Romance and Retirement – Chiang Mai, Thailand

Romance and Retirement

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai, Thailand. Have you heard of Chiang Mai before? Well if the answer is no, then you are in the majority and you may be missing out on something that could change your life forever.

Located about 420 miles northwest of Bangkok, Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand and yet more affordable, less polluted, less congested, cooler than Bangkok. It has so much to offer that thousands of foreigners have made it their home. In fact it has become one of the most popular retirement destinations in all of South Asia.

One picture is worth a thousand words and I have three photographs to share with you.

When you arrive in Chiang Mai the many Buddhist temples, and the moat surrounding the city will be the first objects that will catch your eye. Thai people are primarily Buddhists and there seems to be a temple be it old or new right throughout the city. They are tolerant of other religions and Wan (my girlfriend) and I attended a Roman Catholic service at Christmas which included foreigners and Thais during which they played Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ” in the church. As to the moat, it was constructed around to the old city and has since been well preserved and is bordered by grass and tall trees that provide ample shade as you walk alongside the moat. Fountains are plentiful in the float and the sight is exquisite in the evening when the water is shooting upwards towards the skies and the colorful lights shine on the moat..

The second photograph is that of Wan, my girlfriend at a nearby sports complex which has a large adult pool, small children’s pool, exercise room, dining room, snooker room, massage, and offers badminton, tennis and squash courts. During the week there are only a few people there and at times it feels like it is your own private pool. The cost of using the pool and change room is 40 baht for adults which equates to about $1 US.

The third picture is of the largest mall here in Chiang Mai. Red taxis (converted pickup trucks) are in front of the mall and a motorbike ridden by a farang (foreigner) and pickup truck are across the street from the mall. The mall is about 8 stories high and has grocery shopping and restaurants downstairs along with some shops and many retail stores upstairs along with a movie theatre, ice skating, bowling, banks, and more. There is a large hotel right next to the mall and there are long term accommodations available nearby which are within walking distance of the mall.

The city is bustling with activity every day from morning to night. Everyone seems to have a business. Selling food is by far the most popular business activity as it is very inexpensive and local Thai’s will stop for a quick meal or snack rather than take the time to go home and cook.

Buy a banana and egg pancake with sugar and Carnation milk on top for .25 cents or a fried banana, or a multitude of different meals and fruits from roadside vendors. Fresh, tasty, and inexpensive. What utterly amazes me is that you can put down a chair and a small stand anywhere and sell food, fruits or booze and you will have customers. I can remember asking someone in the Dominican Republic what you needed to open up a bar. The response was liquor. I replied, does that mean liquor licenses, seating capacity approvals, cooking facility inspections, business registrations, tax remittances and deductions from employees wages? The reply stayed the same, liquor. The same seems to be true here.

As the city has many tourists visiting the city right through the year another popular business is that of local transportation. So touk touk, which is a motorcycle converted to a 3 wheel taxi run by propane, and pick up trucks converted to taxis, are numerous. Then massage services which can be oil, Thai, or foot, be it in a massage salon, a massage parlor or by way of a foot massage in a comfortable chair outdoors is readily available. A relaxing 1 ½ hr. oil massage can be had for between $5-7 US.

I have lived in different sections of the city and what I have noticed is that around 5:30 in the morning a breeze comes out of nowhere. It feels great. Even though it can get hot during the day for about 9 months of the year you will need a blanket when you go to sleep without an air conditioner.

But it isn’t the temples or the moat that make Chiang Mai. It is the tourists. The city has tourists coming in daily via bus, train or plane. People from all countries and all age groups. The backpackers who want to visit the hill tribes, to rough it, to ride the elephants or go rafting to the middle aged/seniors who come here to attend the many festivals, see the popular Buddhist temples, shop at the famous Night Bazaar and to enjoy a tourist destination that is growing in popularity. The tourists bring the money and the money creates the jobs.

It is a city of people who work harder than you or I have ever worked. Work harder and for less. And yet they smile more than the people that I know in North America. They have less and are happier. It may be their attitude which is positive. Adults may only take a few days off from work a year if they have a small business which many people have. On those days they make the best of it. They may go to Bangkok, to a beach destination, a hot springs, waterfall or visit friends/family out of town. To watch children playing and never arguing or fighting is something new to me. Playing with what could be a box from a TV that you just purchased. At times you may see 6-8 Thais motionless watching TV at a mall. It is as if the world has stopped.

Would I want it any different? At times it gets hot for me. I still have not purchased an air conditioner. The price would be about $400 US installed. Apart from that everything is to my liking. People that are easy going, work hard, honest and friendly. Children that are playful, who get along and help each other. Inexpensive food which is plentiful, fresh, filling, and tasty. Cable TV was installed last month for $8 US and monthly charges of $9 US for 59 channels. Most important of all is Wan, who I met after I was here only one month. She has been my companion, my guide, my means of transportation, my cook, my advisor, and the love of my life. Without here my life would not be the same.

Wan and I dined at the most popular Chiang Mai restaurants sampling the different foods and enjoying the entertainment at each establishment. We went to Patong for a week’s holiday during which the tsunami hit just before we were about to leave. We lost a camera and some clothes but in the process found each other. Life is different now. We normally eat in and try to live as other Thais live.

Life is what you make it. You can come here and spend thousands of dollars to live each month and still gripe about something. Too hot, too loud, or something. Or you can come here and live comfortably and happily on only $550 a month for a single person and only $850 a month for a couple and eat healthy foods, get more exercise than you are getting now, watch cable TV, go to movies at the Mall, rent movies, buy movies at the Night Bazaar, sightsee, play golf, snooker, swim, shop, learn to speak Thai, learn to cook Thai foods (they say that Thais can cook anything and make it taste delicious), or do many other things. It is up to you.

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Older comments on Romance and Retirement – Chiang Mai, Thailand

David Howard 1965
07 November 2009

Very interesting article George. I recently retired to Chiang Mai albeit I spend much time to in the UK still due to slowly closing my business. I found a cracking Thai building company called Kensington and built my own home. Had to use them with a name like that ! Their web site is called chiangmaibuilders which is handy to remember and they specialise in building retirement homes in Chiang Mai. . My wife is Thai. Took 14 months from start to finish including architects drawings. This Chiang Mai building company did a fantastic job and in fact they are now building my friends home too. We are now moved in and very pleased with our retirement home. Everyone told me these lads were the best and I can say they were. Really pleased with the house and did it for less than 15m baht too !

I read with interest your article and how less expsnive it is. You are right. The house was proof of that. It would have cost me 30m back home easily. I eat out for a few hundred baht at good restaurants. A lovely place to call home. You are so right.