Castlemaine Friday 6th March 2015

Our last chain letter was written on 4th March 2014, exactly one year ago. It has unfortunately been sitting here in Castlemaine for 6 weeks. We had asked our tenant to forward it to Thailand, but she must have misunderstood, as it was here when we arrived back with son Peter, a short while ago. So I want to apologize but then I really thought it had gone to Thailand and was ‘lost’. Thankfully and with much relief that is not the case. It is with great delight that I can close the loop once again. Terrific to hear all your news and to know that those who have had illnesses are recovering well. Glad to know Helen that James Jnr. is considering adding another pair of hands to the huge workload on the farm. Make sure you aren’t pushed out Helen before your time!! Welcome Sharon from green Tasmania. Where exactly are you? Somewhere near Penguin? Sounds glorious.

We had a wonderful 5 months in Thailand, land of smiles. Have made many friends there now and the owners of the places we have stayed for 3 or 4 weeks have been so generous and kind. The two in Chiang Khong on the Mekong were so caring when I returned there from a 5 day hospital stay in Chiang Mai (CM) where the gall bladder was removed in the most amazingly efficient hospital I have ever heard of. Within an hour of getting there after our flight from Laos, I’d had an X ray, ultrasound and scan and told the gall bladder had to be removed as it was becoming gangrenous. So by 8 pm I was in surgery. This resulted from getting food poisoning in Laos-Laung Prabang where I spent one night in a third world hospital. Jill and I both slept on used sheets, there was no soap, hot water, towels, toilet paper, food, but the IV equipment looked fairly new and clean and they seemed to know what to do— saline drip and antibiotic IV. Jill had to go out to a road stall for something to eat. The hotel owner drove us to the hospital after I started vomiting bile and even came next morning with food. He later drove us to the airport where we had already booked our flight to CM.

What a relief to get into a sparkingly clean atmosphere in CM RAM hospital. We were in a 2 bed suite just like a unit with wardrobe, microwave, coffee maker, fridge and supplies and staff coming every half hour ro check me out. The food was delicious and suited to my condition. We had all our baggage with us! The hospital car took us to our hotel when I was discharged. Was able to have my hair cut and walk to restaurants, while Jill had a foot and body massage. So all well for our bus trip back to Chiang Khong on Xmas Eve. Quiet Xmas day but celebrated and danced on New Years Eve!

Peter and his mate Ton have almost completed their house in Baan Phu Kha, 4 km from Tha Wang Pha (TWP) where we stayed for 3 weeks before our 5 days at Kata Beach with Jill’s brother and sister in law. Spent one night in Peter’s house which is Lanna style and lovely. Ton’s family are really great people, mainly farmers of tobacco, rice and corn and dry the tobacco and prepare it in large bags for the factory. Older members make brooms for sale to various big businesses. Vacuums are almost unknown, so brooms are very common in hotels, shops, homes etc. The hotel owners were terrific, driving us to various places around the town and outside it. And even to the Nan airport to catch our flight to Bangkok and earlier to the Nan Arts Festival, opened by the Princess.

My family are all well and successful in their endeavours.

Until next time.

Living in Thailand

1. What you can do now long before arriving!

One of the things I did not do before leaving was to network with other people already living in Asia. This has cost me thousands of dollars, figuring it all out, learning everything on the fly is also extremely time consuming. What comes to mind is “a wise man learns from others mistakes”

Lots of people are now set up in Asia earning a living through the Internet. Getting to know some of these people before arriving, could allow you to land in Asia hitting the ground running, saving you a lot of time and cash. If you’re thinking about quitting the 9-5 and going it alone online, here is just a few of the many people already established in Asia. Dan in BaliJoe and Justin in the Philippines and myself Neale in Thailand.

Developing contacts in Asia whilst your still in the West is probably the most important thing you can do now during the months before you leave.

2.Where to find cheap flights to Asia!

I had always presumed that Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport BKK, was the main hub for all South East Asia, this is wrong Kuala Lumpur International Airport KL in Malaysia is, even if your final destination is Thailand start with KL for the cheapest prices, a flight from KL to anywhere in SE Asia is next to nothing.

Here are a couple of places I have used. Americans head on over to www.skyauction.com It is an auction site and you can pick up some great deals “you don’t have to win the auction to get a ticket” bid low and hope for a left over ticket. Also check one-way flights to London, and keep reading.

A new site appeared recently www.adioso.com serving primarily Asian destinations, you don’t have to add dates or airports just enter “KL to Europe” it then gives you the next 3 months flights with all the prices. My favorite Airline is Air Asia and Adioso covers all their routes including those to Europe set up an email alert with route and price less than X and you can pick up some amazing deals.

3. What to bring with you to Asia

After 13 years in America I sold pretty much everything and left with a daypack and a mid sized roll on that you can see in the middle picture above. Before continuing on to Bangkok I stopped off in England for a few weeks to visit family, at this point I could have ditched the mid sized roll on, swapping it out for another very small daypack.

You have probably heard it before “less is better” it really is true! You would be amazed at just how little you can live with. Here is my experience; on arriving in Thailand I settled on Phuket as a base, staying pretty much put for 6 months. I then hit the road with the motorbike for 3 months, needing to get things down to the bare minimum I looked at all I had brought with me: 30% I was using daily, 40% occasionally, “every few weeks” the rest I had never used. I spent quite a few months travelling on the motorbike with the daypack you can see and another much smaller one I could cram in the front pannier.

I never wanted for anything during that time, and had all I needed to run my business. I occasionally came across something I needed and just bought it for a few dollars.

4. Day 4: Living in Thailand

Today was my bi weekly trip to Mae Sai – Tachilek in Myanmar to renew my visa exemption. It takes about a half day to do the 140k – 90 miles round trip, including a stop for lunch.

