Kamala Crime Wave

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Thieves are breaking in to homes in Kamala. In five years of living here in here, I’ve never seen anything like this. In the last month, there have been ten homes broken into within 200 meters of where I live. Homes are being broken into all over town.

The other night it was my turn. I woke up around 3 AM to find the front door open. I closed it and took a look around. There was my wallet, our iPads and iPhones, the usual targets. Everything looked okay. I walked into my office and there was the screen open to a window. Just then, the wind came up. Since there was nothing missing I figured I’d left the door open and the wind had blown open the screen. It was 3 AM. I was obviously not thinking very clearly.

I went back to bed. When I got up in the morning, I spotted the safe was gone. The safe was a cheap model that you see in hotels. It wasn’t bolted down. They opened the screen, squeezed through the security bars, grabbed the safe and went out the front door. They were probably in and out in 15 seconds.

The thieves are opportunistic. They’re looking for easy targets. Open windows, open doors, valuables that can be grabbed through security windows. They’re brazen. As in my house, they will walk in while you sleep. There is a heavy penalty for entering someone’s house in Thailand. They don’t care. Fortunately, no one’s been hurt so far.

The Police don’t have an answer for this crime wave. It’s a low priority thing with them. If they find these thieves it will be by accident.

I suggest you check to see how susceptible you are. They work in the dark. Lighting will deter the thieves. Motion sensitive lighting and alarms are available for 1000 baht. These thieves like to reach in grab anything they can get through security windows left open. Don’t make it easy for them.

Although they grabbed my safe, it was empty. They got nothing except an old safe I wasn’t using. I was going to throw it away anyway because I lost the key. It was a wake up call, though. I’ve put in security lighting and an alarm.

It may slow them down.

How Much Money Do You Need to Live in Thailand?

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How much money do I need to live in Thailand? I have an answer, but there are so many variables that there really is no one answer.

First there are the initial costs. Let’s assume you’re a single guy with an average budget. You have to get here. A one way ticket from the West may run $1000. A one month stay in a hotel while you look for a place to live is $1000. Food and entertainment (first month is going to be like a vacation) will be $1000. You’ll need to put a deposit on a place, let’s say $500.

You’ll need a phone. Cell phones are a different proposition in Thailand. You buy the phone and then choose a carrier. The least expensive plan with Internet access, runs about $15 a month. The monthly charges are minimal with the big expense being the initial cost of the phone. iPhones are $500 and up. You can buy cheap phone for $20. All the Android phones are available. I’m an iPhone guy.

Once you find a place to live you’ll want an Internet connection. My Internet connection runs $20 a month. Faster speeds are $30 and up. There is a deposit on the wifi router.

You’re going to need transportation. You can rent a motorbike for $150 month. You can buy a used Honda Click (the most popular bike) for $1000 or a new one for $1700. These bikes are cheap to repair and never seem to wear out. The Honda PCX is a smoother, bigger and more comfortable for longer trips. The PCX is $2500. These bikes are inexpensive to operate and very good value. A word of caution, they may be hazardous to your health. At least do something the locals rarely do, wear a helmet. I’m one of the few people in town who always wears a helmet.

If you would prefer to drive a vehicle, small sedans start about $16,000. Used cars hold their value, so it’s difficult to find good used car that isn’t overpriced, compared to what you can buy in the West. It doesn’t make sense to buy an overpriced used car when a new car is a better value. You’ll have to jump through a few hoops, but they can be financed. Pick-up trucks are given favourable tax incentives because they’re considered working vehicles. Stretch-cab pickup trucks start around $20,000.

I suggest you purchase a health insurance, to cover major medical expenses. A 60 year old might pay $1600 a year for a million dollars’ worth of coverage. Believe me, that’s a lot of medical coverage in Thailand. The payment may be broken out into quarterly payments.

How much savings do you need to live in Thailand? It depends on how much money you have coming in. A monthly budget of $2,500 is a reasonable figure. You’ll be able to figure it out with the help of a financial adviser or some online study, using that monthly budget figure. Everyone is going to have a different level of risk they’re comfortable with, for generating income from investments. You may have pension benefits that affect how much you need.

The other thing to keep in mind is to have enough money over and above what you need to live on, an emergency fund. You may need to have money to return for a family emergency, for instance. Have enough in reserve for the unexpected, like the Boy Scout Motto, “Be prepared”.

You won’t be able to work in Thailand with a retirement visa. You’ll need to be self-sufficient.

To get set up and comfortable here in Thailand, your initial expenses may run $5000. That of course doesn’t include buying a car.

How much money do you need to live in Thailand? I’ll name a figure and let the reader decide if it’s relevant. My answer is $300,000. That’s my figure for living on an average budget and collecting social security. You can use that figure of $2500 a month, to work backwards for your own answer.

I love living in the Land of Smiles. I can’t imagine a better place to live.

A Walk Through Kamala Market

The Kamala Market is much the same as markets all over Thailand. Twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays the market is open year round. Kamala Beach is a Muslim community so you won’t find any pork products here.

