Phuket Thailand

Sal and Glen

Many people move to live their dream. They see the end of a working life as an opportunity to change their lives and do what they had wanted to do for years. ‘Our dream was to live on the beach in Phuket. So we sold everything, packed a container and came. We brought some of our furniture—pieces that mattered to us. We didn’t put anything into storage,’ said Sal and Glen.

Patong beach, Phuket

They enjoy the luxuries that they could not afford in Australia. For example, a live-in maid costs about A$300 a month. ‘You can also send out your laundry, have a gardener, have regular massages,’ said Sal. ‘We only cook at home about once a month—we invite our friends and family over for roast lamb. Lamb here is plentiful and cheaper than Australia.’

And Glen and Sal feel very safe in Phuket. ‘The only regret I have in moving to Phuket is the grandchildren,’ Sal said. ‘They weren’t born when we came here. My daughter had been married for more than three years and hadn’t decided whether she would have children.’

But, as Sal pointed out, technology these days goes a long way towards overcoming the tyranny of distance. ‘I speak to them every day on Skype. When my granddaughter saw me at the airport last time, she kept feeling my face to see if it was a real one rather than a face on a screen.’

Sal also visits Australia three or four times a year, and her daughter takes the children to Phuket once a year. A very practical Sal added, ‘A direct flight to Sydney is eight hours—we were four hours away when we lived in country Australia.’

They’ve been in Phuket for five years, own a cafe and live in a superb house—they love Phuket, and they feel safe there. The couple, both now 65, retired to Phuket from country New South Wales after half a lifetime in the winery and restaurant business. Sal explained their decision to pack up and take off: ‘I really enjoyed the vineyard but we were ready to move on—30 years in the one job. And I got sick of being cold, I hated being cold in Australia.

Sal and Glen's house

‘We had come here many times on holiday. We just decided we liked it here and our nephew was living here. We thought we could own a little cafe—we had been in the food industry all our lives and had a restaurant on the vineyard.

Before they made the move, Sal and Glen were already familiar with Asia and had contacts from a sideline business they operated for a few years importing homewares and high-end textiles from Vietnam.

‘We were in love with Asia,’ Glen said. At home they could see the wine industry going down, and down, and it was clearly in a terminal phase for the grape grower and smaller wine producer. ‘In the 1980s we used to sell our grapes for A$2500 a tonne. In 2000 we were selling for A$300 a tonne,’ Glen said, adding that it never improved. And, critically for Sal and Glen, their son now lives in Phuket as well, although their married daughter and grandchildren live in Australia.

Glen and Sal are downsizing from their large three-bedroom, three-bathroom house with in-ground pool and wonderful gardens. They would sell it for around A$250,000. They enjoy the luxuries that they could not afford in Australia. For example, a live-in maid costs about A$300 a month. ‘You can also send out your laundry, have a gardener, have regular massages,’ said Sal. ‘We only cook at home about once a month—we invite our friends and family over for roast lamb. Lamb here is plentiful and cheaper than Australia.’ And Glen and Sal feel very safe in Phuket.

‘Property theft here is not a problem,’ said Glen. ‘At the coffee shop we can leave all the outdoor tables and chairs outside overnight and nobody touches them. I never lock my house.’ He did warn, though, that there are precautions foreigners should take. ‘Certainly, you don’t want to put any Thai person seriously offside, especially if you are standing between him and a pile of money,’ said Glen. ‘But we are hardly going to do that. After all, we are primarily retired.’

When asked about the sex-scene in Thailand and how she copes, Sal said it is easily managed because some towns are worse than others, and she simply avoids those. Being a woman in Phuket is not an issue for her. ‘It’s no problem here at all,’ she said. ‘I can go into a bar with the men where they play pool. There are girls there. They are always keen to talk to me. They are lovely. They call me Mama. I don’t ever go to Patong —haven’t been there for three years.’

And little wonder. The main street of Patong is lined with girlie bars and there is a lot of Thai boxing advertised. Neon signs flicker, cheap market stalls dot the seascape, the tourists are usually middle-aged single men, and the Thai girls in their late teens to early twenties. Patong sits in sharp contrast to the upmarket areas that are also on the western side of the island: Kamala Beach, Surin Beach, Bang Tao Beach and Laguna Beach. There is a touch of Sydney’s Palm Beach style in these upmarket parts—but in very limited doses.

In Phuket, though, residential life is a lot quieter and a convenient, relaxing lifestyle is key to Glen and Sal’s happiness. Glen plays golf at a public course for about A$40 a round, plus A$7 for the caddie (you are required to have a caddie). Not only is it affordable, there are several great golf courses on Phuket and many retirees choose to live in the middle of the island near the courses. The Phuket Country Club is where the expats go if they want golf-estate living.

As for shopping and Western-style supplies, Sal said these days she is able to get everything that she needs, and mostly at the local supermarket. ‘When we first arrived five years ago, there were lots of things that were not available. But now you can get everything you want,’ she said. ‘We shop at the Villa supermarket—it has things like Jif, Vegemite and mint jelly.’

While Glen and Sal have no plans to return to Australia, they still own property here. ‘We think it is in our interest to maintain residency in Australia,’ Glen said. When travelling they always tick ‘resident departing temporarily’ or ‘resident returning’ on their immigration cards. Glen also added that they have kept their Australian credit cards. ‘We would not be able to get a credit card in Thailand,’ he explained.