Tropical Living Ten Years On.
The Thai gardenClick thumbnail to view full-size
A Journey of Discovery
Living abroad in your retirement, especially in a tropical country, is probably everyone’s dream of heaven.
My husband Derek and I have now lived in Thailand for nearly ten years. Those years have gone by remarkably quickly.
Too quickly I would say. So much has happened. At times I sit quietly and try to recall each year and the events in it. Not an easy job. Memories merge and without keeping a constant diary, it’s almost impossible for me to have a timeline.
Living the dream is not all that people imagine. People envy you beyond belief and the fact that you’ve actually ‘upped sticks’ and relocated in the tropics draws a lot of adverse comments from many, many people. You’d be surprised! But criticism is part of life and my personal belief is ‘it’s not my problem’ it’s actually theirs’.
One thing to remember is that life goes on at a normal pace wherever you decide to lay your head. There are very routine things that must be done every single day, - like getting up! Oh yes, such a simple item on your agenda, but there’s a great temptation in the first few months of being in a tropical paradise, to be idle and do exactly what you do on holiday. But you’re not on holiday. This is your life from now on. Like it or lump it you have to get up! There’s no idling away the time between bed, bikini, sun worshiping and the swimming pool. You need a breakfast. You need to eat. You need to do your washing. You need to walk the dogs. You need to make your bed, do your ironing, go shopping, write emails, make lists visit people, plan long term and short. In fact, everything you did at home in the UK, you need to do here.
NO, you are not on holiday now! Get used to it and move your backside off the bed and get your brain in gear.
But its too hot! But its hard work. But its boring. I’m soaking with sweat. I’m tooooo tired. But its............... But its............ Oh all the excuses under the sun pop into your head in the first couple of years of living the dream! Sorry, that’s a fact of life. Wherever you are you must still do the same old routine things in order to live the life you’ve chosen.
The dog needs feeding; the garden needs watering; the veggies need peeling; the shopping needs doing, lists need to be made and the bills need to be paid on time.
Changes to Life style
But the same old things can all be done in a wonderful climate I hear you say.
The fact is, a tropical climate like that of Thailand, is very hot, and very humid. The temperature sticks around 28°C for a good nine months of the year. It will then creep up to 35° when you’re not looking! Sweat and heat rashes are the order of the day. Around Christmas and New Year it may condescend to drop back to 23°, but don’t bet on it. This year it certainly didn’t – doubtless global warming in progress! It’s got to hit the tropics sometime so why not now. And the humidity! Wow! The sun sucks the moisture from your body faster than you can replace it. Take a shower and before you’re out of the bathroom, you are soaked again! Air conditioning I hear you say, where is your air conditioning? But my answer to that is ‘why bother to come to the tropics to live if you spend all your time in an air conditioned house?’ you may as well have gone to Teneriffe or Majorca. Tropical living to me means getting used to the climate you’ve chosen. But I have a confession here. We do use air con at night in July and August. That time of the year is unbearably hot and humid, and to sleep in a cool room is bliss. It’s for the old dog really – but I don’t think you believe that for one minute!
So you have to change. Tropical living means changing your routine. Look at the locals people around you. We live in a small village with a population of around 100. What do they do? Up early and to bed early. And they don’t go out in the midday sun, that’s their sleepy time. The French had it right all along – sleep from midday til 3, then start again. It really does make life a lot easier if you can kick your old Western routine and slip into the habits of the locals. Get your work done between 6 and midday. Leave your evenings when it’s a little cooler, for catching up with the mail, phoning, reading, writing or watching the TV or DVDs. Relax.
More things to make us Happy!Click thumbnail to view full-size
It was probably easier for us to do this because we had two dogs. They soon got acclimatised and insisted we wake up at 5.30. Nudging and bunting if you didn’t respond to their trotting around. The cold nose in your face or on your bare butt works miracles!! So up it is, 5.30 – the ungodly hour or not. It’s cool! So you do get up and you do get dressed, and you do go for a walk. And you do walk for 5 miles. And you do find some wonderfully fascinating places to walk. And don’t ever forget to take your camera, cos its a certainty you are going to see something fascinating every day! Thank you my dearest Pip and Tessa our two English born Labradors. You really will never know how much of an inspiration and help you were ten years ago. I’ve always been good at getting up early but the mind-set of being in the tropics and therefore on holiday was hard to shake for a while. The dogs cured me of that.
