There’s something happening here.  It’s not exactly clear.  The hot season here in Thailand (and it looks like around the world too) seems to be getting hotter and longer (I just learned that the last June was the hottest one on record – for the whole world!).  It is the rainy season now so we are experiencing a little respite.  We’ve got about 8 really good months ahead of us.  But I’m not really sure we can take another hot season like the last one

So, Pikun and I need your advice.

Last hot season was close to unbearable for us.  We don’t like air conditioning but had to turn it on just about every night just to get to sleep.  I have a thermometer on my back patio, in the shade, and it registered over 40°C every day for more than 6 weeks.  That is 104°F for those of you who are metrically challenged.  When I first came to Thailand, it rarely got to 38°C, and then only once or twice a season.  Something is happening here.

So, here is why we need your advice.  We are thinking of running away from Thailand for a month or so during the worst part of the year, sort of a vacation from our retirement.

We have a few places in mind but there are a some conditions.

  • It has to be a cool place, both weather-wise and metaphorically, someplace below 30°C during April and May.
  • It has to be affordable.  We don’t have lots of extra money.  We live off of Social Security so we would have to cut back a bit during the year to be able to afford the plane fare.  If the cost of living there is low enough then our expenses should be about the same as here.  Since we won’t have to run the air conditioner we might even save money by not having such a high electric bill.  It might even be cheaper to leave here in the hot weather.
  • It has to be a place that isn’t presently at war with anyone.

Here are a few places we are considering.

1. Kunming, China and its surroundings like Lijiang and Dali and Shangri-La (Yes there really is a place called Shangri-La.  Check here to see some pictures.)   It is close to us, straight to the north,.  It’s cool in April.  The surrounding Yunnan province seems like a very interesting place, has great food, and it is cheap.

Lijiang, near Kunming, China

2. Turkey We have been to Istanbul and love it, the people and the food, the Haja Sophia, Grand Bazaar, Topkapi, and the Blue Mosque. I would love to see them all again.  Turkey probably has the best food in the world besides where we live now.  We would like to visit the southern coast.  But it seems like Turkey may be facing some terrorist problems (mainly in the Kurdish east) so we will have to keep an eye out for that.

Istanbul - one of our favorite cities

3. Southern Spain and Portugal We will have to keep an eye on the Euro.  If it goes into the toilet this might be the cheapest place of all, and with my high school Spanish still in my brain somewhere, the language wouldn’t be a problem.

Savilla, Spain

We would love to hear from anyone who has ever been to these places?  What do you think?  Does it meet the above conditions of fun, cheap, peaceful, and most of all, cool?

Do you have any other places that you might recommend?  I am sure that others reading here might be interested too.  We can’t be the only ones who almost went nuts during the last hot season.  Pikun and I are in our 60s.  Maybe that is the problem with the heat.  I don’t think it is, but it could have something to do with our not being able to take it anymore.

There is something happening here and I am hoping that you might be able to give us some advice.

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I usually work in my garden early in the mornings before it gets too hot.  Often a Scotsman who lives nearby, rides by on his bicycle.  While I am hoeing away in the increasingly hot sun, he tells me bicycle riding is the only exercise he gets.  But today he has to cut it short and hurry back, he says, since today is his “drinking day”.  “What’s a drinking day” I naively ask.  “Four or five days a week I set aside for drinking”, he says, “and the other days I rest up to get ready for the next ‘drinking day’”.  “I bike every drinking day morning just to keep things in balance.” he adds.

Boy, if I could only keep to as strict an exercise schedule as that, it would do wonders for my golf game.

“So what do you do on your drinking days?” I ask.  “We start out at a nice place for brunch, mainly because their beers are the lowest priced in town.  By lunchtime I move on to meet up with my lunch buddies at a pleasant drinking-hole right in town.  Then we head on to the place we call the “Happy Hour Pub” where beers are half price until dinner time.  Of course after that we get serious.  My day usually goes from 11am – 11pm.  So you see I have to bike in order to stay in shape.”

In these blogs, I have to admit, I do give advice.  But I try not to judge, least you begin to judge me.  So if my Scottish friend is content with his lifestyle then that is fine with me.  Although his daily routine may seem a bit extreme, he is by far not alone here in Thailand in his love of the juice. Alcohol is a serious Expat (I want to say problem but since I am not being judgmental) “activity”.

I have to own up to the fact that I have been there myself.  So I know the allure of being sloshed in the tropics, surrounded by beautiful scenery, a warm climate, easy ladies, and cheap alcohol.  Those days ended with the birth of my first son.  For me, being a dad, won out over the rest.  Oh, I still have the tropics, and beautiful scenery, and warm climate.  The others, I’ll just have to remember what they were like.  And like the “road less taken” that has made all the difference.

I was out at dinner with a Brit friend and we got around to talking about a mutual acquaintance.  I mentioned that I thought he might be overdoing the drinking a bit.  I said that at  a dinner we had together he had a couple of beers and a large tumbler of Thai whisky before the meal, a whole bottle of wine at dinner, and then a few brandies afterwards.  My English friend said that, on the contrary, he didn’t think that was excessive.  He said, “Now 2 bottles of wine at dinner, that would be too much.”  Just to be nosey, and to be able to add this piece of information to this blog post, I asked him what he spent on alcohol in an average month.  “Well” he said, “if we don’t have many dinner guests then we spend only about 30,000 baht per month.”  I tried not to act too surprised since that was more than we spend on food, gasoline, and utilities combined.  But who’s judging, right?

