Blog, Bangkok, and Beyond

September 19, 2014

Just a few days ago our humble blog celebrated its 100,000th visit. For the last few years I have enjoyed sharing my ideas about living in Thailand with so many who are thinking of naming Thailand their retirement home. I have always felt that the more we know the better decisions we can make and the more comfortable and happy we can become.

Thanks to all our readers and may you be successful and happy in your plans for retirement. And to answer the question of why I take the time to work on this blog, I am happiest when those around me are happy. It is as simple as that. Also, I love to be read.

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This past month was one of those looked-for times in an overseas retirement. We had some really fun and interesting visitors to our home and we got to take a tour to parts of Thailand that I had never been.

Let’s start with a bit of travel writing.

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Our Trip to Kanchanaburi (and the Bridge on the River Kwai)

My wife Pikun and her former classmates try to get together as much as possible. It is customary for Thais to remain close to the people that they knew from child and young adulthood, so reunions are quite popular. They usually involve lots of eating and sharing of the latest gossip, talk of old times, and always talk of food. I have never heard politics or religion discussed at one of these, the two topics that are always good to avoid just about anywhere.

So Pikun went down to Bangkok for a few days with her classmates and I followed later to do a little touring. In the many years I have come to Thailand for visits and the years I have lived here I believe that I have spent a total time of less than 2 weeks in the City of Angels, usually just passing through or changing planes. This time was one of my longer stays. All total, I was in Bangkok for a little over 24 hours.

Here is how we spent that time. Between 10 and 12 hours were spent checking into our hotel, eating dinner, sleeping, and eating breakfast. That gave us 12 hours to spend in the city. At least 6 or those hours were spent in traffic getting to and from appointments. That left 6 hours for lunch and visits with friends. Just a typical Bangkok day.

Six hours of spectacular

Bangkok, six hours of spectacular touristy views like this.

It has always been my opinion that the people who aren’t dependent on a job in Bangkok or a business and who in fact choose to live in this city, physically about the size of Los Angeles but with about 3 times the population, may just have a lobe missing from their brains. You know the one that tells us to try and live a happy life.

But we are all different and if you are happy living in Bangkok please let us know and tell us why. You may convince some of our readers to decide to live there, although the percentage of foreign retirees living in Bangkok, for good reason, is rather low compared to other parts of the country.

When I arrived in the city we decided to leave the airport and go straight out to the provinces. We would have gotten out of the city’s traffic in about an hour except that we took a wrong turn, got lost, and it took us a whole hour to get back on the highway. So I got a one hour unexpected tour of the bowels and back streets of Bangkok. I used to have a recurring nightmare about getting lost in some 3rd World country slum and never finding my way out and being lost there forever. So when we saw the highway again I was much relieved.

 One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble 

“One Night In Bangkok”, Rice, Andersson, Bjoen

 (Believe it or not this song is about a chess match.

Not what you were thinking, right?)

Check the song out:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RnagSceaXss

To get to Kanchanaburi, a province famed for its lush jungle, the bridge made infamous in the Academy Award winning film “Bridge on the River Kwai”, and the horrific history of World War II’s Japanese forced labor camps, we needed to go west from Bangkok and through Nakorn Pathom.

The pagoda, or chedi, at Nakorn Pathom

The pagoda, or chedi, at Nakorn Pathom

Nakorn Pathom is famous for its huge pagoda. But we were looking for another popular place to visit there.  Just about every town in Thailand has a dish that it is famous for. Nakorn Pathom’s is red roast pork. We found the city’s most popular noodle restaurant and ordered the roast pork. And wonder of wonders, the hype was correct. It was the best red roast pork I have had since leaving New York’s Chinatown.

From Bangkok to Nakorn Pathom and for more than another 100 kilometers west all we saw was more city. Bangkok never stopped until we finally got to the jungle province of Kanchanaburi.

Kanchnaburi

Kanchanaburi, view from the road once we left the “city”.