So getting up early and getting everything done after a nice long walk, became the norm. That routine was brilliant once we’d got used to it. This meant our afternoons were then free to do as we wanted, so we did. Exploring and eating out swiftly became our happy routine. Which led to many more happy discoveries.
The bliss of not being tied to a work routine was probably greater for Derek than for me. Nut it took some getting used to. I’d retired several years before we took the giant step of selling up and getting out. In that instance, I’d become used to being able to do much as I wanted in the day. But I think it took Derek a long time to adjust to not having to get up to go to work. Having time to do things he wanted to do was a welcome bonus.
ChangingClick thumbnail to view full-size
Back to Writing.
Now I’ll go back to the reason I wanted to write this article. Sometimes we all get a bit jaded by our situation in life, so taking a leaf from the ever present articles in the media that bombard us daily on ‘positivity’, I started to write down all the positive things in my life here in Thailand. It was a pleasant surprise to run out of the first sheet of paper. Two columns – in one I’d written all the negatives. Surprise again! The negatives points were a fraction the size of the positives. So, with this ‘good vibe’ list it occurred to me to start writing Hubs again. I’d not written a single article since losing my beautiful daughter Vikki nearly two years ago. There was nothing to write about. My Muse had left me. All inspiration had disappeared as lethargy set in. But the thoughts were still there and buzzing around in an empty brain-case numbed to the point of giving up. I couldn’t escape them, but just couldn’t set them down. Couldn’t capture the essence of the joy of writing. As soon as I sat down to the computer, even to write an email, my sense of wanting to do something constructive just deserted me and I’d sit for hours playing silly games or going over and over old photos. What a downward spiral. I guess it’s what you call depression. Though I hate to use that term for myself, it’s not something I do.
So be positive!
So let’s get on with the good things that inspire me about living in Thailand and cut the crappy negatives!
First – make a list. I’m really good at making lists - lists for this, lists for that and lists for everything else. I did it. I made a list of all the things I’d like to write about from our days at work and our ventures into game-keeping, through more tales of South Wonston, visiting Sri Pada in Sri Lanka, to ten years on in Thailand. That was a start.
- Having a computer is top of my list. The vast improvement in connection is amazing. When we first came to Thailand you were lucky if you could connect for 2 hours a day, and it was really costly. But the WiFi system has sorted that problem forever. From my wonderful machine I can keep in contact with the whole world, through news sites suchas the BBC and The Guardian newspaper (or any news media. They’re all there at the touch of a button. All giving their views on current and not so current situations across the globe. It’s far easier than watching the news on TV – this really does get boring with its ever-ending repetitions and doom-and-gloom outlook.
- From my big old computer with all its wonderful capacity for photos, letters and stories, comes the ubiquitous iPad and iPod. I have both. I’m in raptures over the amount of photos I can store on it. To be able to access them at any time is wonderful.
- The amount of information we can access through our own BBC website, I can listen to any programme that interests me and can turn into Radios 1,2,3,or 4 – my old listening stations when I lived in the UK. Not only that, but I can listen to the radio archives with such old favourites as ‘The Navy Larks’ and ‘Educating Archie’.
- And what is more exciting but the amazing Podcasts. What a mine of gems to tap into! I love history, science, geology, gardening to name but a few subjects and to be able to listen to Podcasts at any time and in any place is nothing short of a miracle! The wonders continue – I can listen to the in the middle of the night through the earpieces and not disturb Derek’s sleep. How brilliant is that. No more lengthy nights waiting desperately for the sun to creep over the horizon!
- Music I can down load by the gallon! To date I’ve probably got 60 albums with nearly 1500 songs. You have to pay for them naturally but to be able to access them whenever you wish is truly amazing. (I can see my more techno literate grandchildren laughing at this, they’ve grown up with this amazing scene. But for me, its nothing short of magic)
- Next is book reading. We’re both avid bookworms and to be able to access any book in the world through good old Kindle is another mind-boggling process. The temptation is to get far too many books and then wonder when you’re ever going to have time to read them. No problem – get Audio books. Just plug in your ear pods and listen, not a great deal of effort really!
- Cheap fuel. Meaning you can travel a long way at very little cost.
