either rent a condo or move elsewhere with cheaper accommodation. I wasn't 100% sure that Koh Samui was the place for me, so I decided not to rent a condo as it would restrict me if I decided to move to another area of Thailand. I spent some time on the internet looking at other areas of South East Asia that might be a cheaper alternative to Thailand until the high season of December, January and February ended. I eventually decided that I would go to Cambodia for a few months. I had never been there before, and I had been told by some of the people that I had met, that Cambodia was like Thailand was 25 years ago.
I spent two fantastic months in Cambodia and Laos. When I returned to Koh Samui, the hotel prices had dropped so I booked into a nice hotel with a large swimming pool and paid 800 baht a night for it. I wanted to settle down for a while, living out of hotels is great when you're on a two-week vacation, but living in hotel rooms long term can be soul-destroying. Also being a chef I missed being able to cook my own meals and relax in my own place with a glass of wine and a good book. I wanted to rent in Lamai as it was my favorite place on the island. I also bought a six-month-old motorbike with only 4000 kilometers on the clock and the remaining two and a half year warranty for 35,000 Baht (AU$1400)
On Valentine's Day 2018 I went out for dinner and a few drinks. I had discovered a cocktail bar called Cocktails by Pik; it was on the main walking street in Lamai and sold some of the best cocktails I had ever had for 75
Baht (AU3.00). Being Valentine’s Day the bar was very busy and there were no available tables so the waiter asked a table of Thai men and women, who were out celebrating, what I thought was Valentine's Day if I could sit at their table. They were outgoing and spoke decent English so we chatted about Thailand, where I was from and how long I was planning staying in their country. I learned that they all worked together for a large insurance company and they weren't celebrating Valentine's Day but we're celebrating a promotion of one of their colleagues. As the night wore on I spent a lot of time talking to a beautiful girl called Jin, she was smart and funny and spoke good English, which was great because my Thai language skills were not the best at that time. At about 10.00 pm they all started to leave, as they said they had to be up for work early the next morning. After many phone calls and emails to my wife when I was in Cambodia, I had concluded that any chance of reconciliation with my wife was not going to happen. My wife was happy with the way her life was now and didn't want me back in it, so I now considered myself unattached. Before Jin left I got the courage from somewhere to ask her if I could take her out for dinner sometime, and to my surprise and delight, she said yes. I arranged to meet her the next night at seven o'clock at Piks. When they all left, I left also and went back to my hotel. I hardly slept that night. My wife and I had been together since we were sixteen, over 50 years and she had been the only girlfriend I had ever had. Here I was at sixty-six years of age going out on my first date in 50 years, with a stunning 40-year-old Thai woman.
The next day dragged by, but eventually, the clock ticked around to seven fifteen and I nervously set off to meet Jin. I needn't have worried; we hit it off straight away. We had a couple of Margaritas and then went to a seafood restaurant for dinner. I learned that Jin that was forty years old, and originally from a small village near Khon Kaen in Issan Province. She had been in Koh Samui for six months, was divorced and had three children, all boys, one in high school and two in university. Her parents died when she was just a baby, and she and one sister and two brothers had been raised in impoverished conditions by her grandparents. Jin told me that she worked hard at school and on leaving school got a job at Bangkok Bank, in their insurance department, gradually worked her way up and now had a good job with the company. We got along very well and I started to see her regularly. I liked Jin a lot and I think she liked me. I had been very lonely living by myself for the past year, so after two weeks when I had found a villa to rent I asked Jin to move in with me. She said that she would and we have been together ever since.
In my first book, I wrote: … “If you are a retiree who is set in your ways and don’t want too many problems in your life, don’t get too heavily involved with a very young bar girl or street masseur. Visit them and take them home if that’s what you want, but don’t make promises that you may regret later.
If you are looking for a Thai companion then I suggest you look for someone a little older, maybe in their mid-forties. If she has children then they should be grown up and independent by now, that way you are just getting the lady, not the whole family. In the writing of this book, I have talked with lots of retired expats most of them over sixty-five and one in his mid-eighties, who have married lovely Thai women in their forties to fifties, and most of them were very happy with their lot in life. A beautiful wife to look after them and keep them company as they grow older, a woman who has lived long enough to have some experience in life and know what life is about. She is also happy that she has a future to look forward to, being married to or living with a Farang who has the means and can treat her properly and offer her a future"
Jin was a mature 40 years old, but she had three dependent children. The boy's father was paying his share for them and Jin had a good job to cover the rest and to help her grandparents who looked after the one boy who was still in high school back in Issan. I explained to Jin that I had worked all of my life to raise four children of my own and that I would not be able to contribute to bringing up her family. I had retired to Thailand to try to live the rest of my life in peace and tranquility and helping to raise more children was not part of my plan. I told her that I would pay for everything in the villa, electric, water, and food and that I would look after her as best as I could. If we traveled within Thailand or overseas I would pay for everything. I wanted to be involved with her whole family but I did not want to be considered a father to her children. Jin was fine with this and said that everything was covered by her wages and her ex-husband's contribution so there was no need for me to worry.
We rented a fully furnished and equipped one-bedroom villa, on the beach in Lamai for 15,000 Baht (AU$600) a month. My life was finally changing for the better. I had a beautiful girlfriend who wasn't just interested in how much money I had, a villa, a motorbike and was living on my pensions easily and did not need to touch the money from my investments, which gave me ample funds for when we wanted to travel.
Jin had not seen her family for four months, and I wanted to see more of Thailand and to look for somewhere permanent to live, so we decided to kill two birds with one stone and take a month-long road trip, stopping off in Jin's village along the way. She also had meetings and a seminar to attend in her insurance office in Kohn Kaen in April, so it was decided we would work the trip around the time of her seminar. The main criteria for the road trip was to visit towns and cities that we thought may suit us as a permanent place to live, as I wanted to find a place to call home, I had been living my life like a nomad for over a year and I needed some permanency in my life. We decided to fly to Bangkok, pick up a rental car at the airport, take a road trip around Thailand and return it four weeks later to Surat Thani airport. We would then take the ferry back to Koh Samui, and over the next few months decide which area of Thailand we wanted to settle down and live.
The reason we didn't fly from Koh Samui airport was because of the costs of the airfares. Koh Samui airport is owned and operated by Bangkok Airways and they have a monopoly on the domestic flights that fly in and out of their airport. No other Thai domestic airlines fly out of Koh Samui airport, which means Bangkok Airways, can charge what they want. When I checked the prices from Koh Samui to Bangkok the price was 8,000 Baht (AU$330) one way each. The flight from Surat Thani airport to Bangkok was 1900 Baht (AU$78). The flight times for both flights was one hour, but to get to Surat Thani Airport would entail a 45 minute minibus ride from our villa to the ferry port, then a 90 minute ferry ride from Koh Samui to Donsak in Surat Thani, followed by a one hour bus ride from Donsak Pier to Surat Thani airport another. So about four hours more in travel time. I'm retired and have plenty of time on my hands, so we took the cheaper Surat Thani Airport option. The flight and ferry and transfers ended up costing us 2450 Baht each opposed to the 8000 baht each we would have paid flying out of Koh Samui, with a saving of 11,100 Baht (AU$460). The ferry and bus ride was very enjoyable and in air-conditioned comfort. That's the great thing about being retired. I have slowed down and not in a hurry to do things anymore, more so if it saves me money.
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