The bridge on the mispronounced river’s name

The movie Bridge on the River Kwai won 7 Academy Awards (including the big 3, Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay). But interestingly enough there is no River Kwai in Kanchanabui or anywhere in Thailand. The name of the river where the infamous bridge was built by Allied POW forced labor is “Kwae”. Since it is so hard to pronounce (rhymes with the sound something like a duck makes) I guess that “Kwai” (the Thai word for “buffalo”) was easier for westerners to say.

Being it is the main tourist attraction we headed for the Kwae River.

Before getting to town we went to Sai Yok National Park and took a long tail boat down the Kwae River to do the quintessential Thai touristy thing; we went to a waterfall.

 Little Sai Yok Waterfall

Little Sai Yok Waterfall

And then hung out at some hot springs right along the roadside.

Hot Springs

Hot Springs

There really is a bridge near Kanchanaburi town, but it isn’t “The” bridge from the movie. That one was destroyed by allied bombers during the war. This bridge is now a tourist trap, with loud Rap music playing on huge speakers, and groups of revelers floating down the river on party barges. Ironically, this new Bridge on the River Kwai isn’t even in the same place as the original. So we quickly passed it by and went to a very quite place and a place which I thought was the more important. The cemetery in Kanchanaburi.

The cemetery in Kanchanaburi where thousands of Allied soldiers rest.

The cemetery in Kanchanaburi where thousands of Allied soldiers rest.

Here rest thousands of allied POWs who died under the horrible conditions impose by their Japanese captors. Their gravestones tell their names, rank and their ages. Twenty two, 24, 26, and a few older in their thirties and forties, row upon row of them. It is a sad reminder of how war can change regular people into monsters and young people into memories. Would that we could learn from them.

But war has been around these parts for along time.  We went up to the Three Pagodas Pass, the place where the Burmese armies of centuries ago would invade from when they would engage in one of their many wars with The Kingdom of Siam.

Three Pagodas Pass - a staging area for many a war.

Three Pagodas Pass – a staging area for many a war.

With thoughts of wars past and present in my head we ended our tour and returned to the tranquility of Bangkok traffic.

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Friends come visiting.

In the 1960s when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Chiang Mai I had a close British friend named Garrick. He was the one person I knew who was poorer than I but we both took the grand opportunity of being Young Men in Chiang Mai in the 60s. Garrick had come to Thailand overland from London on a special Honda motorcycle which could get him over the Himalayas. He finally made it to Chiang Mai and promptly got his one-of-a-kind motorcycle stolen. So he looses his Honda sponsorship and winds up my buddy. We had no money but we sure did have fun back then.

Forty-three years after we last met I got an email from my old buddy. He had done a Google search on my name and voila. After he left Chiang Mai Garrick had gone on to be very successful in a number of business he created. Now he was retired living on the banks of the Chao Phaya River in Bangkok. So the city mouse came up to Chiang Mai for a visit to his country mouse friend. And what memories we had to talk about! Thank you Google.

 

Old Chiang Mai Buddies

Old Chiang Mai Buddies

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Our other guests were Billy and Akaisha Kaderli who do the very popular website Retire Early Lifestyle and they write books on places to retire. They know what they are writing about as they both retired at the age of 38. And even better, they are really good people.

I am one kind of retiree and Billy and Akaisha are a different breed. I am settled down and do a bit of traveling but always come back “home”. Want to know how the other kind live? Here is a bit of an interview I had with Akaisha.

Hugh: So where do you live?

Akaisha: Right now we are living in the Lux Hotel on the Chiang Mai Moat. We have been there for 3 months doing our regular medical checkups here.

Hugh: No, really, where do you live?

Akaisha: Before that we spent 3 months in Vietnam in an experimental retirement community.

Hugh: No, really, where do you live?

Akaisha: After this we will go see family in Florida, and then we will be going to Mexico and maybe later to Guatemala.

Check out their website for lots and lots of retirement information.

