Random Thoughts at the End of 2015 on Thailand and Retirement

December 1, 2015

This is my 100th post on Retire2Thailand, with almost 140,000 views since 2010 when we started sharing our ideas on a retirement in Thailand. We’ve had over 30,000 visits each of the last 2 years, so it looks like someone is thinking about retiring here. Lots of comments and questions have been left here during the last 6 years, and I have tried to answer each and every one of them.

Our most popular post continues to be 10 Reasons Why Not to Retire to Thailand. Way in second place is Why and How We Built a House in Thailand. Funny that these two seemingly opposite ideas would be 1 and 2. Also popular are the posts on starting a business and the 3 posts on cost of living here. It may be time to write a 4th post on cost of living since inflation here has been rearing its ugly head lately.

As the years come to a close I like to look back on my life here in Thailand and share what I have been thinking about lately. Our recent trip back to the U.S. to visit friends, family, and places we have been missing has also stimulated lots of thoughts about my chosen retirement home and lifestyle and comparing and contrasting this to my former life. The following are some random thoughts as we begin a new year.

Whatever your spiritual beliefs are, may the New Year bring you health, happiness, peace, and lots of new insights into this brief sojourn on our lovely planet.


Some Random Thoughts


Crossing the street

Here is how you cross the street in Thailand: Very Carefully. No cars will let you cross in front of them, even at crosswalks. They’ll just keep driving by as if you weren’t even there. If you must cross the street here put your arm out, palm pointing towards the oncoming cars like a traffic cop. This is the only time they will stop for you. Keep your palm pointing out until you get completely across the street. And good luck.

In Seattle the walker always has the right of way. All cars are required to stop for pedestrians. We had problems in Seattle this time. We’d be at a crosswalk and see a car coming and stop to let it pass as we would in Thailand. The cars in Seattle would all slow down and come to a complete stop and look at us as if we were mentally challenged. They would wait for us until we finally decided it was safe to cross. I could see the drivers shaking their heads at us. That’s when I began to act like an old man limping across.  The very polite Seattle drivers quickly forgave us.

It took a few days to learn how to cross the streets in Seattle, and for our own safety I really hope we forget it all now that we are back here.


Cost of food

It turns out that food is not that expensive back in the U.S. In fact, as a percentage of one’s income, it is much cheaper to eat there than here in Thailand. One test of the cost of living in a country is called the Big Mac Index. It looks at how much a McDonald’s Big Mac costs in your country and compares it to other countries. A Big Mac in Thailand costs exactly the same as one does in Seattle, $5 or $6. But Seattleites earn many times what an average Thai earns. Six dollars is about 1/3 the minimum hourly wage in Seattle whereas it is just a little less than the minimum daily wage here. Of course not a lot of minimum wage earners in Thailand eat at McDonalds; McDonald’s is an upscale restaurant here.  But lots of American minimum wage earners eat at fast food restaurants; it’s their equivalent of a Thai bowl of noodles.

We looked at what percentage of their income average Americans spend on food and it was considerably less than what a Thai would spend here. A prospective foreign retiree to Thailand will need to keep that in mind when they are estimating their cost of living here.


Portion sizes

There is a very popular Vietnamese Pho (noodles) chain of restaurants in Seattle. A medium bowl of Pho noodles there is bigger than 4 bowls of normal Thai noodles. A large Pho is twice the size of the medium. While I was eating a small Pho someone at another table ordered an “extra large”. To use an old New York saying, “It was bigger than my head.”

I ate at a Mexican restaurant where the portions were large enough to feed a Thai village. And another time we ordered a pizza from Costco which was three times the size of a normal pizza here. And the cost was only $9.99, less than pizza from the Pizza Company in Thailand.

So it is not all my fault that I gained 4 kilos while there.


Smiles vs. Friendliness

The Tourist Authority of Thailand uses the term “Thailand Land of Smiles” (LOS), to attract people to this friendly land. It is true that Thais smile often but a smile is not always a sign of friendliness. It may depend on what part of Thailand you happen to be in, and who you are dealing with, and maybe what time of day.

Thais often will go out of their way to help a foreigner in need. A Canadian friend’s son recently had a serious motorcycle accident (nothing new here) in upcountry Thailand and was admitted into a government hospital there. He was treated well until we asked a friend to visit him and see what she could do to help. It turns out that she and her family are very well known in the province. As soon as she arrived and asked about the Farang patient his status took a huge leap forward and he began to be treated as a superstar. Our friend visited him for hours each day until he could get home to Canada. She was our friend, he was our friend’s son, so she felt related to the boy and because of that she went way out of her way to help him.  Who you know often will influence the amount of friendliness shown to you here.

