Retiring in Thailand Can Be Good for One’s Health

February 9, 2011

I am just getting over a cold. I could call it the flu so people will feel sorrier for me but it was probably just a head cold. That’s not such a big deal, at least not something to post about – except for the fact that it is the first cold I have had in about 10 years. This made me think about how healthful my retirement to Thailand has been. I just don’t get sick here.

For most prospective retirees to Thailand, one of their first questions asked is about their health. Usually the questions center around “health care”, meaning doctors, hospitals, and medications.  “Health care” in this sense is a misnomer since what they are really asking about is “illness care”, or what kind of care they will have in Thailand in case they get sick. I have written before about Thailand’s health care system (Annual Checkup) and how I believe that you will be well taken care of here. But it is probably better to stay healthy in the first place.

Anyone who has been around Thai Buddhism for even a short time learns that the Lord Buddha taught that if we are going to be born, then we will be subject to growing old, getting sick, and dying. If you are getting ready to retire then you have probably done the first two already, you’ve been born and you’ve grown older. Since we are going to try to put off the 4th one, dying, for as long as possible then it’s the 3rd one that we are usually the most concerned about. Today I want to talk about the fact that Thailand is a very easy place to live a lifestyle that will keep you healthy, and delay “getting sick”, and hopefully that 4th one, for as long as possible.

Please note that I am talking about a life outside the city of Bangkok. It is my observation that when one lives in Hell then staying healthy, is not only close to impossible, it is the least of your worries. Also, I know that for many Expats here, I am speaking mainly of men now, their days in Thailand are full of beer guzzling and their nights spent pretending that they are still young and studly (enthusiastically encouraged by nubile working girls I might add). Sorry guys but that number 4 mentioned above might be creeping up on you faster than you think. Good luck.

But for the rest of us, if you want to live a healthy lifestyle then Thailand makes it easy for you.

A healthful climate

I was just talking to a friend back home who recently developed a diabetic condition. He needs to change his diet and to get out and exercise more. They just experienced their third major snowstorm of the winter. He tells me that he’ll start exercising sometime in May or June when the weather breaks. Here in Thailand it is always summer.

It is easy to live an active lifestyle here. Walking, running, bicycling, swimming, snorkeling, gardening, hiking, golfing, tennis are all great activities available to all of us, free or at a minimal cost. I myself spend about 40 minutes a day walking or doing as much jogging as theses old legs will allow. Then I work in the garden for an hour or two (my main responsibility is our compost pile) and do some yoga, and lift some light weights and do a bunch of pushups (sadness about the recent death of the pushup advocate and exercise gurus, “The Godfather of Fitness”  Jack LaLanne at the age of 96). Also there is my weekly golf game, but I am not quite sure if it is lengthening or shortening my life, but I love it anyway.

If you are going to be active in Thailand, here are a few bits of advice.

1. Keep yourself hydrated. It’s hotter here than we are used to and you need to keep you body in balance. That goes for electrolytes too.

2. If you are going to walk, run, or bike, be very careful on the roads. I always walk/run against the traffic and off to the side or on a sidewalk so I can see the traffic coming and jump out of the way if I have to. I also, on a bike, always wear a bicycle helmet. I also think they look cool too.

3. Be careful of poorly constructed sidewalks which sometimes make going for a walk like running an obstacle course. Watch you step and watch your head. You are just as likely to fall in a hole as you are to crack open your head on some low hanging sign.

4. Beware of dogs. Most dogs will just make a lot of noise and scare you. They are just doing what they should by protecting their turf. I talk to the street dogs softly, ask permission to pass through their territory, put my hands down to my side and let them smell me, and sometimes bring some crackers with me and drop them on the ground for them to eat. After they know you they will let you pass the next time since they know you aren’t a threat. I see some walkers carrying big sticks and holding rocks ready to throw at any canine that comes close. I myself would rather make friends than enemies. But never turn your back on any dog as they love to nip at your ankles, and it is not a good idea to pet any dogs you encounter. They are simply not used to that. A dog bite of any kind means a trip to the doctor to get a fun series of rabies vaccinations. You might want to avoid that.

5. In the hot season do your activities as early as you can or wait until the sun sets. To quote Noel Coward:

In Bangkok, at twelve o’clock, they foam at the mouth and run,

But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

You are what you eat

I just read this on another blog: ‘The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that Americans have become “obesogenic,” meaning they live in an environment of unhealthy foods — one that encourages increased food intake and decreased physical activity.’ I think that for many of us, life in Thailand can be the exact opposite of an American “obesogenic” lifestyle.

It is easy and good for your health to avoid processed food. I haven’t seen a canned or frozen vegetable since coming to Thailand. Fresh fruits and vegetables abound. Now it is not very easy to be a complete vegetarian or vegan here as the Thais love their meat and fish. But the meat servings are usually quite small so that even if you are an omnivore like I am you won’t be eating those huge slabs of flesh that westerners love.

Another thing that works for me is the small servings you usually get at your local noodle or rice shop. In the west one gets used to huge servings. In fact, restaurants are often rated good or bad by the size of their portions. You may have heard the old joke about the guy talking about the new restaurant in town, “The food is lousy, almost inedible” he says.  “And what’s worse is that their portions are so small.” No problem here, they are all small. It took me a while but I finally realized that the small bowls of noodles they serve here are just right. I had learned to overeat before. Now I stop when I have had enough – one small bowl of noodles. I do go to one of those all-you-can-eat buffets about once every 2 months or so though. Hey, I don’t eat breakfast or dinner on those days so I guess it’s okay.

I am beginning to see overweight Thais for the first time. Invariably those with weight problems are living a lifestyle quite similar to our western friends back home. This is sad.