14 day Visa Exemption 500 Baht-$16.80;Gas to go to Mae Sai 80 Baht-$2.70;Lunch 60 Baht-$2.00;Total for the day: 640 Baht $21.50 – Total Remaining: 5,690 Baht

Types of Visa for the under 55’s

If you are considering staying in Thailand for more than 30 days it is important to get a Visa in your home country before leaving. This will save you a lot of money and is much easier than obtaining a visa in another country in South East Asia aftewards.

The under 55’s are somewhat limited to the types of visa they can obtain easily, the simplest, and the one that I would suggest for any one arriving in Thailand for the first time, is a Tourist Visa this allows you to stay in Thailand for 60 days and can be extended another 30 days from within Thailand, making a total of 90 days. In your own country you can easily obtain multiple back to back tourist Visas saving a lot of time and expense.

For most of us living in Thailand border runs “physically leaving Thailand then coming straight back” become a part of life a small price to pay for the ability to be able to live here. It is possible to fly to Thailand with out a Visa “you will need a return or ongoing ticket to board the plane though” On arrival you will get a 30 day exemption, and then can go to the border every 14 days indefinitely. Unless you are going to live in a place very close to a border like Chiang Rai, it is not a good choice.

5. Each month something seems to crop up and today was the day, I had been thinking about replacing the rear tire on the motorbike for a few weeks now, realizing the valve was leaking I took the motorbike to Honda and was informed I needed a new tire also.

New tire and Tube 745 Baht – $25.05;Ice cream for two 120 Baht – $4.00;Lunch 25 Baht – 85cts;Groceries 85 Baht – $2.85

Total for the day: 975 Baht $32.75 – Total Remaining: 4,715 Baht

The extras alcohol, cigarettes and the nightlife

Explaining what it is like to live in Thailand with a budget of $400 a month poses some problems if you include alcohol, cigarettes and nights out on the town, as we all have different needs. For this reason they are not included in my daily expenses, nor in the monthly total of $400 an extra $100 per month would allow you to easily go out 2-3 nights a week drinking a couple of beers each time.

Alcohol is cheaper than in the West most bars will allow you to bring your own bottle and just charge for the accompaniments including the ice, Thai whisky will run you around $7.50 a bottle. Imported beers in a bar around $3 Thai beer about $2.50 Adding a small tip is greatly appreciated and considered normal.

Marlboros are about $2.60 the Thai equivalent L&M $1.95 a similar Burmese equivalent 65cts

A lot of bars will have a bell over the counter, ringing it “by accident or not” and you just bought a round for every one in the bar!

8. Living in Asia on a budget of $200 per month

There are 3 ways that I know of to live in Asia with $200 or considerably less each month, an employee at 7/11 in Thailand makes $200 a month so technically it’s possible for a person to live here with $200 a westerner will find it very hard and I would not recommend even thinking about this option. The other options involve one simple thing “trading your time” for food and accommodation. The main picture today “with the pool” is one of many places you can volunteer at. The best resource is volunteering opportunities on organic farms most accommodations are very basic unlike in the picture and you will be required to work about 6 hrs a day, the rest of the time will be your own.

Another option is something that is just starting to take off, and is an awesome way to transition from 9-5 to living anywhere. Westerners in Asia have figured out many talented people exist in the west who could compliment their business in exchange for accommodation and food, even a little cash in some cases. This type of deal is going to require on your part, that you have some skills, competition for these places is intense.Only one place exists at present to find these types of offerings tropical internships One of the most recent internships included the “room with a bed and a desk” pictured above.

In the same vain if you have taken my first days recommendation to heart and started making friends before leaving it’s a simple transition to be able to barter your time in return for a room anywhere. With the above 2 options, your motives should not be to just save money, both require that you work and work hard, you should look for other reasons for doing them and consider the savings as a bonus.

9. Taking a look back at the week’s expenses.

When I first had the idea for this site along with tracking expenses for 31 days on a budget of $400 My initial reaction was that will be a challenge. I was then going to label it as such. I softened on that idea and decided $400 was not that hard.

I normally budget around $600 per month, which I consider to be pretty comfortable. So at the beginning of the month I knew what my normal fixed monthly expenses would be based on previous months: 6,200 Baht, which would leave me around 5,700 for day-to-day things or 185 Baht a day.

This 1st 8 days I have averaged 162 Baht a day not including unforeseen stuff “rear tire” and fixed expenses. A couple of days back I also realized this month is one of only two in the year where I get to do 3 visa extensions in the month another 500 Baht.

With 23 more days to go I’m now going to have to keep my daily expenses around 130 Baht – $4.44
a day to stay on target, which will end up been a challenge of sorts.

9. 5 things I’m glad I brought with me!

I was initially going to talk about all those things I brought with me that have been totally indispensable. Apart from a laptop “I work online” nothing has been so important I could not have gone with out it. I did settle on 5 things that have made my life a lot better and would have been harder to get here in Thailand.

Top of the list has to be a smart phone, with Internet capabilities, the most useful function for me some kind of GPS or mapping facility, allowing me to explore easily.

You can get any phone unlocked and jail broken here for just a few dollars; an iPhone has worked well for me.

Even though flip-flops may not be part of your daily life in the West they are a basic necessity here, cheap ones will give you no support and could lead to injuries, these are something you cant spend too much on before leaving. I have a pair made by Olukai Ohana Sandals and they are still going strong after 18 months, worn 90% of the time.

Continued: 5 things I’m glad I brought with me!

Continuing on from yesterday, next up is a decent quality lightweight windbreaker “mine is a good quality one made for cyclist’s, and extremely compact” this thing has saved me from freezing to death many times, it does not protect against the rain but can be worn under one of the cheap rain ponchos you will acquire once over here. Indispensable if you will be spending time up north and or on a motorbike.

