Hot Seat

Phil Williams

Ajarn is asking expats some random questions on life in Thailand. I will start the ball rolling and hope others volunteer some of their precious time.

Q

Thanks a million for answering the questions. Firstly, where in Thailand are you living and how long have you been here?

A

I live in Samut Prakan Province and I've been here 32 years. As my wife is often quick to point out, most of my adult life in fact. 

Q

How would you summarize your Thai language ability?

A

For someone who's been here over 30 years, it should be far better than it is. Then again, I'm my own fiercest critic. I just don't get enough practice. I can handle myself well enough in most day-to-day situations but pure laziness is the reason I can't push myself past the 'intermediate' stage. There isn't enough reason for me to speak Thai if I'm honest. I have only one real Thai friend who I converse with in Thai and my wife speaks fluent English. The odd chit-chat with my sister-in-law and mother-in-law doesn't really count. 

Would I love to speak Thai fluently? Absolutely. Am I willing to put in the considerable effort required to learn any language fluently? That's probably a no.    

Q

Now that the Covid years seem to be thankfully behind us, what lessons did you learn from the whole experience?

A

This could be a somewhat controversial answer. There's no way I would ever want to return to those times of lockdowns, etc because I know they caused so much hardship to so many, but from a purely personal point of view, I look back on those years and there are actually several things I miss. 

Firstly, I quite liked the way it took the choice and the decision-making out of life. You couldn't go out to a restaurant or to the gym or to a movie-theatre, etc and after a while I just didn't miss them. It's amazing how adaptable we are when forced into a corner.

Secondly, I can't go without mentioning the wonderful Thailand travel opportunities and promotions that presented themselves to expats during the pandemic. My wife and I were staying at 5-star resorts that we simply couldn't afford now. It was the ultimate silver lining. Thailand just looked so much cleaner and so much more appealing without hordes of tourists. 

But as I said, I've no wish to return to those days and not getting home to see my family for several years made me realise what an uncertain world we live in. You can never take anything for granted nowadays.     

Q

A common theme on Thailand social media is the rising cost of living here. What if anything do you think costs way too much and secondly, in what areas have you cut down or attempted to cut down on expenses?

A

I think it's still a very reasonably priced country to live in but if there are two things that grind my gears, it's supermarket food prices and costs associated with applying for travel visas to go overseas (that's an absolute disgrace)

I think it's outrageous how much you can spend on the basics in Thai supermarkets but most people just seem to accept it. I watched a YouTube video the other day from one of my favourite Thai travel bloggers and he was walking around a supermarket in Istanbul and pointing out the prices of stuff. He just couldn't believe how cheap things were compared to Thailand.

If I had to select an area where my wife and I have cut down, it's definitely eating out. Pre-Covid, we would eat out religiously once or twice a week, now it's twice a month at best. Covid ruined the 'mid-range' restaurant experience in Thailand and I don't think it's ever recovered. At too many places you've lost that overall sense of occasion. I get more pleasure sitting on a wonky stool at a hole-in-the-wall joint these days.   

Q

Another very controversial issue is the annual pollution, especially in the north of Thailand. It’s been particularly bad this year. Has it made you rethink your long-term future here?

A

It hasn't at all. Perhaps it has something to do with being retired and not needing to go outside all that often. However, it's certainly something Thailand needs to address and pronto! 

Q

Which place in Thailand have you never visited but would most like to and why? 

A

The pandemic years and following my football team around the country has meant getting to see many places in Thailand that I wouldn't normally have got to see. In fact, my wife and I sat down and made a list recently, and realised we've done about 70% of Thailand's 77 provinces. The only three remaining provinces that are still on our hit list are Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani down in the deep south. While there's an element of risk in travelling through these provinces, it would be worth out for all that delicious local food!  

Q

If you had to choose a place in Thailand to live (other than where you are now) where would it be and why?

A

Funny but 'where in Thailand would you like to live?' is always a popular discussion topic between my wife and I (despite the fact that it'll probably never happen). If the pollution wasn''t so bad in the north, I've always had a soft spot for Chiang Rai. I've just always loved the overall vibe there. My wife on the other hand, is a big fan of Trang in southern Thailand and I'll admit that the more I travel in the south, the more it grows on me. 

Q

Do you have your eyes on settling in another country at some point? Even if you have no plans, which country appeals to you? 

A

This has never really appealed to me because I lack the motivation to move to a whole new country and learn a new culture, a new language perhaps and how things work. When you've invested 30-odd years in a country, it's damn hard to turn your back on it. That said, my thoughts sometimes drift away to a ramshackle cottage on a windswept Cornish coast. At least I wouldn't have to learn the language and I could live on Cornish pasties!

Q

“The smiles have disappeared from The Land of Smiles” Agree or disagree? 

A

I put this question in the survey purely because I've seen it mentioned or at least inferred by a number of expats. I think that while Bangkok may have become a little more 'cut-throat' and competitive, resulting in people maybe having less time for each other, once you get out into the provinces and rural areas, people are as friendly as they've always been. 

Q

Generally, is life in Thailand better for you now than when you first arrived?

A

It's much better now. The 90s in Thailand was actually quite a dark decade for me when I look back on it. It was the life of a language school teacher struggling to survive on 30K a month and having to work damn hard and do long hours to earn that much! I wouldn't change anything though. I look back on it as my apprenticeship. They were very different times and Bangkok was a very different place back then. You made the best of it because the situation was what it was... and it was all you knew. 

Q

What is the best and worst thing about living here? 

A

The best thing about living here struck me last September when I was back in the UK for a family visit. On another grey English day when I had the choice of walking around Poundland again or going into the local Wetherspoons for the umpteenth time, I thought 'Thailand isn't like this'. And it isn't. Every day you live here is a sort of 'mini adventure' that keeps you on your toes and at the very least makes you feel alive. I suppose you could say I came to appreciate the challenge more. 

The worst thing about living here is the uncertainly over one's status. Despite being married to a Thai and living here donkey's years, without Thai citizenship you never truly belong. If Thailand decides one day that it doesn't want you, then that'll be the end of the love affair. Hopefully it won't happen but you can never say never.  

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