- Eating out whenever you wish. What bliss! And so many varied restaurants within a 20 mile radius. You can eat Mexican, Laotian, Chinese, Italian, French and even Thai!!! All of excellent quality and amazingly inexpensive. We can take breakfast; have coffee; eat lunch and then have a scrumptious dinner. It’s surprising we’ve not got increased our girth considerably, but the fresh quality of the food is such that we’ve remained the same weight over the 10 years! The venues for restaurants are enchanting – sit in a forest or watch the rolling surf as the sun sets below the islands in the sea. Or sit in the middle of a town and listen to life going on around you whilst you eat. There’s something for everyone. All amazing places.
- Sunshine and swimming. To be able to sit out at any time of the night or day and enjoy the warmth on your body brings a sense of peace and harmony rarely experienced in our birthplace, England. Living close to the lakes allows a gentle breeze on many days of the year. You have to experience the sensuous feel of a warm breeze caressing your body to know exactly what I mean here.
- Gardens and gardening. We have two houses here and both have good sized gardens. The bungalow has been for sale for many years but has had tenants for some 6 years, so it wasn’t too much of a problem. We let it for holidays now, so consequently have to keep the garden up together. We’ve just planted 7 small trees which should grow well in the next few years. They’re all fruit trees – pomelo, kaffir lime, orange, rambuttan, lychee, mangosteen and guava. The garden already has a large mango tree, a dragon fruit cactus, pineapples in pots and a small mango sapling. The biggest job with gardening in the tropics is the need for watering and this in itself is a pleasure. Time to think and get life in some sort of order. The two gardens probably take 4 hours to water and this is done once every 2 or 3 days at this time of the year. In the 3 month monsoon season its obviously not necessary, apart from those pot plants under the eaves that can’t catch the heavy rains. The other main garden job is constant pruning. The growth rate is phenomenal so you have to be well on top of all the plants or they soon get out of hand, especially the climbers and plants like the Bougainvillea. Many of the plants shed leaves daily – they’re semi-deciduous so you don’t have bare trees as we do in the West.
The garden - an inspirationClick thumbnail to view full-size
................more Reasons to Be Cheerful!
- We’re blessed and cursed to have two properties. The original idea was to build another house on the property we’d purchased and earmarked for gardening. The gardening didn’t happen. Just visit the local daily markets and you will see why you don’t have to grow your own veggies. The blessing of the other house is that we could rent it out, either long term or for holidays. We’ve done both and it’s provided an income we wouldn’t have had had we sold it as we’d planned.
- We’re really fortunate to have help with the garden in the form of our neighbours daughter Dai. She is a total angel and always cheerful. Really good company as well as being a great help. She’s totally tireless too and jobs that stump me physically, she just sails through.
- Nong Nooch Tropical Botanical Gardens. Being able to do voluntary work here is bliss. This is a job I love but don’t have regular hours. I can come and go as I please. The Gardens are 600 acres of tropical plants from all over the world, some very rare indeed. I believe we have the largest collection of palms in the world too. And the Cycads – what a dream to be able to work amongst them. Bromeliads and orchids; Hoyas and cactus – so many wonderful plants. It really is a pleasure just to wander amongst the nursery beds and houses, taking in the peaceful atmosphere of the place. Tranquillity and perfection.
- Having constant access to masseurs and hairdressers, not only for a good massage and hair styling, but for the usual things we neglect at home in England, - manicure, pedicure and waxing. And bliss, it doesn’t cost the earth.
- Cheap phones – pay-as-you-go.
- Having verandahs in 4 locations around the house. The upstairs verandahs are all furnished so we can sit or lay out anywhere in privacy. The downstairs verandahs are havens of coolness and one of our housesitting couples from New Zealand, call it ‘Thailands answer to Raffles’. Not quite but its really cool and comfortable.
- Wild life in the garden and the area. The birdlife in our garden is abundant and we’re visited often by bulbuls, drongoes and hoopoes; not to mention the dear little fantails, magpie robins and sparrows. The squirrels love the garden and are always fighting to be first to the ripe pineapples! Frogs and toads are always present and make their presence known with their wonderful choruses at night time, especially after the rains.
- Making new friends. We know most of the village folk now and they’ve accepted us, mainly I think because Derek is respected as a good, hard working soul. There are only 8 European houses in the village and it’s a fairly poor area which makes large houses look a little ostentatious. They may think it privately but we’ve never been made to feel anything but welcome. The plus side to this is when you need help or have a problem – people are always happy to help. We do this in our turn too. It’s a happy place to be, both physically and emotionally.