Cameras and Photography are not that high on my list of needs. I am glad I invested in something half decent though, that allows people like me to get pretty good shots, it is also compact and has decent video functions, and a powerful zoom. Cannon PowerShot SD1400 IS A lot of electronics are more expensive here than in the states.

The final thing that I brought with me is a very good set of quality speakers. Been able to relax and watch a movie or listen to music with decent sound, has made a huge difference to the quality of my days. Here is a tip if you have an apple store close to you it is perfectly ok to go buy a pair of speakers a few weeks before leaving, then test them out. Apple stores have a no questions asked refund policy. I used this to test a whole load of speakers ending up purchasing the best Bose had to offer at $299 Computer MusicMonitor® Speakers a travel case can also be added as an accessorie for $59.99. If you are planning on staying in one place for a long time I can highly recommend these speakers.

10. Tips about Bangkok for someone just arriving in Asia

The chances are if your heading to Thailand there is a good chance you will be doing an overnight or more in Bangkok. On arriving I was very surprised at how modern and big Bangkok is “impressed” describes best how I felt. I booked a simple but central hotel room, through Agoda before arriving, cost was around $40 a night, similar to the one in the picture above.

If this is your first trip to Asia, Bangkok is not the easiest of places to hit the ground running ‘unless you got a friend before you left’
It is everything that you can imagine a big city to be “think New York” then triple it. You are now in Asia and everything is different, forgets all you hear about every one speaks English with a smile and wants to help. Everybody speaks Thai and is busy doing what they need to do. I have done many large cities including New York and nothing compares with Bangkok. It’s fairly well known “you can spot a tourist that’s just arrived” a mile off. Here you don’t even have a chance to blend in “a duck out of water” would be a polite way of putting how you will look.

Many people rave about Bangkok and with good reason, it can be an extremely cheap place to live and has as much to offer as any major western capital. Lot’s of places exist in Thailand where you can easily blend in without speaking a word of Thai, and figure it all out much easier than Bangkok on arriving.

I chose Phuket as the path of least resistance for a few reasons, I knew one person vaguely, it’s an Island, difficult to get lost with the ocean always on one side, and it’s all set up to cater to westerners coming to Thailand for the first time. Lots of info online to get a basic idea of what to expect 72hrs after arriving in Bangkok I was installed in a small apartment in Phuket.

The next few days, I will cover the first few month’s after arriving in Thailand and just how easy it is.

11. Arriving in Phuket what you can do in a few hours

Getting from Bangkok to Phuket is very easy, go to Bangkok’s main airport BKK buy a ticket at the Air Asia counter, no real need to book and you will be in Phuket a couple of hours later. Phuket touts and in particular phuket taxi drivers are renowned for been some of the worst in Thailand.

The easiest place to get started in Phuket is an area called Karon Beach about an hour south of the airport. It is considerably smaller than Patong and will enable you to get a feel for the Island. I had a hotel in Karon Beach found on the Web easily. Not having a predefined place, you will be fighting off everyone wanting to promote a friends hotel particularly the taxi driver. In Phuket most of the signs are in English and very quickly you will start to see signs indicating monthly rentals. The first place I saw a sign for and looked at, was the place I ended up renting for a month, even though I spent another 4 hours walking around looking at others. After waking up in Bangkok and then deciding to wing it and go to Phuket I had secured a decent place by 4pm that is how easy it is. If you want to skip the hotel and the 4-hour walk just go to Nin Apartments Phuket It is central 2 minutes from the beach and unlikely you will find better walking around, the price is acceptable by western standards at around $600 a month.

When you arrive in Thailand you will spend considerably more than $400 a month until you get to a point where less than $500 is even conceivable. On arriving in Thailand with no contacts, you are going to pay a premium, either financially or with time. Even though Phuket is the most expensive place in Thailand. It is the easiest place to figure out and get things done, what takes 4 hrs in Phuket could take weeks elsewhere. The other option is upon arriving, to go out and rent a scooter immediately “walking is just not an option” make a note of the number on the plate “they all look alike in a parking garage” and spend a few days looking at other places.

12. Living in Bo Sang umbrella village Chiang Mai

My original plan before leaving was 30 days here then 30 days somewhere else, etc. So after a month in Phuket I hopped on a plane and headed up to another place I had found on line before leaving, 9k out side Chiang Mai a little village called Bo Sang. One thing I have found in Thailand is every single place I have found on the Internet makes the rooms look awesome “think photo shoot” not one has ever come even close to resembling the photos on the web.

The first thing to consider, is if you have just arrived in Thailand your Thai is going to be nonexistent as mine was, this place is in the middle of nowhere, language is going to be a huge barrier, just finding food is going to be difficult. Internet risks been awful, as it was at this place “this has since been corrected” everything that comes easy in Phuket is going to be very difficult in a place like this, just finding somewhere to get clothes washed took 2 days. In Phuket everything is geared to catering to westerners, getting clothes washed is as easy as opening your eyes and you will see a sign offering the service for a few dollars. Lastly when you factor in the plane ticket you just added another $75 to the month.

I am yet to find anything online in Thailand that represents excellent value when compared with what is actually available in the same area but not advertised online, the saying “if it looks to good be true, it probably is not” takes on a whole new meaning when related to accommodation in Thailand.

Knowing what I know today this type of accommodation has its place. A similar type of setup can easily be had for somewhere “between $30 – $60” a month. I lasted a few days and quickly figured out this type of accommodation was not going to work for me, and returned to Phuket.

13. Leasing a house and 6 month rentals.

This month long account of expenses and experiences is primarily designed for those people wishing to stay in Thailand for an extended period of time, on a budget that is less than $500 per month. During my time in Thailand I have had the chance to live with a much larger budget for extended periods.

