A New Lease of Life in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Chiang Rai, Thailand

David Smith spent every holiday for 20 years in Thailand, revelling in the country’s culture and way of life. In 2002, at the age of 52, he found himself unemployed and decided the time was right to move there permanently.

“I like the Thai idea of sabai, sabai, which covers everything from being happy to just relaxing, enjoying yourself and taking life easy. I’ve given up the stress thing. Western people are too worried about the future and money, they want everything and do too much,” he says.

“When I was young, during the 60s and 70s, it was all about the Australian lifestyle, the quality of life. But now that’s all gone; it’s all about money and the dollar. I love Australia but I don’t like living there anymore.

“It’s a combination of liking the life in Thailand and not being able to afford to live in Australia. Here I can have a better standard of life, I can eat well, I can go out, have a meal in a restaurant. I couldn’t do that in Australia.”

Many people imagine that life as an expat is one long round of cocktail parties, dinners and clubs— and indeed it can be—but that’s not for the likes of David.

“There’s a large expat community but the ones like me who don’t really mix with expats tend to live out of town in the villages. I belong to a motorcycle group and we go for a group ride about once a month. I like to go to places like Doi Mesalong, a mountain with a beautiful temple on the top, or the Royal Villa Garden with its wooden summer house at Doi Tung.

“I go out Friday nights to catch up with a few friends at Northai, a bar and gallery in town. We have occasional parties at each other’s houses but I’m the original sort of guy from the past. I can repair or make anything. I’ve got a garage full of tools here; I will make anything, because I like doing it.

Time doesn’t come into it, I’m just doing it for me. I’m not making money, I’m not running a business, I’m just entertaining myself, and that’s what I like doing because I think it’s healthy and good for the mind.”

David also speaks the language. “I speak Thai. Four years ago I took a course of 31 one-hour lessons and I found it opens new doors; it gives you a different angle on the place. I don’t speak good Thai yet because it takes years, but I can describe things, I can do my own shopping.”

David’s home is a large bungalow, 15 minutes’ drive from the centre of Chiang Rai. His garden provides some of his food, grown in old, repurposed car tyres. He says, “I guess I’d pay somewhere between $200 to $300 a week for a similar place in Adelaide, depending on the neighbourhood. Here I live in a lovely quiet neighbourhood with a large garden which I rent for just under $400 a month.

“I grow my own veg mainly for the pleasure it gives me, but it’s so cheap to buy veg here. If I don’t want to cook, I go to a local restaurant or food stall where I can get an excellent meal for 50 baht to 100 baht ($1.90 to $3.80). My favourite dishes are red curry with pork bone where they crack the bone so the marrow flavours the dish, and tamarind shrimp.

If I really want to splash out I’ll go to The Dancing Shrimp for pla sam rod, which literally means ‘fish three flavours’. It’s a whole fried tilapia, similar to a sea bass, and the flavours are spicy, sweet and sour. Add a beer to that and the bill would come to around 350 baht ($13.25). Don’t even ask me how much that would cost me in Adelaide, but I’d guess you wouldn’t get much change out of $40 for the same quality of meal.

“I’ll be happy to see my life out here. In Australia all I’d be doing is sitting in God’s waiting room waiting to die. Here, I’m out on my bike, having fun. It suits me fine.”

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