I can’t go shopping with my wife because if I do she can’t get the “Thai” price. Yes, there is a two tier pricing system but this is the case all over Thailand. Negotiate everything maybe you’ll be able to get the Thai price too.

You don’t even have to go to a grocery store even though one is across the street. I’d say we do 90% of our shopping for food here. Everyone turns up the market eventually. Food is delicious and cheap. Highly recommend you stopping by your local fresh market.

New Year Fireworks at Kamala Beach

The New Year fireworks at Kamala Beach are spectacular. At one point in the video one of the fireworks explosion nearly hits us. The same thing happened last year! Safety practices has never been Thailand strong suit.

Drinking in Thailand

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You should be drinking lots of water while in the Land of Smiles. I have trouble with cramping if I don’t make myself drink a couple of liters a day. It’s hot and thirst isn’t a good indicator of dehydration. You can’t drink the tap water, so I bought a few 5 gallon plastic jugs from the water man (he delivers) and a caddy for pouring. Five gallons of water cost 10 baht ($.35). I pour the water from the jug into a half gallon container and keep that in the kitchen. I recycle and refill half liter plastic water bottles rather than buy new ones. I clean them and occasionally use some bleach for a thorough cleaning. I also take a magnesium supplement for the cramping. If I forget to take the magnesium and drink water, cramping comes back. Tonic water and Gatorade are good for cramping.

Fresh milk is available everywhere and comes in different flavors. I once mistakenly bought mint flavored milk. I won’t do that again. Coke is the number one pop drink. Fanta has many different flavored sodas. There are few diet drinks to choose from. Diet Coke and Pepsi are about it. I mix a little lime juice and artificial sweetener with water for homemade diet limeade. I always have a liter of that in the refrigerator.

The high caffeine Red Bull drinks are popular with the Thais. Thais have a number of their own brands, half the price of the Western brands. Anything imported is taxed, thus more expensive. This is especially true of alcoholic beverages. You’re probably going to pay twice as much for any known brand of booze. A bottle of Bacardi rum will run $18. Fortunately, for the drinkers there is Thai whisky. Sang Som is my go-to drink. It’s dark rum made with sugar cane and probably the most popular liquor in Thailand. It cost about $8 a bottle. I order it in bars with Coke for about $2. That’s a deal when drinks with call liquor run twice as much. There are numerous Thai whisky blends available for under $6 a bottle. Most of them are an acquired taste.

Beer is available retail for about $1 a bottle, $2 in bars. Heineken is more. Singha is the most popular Thai beer and is a little more expensive than some of the others, Leo, Tiger and Chang. All taste a little different with alcohol in the 5% range. Not much of a selection on light beers with San Miguel Light and Singha Light being the two I usually see.

There are a few brands of wine cooler and Bacardi Breezer kinds of drinks. Bars usually make very good Mojitos. All the better known cocktails are available.

The sad story in Thailand is wine. Thais don’t drink wine. There are a couple of fledgling wineries in the North making bad wine. I’ve never tasted a Thai wine I want to taste again. Since all wine has to be imported, it’s taxed heavily. There is some Australian wine in the $10 range that we settle for. There are wines from all over the world available, it’s just expensive. I rarely see an American wine. I used to make my own wine in small batches and was a wine enthusiast. When I had a drink in the US, it was a glass of wine. With the poor quality and the expense, I’ve just given it up. The go-to wine that’s available almost everywhere is a boxed South African wine with little character, in red or white. I wouldn’t drink it in the States. Whenever someone comes for a visit from the US, they know what to bring me…a decent bottle of wine!

A lot of the social life revolves around the pub. Even in my small town, there are 40 bars. They usually have a happy hour. Many have some kind of farang food menu. When you order a drink, it arrives with your bin. This is a cup with your receipt in it. Walking around socializing, I’m forever losing my bin. At the end of the night when it’s time to go, you say “check bin” and they total up your bill. It’s always a good idea to check what you’re paying for. There are often inadvertent mistakes. Tipping is optional in Thailand. Some cheap (keeneow) expats never tip. My policy is to always leave a 20 baht ($.70) note. I leave 20 baht if I’ve had one drink or 10 drinks.

Thailand can be a never ending party, but never ending parties get boring after a while and I’m getting old. I have my share of nights out, but most nights I’m home these days.

Cheers! Or as we say frequently (too frequently), choc de krap!

2015 Honda PCX 150 vs Yamaha Nouvo Elegance

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My six month old 2015 Honda PCX 150 died as I was driving it one day. It took a week to get it repaired, so I was back to driving my five year old Yamaha Nouvo Elegance. It reminded me just how good that old bike was and how great my new one is.

Chob Gets Pulled Over

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Chob is an Australian expat.

I’m doing maybe 80 mph. In the distance I can see what resembles a tiny ant crossing the road, but it stops in the middle and starts waving its arms. I’m focusing on it and start knitting my brows. The South Thai girlfriend gives me a look too and furrows her forehead and stares ahead. The ant is a man in what looks like a black uniform and he’s now very vigorously waving his arms as we start to brake hard. He’s still standing in the middle of my lane as I brake ever harder.