Also, in tourist dumps like Phuket, Koh Samui, and Pattaya foreigners are looked at simply as money bags and in looking at the number of violent episodes that Thais and foreigners are involved in it would appear that friendliness is not one of the virtues in these areas. And the later at night, the worse it becomes. Just read any newspaper and you’ll see for yourself (e.g. “The violent incident at the bar began at 2 am…”).

The Thai people are generally kind and generous and friendly, but not the ones who hang out at tourist dumps. They can be more leech-like.

So, choose well where you go in Thailand, and who you get to know, and what time you stay out to, and the smiles will surely come your way.

BTW, in “very friendly” Seattle you cannot walk past a person in the street without them making eye contact, saying hello and wishing you a nice day. When you get on a city bus the driver will offer a warm welcome and when you leave he will wish you a nice day. And everyone says “thank you” to the bus driver upon leaving. That is not going to happen in Thailand.

Of course, if you made eye contact and said hello to someone passing you on the street in New York City they would think you are threatening them and may retaliate, so as in Thailand, it all depends on where you are.


Changing planes

Something I didn’t realize since I travel to Bangkok so rarely is that one of the classiest shopping malls in the country is between the domestic area at Suwanabhumi Airport and the international side. If you are changing planes in Bangkok make sure to leave yourself at least a couple of hours between flights.

The walk from domestic to international is at least a couple of kilometers. The moving sidewalks help a lot with this but it still takes a long time. And between the two parts of the airport is basically a super high class shopping mall. Gucci, Chanel, Prada, and their likes are all there, as well as all the duty free and souvenir shops. I had fun looking at the watches in the Rolex shop. The watch I liked cost only 1.2 million baht, although it made me think of Lady Gaga and shopping for watches in Thailand.


Driver’s license

I had one of those ancient Thai “lifetime” driver’s licenses that I got way back when. And I wanted to have a license to drive in Seattle so I had to turn in this ancient one for a new “smart” license. Americans can use their driver’s licenses here in Thailand for 30 days. And to reciprocate, the Thai (smart) license can be used in the U.S. to drive, rent a car, etc.

So, to get the Thai “smart” license I first had to go down to the government license office, where they told me I had to go to a special office across town to show proof of my residence here. One day gone. I went down to the registration office with a letter showing that I lived at my present address and my wife had to show her house registration. We paid 500 baht for that. Another day. Went back and picked up the form showing my proof of residence. Day 3. And the next day took the form and my old license and went to get my new “smart” license. Day 4.  And remember, I already had a valid license.

In Seattle I took my expired license (which expired 6 years ago), brought it to the government license place, took a number, was called up, took a picture, and was finished. It took exactly 14 minutes.


TV, here and there

I hear lots of complaints about the quality of TV shows in Thailand, and to be honest, most shows here are aimed at the less than genius level viewer. It turns out that Thailand is not alone in this.

The only TV channels in the U.S. we could stand to watch was Animal Planet and ESPN when the Seahawks were playing. Most of the TV shows (and the cable television we had in Seattle had more than 200 channels) were directed at people with about an 80 IQ, commercials even lower. Not that there is anything wrong with an 80 IQ but a study was just concluded that found that 90% of Americans believe that they have an above average IQ (so much for American math quality education).

So who is watching this stuff?

Taken as a whole, Thai soap operas included, and it helps to speak Thai, I find more interesting programs here (travel logs, cooking shows, nature shows, agricultural shows) than back in the U.S. with their propaganda news shows like FOX, the dozens of religious fundamentalist shows, the tedious infomercials, and the literally thousands of regular TV commercials.

As for U.S. commercials, and there are lots and lots of them (as there are here),  the majority are about insurance for seniors, fast food restaurants, pizza joints, big cars and trucks, fantasy football gambling websites, and it seems like one out of every two commercials are pitching some kind of drug that cures a disease I never heard of.

For each minute of drug commercial, 15 seconds is taken up in telling us how great this med is in curing this new disease and how happy, strong, sexy, and beautiful we will look after taking it, and then the final 45 seconds is taken up with what side effect you might expect.

Actual Side effect warnings from U.S. TV drug commercials:

(You may experience) dizziness, nausea, dry mouth, constipation, fainting upon standing, changes in behavior, thoughts of suicide, stroke.


(Side effects include) abnormal behaviors, aggressiveness, agitation, hallucinations or confusion. In depressed patients, worsening of depression, including risk of suicide may occur. Alcohol may increase these risks. Allergic reactions such as tongue or throat swelling occur rarely and may be fatal. Side effects may (also) include unpleasant taste, headache, dizziness and morning drowsiness.


Seek medical attention right away for erections lasting more than 4 hours.


(Taking this medication will) increase the chance of heart attack or stroke, which can lead to death.

So “death” is a possible side effect. Sounds like a drug I can’t wait to take for a disease I’ve never heard of.


