This article was published in MoneySense Magazine in January 2006. MoneySense Magazine didn’t include it online, so to read the article you’d have to see if there was a back issue available from MoneySense Magazine or, find the January 2006 issue in a doctor’s waiting room, or you can read it on this page.
Going Places – Calling All Snowbirds
Thailand and Malaysia make a luxurious vacation or comfortable retirement eminently affordable
First published in January, 2006
By Andrew Hallam
Matt and Mimi Kirkland are enjoying a retirement that any Canadian would envy. The former residents of Edmonton both live in a spacious three-bedroom bungalow, surrounded by bamboo trees. Their home sits across the street from a gorgeous white-sand beach and when the Kirklands entertain visitors on their marble deck, they look over their lush garden, maintained year-round by somebody else’s green thumb.
A full-time maid helps with the house-work and whether the Kirklands are going downtown, to the golf course or to the airport, they never have to worry about parking their car or commuting traffic. Their personal driver takes them to their destination and brings them home when summoned via cell phone.
Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? But before you start thinking that we’re ogling the lifestyles of the rich, consider this: the Kirklands live on roughly $27,000 a year.
They’re residents of Pattaya, Thailand, a city of 79,000 roughly 145 km southeast of Bangkok. When working overseas for Exxon in 1998, Matt fell in love with Thailand and vowed that he would retire there. Four years ago, he kept that vow, and he and Mimi moved to Pattaya, which sits on the Gulf of Thailand in the South China Sea. “You really can’t beat this kind of lifestyle,” Matt says, “and the golf’s fantastic.”
The Kirklands demonstrate why Thailand and Malaysia may be on the verge of becoming the next Florida or Arizona for winter-hating Canadians. The region’s appeal is a mix of low costs, tropical climate and exotic beauty. Whether you want to trek in mountainous jungles, laze on pristine sandy beaches or dive into clean, turquoise water, you’ll find that Southeast Asia is home to some of the most spectacular settings on the planet.
Low-priced flights from most major cities in the region make it easy for wildlife lovers to spend a weekend in Borneo gazing at wild orangutans and pygmy elephants. Or you can jet off to Cambodia’s Angkor to explore ancient ruined temples shrouded in dense, tropical jungle. If you’re a hedonist, you can spend a luxurious weekend at a Malaysian island resort. After a morning of diving, golf or snorkeling, you can lounge on the beach or visit the spa to enjoy soothing manicures and full-body massages, before a dinner of fresh seafood or spicy vegetable curry. Still not enough? There’s always shopping. Large cities such as Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur are a shopaholic’s paradise, where you can find everything from handmade silk clothing to the latest electronics.
All of this is well within the reach of most Canadians. In posh resort towns such as Thailand’s Phuket and Krabi, where opulent waterfront hotels attract rock stars and fashion models, you can rent a two-bedroom, two bathroom condo apartment on the beach for as little as $1,500 a month, full maid service included. The further you move from the major tourist destinations, the better the deals become. I recently spoke to a 60 year-old U.S expatriate who has lived in Bankrud, Thailand, for a decade. Jess, as I’ll call him, rents a handsome two-bedroom apartment beside a tourist resort, 150 meters from the beach, for about $180 a month.
He loves the service that his money can buy, the friendliness of the Thai people, the weather, and of course, the low cost of luxury. While many North Americans might fear growing old in a foreign country, Jeff believes he’s far ahead of where he would be if he had stayed in his native U.S. “If I get something like Alzheimer’s,” he says, “I can hire a registered nurse to care for me full-time for 11,000 to 12,000 baht per month [roughly $380 Canadian].”
So what are the drawbacks to this idyllic life? The only major fear that expats seem to mention with regularity is the danger of being struck by a medical emergency while travelling. You’ll find quality hospitals in major cities, but rarely in the smaller centres. And witnessing an ambulance vainly stuck in Bangkok’s crazy traffic is more than enough to deter a few would-be expats.
If you’re still tempted to follow in Jeff’s footsteps, consider spending a winter in Asia to see how you like living in a place where the food is delicious and the weather is perfect, but Wal-Marts don’t exist and McDonald’s is still a rarity, even in major cities. You can rent a fully furnished bungalow in Pattaya with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, air conditioning and access to a communal pool for $650 a month or you can go all out and lease a luxurious beachside house for just $2000 a month. Massages, facials, pedicures and manicures start at $6 to $12 an hour at Pattaya’s numerous spas. Or you can give yourself a full afternoon’s pampering, including massage, herbal steam, body scrub, red clay body wrap, aromatherapy bath and traditional Thai facial for $178.
A growing number of Canadians, Americans and Europeans are not only wintering in Asia, but moving there permanently. If you want to own property, the most practical destination is Malaysia. You can buy a luxurious 1,800 sq-ft apartment near Kuala Lumpur with swimming pool, weight room, tennis and squash courts for $120,000. In contrast, Thailand welcomes foreign renters, but makes it next to impossible for foreigners not married to Thai citizens to actually own property.
The Kirklands aren’t planning to leave Thailand anytime soon. Some people may enjoy shoveling snow on frosty winter days, but as Matt is quick to point out, “I’m not one of them.”
Cutting Your Ties
Thinking of ditching the Great White North for Southeast Asia?
*A few minutes of web surfing will show you what’s available in Thailand or Malaysia. Check out www.viviun.com
*Both Thailand and Malaysia offer excellent medical care if you have a bit of money. A joint medical insurance policy used to cost Matt and Mimi Kirkland only $266 a month. But medical costs are so low that Matt, an expatriate Canadian, dropped his coverage three years ago, while keeping his wife on the plan. “If you’re reasonably healthy, it’s cheaper to pay for your own medical,” he says.