My Life as an Expat in Chiang Khong

Guest post by Dianne Nobbs, a certified yoga instructor and recognized Swami. Follow her on Facebook at Mokshadharma Saraswati.

Even 10 or 12 years ago if anyone had suggested I would leave my country of Australia, my home, family, friends and go and live somewhere far, far away from everything familiar to me, I would have laughed and told them they were “barking mad.”

Yet here I am, a 64 year old foreign grandmother, living here in Chiangkhong, Chiangrai province northern Thailand. Where I come from, people like me are called “grey nomads,” although in my case it’s silver. Why Chiangkhong? Why Chiangrai?

Why not? It’s absolutely beautiful here in the north.

Silver Nomad, Dianne

Being an “Aussie” from down under, we have this beach culture and I do so love the beach. But then I grew up in the mountains and the mountains here are just as majestic and magnificent. There is something about the lushness of the countryside, the vivid green of the rice fields, the fields of corn, cassava, ginger, the great stands of teak and rubber trees that is pleasing to the eye. The abundance of tropical fruit and market fresh vegetables makes cooking and eating a pleasure. Even dieting is not too hard.

The weather suits me, as I loathe the cold. Yes, it rains a lot in the monsoon season, but the rain is warm. And even in the coolest cool season here in the north, I do not feel that bone shattering, chilling cold I often experienced in my own country in various places where I’ve lived.

 So really, what’s not to love?

The people are friendly the culture is different, interesting and quite fascinating, really, when you delve into it. The lifestyle is “laid back” compared to the 35 years of the “dash and crash” working life I had before I retired. Living here is very affordable for retirees. I am quite stunned when I go home and see the high cost of living even a “no frills” life in my country. And I am not a “no frills” kind of old girl.

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The truth is, my husband and I wanted an adventure and new experiences. “Viva la difference!” and it is all here in Thailand, not there in Australia – at least not for us right now at this time of our life.

Sunrise over the Mekong River

It has not all been “latte’s and lazy living.” There have been unexpected challenges. We got a big shock when we found out we were not entitled to our old age pensions because Australia and Thailand do not have a reciprocal social security agreement.

I am not of pensionable age yet, but my husband is 66 and already a year over the age qualification. And he is still not eligible even though he worked 40 years and paid 50 cents on the dollar tax. That was a hefty blow to our daily economic situation. Any Aussies reading this and travelling in Thailand right now – beware if you have even a tiny dream that you would like to retire here and escape the cold of the southern states. Or if you want to live anywhere else in the world, check out the pension situation first. Or consider perhaps living overseas for part of the year.

Over the last 7 years we have tiptoed through the minefield of Thai laws, language, and cultural differences, with issues of etiquette and behavior so very different to our own. Yet we are still here. Give or take the odd day when we want to throw up our hands in horror and declare it is all too bloody hard and complicated… Then something nice or wonderful happens and all the doubts, disappointments and frustrations dissipate like the morning mists which hang over the hills of Laos.

Exotic water buffalo in Thailand

I wake up in the morning and I can see the Mekong River gliding past my house. I never get tired of the spectacular views up, down and around the river. I am greeted by my 3 little dogs and my husband chases them all out the door for a morning walk, I can have a quiet breakfast and then settle down to prepare my Cheeky-Monkey Yoga classes for the day. I feel comfortable and very much at home. It would be a great wrench to leave despite the things that make me “want to spit tacks.” Thank you Eartha Kitt for those words!

Naturally, there are a number of things I miss from home; my children, grandchildren my Mother and all my family. Yet it has still been a great experience and I am glad I am not missing out on any of it. I teach a little yoga to travelers and local alike and a little English, too. I am stumbling along trying to learn some more Thai language. I have a small group of lovely Thai friends, a nice little bunch of yoga students who keep me young, busy and active because they are all heaps younger than me.

I get around town on my 3 wheel tricycle. My husband and I go off together on the motor cycle with a saleng on the side (a “combo,” the English call them). It has bright yellow cushions because yellow is the favorite color of our King, we love our Thai King. From a western perspective, it probably all looks very quaint and odd, but to us it is very ordinary and every day. We have “Ziggy 2,” our Toyota truck which we take for long trips.

Dianne teaches yoga here

Anyone of you who love Thai food or like to bliss out and have regular Thai massages, pedicures, manicures, hang out at the salon and then take a nap in the afternoon – this is the place. Imagine the shopping! I could have shoes to match every item I have in my wardrobe. Well, except I do not have a wardrobe. Instead, I have a long bamboo pole that stretches right across the bedroom, and I have coconuts for door stoppers. Ours is not exactly material for “House & Home” magazine, but it all works for me.

Whoever you are, and wherever you are, if you have a little dream about retiring to somewhere other than your own country – for whatever reasons – then nourish and nurture that dream. At least be brave enough get out a map, check out the possibilities and explore your options. Please do all your homework, tick all the boxes, and read all the serious stuff as well as the fun stuff. Warning! Especially the fine print. Pack the boxes with only what you need and bless everything. Then take a big breath in, a big breath out and take the plunge……………..

“You will never, never know if you never, never go”

Glimpse of Laos from lodge in Chiang Khong

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About Retire Early Lifestyle

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired three decades ago at the age of 38 and began traveling the world. As recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel, they have been interviewed about retirement issues by The Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine, The Motley Fool Rule Your Retirement newsletter, nationally syndicated radio talk shows and countless newspapers and TV shows nationally and worldwide. They wrote the popular books The Adventurer's Guide to Early Retirement (Your Simple Path to FIRE) and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible.
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