Jet lag

I don’t know if this is true or not but jet lag seems to get worse the older one gets. And for me, “older than dirt”, it is getting pretty bad. It is reported that it takes about one day for every hour of time change to recover from jet lag (9 days for our Seattle trip). It seems to be double that for me. On a short trip like we had, just as we are recovering we fly back, and then suffer from reverse jet lag for another 9 to 18 days. So for about a month, besides falling asleep in the middle of the day, I would go to bed at about 7pm and wake up at 3am. I have it so bad that sometimes right in the middle of a conversation, maybe in the middle of a sentence, I would nod off and begin snoring.

I would like to hear if anyone out there has a jet lag remedy that really works. Please leave it in a comment. Otherwise I may never leave home again.

Here is wishing you a happy, healthy, and peaceful 2016.

11 Responses to “Random Thoughts at the End of 2015 on Thailand and Retirement”

  1. David Copke said

    I do enjoy your little postings and find it interesting how different kinds of people cope in different parts of Thailand

  2. John said


    Thank you for the thoughtful and detailed post. it is always interesting to see through someone else’s eyes and hear different perspectives, especially when it comes to living in different countries.

    One thought about food: the food here in the US is indeed cheap compared to one’s income. Nevertheless, it is almost impossible to avoid GMO food when you eat out, and it is quite expensive to buy “real food” just like the one your grandparents ate. From what I understand Thailand has very little if any GMO food in circulation.
    Also the King and the government promote self sufficiency, sustainable, and organic farming to nurture the people and keep Thailand self sufficient. here we have indifference from the authorities about the long term safety of the food we eat, and corporations are in full control of our government.

  3. Eric said

    Hugh, try the melatonin polls for jet lag. They work wonders. they are available for sale in Watson/ Guardian stores or pharmacy. There is no need for a doctor’s prescription.

    • Jack said

      Melatonin would be the smart way of dealing with jetlag.

    • Jim said

      Melatonin does work for me but the trick is to start it 2 days before travel and take the tablets at 8pm time in the arrival country. Of course, if that means taking them at say 3am then it is a problem and I just take them before going to bed.

  4. ivan1949 said

    Most of the folks that I use to work with, would fly between New Hampshire and Singapore a few times a year or as much as every month.. The general consensus from the crew, was to adopt the time zone upon arrival. So we would arrive in Singapore at 6am. and go to work till 5pm then go home for a swim , then stay up till 10 at night, by that point we would be so tired we could sleep till 6am . It is usually difficult the first 3 days, but on the 4th we generally felt that we had flipped our internal time clock. It is not easy, but preferable to a 7-10 day process.
    We retired back to New Hampshire, last May, but expect to go back to work in Singapore for 6 months this coming Feb., so I will let you know if this process still work for me at age 67.

  5. Reldon said

    We found that arriving in Thailand in the early morning, then staying up until evening works best for getting us back onto “Thai” time within just a few days. Unfortunately most if not all flights from the US arrive in BKK around midnight. We now try to fly through Europe into BKK. Most flights from Europe arrive in the early a.m. And actual travel time is not much different (and the service and food out of the EU is much better in our opinion).

  6. “tourist dumps like Samui” wounds me deeply, but I guess it is what it is… (Did this just arrive? I started an earlier reply, touched the screen, and it disappeared…). I have lots of luuksits still there, and wonder what they think of Samui 2558… Also know that through one or another bureaucratic screwup or another, garbage is (and has been for more than a year!) festering in the middle of the island waiting for a barge or a disposal plant to be built… Oh well… If we get a reunion organized in the next year or so, maybe I’ll go down for a visit…. And maybe not…
    Very best to you and Pikun. Hope next year has fewer hassles and more happy times than this.

    • kohsamuipete,

      I too am sorry about what has happened to Koh Samui. It is one of the places I will not visit here in Thailand. A shame, but there are so many places in this world that have suffered the same fate. We are lucky to have been from a generation where much of the world was still visit-able. The new generations will just have to take our word for it.

  7. karstenaichholz said

    There’s definitely some truth to the cost (especially of food) being often underestimated. Sure, you can eat THB 35 noodle soup, but how many foreigners do that every day?

    In practice, people eat a mix of local food (much cheaper than back home) and foreign food (not uncommon to be more expensive than back home). Especially if you’re looking at foods that are rarely consumed by Thais (e.g. cheese and other dairy products), you quickly by several times the price of what you’d do in the US or Europe.

    I kept a log of my own expenses, writing down every single Baht I’ve spent over the course of 6 months. It came down to THB 74,031.83 (keep in mind though, that’s in Bangkok). I’ve actually posted a complete breakdown on my own blog in case you’re interested in how that comes about. It’s not that much, considering the standard of living, but not as cheap as it is often made out to be.

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