Today we will look at those who have a budget in excess of $1,500 per month, still not a lot by western standards. In Thailand you can live extremely well with 45,0000 Baht a month, “this does not include alcohol” as the skys the limit when you throw in everything else associated with alcohol in Thailand.

A 2-bedroom house can easily be rented on Phuket for around $600 a month, the one pictured today cost exactly that and was the one I rented for 6 months. Utilities are going to set you back around $150 a month including high speed internet, international cable TV. A car can be rented or bought for around $300 a month; cars are one of the few things foreigners can easily get credit on. Standard lease terms include minimum 6 months, 1st second and last, 3 months up front to move in. As you can see your basic costs are around $1000 on Phuket. The rental costs anywhere else will drop by at least 33% and in some places up to 70% a friend here in Chiang Rai has a 6 bed 2 year old unfurnished place 20k outside of town for $240 a month.

You could go it alone and deal direct, in Phuket I would recommend using an agency that I have used, they have lots of choice and are easy to work with House in Phuket. Other provinces have agents, none have much of a selection though. In Phuket you pay for the convenience of been able to arrive and install within a few hours, with no language barriers or lack of western conveniences and food.

14. Taking a look back at the second week’s expenses.

Since the last weekly report I have spent a total of 1680 Bt – $56.50 in 9 days including another trip to the border, which is $20 all on its own.

During this time I have been able to get a trip in to the movies, an hours massage and a little western food at MacDonald’s including eating out nearly once daily. One evening I also prepared a shrimp and pasta dinner at home for two.

The reason for highlighting these things is, even though 9 days only cost me $37 for day-to-day stuff you are not living on rice and chicken twice daily, even with this minimal budget, for myself I find that I’m only doing a little less here than I was back in the States. Even though my cost of living is only 15% of what it was.

These last 9 days saw me average just 120 Baht daily just inside the 130 Baht needed to finish the month on target, with 14 days left and 1765 Baht remaining for daily stuff not including another border run on the last day. I need to stay around 125 Baht daily $4.25

15. Going to school in Thailand and learning Thai.

Living in Thailand without knowing a single word of Thai is possible; depending on the area that you choose to live in will dictate just how much Thai you will need to learn. Living in Phuket is with out doubt the easiest of places to stay without knowing a word of Thai; around 10,000 farangs live on the island with most speaking very little Thai. In other parts of Thailand you can get by with some simple basic phrases, hello, thank you, and numbers, Chiang Mai springs to mind as one of these places.

One of my favorite phrases is “a little Thai goes a long way” once you get out of Phuket and start exploring the real Thailand. Language skills will enhance your experience 10 fold. On arriving in Phuket I already knew that I wanted to learn some basics and quickly found a school in Patong Phuket Language School, offering a course consisting of 5 half days over two weeks with a primary focus on language structure. Thai is a tonal language and considered to be very difficult for westerners to learn. The beginner’s course at Patong language school will help you get the basics very quickly. I took the course 3 times because it covers all the basics. Even though the course is spread over 2 weeks after two days I was at saturation point and little was sticking, going back a second time enabled me to get more of days 3-4 and the last time strengthened the earlier days and allowed me to focus on the last few things. Attending a language school also allows you to obtain an educational visa, which makes staying in Thailand a lot easier. Cost for attending school for a year around $1,000.

16. Staying connected whilst in Thailand.

Thailand is renowned for been streets ahead of it’s neighbors in SE Asia when it comes to Internet, and is another reason why so many people choose it as a place to base out of.

Depending on how permanent your base is will depend on the type of service you can get; the most flexible is going to be an Aircard TOT or AIS have good ones, the card itself costs around $60 and service is about $25 a month, this will give you a pretty steady 1 MB download most anywhere.

Nearly all short-term rentals will have WIFI with decent speeds up to 5 MB Leasing a place will allow you to get services that are even faster. With 3BB probably been the best provider, 6 MB runs around $20 a month.

3G has arrived and can be found in a lot of major cities allowing you to use your phone as a modem, speeds of up to 3 MB are been reported.

Some things you may not know: A lot of the services such as Netflix and Pandora available back home will not work as soon as you step outside of the United States. Your phone will stop working once you get into the southern provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala a simple trip to your provider in any town with your passport will get your phone turned on.

17. Maintaining a balanced diet in Thailand .

I have found that been able to eat well, or should I say, exactly like I have always done, can make or break living in a foreign country, particularly one that is on another continent, where foods are totally different to what you are used too. I remember clearly sitting in a Thai restaurant in America and thinking I can live on these “summer rolls” not spring rolls. I have never found anything that even remotely resembles a summer roll in Thailand, the rest of the food resembles little what you will find in a Thai restaurant outside of Thailand.

In Thailand one thing you can take to heart is, if it’s made here or grown here it will be extremely cheap, anything imported will be extremely expensive by Thai standards. The one exception to this rule appears to be cow’s if you can eat it or drink it and it originates from a cow, either its hard to find, tastes like awful, or is imported which makes it very expensive. Other meats, pork and chicken are very cheap. Fish and seafood are also very cheap. Fruit and vegetables are practically free by western standards.

Over a period of 18 months I have got to a place where with minor substitutions I eat basically the same as I did before arriving in Thailand. The hardest thing to get your head around will be cheese; smaller towns in Thailand just don’t have it, others that do will be charging astronomical prices. After been here a good 15 months a friend explained the only way around this, is to buy it in bulk 1 kg at a time.

Because 90% of the groceries I use are made, grown or reared in Thailand the total cost is still considerably less than in the west, even on a western diet. Eating out is cheaper if you stick to Thai food.