“What the bloody hell!” I mutter, as the South Thai lady presses her hand on the dashboard and the toddler rolls off the back seat onto the floor. These Thais won’t wear their seatbelts.

It’s now clearly the Tam Ruat, a Thai policeman and he’s got some sort of death wish. We’re almost skidding and he’s not gonna crack and run. He’s just blowing his whistle wildly and waving for us to stop with frenzied motions. The brakes fight hard against all that forward momentum, the ABS kicks in and we grind to a halt only a yard in front of the whites of his eyes. Thinking it dangerous to have stopped in the middle of the fast lane on a highway, I whine down the window and point to the shoulder to park and say, “Jot tee noon mai?”

He shakes his head and looks into the car. The South Thai Lady is not at all happy about this intrusion. Having once had a Thai policeman as a husband, she is not in any way intimidated either. In fact the very sight of a uniform seems to raise in her all the defiance she can muster.

It was all in Thai, but she barks, “What you stop us for?”

He says, “Sister, I stopped you because you drive too long in the fast lane.”
“Hah! We go fast; you want us to do that in the slow lane?”
“No, um, but you were going fast sister.”
“Urr! We were going at 100. You have a problem with that?”
“Well sister, I think you go faster.”
“You have a machine to show me that?”
“Well…no, but…”
“What do you REALLY want, huh? Speak man!”
“Sister, not speak bad about me, but I am hungry…”
She looks at me.
“You hear that my hubban’? Him say him hungary!”

I try not to look at anyone.

She looks at the Policeman with smoldering eyes.
“So what you want nah?”
“Sister, maybe you can give 200?”
“TWO HUNDRED ($6)! TWO HUNDRED! You can eat 200 you must be elephant! HAH! Policeman my country can eat 200, huh?”
“Sister…not speak bad.”
She looks at me, “Give him 100!”
I get out 100 and go to hand it to him.
He looks dejectedly at the South Thai Lady.
“Sister, maybe 200, I can get drink?”
“Drink? Ahh, drink, that’s why you have no money for food. DRINK, HAH!”
She looks at me, “We go!”
He nods and makes the prayer sign Thais call a “wai”.

We pull away. “Sheesh, my country!” the South Thai lady exclaims.
“TWO HUNDRED for lunch, HAH!”
Then she looks behind, “Where’s the baby?” she exclaims!
“She’s asleep on the floor, Nung,” I reply.
She looks down on the toddler with a loving smile.
“Och, leave her nah? We home soon.”

High Season 2014 – November Pics

I’m amazed at how consistantly great my iPhone 5s camera is. The saying is, “Your best camera is the one that’s with you.” If that’s the case, the 5s it is the best.

Photos from around Kamala and Surin during the month of November.

Thai girl across the klong
Thai girl across the klong
Kids and Sand
Kids and Sand
North End of Surin Beach
North End of Surin Beach
Brother and Sister
Brother and Sister
Castle in the Sand
Castle in the Sand
End of Another Day in Paradise
End of Another Day in Paradise

Now Driving On the Wrong Side of the Road in Two Countries!

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For almost 50 years I drove on the right side of the road. You know, “the right” side of the road. When I moved to Thailand and started driving, I had a big problem. My brain was wired to drive on the right side of the road and the transition to driving on the left hand side of the road was hard. I found myself driving at cars on the wrong side of the road, way too many times. Fortunately, I’ve never caused on accident.

The hardest part of the transition to driving on the “wrong side”? Signaling a turn. Why would that be so hard? Because everytime I went to make a turn, I turned on the windshield wipers. I still do it after five years. The controls for the turn signals and wipers also change along with the steering wheel from one side of a car to the other. Try making that mistake a couple of hundred times and see how frustrating it is.

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Last month I returned to the United States and rented a car. You wouldn’t think it would be a tough transition back to the lifelong “right” side. I went to signal a turn out of the rental lot and turned on the windshield wipers. This was going to be tougher than I thought.

In found it very difficult to make the change back to the right side of the road. I had to be vigilant in staying on the correct side. In the San Francisco Bay Area, I was often driving on freeways which weren’t a problem. Driving on residential streets and making a turn from a stop sign, that would confuse me.

Driving shouldn’t be this difficult.

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It happened up in the Sierra foothills. I was visiting a friend’s winery in a rural area. No, I wasn’t loaded, it was noontime and I had three little sips of wine. I turned left out of the winery and drove down the road a little ways, when suddenly a big SUV comes barreling at me. Yup, I was driving on the wrong side of the road. I didn’t have time to do anything except pull over further left to avoid an accident. The SUV did what I would have done, laid into the horn as they drove by me. I’m sure the driver was swearing at me as I hung my head in shame.

It turns out, it’s not just senility setting in. People have trouble making the transition from driving on the other side of the road. The BBC website recommends Brits driving in other countries, “Repeat the phrase ‘drive on the right’ until you are quite sure that you won’t forget to.” That’s the best they could come up with? The problem is your mind wanders off while driving. You don’t have to think about what side of the road you should be on. It’s ingrained.

I don’t have any good recommendations for this “driving on the wrong side of the road” thing. Just watch out for me out there, will ya?

