From Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai in the mountainous north, to the white-sand beaches of the tourist hot spots in the south, Thailand has much to offer. After an initial visit, many travelers return for long-term stays, and some never leave.
My wife, Nancy, and I visited for the first time almost 10 years ago. We spent many great vacations in various parts of the country over the next few years and were continually impressed by the stunning beauty of the landscape, the white-sand beaches overlooking turquoise seas, and the friendly people. When it came time to retire, we headed to Chiang Mai, where we spent the next three years enjoying everything the historic city has to offer.
Our initial two-story home on the outskirts of the city came with a huge garden and included two full-time gardeners. Our traditional wooden Thai house came totally furnished with several balconies overlooking the banana trees, leafy potted plants, and colorful flower gardens below. For this location in paradise, we paid less than $500 per month.
With over 40,000 expats in the city, great shopping, almost weekly festivals, and more amazing local and international restaurants than you could visit in a year, Chiang Mai has become the place to live for expats.
But the country has lots more to offer when it comes to great retirement locations.
Head south to Phuket and dream properties can still be found near one of those picture-perfect beaches you see in the travel brochures. Although not as low-cost as Chiang Mai, it’s still possible to buy condos on the island in good locations for under $60,000. Villas start from around $150,000.
A small studio condo for rent in Phuket City will set you back about $350 per month. But head over to Cape Panwa and you can indulge in a large, two-bedroom unit a few minutes from the beach for a monthly rent of $850. And don’t forget that these all come fully furnished, with pools and 24-7 security. Just walk in the front door and you are ready to go.
Wherever you end up in the country, you will be able to take advantage of the huge variety of inexpensive fresh fruits and vegetables that are available at all the local markets. Expats from one end of Thailand to the other rave about the cheap cost of living. Bob Barnett moved to Rawai on the southeast coast of Phuket a couple of years ago. He lives for $1,500 to $2,000 per month. “As always, it depends on how you live. If you eat like a local and drive a scooter rather than a car, you can live very cheaply. On the whole, everything can be affordable,” Bob says.
“For less than $10, we can both have a delicious Thai meal with a couple of beers,” says Kate Dixon of her home in Chiang Mai. “We rarely cook at home anymore, and go out on average once a week to a Western restaurant. Even then, we rarely pay more than $15 for the two of us.”
One of my favorite locations in Thailand is Koh Samui, on the opposite side of the country from Phuket. Situated in the Gulf of Thailand, Samui has become another popular stomping ground for both tourists and long-term expats. Less than half an hour north of the crowded beach area of Chaweng is popular—but much more tranquil—Boput. Further west is the seaside village of Mae Nam. Here, you can find rentals for $440 to $550 a month within minutes of near-empty beaches that stretch forever in both directions.
And as in the other parts of the country, you won’t lack any amenities from home. Modern malls, well-stocked supermarkets, cinemas, excellent hospitals, neighborhood pubs, and wonderful restaurants…they are all here along with a built-in network of expats who have decided to call Samui their home.
With its laidback, inexpensive lifestyle, warm climate, and friendly residents, it’s not surprising that expats continue to seek out Thailand as a place to stay both short-term and long-term. Not to mention you can leave at least half your wardrobe at home. For three years, we existed with only sandals, shorts, and t-shirts.
If a low cost of living, simple beachside lifestyle, and hot year-round climate are on your list, it’s well worth checking out this fascinating country.
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