The next installment in the Expat Interview Series! I’ve reached out to expats in different countries to hear why people might choose to move abroad, and how they do it. If you want to know more about moving to a particular country this is the place. If you’re interested in taking part or want to see a certain place featured let me know!
Thailand is more popular as an expat destination than ever, with people moving there at the rate of knots, I figured it was time to feature an interview with an expat in Thailand! Anna of Hammock Stories fell in love with Thailand a long time ago, but finally made the move to Thailand a year ago! She shares her story and advice below.
Tell us about yourself
Hi! It’s Anna here! A 30-something Finnish girl living in Thailand, on Koh Phangan. I’ve been coming here since I was 9 (not every year, though) and my whole family loves this country. My Mum is retired and spends usually 4 months/year here as well. So I got my Thailand infatuation from mother’s milk, I guess.
I have lived overseas before, in 2 different countries: in London when I was 24 years or so and miss the city terribly. It was always an option that I might move there at some point. But thanks to Brexit, this is not on the table anymore. I have also lived in Australia on 2 different occasions, and miss Down Under heaps. My initial plan was to stay there and get sponsored, after finishing my working holiday visa some 7 years ago. A short vacation in my home country changed all that. Yeah, it was a guy. You guessed it right. At that time, it was not an easy choice to stay in Finland because I really loved Australia and had planned on staying there. The whole outdoorsy lifestyle just seemed right.
Anyway, at least I finally managed to do some work in my own field, when I decided to stay in Scandinavia. I have a Master’s degree in Social Politics and started working as a social worker. But… a few years and I started feeling unhappy in the relationship, was missing overseas and traveling. I came to Thailand for a holiday and made the decision that I need to break up with my boyfriend. He was devastated and angry. Luckily, that’s all behind us now and he is one of my best friends.
I knew I’d need to spend some 6 months in Finland before I could return to Thailand. And since one needs to make a living, I enrolled in a TEFL course and started making assignments online already in Finland. I also booked a yoga teacher training because this was something I had been thinking for a long time. The idea was not to become a full-time teacher, but rather improve my own practice and perhaps later in life, teach a bit, if it was to be my dharma (calling).
So, in November 2016 I was back on Koh Phangan, my home away from home. I finished my TEFL course and yoga teacher training. After that, I just chilled and had a proper, long holiday. Until I felt I really needed to start working. I took a Social Studies teaching position in Rayong for 6 months. You can read more about it here. It was a very interesting experience but I’m happy it’s done. I’m back here, on the island that I love. There are not many opportunities for teachers here, so I will probably start teaching online and I have my blog also. Furthermore, I have done some translations and odd jobs online. I have a lot of plans for my blog and I’m really excited about it, but I’ve been developing it slowly. The idea is to start monetizing it soon, though.
What’s the cost of living in Thailand, and how do you make a living?
On this island, many farangs are entrepreneurs. Typically people have restaurants, cafes or perhaps they run a hostel. Competition is fierce and the turnover rate is quite high. There are digital nomads as well, but it is not a major hub, like Chiang Mai. Food and living are fairly inexpensive, so I’m pretty sure we will see more and more digital nomads here. A cheap Thai meal costs around 50-100THB. (At the moment, 100 baht is around 3 USD or 2.6 euros.) A cappuccino is 60-100THB. A modest bungalow is around 8000THB/month, a new one around 15 000b. High and peak season are more expensive and if you will only stay for a month, you are more than likely going to have to pay a higher price.
You need to rent a scooter to get around or buy a cheap one which you can always sell later. Minimum taxi fare is 100b. Bicycle works for certain areas but some parts are really hilly. Local beer and whiskey are not that expensive, but if you drink cocktails the whole night, it will set back your budget.
What are the visa rules like in Thailand?
The Thai government has recently introduced a freelance visa which costs 40 000THB/year. This is hardly an option for a digital nomad who would only spend a couple months here. Most of the location independent people are on a tourist visa but, officially, you are NOT allowed to work. Nobody is policing this but the military government can be unpredictable so you shouldn’t shout it out if you are working online.
Recently they’ve been sending people to jail for overstaying whatever visa they’ve been on, even if the overstay is just for one day. When you get out of jail, you are banned from entering the Kingdom anywhere from 1 to numerous years. You definitely don’t want that! So always check the dates in your passport and don’t overstay!
At the moment, I’m on education visa which means I’m studying Thai. When this finishes, I’m getting the freelance visa. You can also get a business visa if you own a company but that get’s fairly complicated and you need to have a lawyer to make sure the process is done correctly.
What’s the social scene and nightlife like?
Koh Phangan is fairly small and outside high season it can get even emptyish. Many people pack their bags and go back to Europe or the States and come back in November or December again. During the high season you will make many new friends, but outside of that, you might be thinking that where is everybody.
When talking about Koh Phangan, the post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the world famous Full Moon Party. Every month, revellers from around the world come here and stay usually 4 days or so around the full moon period. During this time there is (obviously) much more noise, lots of young crowd doing drinking games and music blasting. Unfortunately, also accidents are very typical and you can hear the sirens frequently. Don’t drink too much, don’t take drugs and definitely don’t drive your scooter if you are under the influence. Motorbike accidents leading to casualties are not uncommon here.
FMP (Full Moon Party) is not my cup of tea but go see it for yourself and then decide what you think of it. Leave your valuables home, look after your friends and have fun. In general, there are numerous parties on the island, to gather for different tastes, from live jams to reggae and electronic music of all sorts. Some are free, some cost 200-300baht.
What else is there to experience when living on Koh Phangan?
Yogis say oooommmmm
Koh Phangan is also a new age hippie/yoga mecca. The concentration is in Sri Thanu, on the west coast. There are so many yoga schools, reiki, healings, workshops, meditation courses etc. to choose from. Vegetarian and vegan restaurants serve delicious and healthy meals, though the prices (approx. 200b) do feel quite high compared to Thai food.
On the east coast, in the Tri-Bay area (Haad Yuan, Haad Thian and Whynam) you have the very famous yoga and detox centre called the Sanctuary. This area has a few other yoga places as well and workshops alike. Furthermore, it has got an old-school hippie vibe that many fall in love with and, consequently, keep on returning to this secluded part of the island. Some of the downsides are heftier prices and a not-so-reliable internet connection (plus lack of places with wifi), so perhaps it’s not the best place if you work online a lot.
What’s an important tip you would want to give people travelling to or living in Thailand?
Respect your host country
Luckily, travel bloggers are usually pretty conscious people, but every month we see folks walking and driving around in bikinis, small shorts or hot pants. NOT okay. Thai people won’t say anything to you but this is unheard of in their culture. I probably don’t even need to mention that being nude at the beach is a big no-no. Unless you are keen on spending some time in Thai prison of course.
Another piece of advice, never ever disrespect the Thai monarchy, temples or flag. This will get you locked up and deported faster than you can say thank you and goodbye. On top of that, Thais love spreading the mugshots of the perps on social media. Actually, I just saw one the other day: 2 guys showing their bums in the same picture with a Buddhist temple. Well done, lads!
All in all
Many people fall in love with Thailand and want to stay here. After all, prices are right, the weather is good, food is delicious and Thais are friendly. Unfortunately, it is not very easy making friends with Thais so you are more likely to spend time with other farangs (foreigner in Thai), and sometimes this has left me wondering if I’ll ever be totally accepted into the society, or if am I just an (ATM) tourist to the locals.