My family moved to Pattaya, Thailand from Australia on a working contract. One of my first observations was the large numbers of Westerners on the streets of Pattaya, Jomtien, Sriracha or Chonburi.
There are a lot more Westerners in this part of Thailand than I have anticipated. From what I can gather, there are three different kinds of Westerners living here – tourists, workers and retirees. How do you distinguish one from the other?
First group: the tourists. By day, tourists spend their time at the beach/pool, wearing just their shorts; singlet tops or swim wears to get as much tan as possible during their brief extravagant stay. By night, they go where the music, fun and entertainment go. This group lives life to the fullest in Pattaya as if there is no tomorrow.
The second group is the workers, who are sent to Pattaya on a working contract for one, three, or up to ten years by their companies. They are the ones who enjoy Pattaya life in moderation. By day, they are at work. By night, they eat out in restaurants/bar with the occasional weekend visit to the nightlife. These are the people who don’t mind the side road restaurants with fans on the pedestals blowing away.
The last group is the retirees. They are easily identified – at least 50 years old, white/grey hair, modestly dressed, riding their own bike/car and able to communicate in Thai to some extent. Retirees are those who look like a tourist but live like a local. They live life with contentment and satisfaction, appreciating the dream lifestyle they would never have back home.
I understand the first two groups and why they choose Thailand or Pattaya in particular – for its beauty, relaxation, comfort and services. However, I am taken by surprises to discover the third group – the retirees. It is one thing to stay in a foreign country on the assumption that you will return to your familiar territory in the near future. But it becomes a different issue when people choose to leave their territories and live in a new foreign environment permanently.
According to the Global Trends Report, an increasing number of elderly Westerners is retiring to and taking extended holidays in Southeast Asia. What makes Pattaya or South Eastern Asia in general, an attractive place to retire? Where else can Westerners retire in SE Asia? Would I ever consider SE Asia as my retirement plan?
Southeast Asia is made up of countries that are geographically south of China, east of India and north of Australia. Southeast Asia consists of two geographic regions: Mainland Southeast Asia or Indochina and Maritime Southeast Asia. Mainland SE Asia comprises of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar (formerly Burma), Thailand, Vietnam and Peninsular Malaysia. Maritime SE Asia consists of Brunei, East Malaysia, East Timor, Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore.
In particular, SE Asian countries where most people would consider retiring include Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Cambodia, Philippines and Vietnam. Each place attracts different groups of Westerners based on each country’s unique features.
For example, many American ex-military personnel retire in the Philippines for its clear blue waters, white sand beaches and coconut palm trees of over 7,000 islands. Daily expenses are low, living is easy and the people are warm, friendly and helpful.
Meanwhile many Australians retire in Bali (Indonesia), whose main attractions include volcano and mountains, rain forests, beautiful beaches and a dazzling wildlife with its diverse tribal culture and languages.
Similarly, Europeans such as Russians, British or Germans love Thailand for its reputation as a holiday paradise – an exotic, colorful and easygoing country. In addition Thailand has sophisticated and modern culture, fantastic sceneries, cheap shopping options, wonderful food and great nightlife.
Malaysia is blessed with lots of public and private hospitals, developed recreational/entertainment facilities and quality education system. India is rich in culture and traditions, which clearly influence its people’s distinctive manners, habits and cuisine.
Regardless of the specific attractions each destination offers, Westerners love to retire in Southeastern Asia for these main reasons: low cost living, healthcare and climate.
Someone once said to me, “In Asia, you can live like a king or queen on a salary of an average middle-class Western man.” From the smallest items to the biggest products, you always pay less for more. For example, I dined with a group of friends, ordering over ten courses for half of the price of a three-course meal for two people in
Australia. In Southeastern Asia, you can easily purchase a large house, with possibly a swimming pool plus a full-time maid and a car for about one-quarter to half the price of those in a Western country. The cheap price tags apply to almost everything else in SE Asia including clothes, furniture, jewelries, digital gadgets etc. Affordable lifestyle is undoubtedly the first preference for living or retiring in SE Asia.
Healthcare is another important aspect to consider for one’s retirement. Most Asian countries generally lack western standard facilities for healthcare except for Thailand and Singapore, which both have world-class medical and surgical facilities available. More and more Westerners combine their holidays to Asia with medical, dental and cosmetic treatment. Operations and procedures cost between 30 and 80 per cent less than in the USA or part of Europe.
As the slogan, “feel the warmth” of Southeast Asia website implies, the countries of SE Asia capture the hearts of many tourists around the world for its all-year-round tropical climate. People come to Asia to enjoy their swims in the beach under the sun, getting a tan while sipping on their coconut drinks. All year round, they don’t have to worry about wearing three-layered clothes, high boots, thick scarves, gloves or beanies. Tourists from snowy countries like Canada, Switzerland or England, are at eased to know the worst they can experience in winter in Asia is heavy rain and colder temperature than usual. This is why Asia is known as paradise under the sun.
Southeastern Asia also offers various working opportunities for Westerns in their retirement ages to assist with their financial support. Internet is one of many ways to earn money. There is virtually nowhere in Asia you cannot use a computer or mobile phone or internet access. Many people are simply promoting and selling their own or other’s products and services – known as affiliate marketing. Programmers, authors, journalists, writers and others work in different countries from their employers or as freelancers. Besides online jobs, teaching English as a Second Language or volunteer in a community is an option to consider. Some people enjoy managing a small business in countries such as Thailand and Philippines, in businesses like exporting local goods, a bar, restaurant, shop or guest-house. Another source of income for your Asian lifestyle could be to rent your house in Western countries. On average, one can live comfortably in Asia with an income of $1000 USD per month. SE Asia is a place of possibilities.
The other day, I gave a motorcycle taxi 1000 Baht note for a 120 Baht trip, naively assuming that I could easily get change since it was at the end of the day. However, to my surprise, the driver did not have enough change for me. Hence, I had to go around looking for change to give him. This was the moment that made me feel like I am a queen living in Thailand, on an average Australian income.
Life in Asia is fantastic. I don’t need to cook, clean, drive or be restricted financially. With my spouse’s income alone, we can both live comfortably in a reasonable apartment and yet still enjoy the fullest of an Asian lifestyle.
In the past, I travelled to Southeast Asia many times as a tourist. At the present, I am now living as a local in SE Asia. Very soon, my family and I will pack up and go back to Australia. However, this short experience here has opened up my eyes to see all the possibilities. In the distant future, I might even consider Southeast Asia, as my retirement hometown.
Story : Tina Lee