Billy and Akaish Kardali with the Leongs

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli with the Hugh and Pikun Leong

All in all it has been a good retirement month.

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9 Responses to “Blog, Bangkok, and Beyond”

  1. tom macbeth said

    Hi Hugh,

    I guess I’m one of those missing missing a lobe from my brain.haha I have been retired and living in Bangkok for the past year and a half, and I love it here!

    Like you, I am a Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, NY boy. I personally prefer the big city life. Maybe your move to a more tranquil place like Seattle has dampened your enjoyment of a big, populous city. I find that Bangkok is an exciting place offering many varied interests the rest of Thailand lacks.I find it a nice cross between Manhattan and Brooklyn.

    I, too, have visited the well manicured grounds of the Allied Cemetery in Kanchanaburi. It is a somber place. Looking at the gravestones of so many of the young souls who are laid there is confirmation in the insanity of war.

    Best wishes, Tom Macbeth

  2. Dave said

    You are correct about living in Bangkok, Tom’s comments not withstanding. I lived there for about 10 months total and left because of the hot humid conditions and the TRAFFIC. An hour in a taxi to get to a movie not 5 km away! Gridlock that defeats even motorcycles! Brutal conditions.

    I moved to Chiang Mai a couple of years ago and am loving it. The magnificent rain forest is only 20 minutes away, it’s cooler and drier all year and the motorcycling is superb, world class.

    Kanchanaburi is on my list of places I want to visit and your article points out even more reasons to see it.

    Thanks,

    Dave

  3. PLF sent me this email about why he prefers Bangkok over Chiang Mai and other parts of Thailand. I’ll paste the whole email here without editing.

    Okay, Hugh, I’ll take up your challenge about expat living in Bangkok. You are welcome to publish this on your blog.

    First, background. I’m a retired American man, 10 continuous years in Thailand. I’ve never been married to a Thai lady.

    I can’t say Bangkok is loveable, but for this retired man, I’ve not found a better location in Thailand. And that is after living in Chiang Mai for 4 of my 10 years in Thailand.

    On arrival to live in Thailand, Bangkok was my first stopping point.
    I grit my teeth and vowed to stay at least two weeks, just to get to learn how to get around the city. Three years later I was still in Bangkok, teeth now in a smile, but wondering if I was missing something wonderful somewhere else in Thailand.

    Pattaya certainly was not wonderful. Hua Hin was nice for a vacation, but too small to have the conveniences of daily life.
    After a friend invited me to visit Chiang Mai, I decided to move there.

    Within three months after arriving in Chiang Mai, I was already thinking how to make an exit. But it took four years of living in Chiang Mai to finally convince me to not stay any longer.
    After a bit of looking around elsewhere in Thailand, I returned to Bangkok.

    I found most expats in CM spend a lot of time congratulating each other on having discovered the city — while sitting in a Starbucks at one of the many, new malls. They could be in almost any Western city of similar size.

    At first, I believed them — that’s why I moved there. But, within a few months, I started to look around carefully, asking, “Do I really want to spend my life here?” I won’t go into all the things I found unpleasant about CM — that’s not the focus of this essay — but I’m not shy about revealing them. I didn’t looove Chiang Mai.

    The view of most tourists and short-time visitors is that Bangkok is some outer circle of Hades. Okay, if you’re stuck in a taxi for an hour just trying to get to some shopping center, that’s bad.
    But if you’re smart, you’ll call an Uber car at 09:00 which will just miss the morning rush hour and arrive anywhere in Bangkok when the shops open at 10:00 — and you’ll arrive fresh and relaxed.
    If you complain about the Sky Train or the Subway, I’ve learned that life is far more comfortable if I totally avoid Sky Train, Subway, or any kind of bus in Bangkok.