Life without stress

Stress is not the best thing for a healthy life. I am not sure whether living the less stressful life that I have now has to do with my living here in Thailand (outside of Bangkok of course) or my being retired. It is probably a little of both. Just the word “work” is stress producing. My commute use to be 55 minutes of rush hour traffic each way, every day. Now it entails getting out of bed and sitting down at my computer. As long as you don’t start a business here, or start building a house (two of the most stressful activities one can undertake – and make that double when trying to do it in Thailand) then the most stress one should have in Thailand is trying to sink that 4 foot putt to save double bogie. I can live with that.

As Mr. Spock said “Live long and prosper” or as Shakespeare said before him “Live and be prosperous.” Either way, I wish you good health.

Update on health care in Chiang Mai

I recently received the email below from a long time resident of Chiang Mai.

Subject: Not happy with Chiang Mai Ram Hospital

I have been a patient at Chiang Mai Ram Hospital for 16 years. Today, I went to have a small sebaceous cyst removed from the back of my neck. The surgeon there, Dr. Seri, said that the cost would be 15,000 Baht for the half-hour procedure. I knew this was crazy, so I went to Sripat, the government hospital. I had the procedure done there for 1,800 Baht, including medicine. Many other people I know are also complaining about the prices. Even the excellent Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok is cheaper than Ram.

Chiang Mai Ram has lost me as a patient.

The moral of the story: It is always a good idea to do some comparison shopping.

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7 Responses to “Retiring in Thailand Can Be Good for One’s Health”

  1. Ernie Geefay said

    Regarding health care in Thailand, that’s one area where Thailand has really got the America beat.
    I just came back from Thailand in January where, for the fifth year in a row, I got a complete physical: Blood work, EKG, carotid echography test, Upper and Lower abdominal ultrasound, chest Xray, Cardio Stress Test, Urinalysis, Stool Examination…all for $400!!!
    Just the Stress Test alone would have cost $3000-$4000 in the US. The blood work alonge would have eaten up the $400

    Americans are getting ripped off by the health care profession and the sad part about it is that they are blissfully ignorant about how expensive their “free market” health care system is. Everyone in health care here wants to make a bundle: Doctors, Insurance Companies, Drug Companies, hospitals. It’s all about protecting their own industry and overcharging to increase profits.

    In Thailand hospitals post their costs for everything from a colonoscopy to heart bypass surgery so you can compare the cost at different hospitals. That’s how the free market is suppose to work, right.

    But here in the US You won’t ever find a price list by any doctor or hospital in the US. Go ahead. call your local hospital and see if you can get a price list for a colonoscopy, and EKG, an X-ray, even the daily cost of a hospital room. Good luck. It’s all very secret. You can’t compare or shop for better rates. The US medical profession doesn’t want any comparison shopping that would force doctors and hospitals to compete with each other on price. And no price advertising PLEASE!!!

    In Thailand they have the option of a public health care system that is free for everyone and a private system that provides better service and more options if you are willing to pay for it. The private option is still ten to fifteen times cheaper than in the US because the public option forces it to be competitive in order to woo patients. In the US there’s no choice. No public. Only and overly expensive private system.
    Two years ago I had a condition called Esophageal dysphagia. The throat doctor in my hometown in California said he could fix the problem for $2500 in his office. I went to a Thai PUBLIC HOSPITAL (used my US passport as ID) and had the surgery done for $100…including the doctor and the anesthesiologist and a biopsy. Try to find that in the USA!!!!

  2. Catherine said

    Just checking…

  3. Alan said

    Is there medical/hospital insurance available for expats? If so, any idea of the monthly costs? Or are the across the counter costs (as you mention above) so reasonable, insurance is not required. Also how about genuine medication. Such as Lipitor. Is it readily available and a genuine product not an Indian fake?

    Thanks for you great reading for a “possible” expat from Australia.

    • Alan,

      Thanks for reading. You can get insurance here, health, life, accident, etc. Cost usually depends on your age and situation. Do a Google search (insurance Thailand) and check with ThaiVisa.com. I personally never recommend any specific company as I do what I do gratis so I am under no obligations. I personally rely on a personal bank account where I keep enough to pay for for a triple bypass and I never touch the money. If I’m going to have something that costs more than a triple bypass then it’s probably curtains for me anyway.

      I was just reading about someone who gets Lipitor here, the real kind. But I don’t know the prices. Here is a contact for a large local pharmacy. They usually speak some English so drop a dime and give them a call (or use Skype) and see if they can answer your questions (http://www.chiangmaiinfo.com/directory/categories/drugs_and_pharmacy/listings/1531). I just bought a generic drug made in Thailand. Some can be just fine while others may be less of a quality than you are used to. It would all depend. You can usually get the real thing – but the cost will be much higher.

      Good luck on your retirement plans.

      • Alan said

        Many thanks for your prompt and informative reply. I’ll follow up as you suggest. Just purchasing your ebook now. Cheers Alan

      • Danny said

        So Hugh, How much is a triple bybass anyway? I too want to have enough socked away for the worst possible senario.
        -Danny

  4. If you are interested in prices for medical procedures the best thing to do is go to the hospital of choice and ask at the information desk. Quite often they will have a price list for you to look at – room costs, cost for tests and procedures, surgeries, etc. Dental offices will also have price lists. Sometimes you will find a price list on their web site also.

    When you get a checkup at a hospital you will get to choose the tests you want and after you have chosen they will tell you exactly what your costs will be. And quite often (especially for repeat customers and seniors) you will be able to get a 10% discount.

    Remember that the government hospitals will be a lot cheaper than the private (for foreigner) hospitals although wait times will be lots longer. But the equipment will be up to date at the larger government hospitals and sometimes the doctors and specialists will be the same ones you will find at the private hospitals.

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