21. Health and Safety in Thailand.

Health care in Thailand is renowned for been some of the best in the world; a whole industry has been built around it here in Thailand with tourists flocking to the country to get work done at a fraction of the cost back in the west. Dental work in Thailand is also significantly cheaper than in the west, to the point that it is cheaper to hop on a plane, take a week’s holiday in Thailand another week for the work and still end up with a total bill considerably cheaper than back home.
Vaccinations for Thailand: the short of it is you need none, the only exception to this is if you are going to be living for prolonged periods in the jungle or in extremely remote villages, same goes for malaria it does not exist anywhere that comes close to resembling civilization in Thailand “which is about 99%” of Thailand. If you wish to get vaccinations for whatever reason and you have some time to spare, on arriving in Bangkok you can get them done for a fraction of the cost back home. One of the best travel writers I know “Wes” explains how to save on travel shots in greater depth.

Health / Travel Insurance, that’s a hard one to suggest or not, the truth is anything simple like a doctors visit, or something minor at a hospital, “a common one is a case of dengue fever needing a few days in hospital” is going to be so cheap it will make you laugh. Health insurance in Thailand is available and is very cheap around $150 a year with the highest deductible, this will cover any unforeseen accidents that could need major surgery or prolonged periods of hospitalization. Simply put you do not need to purchase anything in the west as it relates to health care in Thailand.

22. Day 22: Living in Thailand

Today was just another day, catching up on chores. I could quite easily do next to nothing when it comes to washing and cleaning. It’s easy to find a place to have clothes washed and ironed for 10 Baht – 30 cents apiece, cheaper still for wash and fold. In Phuket I had someone clean the house once weekly 4 hrs for 400 Baht $13.50 and that was very expensive, my neighbor has his room cleaned, including the sheets been changed all for about 100 Baht $3.35 Labor is very cheap in Thailand. Washing 30 Baht-$1.00

Total day: 30 Baht $1.00 – Total Remaining: 925 Baht

Taking a look back at the week’s expenses.

End of another week, this week saw me pretty much finalize the fact that I will go over budget for the month, I will still be well under $500 a common number thrown around when talking about living abroad. With 8 days to go, a trip to the border on the 31st that will cost 600 Baht it is very unlikely that I can get by on just 40 Baht a day $1.35.

Since my last weekly summary on the 17th I have spent a whopping 1440 Baht $48.40 in 6 days nearly doubling what I needed to do, to stay comfortably on target. No unexpected expenses that I can blame it on, a simple case of needing to stock up the fridge and other supplies. I personally cannot skimp on some things the main been food & safe decent accommodation. If asked as I am often “How much do you need in Chiang Rai” to live comfortably I respond $600 and its hard to spend it all.

We now head in to the last part of this 31-day exercise, challenge, looking at life in Chiang Rai on a budget of $400 a month, along with daily summaries of what I have learnt over the last 18 months. This next part covers the last 12 months in Thailand, wanting to find somewhere that is more Thai and considerably cheaper than Phuket. In December of 2010 I took off on a small motorbike going as far South as Malacca in Southern Malaysia then turning around and heading north to Northern Thailand 23,000k in 4 months and plenty of excellent cities that I stayed in worthy of consideration. Pros and Cons on a few of the different cities, including a look at the south and a little of Malaysia. After the final setup and costs, when I found a place that I knew was going to end up been home for a while.

Day 23: Living in Thailand

Happy New Year! January – 23 – 2012 is the start of the Chinese New Year celebrated across Asia for as long as two weeks in some places. This year is the year of the dragon; each year is assigned an animal and rotates thru a 12 yearly cycle. This year happens to be my sign so I’m expecting a good year. Groceries 110 Baht – $3.70;Total for the day: 110 Baht $3.70 – Total Remaining: 815 Baht

Trang Province and Phang Nga as places to Live

December 2010 saw me hop on a small Honda Wave motorcycle in search of a place that was a lot less Westernized than Phuket. 4 months and 23,000 kilometers later I had visited and stayed in quite a few towns, most for a few weeks or more. 5-6 had nearly everything I was looking for; over the next few days I will try to cover the pros and cons of these main towns briefly.

There is only one way off the island of Phuket by road, in the north you will cross a bridge and a few kilometers later you are in the province of Phang Nga. “Thailand has 76 Provinces” Phang Nga is very small province the main town, provincial capital is called the same as the province, as is the case for the majority of the province’s in Thailand. Phang Nga is host to the “James Bond Island” it also has miles upon miles of deserted beaches on the west side, if you love nature Phang Nga has it all, mountains, waterfalls, and miles of beaches. I stayed at the Phang Nga Inn in town and explored a lot, and was truly impressed with all the province had to offer. After a week I was truly unimpressed with the town, it is tiny and has next to nothing to offer someone seeking a semi westernized lifestyle. It gets a mention because of it’s natural beauty, low cost of living. Only a short drive from Phuket makes it a possible.

Trang I couldn’t get enough of Trang, it is very high up on my list of places to live in Thailand. Described as a sleepy provincial town by most, I was not expecting a lot. The Town is huge, unfortunately land locked. The province has as much to offer as any I have ever seen, deserted beaches, islands, mountains, and waterfalls. The further you get away from Phuket in the South, the cheaper it gets. Trang is super cheap; the people are very nice not too many westerners and little nightlife. I stayed in Trang about a month; it took me that long to find a few things, which made me, carry on my search. Top of the list was lack of easy to find semi-westernized accommodation, I couldn’t find anything. Western food products are very difficult to find. 12 months later with basic Thai language skills I still think of Trang.

Day 24: Living in Thailand

Today was like many other days nothing to special, a trip into town to get me out then more of the same. Yep life’s not all visiting temples and sightseeing it can be pretty normal most days. Groceries 25 Baht – 85cts Lunch 25 Baht – 85cts; Total for the day: 50 Baht $1.70 – Total Remaining: 765 Baht

Southern Thailand is it really dangerous.