Panama is a Shithole

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I recently passed through the airport hub, Panama City on a tour of South America. I was looking forward to spending some time in the touted #1 best country in the world to retire, only to be blown away by what a dump it was.

I live in Phuket Thailand, a tropical island. I’m climatized to the tropics, but I was miserable walking around in the Panamanian heat and humidity and it’s like that all the time.

Think LA rush hour for the traffic around Panama City. The supposed, 20 minute ride to the hotel from the airport took more than an hour at 5 PM. The traffic out of the city was backed up for miles. The infrastructure looks third world, crowded, poor and dirty.

High razor wire fences enclose private residences. Security guards with shot guns are everywhere. I felt uncomfortable walking around during the day, forget about going out at night. Crime is a problem. You’re buzzed into most places, everything is locked down. I get the same paranoid vibe in Panama that I get in the Philippines.

If you’re retiring to Panama, you absolutely must speak Spanish. I found very few people who could speak English. The front desk people at the upscale hotel I stayed at didn’t speak English. Out on the street, you’re out of luck with English only.

Everyone is fat. It’s maybe the fattest country I’ve ever been. Coming from America, that’s saying something. I went on to Colombia from Panama, where the women were beautiful. I didn’t see one beautiful woman in Panama. It’s the diet. The food sucks. It’s rice and beans, basically Mexican food. Imagine living on that diet for the rest of your retired life? Certainly there are some nice restaurants, but everyday food is bland.

The #1 retirement destination is unbearably hot, crime ridden, with bad food. Panama is a shithole. Who would go there and say, “I love this place. I want to spend the rest of my life here?” People with a canal fetish?

How does a shithole like Panama get to be the #1 retirement destination in the world? I think it’s marketing bullshit. The references for the “#1 retirement destination” come out of a small number of sources. Anyone who spends any time here soon realizes (like that first second you step out of the air conditioned hotel) that this may not be the retirement mecca it’s cracked up to be.

There is a steady stream of articles praising Panama as an ideal investment opportunity and retirement home. The problem is, these articles are coming from the same authors, paid to write this. The articles are then picked up by the many bastions of information integrity, like the Wall Street Journal. It’s all bullshit. They’re just selling the over-built condo projects.

I’m heading back to South America, but I won’t be spending any time in Panama City if I can help it.

Five Years In Thailand

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Five years ago, I was unemployed with few prospects. The US economy was in the dumper. My children were grown and had moved away and I’d recently ended a long term relationship.

I sat home, feeling a little sorry for myself. What the hell was I going to do? After some soul searching, I decided to roll the dice and cash out. Sell the house and everything I owned, say goodbye to friends and family, and retire…somewhere.

Looking back, it was the right thing to do at the right time. It was the perfect storm of circumstances. No job, children gone, no relationship, what was keeping me there? The roots ran deep in my hometown. It was where I raised my kids. I did a lot of youth coaching. I knew a lot people. I couldn’t walk down the street without running into friends.

It was a hard decision. Maybe, the hardest I’ve ever made. Retire and move half way around the world? Very few people could make that same decision and it’s a shame. It shouldn’t be that tough. Stay where you are and struggle or go for a life in paradise? I think we’re just afraid of change. I’ve learned something in these last few years. Change is good…very good.

I owned my home for 15 years and with appreciation, had significant equity. I needed every penny I could get out of it. I baked cookies every time someone came to see it and it sold in a few weeks.

Now the hard part, getting rid of 25 years of accumulated “stuff”. I never thought of myself as a pack rat, but there was a load of stuff. Furniture, clothes, office equipment, tools, appliances, all had to go. Let the garage sales begin! I’m a musician so cherished guitars and keyboards went on Craig’s List and eBay. What I couldn’t sell, I gave away or tossed and I tossed a lot.

I promised myself that I would never accumulate “stuff” again. It’s a plan, but difficult to stick to. Every time I move now, I’m amazed at how much more “stuff” I’ve acquired. When I buy something I ask, “Do I really need this?” Still, stuff accumulates. A car, motorbikes, musical instruments, TVs, furniture, clothes, computers, I agonized over buying a blender! It was a good move. I start every day with a mango smoothie, now.

The “stuff” cleansing process took months, but I did it. The day after the sale of the house was completed, I left on a one way ticket to Phuket, Thailand. I had all my belongings with me in a suitcase and a guitar. Looking back five years later, moving to Thailand was the best decision I’ve ever made.

What have I learned in these last five years? I’ve learned that the United States is not the center of the universe. I’m still a news junky, but I care more about what’s happening here around me. Thailand has its own brand of interesting crazy politics.

I’ve learned to love the unique Thai culture. I’ve traveled all over Thailand and it is amazing. I live in a Muslim beach community. I’m married to a Thai woman. I’m part of her family, the farang. Families are very close here. They take care of each other. They make sure you’re fed.

The most important thing I’ve learned is to lower my expectations. I think it’s the key to happiness, here in the Land of Smiles. Things happen here at a frustrating pace, everything on “Thai time”. If a repairman says he’ll be here Tuesday at 10 am, Thursday afternoon is good enough. I consider getting anything done an achievement. The key to happiness here in paradise? Remember, lower your expectations.