From my deep research on this piece (consisting of a Google search on “alcoholism in Thailand” plus just looking around me) I discovered that “Alcoholism in Thailand ranks 5th highest in world”.  Except for road accidents, wife beatings, crime increase, rotting internal organs, and really, really bad decision making, maybe nothing is wrong with that.  From what I have seen, Expats living in Thailand do nothing to bring these statistics down.  I don’t really think that Thailand is the cause of Expat alcoholism though.  I agree with a recent post I saw on an Expat forum.  The poster said that he didn’t think that Thailand caused Expats to drink, he thought that people who already had a fondness for the brew simply felt very comfortable coming to live  in this environment.  They are attracted here and fit right in.

I am quite often the odd man out since I do not drink.  But on a recent visit to the hospital (Annual Checkup), the doctor met with me after all the test were in.  She was all smiles as the test were even better than the last time I was in.  “You’re 64, right?”  “Yep”.  “And do you smoke?”, “Nope.”  “How much do you drink?” she asked.  “Nothing.” I answered.  “No wonder!” she replied.

On the whole, Expat drinking in Thailand, and especially by us retirees, is really none of my business.  But when those Expats are my friends then maybe I have a horse in this race.  It would be fine if my 30,000 baht worth-of-alcohol-a-month friend was in great shape, but he isn’t.  He has more things wrong with his insides than I even knew were in there to begin with.  If he would at least cut down then maybe I would have a friend for a little longer.  Now I don’t know.

I do know what happened to my friend from the land of Oz though.  A loving husband and father, and in typical down-under fashion, a lover of beer, when diabetes came along he was faced with the choice of taking care of his health or continuing to drink his beer.  The beer won out.

I lost a friend, a wife has lost a husband, and a child has lost a father. In this case, the cost of alcohol was simply too high.

Annual Checkup

July 3, 2010

Every two years or so I go for my annual checkup.  I know, it should probably be called a “biannual” checkup, but if I called it that then I would probably go only once every four years.  So this is better.  We just came back from Chiang Mai Ram Hospital, the main hospital in town that caters to the Expat crowd.  That isn’t the reason I go there though.  I go there because it is the best one in town and gives great service – for about one tenth the price I would have to pay back home.

A few years ago, after my last “annual” checkup, I wrote the piece below.  It is now a chapter in my book Retired Life in Thailand (Check out lots of other ebooks about Thailand at: ebooksinthailand.com/).

I am often asked about medical care in Thailand by people who are thinking of retiring here.  In a large city like Chiang Mai where I live, the medical care is excellent.  To help answer these questions I thought it would be a good time to resurrect the piece below.

Annual Checklup

My wife and I hadn’t done anything together for a long time so I thought that we could go out and do something as a couple for once.  Like a good wife, married to the same man for more than a third of a century, she said “Let’s go and get our annual physical checkup.”  Now that sounded romantic.  If you haven’t had experience with the medical services in Thailand, and you are thinking of a checkup, here is what you would be in for.

I usually go for twice as many miles than I should before I get around to changing the oil in my car.  So I wasn’t surprised to learn that it had been three years since my last “annual” physical.  There are a number of hospitals in our area where one can get a complete work up.  There is the government hospital.  It is very affordable and since the hospital is affiliated with the local university’s medical school, the doctors are all very well trained and most have had advanced studies in the US or Europe so they speak English.  There are also very good private hospitals here that cater to the many Farangs, Expats, and medical tourists.  Many of the doctors are the same as you would find at the government hospital (they moonlight), the equipment is first class, the service impeccable, but the price is about three times what the government hospital charges.  Waiting times are much less though so we opt for the private one.

At most Thai hospitals everyone is a walk-in.  We told the admitting nurse what we wanted and she took a detailed medical history.  Waiting time so far, 0 minutes.  After that we then had to pick and choose, sort of like from a restaurant menu, all the different tests and procedures we thought we should get.

The computer gives a list of suggestions for people our age and the nurse walks us through what each procedure is for and she helps us decide.  My wife doesn’t like mammograms and I hate the prostate exams so we decide to forego them.  The nurse gives us both a stern lecture about how important they are and we reluctantly give in.  I see from the list that it is a “digital” prostate exam and figure that anything digital entails the use of a computer so I think that maybe it won’t be so bad this time.  I forgot that the word “digital” has another meaning altogether (“finger”, same root though since we usually begin to count using our fingers).  I didn’t get off as easily as I thought and there was no computer involved in my “digital” exam.

Here is what I chose.  Blood test for blood sugar, kidney and liver functions and about 100 things including cholesterol and 4 different kinds of cancer, an EKG, ABI (Ankle Brachial Index) which test to see if there are any circulatory blockages, chest X-ray, abdominal ultrasound that looks at liver, kidneys, spleen, bladder, etc., urinalysis, BMI (body mass index) and Fat Mass (where I got a pretty strong lecture), and of course that “digital” thing.  The computer figured out the bill right there.  A minute later we were off to our tests.  So far I hadn’t had time for the book I brought to read while I waited.

Everyone I went to from the technician who drew blood, to the X-ray guy, to the nurse who scolded me for being too fat, to the “digital” urologist, were all skilled, very professional and very respectful.  The test results were ready the next morning.  When you come back you talk to a doctor (in English) who explains all the results and offers suggestions or follow up treatment.  If there is any indication that you will need to consult with a specialist then you are sent to one immediately.  No waiting.

At the end of it all you are given a Health Checkup Report that has all your results and recommendations.  This is very useful if you need to consult with different doctors in the future.

I would say that my wife and I had a very successful, fun, day out.  You might want to try it.  Time spent: 3 hours.  Cost: 6,000 baht.  Knowing that you have a clean bill of health: priceless.

For a list of accredited hospitals in Thailand check out Retire2Thailand’s Medical Facilities page: http://retire2thailand.com/retire2-medical-facilities.php

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