- House sitters. The problem of going home to the UK for 3 or 4 months every year brings its own set of problems, especially as we have dogs to care for. But being able to access a fund of house sitters through several good websites makes it far less traumatic. The fact that it’s free is a real bonus. But in hindsight, the sitters are getting a free holiday, and we’re getting our property and dogs cared for. We’ve had some pretty amazing people and they’ve remained friends over the years, which is wonderful. Our present sitters are returning for the 5th time this year. We’re really blessed – they’re an amazing couple and nothing phases them.
- Visitors. We did wonder if we’d be inundated with request for visits to our new abode. But in fact it’s really the people you really care about that make the effort to come and visit. The distance and air journey are off-putting, as are the fares. It’s really such a pleasure to have people here, and they’ve all mostly realised that you can’t just pop in for a week or so, so come for a month or more. And we do have some lovely people passing through – usually the younger family members and friends who use us as a base and go off to explore the rest of this beautiful country. It’s a comfort to have an address and someone on the end of the phone if they get into any problems – which hasn’t happened often thank heaven.
- Batiks. When I lived in Malaysia (many years ago) I fell in love with the local materials – the beautiful batiks of Asia. They’re many and varied country to country and I’ve collected a lot over the past ten years. The local Thai batiks have provided all our loose coverings for all the furnishings in the house. The colours and patterns are amazing and people love them as we’ve got them in the house. From bed covers and pillow cases, to seat covers, curtains and cushions. All have found a home here. However a sad thing happened four years ago. My ancient Singer disintegrated. It was a good 45 years old, but in England we still have my Grandmothers Singer which must be over a hundred years old! Was I expecting too much. Nothing daunted, I have now purchased a modern one and its fabulous. How did I manage for so long? Happy days!
- Hospitals, Doctors and Dentists. Yes, getting old brings a few problems and the dentists, doctors and hospitals have had their fair share of visits from us. But bliss once again. The dentist are amazing and really good at their jobs. The hospitals, whether it’s the upmarket, plush Bangkok Pattaya Hospital, the local Queen Sirikit Hospital or our cottage hospital at Wat Yansangwarraram (yes – now try and say that fast!!!) all are unfailingly efficient. And none of them are expensive. Not having insurance probably helps. Neither of us would qualify because of previous health probs – prostate, back problems etc. So initially we just winged it and hoped we wouldn’t be presented with massive bills. It didn’t happen and we always manage to get our visitors to have a problem that needs a hospital visit. Just so that they can see our superb facilities! And experience fastness and efficiency at its best. Oh NHS – take a lesson from these people! And all done with a smile and a helping hand.
- Then there's the golf. I never intended to play golf, thinking it quite a boring and mundane game. But over the years I’ve played it on and off and gradually become a fan. I’m not a good player but enjoy playing, no matter what the weather or conditions. Derek’s Father died a few years back and left him a small sum. I knew that if it went into the communal coffers it would just disappear, so suggested he take out a membership at our local golf course at Plutaluang. Its a Naval golf club and is quite a challenging course, full of water and hills. He did. And the benefit of that was his wife could also be a member and any children under 21! Ha ha! All of our grandchildren are over 21, so we had a joke about it.
- This year, Derek’s brother Alan, and wife Sylvia came out for Christmas and New Year followed by their friends Jill and Graham soon after Christmas. Graham and Alan are avid golfers and the ‘boys’ all went off to play most days. But Graham played with my golf clubs. A particularly old set of unknown origin. They really weren’t good and he suggested I get some new ones if I seriously wanted to improve my game – which I did. And bless them all, they left me half the cash to go off and buy a new set. It’s really different playing with a half way decent set of clubs and I’m enjoying the golf even more now. Thank you folks – that really made me Very, Very Happy.
Happiness is................Click thumbnail to view full-size
It doesn't end here of course.......
Well, I’ve written far too much but I really did want to convince myself that all the negatives I’ve been feeling over the past two years were just in my head. And of course, share it with other people contemplating moving to the tropics.
This list is not definitive – there are many other pluses but I’m not going to write any more.
Thank you Dear Thailand for the past ten wonderful years. It’s really great knowing you, and one thing I do know – if I live here til I shuffle off this mortal coil, I’ll always find great things to say about you.