I’m a very happy man. A beautiful Thai wife, many friends, a quiet life beside a beautiful tropical beach. I can’t imagine a better life.

Lower your expectations a little and join me in paradise.

Thai Girls and the Game

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The game is the adult entertainment industry. Social life often revolves around the bar scene here in the Land of Smiles. It’s where one goes to meet friends, hoist a few and maybe find some companionship. Every bar has its bargirls. They serve drinks and will be happy to spend time talking with you. Buy them a drink and chat her up, instant companionship. They’re in the game. Girls make money having customers buy them drinks. The price of the drink is split between the bar and the girl.

One may decide to take the girl home, if she agrees. You’ll need to pay a bar fine of $15 to the bar and then pay the girl between $30 and $60 ($45 average) for an intimate frolic. The amount may vary with the girl and whether it will be for a short time (a couple of hours) or long time (for the night).

This is part of life in LOS. It’s meant to spice up life, not be the center of it. Some of the girls are sweet and looking for a life partner and some are black hearted thieves. Some of the most beautiful ones aren’t even woman, but ladyboys (or katoys, as they are known in Thai).

Unfortunately, the stories are all to frequent of men losing their minds and everything else to one of these girls. Thai girls play the game harder than you can even imagine. If you’re going to walk the bargirl plank, have your eyes wide open.

New Zealand Phil’s take on the game: Most of these girls become bargirls because they want more money, not because they cannot live back in the village on what they can earn, because millions of girls do, but because having more money and better things in life is what they want. In knowing perhaps 100 bargirls working here, I only know two who have had to work because they are absolutely destitute or had lost the farm because of debts.

Consider the life of a factory worker in Thailand. The average job in Thailand pays about 10,000 baht a month ($300). She works six days a week, 12 hours a day. If needed, she’s required to work that seventh day and she’s paid overtime. That’s between 72 hours and 84 hours a week for under $400 a month. Is it any wonder that it’s a dream of so many girls to find a rich farang to take care of her?

Girls who were working 12 hours for $10 a day are now drinking, playing bar games and chatting up farangs who will take them back to their hotel room for $50. They do that 20 times a month they make $1000 a month. That’s an unheard amount for a poor Thai girl. That’s as much as a Thai Doctor makes!

Phil continues: Becoming a bar girl is not seen as something which is totally wrong, but is seen as acceptable if indeed it brings money back to the family. In addition, because of the lax moral attitudes of Thai society, families in the villages turn a blind eye to the occupation of these girls when they return home. Money rules in Thailand. A few girls return home rich or maybe even with a farang who builds them a house and gives them a car. The poor farm girl is now the wealthiest person in the village. This encourages other girls to give the bar scene a try. Many girls return broke and mentally damaged. Thais are generally willing to overlook those involved in the game as long as things are done with discretion. Prostitution in Thailand, while widespread, only employs a tiny percentage of Thai women. This is a conservative society, but sexual mores are much different than the West.

It’s no secret that many Western guys marry Thai women who were once employed as bargirls or the term we don’t like to use, prostitutes. Sometimes the relationships work, more often than not, they don’t. “You can take the girl out of the bar, but you can’t take the bar out of the girl,” is a well known saying. A lot of Western men become smitten with bargirls. They’re beautiful, easy to meet, sweet and willing to treat a man like a king. Men fall for them and a relationship develops. The problem is, the relationship is always going to be about the money. Girls in the game have long ago forgot what a relationship is suppose to be about. Bargirls are often professional liars and can easily manipulate the poor, unsuspecting, doe eyed farangs. Ideally a bargirl is looking for sponsorship; men who will send them money regularly to maintain a relationship. This is, of course, insane and men are stupid, but a new potential victim arrives every day.

The vast majority of Thai women work outside the nightlife industry and would be aghast at the thought of being involved in it or going to bed with a man for money. In my opinion, stay away from a relationship with someone in the game. There are so many beautiful Thai women who would love a relationship with a Westerner. You can have a favorite bargirl, in fact buy them all drinks! They’re great fun to talk and joke with, but think long and hard about moving one in. There is a saying, “You don’t pay them to come home with you, you pay them to leave.”

How often have I heard heard, “She’s different?” Take the advice of many who still lick their deep wounds, SHE’S NOT DIFFERENT.

Thailand Beliefs – Buddhism, Islam, Superstition and Ghosts

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Thailand is 95% Buddhist and the rest are mostly Muslims. There are more Muslims in South Thailand. Kamala Beach, where I live, is a mostly Muslim village. I’m surrounded by Muslims. They’re sober, quiet and very nice people; never an issue except the loud calls to prayer six times a day.

There is often random violence in the southern border areas by militant Muslims bent on a separatist movement. They want to be part of Malaysia. Malaysia doesn’t want any part of them. It’s been going on for a long time and living here in Phuket, we’re untouched by it. Conflict between Buddhists and Muslims is nonexistent throughout the rest of Thailand.

