Part 1 of 2
After three and a half years living Phnom Penh, I have developed itchy feet, a symptom of which is my increasingly frequent travel to other countries.
One country I have visited several times over the years is Thailand, next door, and I have much appreciated the contrasts between Bangkok’s, size, food and diversions to Phnom Penh’s. Smaller cities in Thailand have their winning characteristics, but I don’t find that they enjoy the same vitality or energy for me as the capital while they certainly provide significantly more opportunities for all that nature offers.
I have been wondering whether we should make our home there. We still own almost nothing more than can fit in two large suitcases each, so it is no problem in that respect to pick up and go.
But does it make sense?
To approach a decision, it seemed like a good idea to spend a month in Bangkok renting an Airbnb apartment and living there more or less as we do here. We acted as tourists only when we spent two nights in Pattaya on the Gulf of Thailand, otherwise confining ourselves to long walks in and around our own neighborhood and others nearby. (Some days we clocked 10 or 11 miles.)
One disincentive has to do with visas.
To live in Cambodia as a retiree, I have to do nothing more than spend nearly $300 a year for a visa with no documentation.
To retire in Thailand, we would need to provide an enormous amount of documentation with three copies each of which must come from official sources and then be translated and notarized (at $50 per notarized copy at the U.S. Embassy). The Thai government demands financial records from a bank attesting to sufficient funds, a medical certificate and a certificate from the police along with other paperwork.
There are fixers in Thailand who can short-circuit the process, and one who came highly recommended said he would take care of everything for $1,000 each for a one-year visa after we submitted merely an application form. I suppose that would be doable, though I since have heard about a woman who traveled that route. Her fixer reported that he had failed to obtain such a long-term visa despite having extravagantly wined and dined appropriate bureaucrats.
The money had been spent, the fixer told her.
Sobering as the report is, I have no doubt that obtaining a visa is an obstacle that can be overcome. There are a plenty of reasons that suggest the effort might be worth the trouble.
Among the pluses of living in Thailand, specifically bustling Bangkok, are these:
- The abundance of cheap, sanitary and delicious street food. For example, I fell into the habit while strolling of munching on a superb grilled Thai sausage that ran approximately 4 cents. For dessert, there were chunks of freshly cut pineapple for less than six cents from street vendors. With food from other casual vendors, I also ate whole meals well and inexpensively while sitting on their plastic chairs perched on sidewalks.
- The ease of public transportation, the Skytrain and subway.
- Lumphini Park in the heart of the city, where I enjoyed a 1.3-mile walk at dusk along with runners under the trees and more or less beyond traffic’s din.
- Generally navigable sidewalks.
- Expansive modern shopping malls that sell a whole range of merchandise from tofu burgers to Tiffany jewelry. Most have enormous gourmet grocery stores (where tasty takeout food often is discounted usually after 7 p.m.).
- A wide variety of cultural, entertainment and special-event offerings.
- An island that is a five-minute ferry ride across the river, where leisurely bicycling on narrow paths amid tropical flora and fauna can make for a delightful day.
- Direct flights to other countries versus Phnom Penh, where a connection in Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Kuala Lumpur or Singapore is almost always necessary for long-haul flights.
- The stimulation of learning another language.
- Somewhat limited encounters with poverty.
- Easy, quick, inexpensive and safe access to the Gulf of Thailand, though hotels cost more in freewheeling Pattaya, for instance, than in Cambodia’s Sihanoukville, which I find less appealing than the Thailand resort city and which takes twice as long to access on roads less prone to vehicular accidents than where I now reside.
- Thankfully, I didn’t need it during the month, but Thailand offers excellent medical care, and it is where I go for annual physical exams at a cost significantly lower than in the U.S.
For a different positive perspective, you may want to read a relatively recent article in the New York Times
Next: Minuses and the result