Happy 2012 from Thailand

December 27, 2011

I would like to wish all my readers (we just passed the 30,000 hit mark) a happy holiday season and a much better 2012 . I hope that your retirement plans are coming to fruition and that you will be happy wherever you end up.

The year 2011 will long be remembered here in Thailand as the year of the “Great Flood”. In fact, there are still some wet areas even in this last week of the year. And the next rainy season is only a few months away. Will 2012 be another wet one? Let’s hope for the best.

One thing that happens when you retire abroad is that you will usually be far away from loved ones. And at this time of year that can be hard on some. We dealt with it this year by having a nice Christmas Eve dinner at our house with some of our closest friends. Then on Christmas we got a Skype call from our son in Afghanistan and as we were talking our other son called from Phuket. So the whole family was together on Christmas for the first time in many years. Later we got a Skype call from our daughter-in-law in Washington and saw our two grandchildren.

Being away at this time can be hard, but technology has taken the edge off. Blessed be the person(s) who invented Skype. May they live a long and happy life and may Skype forever remain free.

Here are some Questions that our blog readers have sent in during 2011, and my attempts at trying to supply them with an answer.

Q:        I found your website very informative. We are thinking about retiring in Thailand (Nakhon Pathom) in 2 – 3 years.

As the $ keeps going down and the Thai baht keeps getting stronger every day, I’m wondering if we should start putting some money into a Thai bank account before it’s 25 baht per dollar.

What is your take on this? Is it advisable?

A:       I never give financial advice – especially considering the state of my own affairs. And when it comes to exchange rates even the experts don’t know what they are talking about. I can only tell you that anything might happen in 2 -3 years and I know that I would want my money as liquid as possible and somewhere I could get my hands on it. You being outside of Thailand, and your money being inside of Thailand would not make for good liquidity or easy access.  Sure the baht might be 25 to the dollar, or it might be 49 to the dollar – I have seen both ends of the spectrum.  And I am not smart enough to know what the baht will be in 2 – 3 days let alone 2 -3 years.

Long story short, when in doubt, I usually decide to not make any decisions.

Q:        First, I want to thank you for your always interesting, informative blogs. – My Thai wife and I have been living in the USA since we married 18 years ago, but plan to move permanently to Thailand within the next couple of years – to either หัวหิน (Hua Hin) or เชียงใหม่ (Chiang Mai). So, I have two requests:

1. Please compare and contrast the two places we are considering for our home

2. Please give more details about your newly built house, size, total cost, etc. (See Why and How We Built a House in Thailand ). We plan to rent initially, but may consider building later.

A:        1. Good luck on your retirement plans. I haven’t been to Hua Hin in many years. But a good friend is moving there soon so we will be visiting. It is a nice seaside resort area but prices there may be a bit higher because of that. I hear that it has grown from a sleepy village, what I remember, into a bustling place full of Expats. Chiang Mai is a large town but still has retained its charm. In the cool season CM is much colder but it is probably hotter in the hot season. Hua Hin being in the south will probably have more rain and a longer rainy season.

For more info check out this page from my website.

My advice is to take some time, visit both places for as long as you can to get a feel of what it would be like to live here.

2. The house we built is about 82 sq meters (that’s how the insides of houses are measured here). Quite small for a family but for a single retiree or a couple it would be really nice – especially if they only live there part of the year – which many retirees do. We probably could have built it for 2/3 of what we did but we wanted a nice place to rent out, attractive and a place that would last for a long time. So we went with stronger building materials.

For building cost, I have heard estimates of between 8,500 baht – 15,000 baht per square foot depending on quality of materials and how much your contractor is taking off the top. Our costs were closer to the smaller amount.

But… It is not necessary to build. Renting is always a good option. Of course if you have lots and lots of money then who cares, right? But if you live off of a fixed income you are probably better off renting and not locking up your money in Thai real estate.   You’ll thank me for that advice later I guarantee.