Buddhism is not an evangelistic religion, so there is no pressure to convert people. It is more a belief system based around improving yourself rather than trying to change other people. The Buddha is not worshiped as a god. Buddhism does not involve belief in a supreme being and this is why many classify it as an atheist belief system. The purpose of kneeling in front of the Buddha in Thailand temples is to remind people of the Buddha’s teachings and to show respect for their teacher.

Buddhism originated in India over two and a half thousand years ago. As it moved to different countries it took on slightly different forms. The branches of Buddhism tend to be more about differences in emphasis rather than differences in belief and it never leads to conflict. It would be very difficult to describe Thai Buddhism succinctly. Theravada Buddhism is the flavor here. Many scholars argue that the actual religion of most Thai people is not Theravada Buddhism, but “ghost” worship.

Most Thais believe in ghosts or what they call phi. Before there was any mention of the Buddha in Thailand, there was phi. There are many types of phi, some only are popular in certain regions. One surprising thing is that most Thai ghosts are female. Some of the phi that are part of most Thai communities include:
1) Phi Am which causes pain to internal organs
2) Phi Krasi which likes to eat entrails and is associated with dirty floors and the night
3) Phi Ka which possess women and can be warded off with the gifts of eggs
4) Phi Phrai who are the spirits of women who have died in childbirth and who enchant men
5) Phi Pop which are extremely violent female ghosts which devour men and haunt whole villages
6) Phi Tai Ha which spreads malaria
7) Phi Nangtani which is benevolent and feeds monks.

When a Thai baby is born and people come to see the new little darling, they will invariably remark, “Ugly baby”. They do this because if phi hears that there is a new beautiful baby, they will possess the child. The Thais are a very superstitious lot.

All this phi craziness can be very trying for the logical western man (farang). Simply accept it and don’t waste your breath trying to talk a Thai out of their belief in ghosts. It’s like trying to talk a born again Christian out of Jesus.

Every year a rumor gets started that there is going to be another tsunami on a certain day and it spreads like wildfire. Everybody hears the rumor. I explained to my beautiful, intelligent wife that it’s impossible to predict a Tsunami. She remains wary. You have to be able to predict an earthquake for one thing and no one has ever done that. I point out that a tsunami like the one in 2004 happens maybe, once every hundred years. Thais have left Phuket in droves in the past fearful of the tsunami. They leave many businesses shorthanded for staff. Throw logic out the window when you arrive here. Thais are a superstitious lot.

I’ve attended many Buddhist services. There are many similarities with a Christian service, all very ritualistic. Shaven headed monks draped in orange sarongs lead the service. People worshiping together is a heartening experience. For the farang…boring. Thai chanting gets that way after a while. I go because my wife wants me to go. She’ll cook food, buy some drinks or other small gifts and place them on a tray and present them as an offering during the service. The crowd is mostly women. There is young and old, but it seems to be a middle aged crowd. Everyone is kneeling on mats, I’m sitting in a chair off to the side with old basketball knees. My wife is so beautiful as she prays to Buddha. I take in the vibrant colors and the humanity. I discreetly take out my phone and check football scores.

Buddhism is about self-improvement. Buddhism doesn’t worship a god. I can hang with Buddhism. If you’re of a spiritual bent, Buddhism offers fascinating possibilities for self-awareness. Buddhists should understand the difference between reality and self-delusion. One should understand the nature of cause and effect, how actions now will have implications not only in the short term, but in the long term. One should understand that desire and attachment create weakness. Finally, one should practice respect for others if one hopes to gain others’ respect. Despite being agnostic, I have great respect for the teachings of Buddha. He once said, “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason.” You’re not going to hear that kind of thing coming from another religion, certainly not Christianity. Google “Buddha quotes” and you’ll find a treasure trove of inspirational thoughts.

Rebirth (reincarnation) has always been an important tenet in Buddhism. Thais think of death differently than Western people. The sea that surges, falls, and resurges, is the life that is born, dies, and is reborn again. No heaven, no hell…hey, Imagine.

The temperament of the people and the culture of Thailand are wrapped together through Buddhism. “Buddha will provide” is instilled in the psyche of the people. Thais live their lives differently because of Buddhism. It makes Thailand a very different and special place. One can debate whether it’s better, but it’s certainly different.

The Thailand Retirement Budget

Money

There isn’t one budget for expats because everyone is different. Let’s looks at the costs of the major expenditures in everyone’s budget: housing, food, utilities, transportation, medical and entertainment expenses. Phuket, where I live, and Bangkok are the most expensive areas to live in Thailand. Every expense across the board is probably 20% higher than living in Northern Thailand. These are estimates of budget costs in Phuket.

Housing
Let’s assume you’re renting. Non-Thais can’t own land here, so most expats rent.

You can rent a spacious villa with a sea view for $1500 a month and up. You can live like a millionaire for $2500 a month with a big house and pool. Renting a nice little two bedroom house, you’re probably looking in the $400 range. It depends on what area you want to live. On the beach, it’s going to be more, maybe a lot more.