    When I ask expats who “hate” Bangkok what they actually do in Bangkok, the reply is usually one of these activities:
    1 – follow the Thai wife around shopping
    2 – follow the Thai wife around visiting her friends or relatives
    3 – go to doctor, dentist, or hospital

    No wonder they hate Bangkok. For people who come to Bangkok for that, there is no chance they will ever get to know the city.
    Living here, full time, year in and year out, is a totally different experience. It has been a very positive experience for me.
    I’ll give some examples — from my perspective as an older, retired, single man. And none of my examples involves bars, brothels, or prostitutes — I have zero interest in any of that.

    As we get older, medical care becomes more important.
    Some other cities in Thailand have adequate medical care.
    Specifically in Chiang Mai, with the medical school and the school of pharmacy there, medical care is superb.
    But outside of that, the best specialists and the best equipment are found in Bangkok. And for convenience, Bangkok wins, too: with such services as a 24-hour dental clinic, and I’ve even seen a 24-hour veterinary clinic with branches in several locations.

    On the topic of health, eating healthy food and clean food is far easier in Bangkok, than anywhere else in Thailand that I’ve seen.
    Yes, I miss the wonderful Rim Ping supermarkets in Chiang Mai, but Bangkok has almost-as-wonderful Villa Market and 24-hour Foodland supermarkets with many branches around the city.
    And Central Food Hall and Emporium supermarkets surpass Rim Ping in every respect. Nowhere else in Thailand can you find the selection of high quality foods that you get easily in Bangkok.

    Also in Bangkok are specialist restaurants for special styles of eating. Paelo food is easily available here with home delivery of pure paleo meals 6 days per week. Delivery is only 50 baht, less than a taxi to go to just about any restaurant.

    There are lots of vegetarian restaurants in Bangkok, with Western style veggie foods — not just the Chinese “Jey” style which is the only option in most cities up-country. A few other tourist cities in Thailand have restaurant delivery, but Bangkok’s Food-By-Phone is superb, with excellent service that is rare and wonderful to find anywhere in Thailand.

    Returning to the topic of Bangkok traffic, smart expats select their living location to minimize traffic. From my condo balcony I can see two, large, shopping centers — real shopping centers not just Lotus or Big C.

    Within a 20 minute taxi ride (60 baht) there is a Central Department store and another huge shopping center. Among those, 99% of everything I ever need for daily living is easily found.
    Couldn’t ask for more convenience, and, as one gets older, convenience becomes more important than adventure.

    But a retired man doesn’t spend 99% of his time shopping.
    I have several hobbies and many projects on my “to do” list.
    In Bangkok, finding parts, tools, supplies, and materials is possible: not always easy, but possible — everything is here, albeit can take some effort to find. Example, recently I wanted to build a certain item of exercise equipment.

    One bit was slightly complex: a ball-bearing turntable. Finding that up-country will certainly not be easy. Everything for computers is here, too, everything. When my older MacBook died a few months ago, I simply walked across the street to buy a new one — back home in less than 45 minutes.

    Of course, many expats spend a lot of time on the Internet.
    To get fast Internet connection, I walked over to the TRUE shop nearby. The response was too good to believe, “Ka, Ka, Ka, tomorrow morning, sure.”

    No experienced expat would believe it, and I started wondering how many followup calls I would be making. But, sure enough, next morning, here came a TRUE technician to make the connection.
    And he was very skilled at what he was doing. I hope you get that kind of service up country.

    Now, I’ll mention about two delicate topics regarding Bangkok:
    Thai people and white people.

    First, I speak, understand and read Thai language — Central Thai language. I don’t grasp every word, but it’s easy for me to understand most of what Thai people are talking about.
    The Thais that I’ve met in Bangkok tend to be much smarter than those I’ve met up-country.

    Even those who come to Bangkok from up-country tend to be smarter than those who don’t their small towns and villages.
    And they tend to be much more skilled at whatever work they do.
    From electricians to dentists, and everything in between. The Thai way of doing anything technical leaves a lot to be desired. To minimize problems from that fact of life, I much prefer to live in Bangkok.