Southern Thailand is composed of fourteen different provinces of which only three are continually in the news, and could be considered somewhat dangerous. Songkla was the next province that I decided to visit on my journey south. It is a small province on the eastern coast surrounded by water on three sides and mountains on the fourth side not many tourists actually get to visit Songkla.

The city itself is very small and sits on the ocean, and is easily one of the nicest cities that I have spent time in, with large open boulevards plenty of places to sit and watch the world go by the main thing that I got from this town was it was not built for tourists. It was built for the Thai population that lives there 365 days a year. Songkla has a small expat population, it is not the normal type though comprising for the most part of oil and gas workers. Due to this you can get decent western food and accommodation at a fair price, Songkla is a possible choice and one of my favorites.

Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala are the three provinces that continue to have problems. I choose to visit all three to see for myself, just how bad it was. Without previous information I would not have known that any danger exists, except for increased military checkpoints and the occasional armored truck. At that time “2010” all problems where kept far from the main towns unaffecting the very few tourists that decided to visit. This has since changed with a small bomb going off in one hotel I stayed at, and another going off in another province just meter’s down the road from that hotel.

I loved the real south and experienced more initial random acts of kindness, from people in each of the three affected provinces than any other province in Thailand. Yala was outstanding, modern and voted cleanest city in Thailand, Patani industrial, miles of coast line not the best beaches. I do remember it having old collectible cars though. Narathiwat small, rural and beautiful deserted beaches.

Day 25: Living in Thailand

Needed a few groceries so a quick trip to Big C the equivalent of Win Dixie in the states, and home.

Groceries 165 Baht – $5.55 Total for the day: 165 Baht $5.55 – Total Remaining: 600 Baht

Malacca, Pangkor Island, Penang and KL

The Malaysian visa situation for most nationalities, is that on arrival you will get a three-month visa totally free of charge a major plus over Thailand. The next plus is the food, as Malaysia comprises of three very diverse ethnic groups food choices are in abundance, making it easier for myself to find food that I really liked. I found Malaysia to be “cheaper / better value” than Thailand, except in one single area nightlife and alcohol. Malaysia will become very expensive if you need to go out and party on a regular basis.

I stayed in three different places, the first is Penang better known for it’s very Small Island called Georgetown. A world heritage site and well worth a visit. It is probably one of the better places in Malaysia and extremely westernized yet without been modern in the true sense, many westerners have chosen to make Penang home for good reason. Then I continued on down to Pangkor Island, a tiny island situated exactly midway between Kuala Lumpur and Penang “that’s the only reason I found it” I really like this island staying a lot longer than expected. Relatively cheap for an island its primary tourists come from KL for the weekend. Great people, food, beaches, laid back lifestyle with all mod cons. I spent a couple of nights in Kuala Lumpur, and was extremely impressed with it as a capital. Expensive yes, with a little bit of money one could live what could only be described as a western-style lifestyle at about one third of the cost, one would need to spend in a western capital, without missing a beat.

The last place I stayed in was a town called Malacca in the south of Malaysia on the coast, I had high hopes for this coastal town. Been predominantly Chinese it was as good as any place that I have stayed in Thailand; with one huge exception not a single beach anywhere within 100k if you can do with out the beach, Malacca can be considered a gem, very cheap, easy accommodation, great people, choice of food off the scale, and all mod cons. I came very close to calling it a day and hanging my hat here.

To sum it up in Malaysia has a lot to offer, and is somewhere that I consider be a good option if you’re coming to Asia to work on your own projects and live cheaply without sacrificing western conveniences.

Day 26: Living in Thailand

A haircut in Thailand is cheap, for a guy it’s just 50 Baht in a traditional barbers shop, a tip is appreciated, sure you might have a few language problems, I have found a recent photo on my phone of me, with my hair how I want it cut works wonders. Haircut 70 Baht – $2.35Minutes for Phone 50 Baht – $1.70 ;Groceries 205 Baht – $6.90 ;Total for the day: 325 Baht $10.93 – Total Remaining: 275 Baht

Border towns make convenient places to live

Satun is a very small province in the southwestern corner of Thailand unaffected by the problems that have plagued three other provinces in the south. Satun is definitely worth a mention because it is a border town, which allows for an easy method of legally staying in Thailand for any amount of time, a quick trip to the border every 14 days is all that is needed, better still the cost is nothing, as entering Malaysia costs nothing unlike other borders with neighboring countries.

Satun itself is landlocked and what can only be deemed as a very small town. Surrounded by some of the most beautiful islands in Thailand it is also one of those places that is not regularly frequented by tourists, non of the western conveniences one finds in a larger town are present, a small expat community does exist though. I visited Satun after been in Thailand only three months and at that time was not looking at places in the same way as I did later, 18 months on I could easily stay in Satun a while, as it has some real good basic attributes. If you’re looking for a place that is truly Thai enjoy diving check out Satun.

Heading up the coast you eventually come to Ranong, this town also gets a mention mainly because it’s a border town. The province is as beautiful as those a little further south, and has plenty of long deserted beaches. I was taken aback by the fact that this province doesn’t get much of a mention anywhere and few tourists seem to visit it. Unlike the extreme south Ranong is a safe place to live, if you’re heavy into beach life this could be an ideal place to consider, it’s extremely cheap, larger than Satun though still typically Thai. It’s ok to put the Motorbike on the bus as you can see above, cheap rooms are bare bones the one above was 150 Baht a night in Satun.

Day 27: Living in Thailand

Today is the day I finally resigned to the fact that I will go over budget even if it is only a little and will still be well under the magical $500 figure. I have never cleaned the motorbike myself, as the cost is insanely cheap. It’s been about three months and needing doing badly. Not needing it whilst in town for a few hours made it an easy choice to get done today. Motor-Bike Wash 100 Baht – $3.35; Gas 100 Baht – $3.35; Lunch 140 Baht – $4.70; Coffee “expresso” 50 Baht – $1.70; Total for the day: 390 Baht $13.10 – Total Remaining: -115 Baht.

