Chiang Mai, Thailand

Dorothy

Dorothy, is a 70-year-old English Rose, and she loves Chiang Mai. This seems a bit odd initially for the Thailand novice because Chiang Mai over the years has earned a reputation for sitting just south of the infamous Golden Triangle, which back in the 1960s and 1970s was a leading opium production area.

Chiang Mai is cool. It still has a bit of that wild hippie feel to it but it is gentrified and safe today. Dorothy said she is a typical Chiang Mai retiree. Her reasons for being there are common, she said. ‘I could afford to live in the UK but I do not want to. My quality of life here is so much better on my UK pension. I never, ever, doubt my decision to retire here. I am only anxious, at times, that the Thai authorities may change the rules concerning expatriates living here.’

Dorothy’s story mirrors that of many others in that she already had extensive experience of Asia. Dorothy, and her now ex-husband, were teachers and lived and worked in Singapore for fifteen years. They travelled extensively throughout Asia and their children became international citizens. Her daughter is an academic in the US and her son is a banker in Singapore. She has no grandchildren.

Dorothy said her life in Chiang Mai has a rhythm to it and it is a very healthy rhythm. She is up at six each morning to hike up a mountain, Doi Suthep. This is close to her home, so she just rides her motorbike there. Remember, Dorothy is 70. The apartment she owns cost her the equivalent of A$80,000; to buy a similar apartment in Sydney or in London or in New York would cost well over A$600,000.

It is in the Nimmanhemen area, just ten minutes drive from central Chiang Mai. It is a very modern, luxurious, open-plan, spacious, 100-square metre, one-bedroom apartment. There is also a gym and a pool in the condo complex. Dorothy said, ‘It’s much better than my apartment was in Brighton and a quarter of the price.’

On the health front, Dorothy is sensible. ‘I think it is risky to live here without health insurance. Insurance costs do increase each year, and the company I use will not insure you if you are over 60 when you apply.’ Dorothy’s health insurance costs about A$3700 a year. She uses the private clinic of the local public hospital, Sri Pat, which she said she finds excellent.  Healthcare in Thailand.

Technology has enabled Dorothy and many other retirees to live comfortably at a distance from family and friends. Without the internet and the computer, Dorothy said that living in Chiang Mai would be too hard. ‘I just love Skype,’ she said. ‘I can talk to my children whenever  I like. I regularly talk to my daughter for an hour or so, several times a week—sometimes we talk for four hours! ‘The computer also allows me to manage my affairs efficiently and easily. I have a house in France that I manage via the computer, and I do all of my banking on the internet.’

In fact, when we met Dorothy she was trying to sell her house in France. It is interesting that she chose Chiang Mai over France as a place to retire. ‘Sure, the cheese and wine is cheaper in France but it’s better that I drink less and keep my cholesterol down by eating less cheese!’ she joked. Then she explained: ‘In Chiang Mai there is a better sense of community than in France or even the UK. Old people in the UK do not have as good a quality of life. It’s an outdoor life here.’

This brings to mind again the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. ‘Living here, you don’t run to the doctor all the time,’ said Dorothy. ‘The climate allows you to exercise.’ And she pointed out that most of the older people she knows in Chiang Mai ‘are not taking the massive amount of pills that those in the UK are taking’.

She believes that the problems of the elderly in the UK are financial. But loneliness is also a big issue. She said, ‘I do not have to deal with either of these things here. I have good friends. I am never lonely, never isolated. I can walk about town at all hours and feel safe: safer, in fact, than I’d feel if I was walking around Brighton late at night.’

Dorothy says her friends in the UK tell her, ‘You are so brave’ or ‘You are very lucky’. But she maintains that she is neither. It is not hard living here, she stated matter-of-factly. There are some language issues, but most of the time everything is easy.

She is, however, annoyed by the lucky label. ‘You make your own life,’ she said. ‘No luck is involved.’ Chiang Mai, like the rest of Southeast Asia, is cheap. Groceries are half the cost of groceries in Sydney, rent is less than a quarter of Sydney’s rent and so are restaurants and power costs.  Cost of Living in Thailand.

Water costs Dorothy about A$3.50 a month, internet A$20 and the landline about A$3.50. She has house cleaners once a week—two ladies for two hours, which costs A$10. The minimum wage is about A$11–12 per day. Dorothy also adds that food is cheap and she eats out most nights.

Although getting around in taxis and tuk-tuks is inexpensive, cars in Thailand are not. In late 2012 Dorothy bought a new Honda Prio for A$14,500 and spends A$50 a month on petrol. She points out, though, that petrol for her motorbike, prior to going the safer route and buying a car, cost her less than A$20 a month.