    Next delicate topic: my fellow expats. Bangkok has all kinds; good, bad, ugly, and really ugly. Fortunately, Bangkok is so vast that it’s easy to avoid most foreigners simply by spending money to live in a more expensive neighborhood. In smaller cities up-country, no matter where you live, you’re going to encounter all kinds just about anywhere you go.

    And, in general, expats I’ve met up-country tend to be less-intelligent, less-aware, and less capable than foreigners I’ve met in Bangkok. Exceptions up-country, of course — the owner of this blog among them. Yes, Bangkok has some real dregs of humanity, but where I live, they simply don’t appear at all. It’s been easier to encounter thoughtful, intelligent, expats, and to avoid the dregs, in Bangkok, than other places I’ve lived or traveled in Thailand.

    I think the choice comes down to something like this: Do you want to live in Seattle in the USA, or in Odessa, Texas. Do you prefer to live in Vancouver in Canada, or Moncton, New Brunswick? Are you heading for Sydney in Australia, or satisfied in Broken Hill?

    The secret to living in Bangkok — and if you’ve read this far, you deserve to know the secret — is to live in the suburbs, far away from the farang ghettos and the bar and prostitution areas. There are many attractive suburban districts surrounding Bangkok — and in all price ranges. I’ve found mine, but that’s one secret I’m not going to reveal here.

    I welcome intelligent discussion.

  4. Michel said

    Great post PLF! I plan to retire and bought a flat just 50m from the BTS and 150 meters from Central World. I avoid traffic jams by travelling only during off peak hours and the sky train is great. I also use the boats on San saeb canal and it is always an adventure. Near my place is Lumpini park on one side, Chula University on the other and a great olympic swimming pool at national stadium. As PLF said, everything at hand!

    PLF said: When I ask expats who “hate” Bangkok what they actually do in Bangkok, the reply is usually one of these activities:
    1 – follow the Thai wife around shopping
    2 – follow the Thai wife around visiting her friends or relatives
    3 – go to doctor, dentist, or hospital

    I love to do all 3 in BKK! Just missing a Thai wife but have enough good Thai friends to replace!

    These are the reasons why I love BKK!

  5. Robb said

    How much of your perspective of retirement in Thailand is influenced by your time as a PCV?

    • Robb,

      That is a good question. I got the basics and lots of practice speaking Thai as a PCV and we had classes in cross culture which helped and still helps a lot. I met my wife as a Peace Corps volunteer and have some old friends from way back. Just today I ran into an old friend whose wedding I attended more than 40 years ago. Both he and we have children and grand children now. Wow, what a trip!

      But remember, I am not advising anyone to be like me and in fact I don’t advise anyone to even come live here in Thailand. I just try to disseminate information to help people making their decisions.

      Everyone has their own history, their own plans, and wishes for the future. For those thinking that Thailand might be in their future my goal is to help them with these plans.

      But the Peace Corps for me got me out of a New York ghetto and a very narrow view of the world and its people and halfway around the globe and 180 degree difference in how the world is viewed. This experience and my time growing up in New York has combined to create who I am today. And I am pretty happy with the results – not perfect, but able to see the fun and joy of being alive, and in my case, being alive in Thailand.

  6. Ken C. said

    We visit Thailand about once a year, and usually spend at least a week in Bangkok [we do have 2 Thai nieces who live there permanently]. We really like the city.

    We enjoy the variety of restaurants, the historical/cultural things to see, the temples and parks, and also the shopping [the wife more than me, I think]. Bangkok is our “big city” experience, and it’s only a week, so it doesn’t wear thin. There is always something interesting to see or do.

    If and when we do decide to live in Thailand [we are already retired] it’ll probably be to somewhere upcountry. However, we are planning to spend a week in Hua Hin this next visit [December 2014], just to check it out.

  7. Lani said

    Congrats Hugh 😀

  8. […] of the country, especially the less-traveled paths. Earlier this year I wrote about our journey to Kanchanaburui. During the heavy touristy season we think it best to be away from Chiang Mai. Let the Bangkok and […]

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