If you’re single, don’t cook and only need a room, prices start in the $250 a month range. I know many people who live comfortably just renting a room. They eat at inexpensive food stalls and don’t want anything bigger. Lifestyle and pocketbook decisions are the determining factor here.

Food
Food in Thailand is delicious and inexpensive, if you eat Thai food. My favorite food at a little Thai restaurant is duck curry over rice, $1.60. Noodle soup with chicken is $1. If I go down to the pub and have a burger with fries it’s $5. A pizza is $8. If you’re eating Thai food at the average restaurant, you’re paying half the cost of farang food. It isn’t hard to find western food, but it’s generally not as good as what you would expect to receive at home. Anything that’s imported is significantly higher. I’ve found adequate Italian restaurants. Local beef isn’t very good. If you want a good steak, you buy imported beef and it’s expensive. I don’t eat that much beef anymore.

I eat mostly fresh Thai food prepared at home. We go to the open air markets a couple times a week. This would be similar to a farmers market with different stalls for meat, fish, vegetables and fruit. There are also supermarkets just like in the West. You can also buy in bulk at stores similar to Costco. All the staples are available, but the quality that I see at home, isn’t there. I really miss heirloom tomatoes, for example. Tomatoes are tasteless. I’ve never had sweet corn here. Bread leaves a lot to be desired. Thais don’t eat much bread. You can get a loaf of bread anywhere, but you have to find a farang bakery to get good bread. We bake our own. I have to search for peanut butter. A can of pork and beans is 25% higher. Cheese is a sad story. Wine is a sadder story.

Utilities
I pay about $15 a month for electricity. The biggest expense on utilities comes from air conditioning. Everyone uses fans. If I had the air conditioner on all the time I wouldn’t be surprised if the bill was $125 a month. Thailand is warm, humid and downright hot often. I’ve gotten used to it. Some homes need to be air conditioned. It all depends upon location and personal preferences. My water bill is $7 a month. Internet runs around $25 a month. Many places will include it in the rent. I buy the cheapest cable TV connection because I don’t watch much TV, but my girl does. We get all the Thai channels and a couple of English channels for $10 a month. The most expensive cable options that include HBO, Sports and movie channels is $55 a month.

A new Honda Click motorbike is $1700. You can pick up a used one for half that amount. The Click is probably the most popular motorbike here. It has an automatic transmission and is perfect for around town use. Everyone drives a motorbike. They get about 100 mpg. Maintenance and repair are negligible. I don’t put on a lot of miles, so I spend less than $20 a month on gas. You definitely don’t need to own a car. Less than half of my friends own cars. Expect similar costs to the west if you do own a car, although repairs are much less because labor costs are low.

Entertainment
The wild card in any budget is the entertainment expense. From the occasional happy hour beer to a different girl every night, it’s a personal decision. Thailand can be great fun with too may places to blow money. Movie theaters have ticket prices similar to the US. There are golf courses all over Thailand. A round of golf is about the same as the West. There is cart racing, fishing, lawn bowling, surfing, snorkeling, mountain biking, bungee jumping and shooting ranges. I can’t think of any entertainment that you can’t find here and it’s usually cheap. There are countless outdoor recreational activities.

The entertainment budget is a personal thing. Women and booze are the variables for most. A bottle of beer in a bar is in the $2 range. A lot of the socializing happens at the local pub.

Medical
A good medical insurance policy will cost about $1500 for a year for someone 60 years old. This will cover any hospital stay and treatment. Any outpatient doctor visits you’ll pay for. A doctor’s visit will cost about $25. That was my deductible on my $500 a month health insurance policy in the US. The most important difference in the West vs. Thailand is the role of the pharmacist. Many drugs are available over the counter in Thailand. The pharmacist plays an important role here by diagnosing common ailments and prescribing medication. This eliminates half the trips to the doctor. Many of the drugs are generic and inexpensive. A prescription for amoxicillin is $4. Pain medication is controlled and you’re probably going to have to go to a hospital and see a doctor to get it.

There is a range of quality on the hospitals in Thailand. Private hospitals and the doctors are generally very good. Expect a semi private room and nursing care like the West. If you’re in a public hospital after an accident, you’ll end up in an open public ward with the locals. Family members will be sleeping beside the patient and taking care of them. It looks pretty chaotic to me but the healthcare is acceptable, if that’s the way you have to go. It is cheap compared to hospital costs in the US. People often come here for cosmetic surgery and combine it with a vacation.

Summarizing budget costs
No one’s budget is going to be the same because of individual lifestyles, but here goes:

Low Budget – $1000 a month
This would be living in a room or a sharing a small apartment ($300). Eating mostly street cart food or in low cost Thai restaurants ($100), no insurance, internet connection and utilities ($35), gas for a motorbike ($15), miscellaneous expenses ($100). That’s $550 before the all-important entertainment expense. Depending upon how much you drink and how many girlfriends you have that puts you well under $1000 a month. Many live the low budget life style here.

