My story of how I came to be living in Thailand and what I’ve learned over the last seven years – compared to being on an extended holiday, being a digital nomad or living in an expat bubble.
Seven years ago, I made the move to live in Thailand full time after one false start (more about that later).
I wrote this blog post after I made a two-part vlog of my take on living in Thailand. Most of the videos I’d watched about living in Thailand seem to have been made by people who fall into one of three categories:
- People on extended holidays
- Digital nomads (is that still a thing?)
- People living in expat bubbles
I’ve have been guilty of all the above, but for the last few years I have lived in Trat, rural Thailand, so I believe I have some unique insights into how to live long-term in Thailand. Anyway, this is my story and I’m sticking to it!
My Back Story
I travelled every winter to escape the cold and misery of the UK on the run up to the festive season through to the end of January. I have an aversion to Jingle Bells, Christmas pudding and the rampant consumerism at this time of year. North and South America, Caribbean North Africa and Asia were all explored but a chance meeting with a recently unemployed banker in the island of Don Dhet in the Mekong River, Laos set me on a new course.
Prior to this winter walkabout I was running a production company in London, producing corporate videos, music promos and television documentaries. I’d noticed two trends; budgets were being reduced and advertising was tentatively moving online.
Living in Shoreditch on the edge of The City of London and meeting an exbanker in the middle of nowhere was an eye opener. That was the time of the financial collapse of ‘08.
On my return to old Blighty I started to transition my company from a traditional production company to making videos for online, particularly for SME’s. Then I started investing all my time into learning SEO and local search marketing to combine the two.
I knew I was in the right place at the right time, but all my time was invested in learning and although I’d started to generate an income, I still had to go out to work and freelance to pay the bills. This often took me away from home for a few days or weeks at time. It got to the point where it was hard to grow my new business. So, I decided to reduce my overheads and move to Koh Chang, as you do!
Living the Dream on Koh Chang
I rented a room on Lonely Beach, Koh Chang and worked out the back of a Mexican Restaurant called Barrio Bonito (now in Kai Bae and Bangkok). It was and still is the best Mexican restaurant in Thailand.
It was a fun time, for a while. Out every night, working all morning and hitting the beach in the afternoon, mainly because the internet would die around 3pm like clockwork, daily. I even tried to work from the beach, but Mac’s do not like sun and sand!
After a while, things got a bit stale for me. Living in a crappy room, dodgy internet connections and the local gossips distracted me from my master plan. Besides, leaving London to live the dream on an island wasn’t all I imagined it would be. So, I took stock and decided to move back to the UK (I still had my place there) get my shit together and move back to Asia with a better understanding of what I wanted and needed to do to make everything work for me.
On arriving back in London, I proceeded to sell or give away all my worldly possessions. Turn out to be a very cathartic experience, I felt free of the stuff that owned me!
I then moved back into my parent’s house for a couple of weeks which was kind of surreal as I hadn’t lived there since my late teens. Anyway, things were bought, sold and visas were acquired, plans were drawn and torn and drawn up again.
Within weeks, what I still possessed was shoehorned into a backpack and I took a one-way flight to Bangkok.
Living in Bangkok
I never thought or even saw myself living in Bangkok as I never liked the city before but this time it was convenient and a logical place to be. Like London, it’s big city full of adventure and opportunities. I grew to like it, although nowadays I try to not go there if at all possible.
I found a condo on the Chao Phraya River and moved in within 24 hours – no messing around like back home for a month or more! My overheads went down, and my standard of living went up. I had a pool, a gym, a library, coffee shop, restaurants and amazing river views.
I knew very few people, which was ideal for me to get into beast mode and grow my business. Occasionally friends and old colleagues came out to visit who were intrigued to learn what I was doing and get a free sofa to sleep on. One started to shadow me and ended up working for me, still to this day.
I lived in Bangkok during the military coup d’état. I moved to a low-rise condo, still on the river and with access to a boat. I attended Thai Language school for a year, made good money betting on Muay Thai fights at Lumpini Stadium. I met some great people and some very strange and dark dudes. I did one visa run to Cambodia. Rediscovered standup comedy and a whole lot more…
I was about to leave Bangkok to go to Bali for a holiday, meet up with a good friend, drink Bintang and climb Mount Agung when I met Katae. We spoke daily and met up on my return. We’ve been together pretty much ever since. She moved into my condo and after about a year we decided we would give living on Koh Chang a try.
We had a few extended holidays on Koh Chang first and explored all the possibilities and places to live. We settled on a new build on the edge of Klong Son village, paid a deposit and moved in a couple of months later when the Bangkok condo contract expired.
Reliving the Dream on Koh Chang
Koh Chang is a beautiful island when you get out of the tourist places. We ended up living there for over two years and for the most part enjoyed our time there. When we got married, we decided we wanted to put roots down somewhere and stop renting. Trying to get our landlord to fix things was a long slow process that started to drive us slowly insane.
We looked at land for sale for over a year all over the island, but as the island is about 80% National Park, land is scarce and at a premium. Lots of land there that was offered to us was also pretty dodgy in the legal capacity or unrealistically over-priced.
Having lived there for a couple of years you notice the issues that were not going to be solved without massive infrastructure spending, which paradoxically if it was implemented would spoil the reasons why we wanted to live on an island in the first place.
Koh Chang is an island with no water and it often ran out. Tankers would literally ship the stuff in on the ferries from the mainland. The increased housing, developments and number of tourists will only compound this issue in the future.
Waste disposal is pretty rudimentary on the island. The smell is over powering in some areas.
The ferries run to no set timetable as far as I’m aware and on busy days you can wait in line for several hours just to board. This is true if your heading to the island or trying to get off it.
So, the dream of living on Koh Chang didn’t exactly turn into a nightmare but in the cold hard light of day, we knew the basic lack of sustainability the island offered, it wasn’t going to be a place for us to live on a long-term basis. We still love Koh Chang. Maybe one day we will invest in a little holiday home by the beach…
Living in Rural Thailand
So, our thought turned to finding land on the mainland. I ended up buying a 2 rai plot 10 minutes out of Trat City and about 30 minutes from the ferry terminal and Trat Airport.
We built a shipping container home on our new land and later built a traditional brick one-bedroom house for Katae’s retired parents. Soon after we also opened a Thai restaurant called Thinglish Kitchen.
In between the three buildings I planted a permaculture food forest, sited a chicken coop and built three raised beds to grow all our own food in an organic and sustainable way. We also got a Bangkaew dog we call Taxi. We now have Cobain (Golden Retriever) and Money (Pomeranian).
In the next posts, I’ll be sharing my experiences on subjects like freedom, the cost of living in Thailand, the weather, Thai time, driving, Thai food, building, insects and dangerous animals, soi dogs, shady characters, learning Thai language, Visas and being the only ferrang in the village.
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7 Years Living in Thailand