OK, we have white hair, we are recently retired, travel six months of the year to escape the brutal northern winters, we are snowbirds by definition. My wife and I have spent years of footloose travel looking for the perfect destination to eventually winter during our yearly retirement migration. We are late blooming boomers who are at the tail end of that generation, as such we have different cultural requirements. We consider ourselves too young for Miami, Scottsdale and Las Vegas and too old for youth hostel bunk beds. Living on a golf course doesn’t interest us, we grew up traveling the world and feel comfortable in exotic destinations preferring the excitement of new cultural experiences. Cruising is definatley out, too restricting, not enough personal space for people like us who came into the world as young adventure travelers in the 1960’s and 70’s , have tasted the delightful freedom of alternative destinations and enjoy a spirit of wanderlust. Europe is a memory of our youthful backpacking. Long gone are the days of ‘Europe on 5&10 dollars a day’. The costs of traveling in France, Spain and Great Britain have become so onerous when purchasing Euro’s with Canadian dollars that we simply could not afford to stay six months there, and then there is the winter weather, not good. Of course these are all personal choices. Most Canadians don’t retire wealthy, the national taxation is egregious while working and the pensions in retirement are abysmal to non existent for the majority. We remain budget travelers, almost the same as we were when we first discovered Asia.
We would have considered destinations like Mexico, Africa or Near East, which we loved when we were young, but by the time we were retired it was no longer safe to reside there in our opinion based on national travel advisories and the news reports of responsible independent journalists. It is unfortunate for the countries and peoples of Mexico, Guatemala, Salvador, Belize etc., but we feel that residing there would be an unnecessary risk to ourselves knowing there were other opportunities. I don’t run as fast as I once could. I won’t paint the whole world with the same brush, but sufficed to say I am increasingly concerned about our safety as we are growing older. Towards retirement our selection criteria began to narrow down to highlight the things we thought were important to us.
In our situation the best course of action was to find a longer term modern apartment rental in a safe inexpensive country that welcomes tourists to hunker down for the winter. This methodology keeps our costs down and under our control. Surprisingly , there are precious few options in the world that met our increasingly demanding set of criteria. We wanted security, easy access, good transportation, modern facilities for medical and finance. We need ADSL high speed internet connections that are reliable, good shopping, inexpensive fresh food and easy communication as well as some proximity to nice people we could socialize with during the time we were here. We wanted an apartment with all the mod-cons at a reasonable cost that included telephone, cable/satellite.
Here in Bangkok our checklist disappeared with reservation. It was easy to find an apartment over the internet, with the proviso that we had made several scouting trips to Thailand before we decided to make the move and knew where we wanted to locate. We choose not to live in a strictly ex-pat enclave because we don’t want to be discussing the same issues as we would at home for the entire winter. The local Thai’s are fun, active, good hearted and very social. It is a different culture so we realize it’s up to us to fit in, not the other way around.
Over the past twenty years a social and economic miracle has happened in Thailand. Millions have been lifted out of poverty and an explosion in the middle class has created the infrastructure that provides us with a modern and comfortable lifestyle. As we say, “Bangkok is like home, with better weather”. Spoken English in the institutions, ubiquitous malls and hypermarkets is the norm now as opposed to the first time I arrived thirty seven years ago. Thai hospitals have an excellent reputation and remain inexpensive as are private clinics, doctors visits and dentistry. Thailand is famous among Asians for the low cost and high fashion apparel that is available. Thailand has become known as ‘The Hip Kingdom’ because of the growth in the design industry.
Our costs, including airfare, visa’s, rental, food, transportation allowance and at least one ice cream cone every day amounts to $ 1730.00 per month in Canadian dollars. The fully furnished condo we rent provides us with all the mod-cons, 160 sq meters, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, wrap around deck, overlooking a huge pool for the princely sum of $700 per month. ADSL is $12 p/m, water and electricity total $40 p/m. Laundry in the building costs 30 cents per machine use. The airfare to get here was $1250 x’s 2, the two extra visa expenses add up to $1200 over the six month period. These costs are all factored into the total cost stated of $1730.00. With some adjustments after pensions, our savings are safe at these rates of expenditures. We plan to realign our investments further to exclude risk by purchasing only dividend paying equities as well as finding a short term tenant for the period we are away. In a perfect world our winters away should cost us nothing in the future. That’s ‘plan ‘A’.
We have yet to cook a full meal in our fully equipped kitchen. Except for occasional egg, morning coffee or microwave snack we eat out 99.9% of the time. It’s so incredibly cheap to eat here. The qualifier is that we eat only Thai food most of the time, and love it. There are many western style restaurants immediately available from which we defer but that is a choice not a necessity. As an example, I just popped out to pick up a take out lunch for my busy wife who’s keeping up by taking university credit courses online towards a degree in education.
At the end of my driveway there are several food outlets that service the office building crowd. You might refer to these as ‘food carts’ although that would be a generalization as they are permanent fixtures. One dish of steamed chicken on rice with a celery-cilantro soup and a tall ice tea drink with milk cost a grand total of 50 baht or $1.55 cents cdn. By extension, lunch for two was less than $3.00 for two, delicious. We have never had health issues eating from the local vendors in case you want to know.
Our days consist of pool time, eating out, following our interests, communicating with an international tribe of snowbirds and family via Skype and our social media profile is active, blogging ( https://jwesthardin.wordpress.com) , producing content for our You Tube Channel (http://www.youtube.com/user/patriciaolson9), writing travel articles for various international magazines along with working on my latest novel or text book projects. When the sun cools down, and believe me when I say that only mad dogs and Englishmen venture out in the noon day sun, we venture around the city on the very flexible and inexpensive public transportation system.
Thailand sits at the center of a varied and fascinating geography. We consider all of S.E. Asia a playground. Air fares are very inexpensive. Air Asia is the lowest cost provider in the region. A flight from Bangkok to Georgetown Malaysia on the island of Penang is $100 return when booked in advance. Based in Kuala Lumpur, Air Asia sometimes reduces fares to attract new business and that provides great travel opportunities around the region. We have flown to Bali from Bangkok for as little as $100 and to Singapore for $70.00. No destination is more than a few hours away. Land borders include Myanmar , Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia where bus and train travel are easy access vehicles for the traveler with some spare time on their hands. I asked myself today, “Is Thailand the new ‘it’ destination for snowbirds?” The answer was an unequivocal ‘yes’.