Medium Budget – $1800 a month
Someone on a medium budget is living in a two bedroom house ($500). Eats at a restaurant a couple times a week, but prepares food at home. This retiree pays monthly medical insurance ($125), utilities ($50) and gas for a motorbike ($20). This guy has a girlfriend. He doesn’t want her to work so he gives her $400 a month. A Thai girl is going to keep house and make meals. With a trip to the pub a couple of times a week and the increase in food expense, you could expect your budget to be in the $1800 a month range.

High Budget – $2500 a month
This is a budget for someone who lives at a luxury condo with a pool or rents a larger house ($1000 a month). He has a car and motorbike with all those expenses. This would be all the expenses of the medium budget with a more expensive house and a car. This is a very comfortable life style and similar to what you might expect in the US for three times this amount.

Thailand is a great value for the expat retiree. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

The Silver Kamala Beach Walk

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One night, four years ago, I walked into Ban Rim Klong, a restaurant along the main drag in Kamala for the first time. I was sitting there having a drink, chatting up the girls, when an enormous golden retriever walked up and said hello. I had left a couple of beloved golden retrievers behind in America when I split up with a girlfriend and still missed those dogs. I asked if anyone was walking him. They said the owner, Allen, was currently in the UK. I said I’d be back in the morning to take him for a walk. We walked the beach every day for the next three years. He was Allen’s dog, but he was my bud.

Every day, I’d come by, whenever it was low tide. It was important to both of us. He loved to go for a walk. He’d wait for me and freak out when he saw me, barking and dancing around, come on let’s go! Let’s go! Nee up, I would yell at him, shut up in Thai. Didn’t do any good. He was a poorly disciplined dog, a mind of his own.

We never knew how old he was. Silver was a stray when Allen found him. Apparently, a German couple had taken off and left Silver behind. Who knows how long he was on the streets. He learned some bad habits, like trying to kill every other dog that crossed his path, although he liked small dogs and people. He was big and slow so other dogs would just run away from him.

Last year Silver started to age to the point where I couldn’t take him for long walks anymore. Then last spring he just wore out and passed. Being at the beach everyday with Silver many of the tourists got to know us. They would stop me and ask where the dog was and I would have to share the bad news.

I was sitting next to Allen having a drink the other night. I told him, I still miss that big stupid dog. A tear fell down his cheek. Yeah, we both miss him.

Never Buy Property in Thailand

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There is a strong urge for many expats to own their own home in Thailand, not a good idea. A foreigner can’t own the land their property sits on. A non-Thai cannot own land. They can own the building on the land. You have to lease the land back from a Thai. A foreigner can sometimes own apartments or condominiums, under the Thailand Condominium Act. Many expats have purchased property and are happy with their purchase. Let’s just say, others aren’t so happy.

It’s simply cheaper and makes financial sense to rent. Let’s take the condo I live in, for example. It’s a beautiful three bedroom, 2 bath, furnished, luxury condo with 3 pools, just five minutes from the beach. The selling price for one of these units is $160,000. There is a 30 year lease, you never actually own the condo. The monthly ownership fee is $320. This covers management, security, pool service, gardeners and maintenance. If I invest $160,000 at say 6%, it comes out to be $800 a month plus the $320 for the monthly maintenance fee. That’s a total of $1,120 a month. I rent for $800 a month! By buying the unit, I would lose $320 a month and tie up a considerable amount of principal.

What about appreciation? Condos aren’t like fine wine, prices go down as they age. Construction standards are poor. They age miserably. The prices of condos where I live are going down in price. People don’t pay a premium price for second hand units. The more expensive the unit, the smaller the market is and new units are opening every day…and not selling. The building goes on relentlessly and unsold inventory just keeps rising. There is a housing bubble in Bangkok and Phuket.

Condos are often badly managed. The money for the maintenance is squandered, spent on silly things or more likely just pocketed. A strong owner’s committee has to oversee how fees are being spent or else it disappears. Often the owners of a condo project go bust or fees simply aren’t paid. Fees collected are barely adequate to pay for costs. With a lack of basic services, building maintenance just doesn’t happen and value of all units in the project goes down!

There are the usual problems with living in a condo. Noisy neighbors or noise from outside, you name it. Factors that are easily solved in the West can be a nightmare in Thailand. When you have a problem in Thailand, it is not always easily solved. Trying to solve it often escalates it to another level and you’re left with one way to fix it…move!

Everything I’ve written about condos goes for houses as well. I have a friend who built a luxury home on spec. It’s a gorgeous home, he originally put on sale for $550k. A few years later it’s still unsold at $390k. Renting a property in Thailand is the way to go. It suits expats to rent because they can come and go as they please and not have money tied up in a country with an unstable government.

I suggest investment elsewhere and use the income from those investments to rent in Thailand. Places do sell, but the market is slow. There are plenty of places to rent. Rents in various parts of the country vary widely. In Phuket 10,000 baht ($300) a month would “buy” very little for a foreigner; however in Chaing Mai it could mean a very comfortable house or apartment. Rents are always negotiable with the low season is the time to shop. A year-long contract is the way to go, bearing in mind that the owner will want to charge more for the high season. Try and avoid doing business with a Thai landlord by the way. Make sure your lease spells out exactly how a deposit is to be returned.

Bottom line: Save your money, rent in Thailand.