Beach town Hua Hin and historic Sukho Thai central Thailand

Just below Bangkok is a small costal town called Hua Hin it is a favorite with the residents of Bangkok who want to get away for the weekend and can afford to do so. It has a large community of expats. In some ways, one could describe it as a mini Phuket everything that one could consider western is provided for. Due to it being a weekend town catering to Bangkok’s rich it is definitely a place that night owls may like. Situated on the ocean you can also enjoy a semblance of beach life, though it may be a little harder to find long stretches of beaches with out tourists. I only stayed a night and was pretty much unimpressed due to the fact it reminded me so much of the worst of Phuket.

The next day I rode straight up to Sukho Thai, a 650k trip and my longest ever, one day stretch on a bike. I had read a lot about this town before leaving America and earmarked it, as somewhere to hang out for a while, I was not disappointed and found it to be one of the better towns I have stayed in. It does have a trickle of tourists coming through, which meant that I was able to easily find a wide array of restaurants serving western food and good cheap short-term accommodation was in abundance, apart from been stuck in the middle of Thailand it struck me as a good place to stay a few weeks and get to know better. The other lasting memory I have of Sukho Thai is “HOT” I wont go out if the temp drops below 60F / 15.5C so hot is not something I have ever had to worry about, been in the flatlands of Thailand it has to be one of the hottest places in Thailand for a few months each year. If you’re looking for a truly Thai existence, take a week or two in Sukho Thai to learn more about it, two days just wasn’t enough for me to really get a good handle on the town as a place to setup in.

Day 28: Living in Thailand

With yesterday’s final resignation to the fact, I will fail on living in Chiang Rai for a month on $400 a month. I decided to let up on myself and head on out for a nice Italian dinner for two, the same thing back in the west would cost around $40.00. Dinner for two 260 Baht – $8.75; Total for the day: 260 Baht $8.75 – Total Remaining: -375 Baht.

Pai and Chiang Mai, advantage’s and disadvantage’s

I have visited Chang Mai three times now, the most recent been just a few weeks ago. The first two times had me shaking my head asking why so many people rave about the place, it is true that Chiang Mai is lacking in nothing, it has a much to offer as any large western city. On my third visit I started to like it a little, the only reason I can see that my view is changing, is I’m more comfortable in Thailand now, everything is pretty easy nothing seems so difficult any more, I can find my way around, ask questions and find pretty much anything I need where people speak Thai. I’m now in Bangkok as I write this and even Bangkok, now seems to be quite manageable.

If your coming to Thailand for the first time without knowing a soul either in Bangkok or Chiang Mai like any large city worldwide they will be difficult to settle into, and expensive. With friends in either or having stayed in Thailand for quite some time first I can see the attraction of these two cities now.

The small town of Pai was a favorite with hippies many years back, that initial branding seems to have stuck, and it is still a favorite amongst the younger backpacking crowd, looking for a cheap out of the way place to chill and party.

I liked Pai and stayed about a week there. The first few days I was impressed with the choice of accommodation and food, after a few days I was done, it is a very small. If you’re looking for small village to live in Pai could work, accommodation is plentiful and cheap, no problems with language, nearly all types of Western food that you can think of are available in the many different restaurants. No supermarkets though, just a couple of 7/11s. Chiang Mai, been the nearest place to stock up.

Day 29: Living in Thailand

Today I decided to take it easy and catch up on work. A quick trip to the market in the morning to break things up, then I met up with a friend later for ice cream. Groceries 225 Bt-$7.55; Ice Cream 50 Bt – $1.70; Total for the day: 275 Bt $9.25 – Total Remaining: -650 Bt.

Chiang Rai great accommodation with all the western conveniences.

After Pai I headed on towards Mae Hong Song. After a few kilometers I pretty much did an abrupt u-turn in the road and decided to head on back to Chiang Rai ending my search. I had stayed there a month and loved it; of all the towns I had stayed in it was the only one that had all I deemed to be the perfect town. An abundance of cheap western accommodation, access to all western foods, great people Thai and Farang, close to a border and a decent airport with plenty of flights daily. I like to think of Chiang Rai as a small Chang Mai. Having been here before I checked in to one of the guesthouses I’d seen before and started to look for an apartment. I have since found even better short-term accommodation in Chiang Rai. The B2 hotel group offers excellent deals in many towns.

The main things that made Chiang Rai so attractive was the choice and quality of the accommodation within my budget, less than $150 per month. It is difficult to drive down a street and not find a building that is not being renovated, or a new one that is under construction. Plus all those that are finished.

Spotting a Thai apartment building one would think should be easy; it took me a while to figure out what the basic rental buildings looked like. They all look very similar like this one with out the corner. I settled on this building, the design and size is pretty much the same in all of them, all over the country, one big master plan. The only difference you will find is; Age and condition, TV and fridge or not, Internet speed, and the amount of windows / daylight. I have never seen one with cooking facilities.

The old saying you get what you pay for, is a good bench mark to use I did not find anything in any town that was excellent, for less than 3000 baht $95 a month. The good ones tend to start around 3500 baht. Simply put the cheaper ones will attract students, which equals late nights and noise. On the plus side those around 4,000 are quite the opposite and offer excellent value, for an extra $30 a month. 5,000 is really the max, anything more and your been ripped off, half decent houses start at 3,000 baht a month.

Day 30: Living in Thailand

Nothing special today, a quick trip in to town for lunch and a visit to the local market. Tomorrow I have to make the 2 weekly trip to the border in Mae Sai and plan on going over into Myanmar for a while. Groceries 110 Baht – $3.70 Lunch 25 Baht – 85cts Total for the day: 135 Baht $4.55 – Total Remaining: -785 Baht.

Things I have purchased here in Thailand, which enable me to live comfortably.

