Savouring the Simple Pleasures of an Overseas Retirement

When I walk out my front door, the sweet humidity hits me. I love it because often I am jumping on my red bicycle and heading off to the pool. Nothing like a lazy, mid-morning swim. A delicious luxury. The pool is not far away but any excuse to ride. With a basket and pink flowers on my bike I honestly feel 15 again.

One of the joys of overseas retirement is it’s a little like adolescence, in that you spend your days making exciting discoveries, forming friendships and feeling carefree, like you have all the time in the world.

My pool at my moo baan—a little gated community with a selection of houses set amongst a garden of frangipani trees—is crystal clear. I splash around, dive under then resurface to gaze upon a big blue sky. I feel a deep sense of peace. It’s a great way to start the day.

It seems a little cloudy and distant now, but a couple of years back, at home in Sydney one Sunday night, I awoke to excruciating abdominal pain. Within hours I had to have emergency surgery, which of course had complications.

It took at least three months for me to get back to work. It was an enormous struggle to get back into my life as a working mother. And my life was too busy. I was working long hours and there was a certain degree of stress in my job. I probably went back too early, pushed myself too much…I ended up with a second bout of surgery six months later. I was devastated.

But, in retrospect, it was a kind of a gift. A cosmic kick in the guts from the universe. I had to change my life. My lifestyle was out of balance and unhealthy. I wasn’t looking after myself. I began to search for answers. I thought of my favourite holiday destination, Chiang Mai. I recalled the many expats I had listened to when I attended an International Living event. They all spoke about what an amazing time they were having in Thailand.

It was a great seed that was planted because it made me more aware of the possibilities. It kept churning over and over in my head. Why on earth was I living like I was, when so many people were luxuriating in a tropical paradise? What was particularly appealing was that real people chose this as an option. Not crazy alternative people. Real, normal, sane people. I met them for myself at the International Living event.

I’m so grateful that I was able to get that information. All I had to do then was number crunch how I was going to do it. It probably took my husband and I about six months to figure out a way to retire early. Once we did, we were off.

It’s easy to live a healthy lifestyle here in Chiang Mai. I start the day with a kefir (a probiotic culture you can grow at home) smoothie, blended with banana and dragon fruit. I usually have oats too which I can pick up at any one of the many Western-style shopping centres here. In my working days, I was lucky to grab a bit of toast as I ran out the door for work. It’s so great having the time to look after myself.

They gym in my moo baan costs $2 including use of the pool, so I try to hit the treadmill if it’s raining, otherwise my daily walk consists of exploring the scores of little sois, maze of temples, curiosity shops and cafes. This morning I found a Thai neighbour letting his hens out in the sun. He sat on the ground with them, grooming them with a little brush. I smiled at him and he gave a big smile back, so proud of his hens. Little exchanges like these make the days so bright.

Our local market, where I buy our fresh fruit and vegetables, is a five-minute walk away. It usually costs around $10 to $15 to buy the fruit and veg for the week. When we eat out, most restaurants have healthy options…although I am often tempted by a rich and flavoursome curry.

For health check-ups, the hospitals are extremely cutting edge and very cheap, however there are also a myriad of alternative therapies (both Asian and Western) offered in this thriving city. My neighbour is doing isometric rehab for his spinal injury with very encouraging results and another friend has just started Pilates classes for strength training in response to osteoporosis.

For me, I am happy with my walking, swimming and cycling, however I am very tempted to join the Chiang Mai Walkers group and trek up the mountain here. But for now, I think I am still in training for that one!

Retirement, for me, meant that my lifestyle could get back into balance and I can genuinely say that all is sabai sabai in my world today. I jump out of bed with energy and enthusiasm and I feel like I have the get-up-and-go that was missing when I was trapped in my ‘rut’. There was no way I would be able to live this healthy and lavish lifestyle back in Australia but here in Thailand, my mood is light and I am up for any adventure…

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