P.S. Both my children are Thai citizens being born here. They also hold U.S. citizenship. Any real estate that we have will go to them when we go off to our next existences. So we feel OK about having money locked up in Real estate here as we know that we will be able to leave it to them.

Q:        Two things that I can’t find good answers for;

1. The best way to get my monthly checks forwarded to me in Thailand.

2. It seems Thailand does not want Americans as permanent residents. Constantly having to renew visas or leaving the country for a visa run is not a good thing.

A:        1. The only bank I know that will take an automatic deposit from a foreign bank is Bangkok Bank, and not every branch. Go to the largest branch in town and see what they say. What I do is get automatic deposits into my U.S. bank and then twice a year I write checks on that account and deposit them into my Thai bank. Not slick, but it works.

2. If you were a foreigner and wanted to live in the U.S. permanently how do you think Immigration would treat you? Lots worse than you are treated here. I find the regulations here a little bit of a bother but not enough the bend me out of shape. I just bring a good book (now it’s my Android Tablet) to read when I go to Thai Immigration. I’m retired, I have lots of time.

Another reader added the following:

In answer to the best way to automatically transfer funds from US to Thailand:

– Open a Direct Deposit savings account with any branch of Bangkok Bank in Thailand that will open one.

– Have your payor in the US make a direct deposit into the New York City branch of Bangkok Bank, ABA routing Number: 026008691, referencing your Bkk Bank, Thailand, Account number. New York will then get the deposit credited to your Thailand account within 1 business day. You will receive SMS message on your mobile phone when funds are available in your account. Go to any branch of Bangkok Bank with your savings passbook and passport to access the funds.

Q:        Thanks for the update. Are there any fees for this banking service?

A:        I believe there is about a $5.00 charge on the New York end. Hard to tell exact cost because of the exchange rates, but cheaper, quicker and safer than any other method I have found.

Only downside is you must personally show up at a branch to get or transfer the money. No internet or ATM or sending your wife. However, once when I was in the hospital my wife took a letter from the hospital to the branch which established the account and got the money.

Hugh’s note: Can’t do anything about the exchange rate except maybe making the U.S. stop printing money. My checks twice a year are charged $20 each and take 6 weeks to clear. Really it takes about 2 days to clear out of my U.S. account and the rest of the time to finally appear in my Thai bank account. Everyone should find what works best for you.

Q:        I have read that Chiang Mai being a basin surrounded by mountains, the fog and other pollutants do not get easily blown away, and it hangs around forever. Also that such an environment is very bad for people with Asthma and other lung diseases – records show that incidence of these diseases are increasing every year by leaps and bounds !!

So the question is…Is there any place within the outskirts of Chiang Mai, may be 10 to 20 miles away, that can be called pollution free. And how convenient, and safe, will it be to live in such areas ? Considering that I do not need any great entertainment or crowded markets nearby to make me happy… All that I need is a hospital within about 30 minutes drive.

A:        The short answer to your question about pollution free areas is No. The problem goes all the way from Burma to Laos to central Thailand. Interestingly enough, this year (and mostly last year) we haven’t really experienced a serious pollution problem. Here is a website where you can follow the air quality .

My advice, come here in March – May and see for yourself.

Also, there are some really good hospitals in Chiang Mai

Also, I personally would not live 10 – 20 miles away from Chiang Mai, You would be either in the Jungle or way out in the countryside. Try it for a week. I know I would go bonkers.

Take a test drive of life in Thailand and see what you think before coming here permanently.

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Royal Flora 2011

December 1, 2011

My morning walks in Chiang Mai take me by the site of the 2006 International Horticultural Exhibition, aka Royal Flora. For the past few months there has been all kinds of activity there with hundreds of gardeners getting the old site spruced up. The Royal Flora redux for 2011 is almost upon us.