Even though these simple rooms are furnished, some even coming with a fridge and a TV. It is unlikely that you will find bed linen, or any type of other things, which will make life fairly normal. No kitchen utensils, coffeemaker, desk and chair. And there is transportation to consider. Chiang Rai has two shopping malls; so finding what you need is not going to be a problem. Some simple things to remember though. If it’s made in Thailand it will be cheap, otherwise expect the same price as in the west or more.

Transportation is the big one, to enjoy your free time you will need to get around. I have covered renting a motorbike in Thailand. If you are staying a while it only makes sense to purchase one. Best and easiest choice is new; you could get a second hand one and navigate the registration, good luck! Buying new the dealer will do all the work, use it for a year and you can sell it easily for 70% Cost new around $1200. Other basics include bed linen, count on around $100 for something decent.

I know people that can survive without even making coffee at home, I cannot. As you may have noticed a lot of my daily entries refer to groceries been able to eat what I want, when I want, is very important to me. I just don’t do well on rice and noodles 14 times a week, a few times is cool. Eating western foods in local restaurants will add a few hundred dollars monthly to your budget, and it may not be as good as you can do yourself for a ¼ of the price. A hot plate and basic stuff to allow you to eat at home can be found easily and cheaply, as most is made in Thailand. $200 should easily cover the setup.

If you’re working online, sitting on the end of a bed crouching over a laptop is not the best setup. My extra expenses have included a decent desk, chair and a second screen; none of the three were particularly expensive or cheap just shop around like in the west. Cost for having a perfect working environment $500 Once your over looking at temples, waterfalls and 4 people on a motorbike, you may start to ask your self what next? I started cycling again, maybe you prefer the gym the Meridian here in Chiang Rai costs around $30 a month.

Day 31: Living in Thailand

Today brings us to the end of documenting a month in Chiang Rai and the costs involved in living here decently. I had aimed to stay under $400 for the month as a challenge to my self and to show what standard of living that offers. Tomorrow I will sum up the month and explain why I believe $400 is a challenge but possible. Border run 500 Baht – $16.80 Gas 90 Baht – $3.00 Breakfast 70 Baht – $2.35

Total for the day: 660 Baht $22.15 – Total Remaining: -1445 Baht.

Don’t start a fight in Thailand

Thai people are extremely accommodating, and do not expect you to have any concept of their culture therefore you are unlikely to have any problems should you make a mistake. On the other hand if you take the time to learn some of the most basic phrases, hello, thank you, do you speak English? And learn the correct way to greet people using the wai. a whole new world will open up for you.

The only thing that can get you in to serious trouble is stupid confrontational behavior. Raising your voice is just not ok; you will just get nothing done. Fighting or anything that comes close will get you a serious beating; this is because any Thai in the vicinity will come to aide the other. This includes going over to help some girl who is been dragged around by her Thai boyfriend, she will turn on you also.

Dating in Thailand is pretty much the same as the west, the same characteristics that you would look for in a partner back home, apply here. The few differences are as follows. In the west a percentage of women are looking for a “rich husband” the same is true here. The difference is that if like me, you’re just an average Joe back home, those types of girls would not give you a minute. Here in Asia you suddenly become rich by local standards, been tall and a westerner you’re easy to spot.

I see a lot of idiots that presume all Thai women would give their right arm, to find a rich westerner and be able to emigrate to the west; nothing is farther than the truth 99% of Thai people are quite happy and would never consider dating someone, who they can not communicate with. Been close to family is very important also. Another common problem I hear is, the difference in diet been too great.

Total $458 for the month of January 2012.

Here we are at the end of the month. I hope that through documenting the month’s costs day by day, you now have a little better idea of what living in Thailand is really like with less than $500 a month. At the beginning of the month my goal was to get by on just $400 I chose that number because it is a relatively insignificant amount to most westerners. As you have seen maintaining a budget like this is possible, though not easy.

Without dissecting every satang / dime / penny, $200 a month, will get you good safe western accommodation and cover your utilities, Internet and phone. The rest is what I like to deem pocket money 6,000 baht / $200 allows you to eat well and have a little fun. 12,000 is better.

The number that I carry around in my head and fall around most months is $600 this allows me the exact same living setup as you have seen, but doubles my daily allowance for food and other activities, this is very attainable with little effort, and offers a lot more freedom.

Some things you will need to remember when considering this budget: Is I have my own transportation. Count on spending another $100 a month to be mobile if you dont buy a motorbike. Because I have been living in Thailand for 18 months, is another big reason why I am able to live on such a small budget. I did not live on such a small amount from day 1 I made a lot of costly mistakes, during my journey to get to this point.

I would suggest that anybody coming to Thailand for the first time, budget considerably more than $600 a month for the first three months, unless you make friends with people already living here before you arrive. This should help you skip a whole lot of the time consuming mistakes and other expenses, allowing you to be up and running in a few weeks on a budget similiar to what you have seen.

When asked; What is the main difference’s between the standard of living in America and Thailand? It’s real simple, I spend 85% less than I used too. Rather than driving a large SUV I now ride a small motorbike. On the accommodation front; I had a large one-bedroom apartment in a nice area, with a water view. Today it’s a large studio, in a nice area, with a mountain view.

That’s it on the cost of living front; Thailand has a lot more to offer than just been a place to live on a small western income. Where to start is hard because it has a lot, next up will be a few short trips I have taken recently. Here is a video of one on the islands Koh Chang Resort 4 stars for just $30 a night.

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  1. All mostly helpful. As I have not travelled to all those places mentioned, I cannot vouch for the veracity of all comments. I did not like Phuket. Too crowded and too much like every major tourist town in the world. Too westernised, even Thai food.

    Prefer Chiang Khong, a beautiful rural town on the Mekong in far NE Thailand.

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