The entrance to the Royal Flora 2011

Officially known as the International Horticultural Exhibition Royal Flora Rajapruek 2011 it is known by the locals here in Chiang Mai as Puet Suan Lok (World’s Fair of Flowers and Plants) and by most foreigners as the Royal Flora. It runs from 14 December 2011 – 14 March 2012 but if its popularity is anything like the 2006 version they will have to extend it for at least a month or two

The official reason for the exhibition is to celebrate His Majesty the King’s 12th cycle (84 years), Her Majesty the Queen’s 80th birthday, and His Royal Highness the Crown Prince’s 60th birthday. But I think another reason is that they just want to give the Thai people a really good time.

I heard from a number of foreigners that they weren’t that impresses with the last Royal Flora – “It was just flowers and crowds.” But every Thai I heard from absolutely loved it. There is nothing Thais enjoy more than flowers and plants and big noisy crowds. And the Royal Flora had an abundance of each. It attracted over 3 million visitors last time, Thais from all parts of Thailand making up probably 99% of the crowd. They usually came in large groups and families. Attendance had to be limited to only 30,000 people per day and people who didn’t have tickets had to queue up from about 5am to get the few tickets on sale for that day.

This time, as was true last time, there will be exhibits and floral displays from many foreign countries (30 at last count) and lots of corporate sites too.  This year I saw them erecting a large Ferris Wheel and other fun stuff, and each evening there will be entertainment and at 8pm a big fireworks display. I watched the fireworks last time from my balcony and after 4 months of fireworks every night the Fourth of July doesn’t do much for me anymore.

Chiang Mai will be packed and the roads will be jammed.  But after all the Thais have been through this year they deserve a little fun time. So even though the crowds and noise will be a headache, I am happy that they will have this respite from all the problems of the last year.

Here is a photo gallery of what the last Royal Flora 2006 looked like. From my walks past the latest version it looks like it will be even more spectacular than before. It will probably be even more crowded too judging from what I saw today. This morning I was doing my exercises on top of the hill with the Rajapruek tree (Raja = king or anything royal, Pruek = tree, plant, flora. So Rajapruek literally means the “Royal Flora”). I watched as four huge tour busses pulled up to the entrance and hundreds of tourists piled out running around and taking group pictures as Thais are want to do. There were also lots of other people, family groups, couples, walking around taking pictures and trying to get a peek inside the gates. And the exhibition won’t open for 3 more weeks.

The Rajapruek Tree Hill

If you are coming to Chiang Mai better have your hotels booked and your tickets bought. Come as early in the morning as you can and one suggestion I have is before coming, stop by one of the local markets and buy some sticky rice and sai ua (Chiang Mai sausage), and some Kap moo (pork rind), and some naam prik ong (a salsa-like dish something like marinara sauce) and have an authentic Chiang Mai style picnic at the Royal Flora. And enjoy.

Updates

NFL Football on TV:

Right after I recommended True Vision TV for NFL Football it looks like they dropped the ball and did not renew their contract with the NFL. So, for now, there is no NFL on TV in Thailand. But wait… The torrents that can be downloaded, the ones that carry TV shows and movies, also have NFL games that can be downloaded. They are usually available by Thursday and are in .mkv format, which will show on your PC in HD.

Our Tortoise Sanctuary:

Our tortoise girls have begun laying eggs again and we are hoping for a nice bunch of babies in about 7 months. The Chiang Mai Zoo is preparing to offer us a jungle enclosure on the zoo property as a staging area for the pre-release of the tortoises back into the wild. It will contain our tortoises (Indotestudo Elongata, or yellow tortoise) and the zoo’s (Manouria emys or giant Asiatic black tortoise), both native to Doi Suthep Mountain. The black tortoises are huge weighing up to 25 kilos. So they are giving us a sort of “halfway house” to get them back into Nature. Looking forward to releasing them into a safe area where no one will catch and eat them. Any babies that were born in our garden sanctuary (close to 20 so far) will be kept and not released as we aren’t sure whether they can live on their own, never having been out in the wild world.

Places to retire:

Just saw this link on Facebook, 6 affordable Places to Retire. Seems like I chose the right place.

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