“Why did you move to Thailand?”
I have been asked this question many times over the years.
Like most people, I first came for a holiday. But I think my story is perhaps a little different than the average person's, or not. You can be the judge of that.
The fact is, it could've been anywhere in the world, but it just so happened that it was Thailand. Koh Samui to be precise.
Yep, that's where it all started…
My friend asked me if I wanted to go on holiday with him and a family friend to Thailand. His friend had been a number of times before to visit his cousin, who lived in Koh Samui.
Having gone to university later than most, I'd never done the gap year travelling thing.
Moreover, I'd never really given much thought to Thailand; although I had a burning ambition to visit China because I'd studied Wing Chun for a while and that's where it has its roots.
I knew nothing of Thailand except through the “Thai bride” and “ladyboy” jokes occasionally bounded around at work. Yet I was at a turning point in my life and Thailand sounded exactly like the experience I needed to take me away from the mundane 9-5 routine.
I had not long split with my fiancee, too. It had hit me pretty hard and, what with work getting me down, I was at a stage where I needed a big change.
A holiday on a tropical island was an exciting prospect.
At a Crossroads. Time for a Change
The open roads on a moped, swimming in the warm sea, massages on the beach, fresh fruit, exotic women, stress-free living! This was another world.
The holiday went fast, as they do, and it made me realise that I had been missing out, that travel and perhaps even living abroad was something I wanted to explore.
I didn't know what I would do in Thailand if I went back, but what I did know was that I wasn't happy and hadn't been for a fair while. I could afford to take a break and find out whether the grass was really greener on the other side.
I was at a crossroads. Something needed to change.
Years prior to this point I was riding high. I was young and living out a dream in the music industry.
But things took a turn after a few years of success and after going to university I ended up in a music-related desk job that frustrated me and had started to steal my soul.
Looking back, I was disillusioned at the prospect of conformity that potentially lay ahead, and frustrated by where I was at. I was moaning and cursing day in day out.
I was stressed. My positivity was at a low and I needed to break out.
As Gladys Knight once sung;“There's more to life than living at the same address”.
I had some dosh stashed and, having always been a little entrepreneurial, I knew that if I put one foot in front of the other I would somehow survive.
I did. Writing this post is proof of that.
So, much to the dismay of my boss at the time, I wrote my resignation on the plane on the way back from that holiday and applied for my 1-year non O visa at the Thai embassy when I got home.
Yes, back then you could get one of those visas very easily!
Read this post for the up-to-date visa requirements.
People thought I was nuts. My family were worried and my friends thought I had met a ladyboy. (Ha. Those jokes never get old, right?)
I was on course for promotion at work, but it didn't matter. I don't think I have ever been so sure of anything in my life.
I was leaving.
I will never forget what a 50-something-year-old guy said to me during a pool match in my first 6 months in Koh Samui:
You did the right thing. I wish I'd moved abroad years ago. Don't spend your life waiting for a day that never comes.
A little Bruce Springsteen (Badlands), I agree, but that's what a few Singha beers does to you.
I will never forget those words. That guy seemed so happy.
When you follow your smile, good stuff usually happens, and within six weeks of being in the Kingdom I managed to land a small income.
I got a gig writing for a magazine (remotely). I didn't need a work permit, technically, because it was all online and the company was based outside of Thailand.
To this day there is no legislation to cover this type of work. I even approached a Thai lawyer about it at the time and he said just do it.
A journalist I knew back home from my music days had become editor at a magazine. She asked me to contribute four pieces a month on Thailand and the surrounding region.
It was enough to pay my rent and food at the time, and for any major spends I had my savings to dip into.
A number of twists and turns later, I used my marketing experience to start my own online business. Things snowballed from there and I worked hard to carve out a life for myself.
The Big Mango Calls…
You might say I outgrew the island of Samui.
In a way it became a bit of a fish bowl – seeing the same people in the same places all the time – and I wasn't about to get trapped in a routine in the first place I had landed.
I know people that landed in Samui and never left. I can absolutely see how that happens and why people want to stay, but I if I had done that I would have stagnated and possibly ended up in a place I didn't want to be (mentally).
I needed to move on and continue the adventure.
Samui is a lot of partying, and if you don't go out a lot you tend to feel kind of isolated – unless you are shacked up with a girlfriend. At that time I wasn't up for a serious relationship, so it was time to move on, not settle down.
I eventually moved to Bangkok.
Big cities have a way of drawing you in, wherever you go in the world – especially when you have grown up in one. Then, as you age, the traffic, pollution and lack of green space eventually gets to you and you leave for fresher, quieter pastures… I assume.
I have such fond memories of Samui, though. It's where I started this blog, met some great friends and let off a lot of steam!
That part of my life taught me a lot about myself.
I still remember sitting in my room in Bangrak (Bophut) and typing the first post for this blog.
Back then it was just a personal diary to let the folks back home know about my adventures. It was something to do on those monsoon nights when rain stops play and there's no way you're going out!
11 years later and here I am (elsewhere), still typing away.
Bangkok is an extraordinary place that constantly stimulates the senses.
The markets, the street food, the tuk-tuks and motorbike taxis, the bars, the clubs, the malls, the impromptu promotions on street corners, the cafes, the co-working spaces, different people from all corners of Thailand and indeed the world going about their business every which way you turn.
There is no place like it.
It is a brilliant mess. A dysfunctional city that should never work but does, in many weird and wonderful ways.
It's not for everyone though, and I do have times when I need a break.
And that's the great thing about Bangkok: you're never more than an hour's plane ride from a beach. So when you do get tired of the bustle, you just head to the airport.
I'm glad I made that move, though.
I studied Thai here, met a few great friends, went back to doing some martial arts, played 5-a-side football, starred in a movie, lived in 4 different areas, and of course met my wife and had my daughter – the latter has brought joy to my life I would otherwise have never known.
I've visited so many pockets of this city and it's never-ending.
In my early days of living in Bangkok I went off to live in Chiang Mai for a couple of months. I did this twice.
The second time was when some friends came over and we did some traveling in the North: Chiang Rai, Pai, etc.
Chiang Mai is a wonderful place: The local markets are great, the people are really laid back, and there is a great expat scene up there with lots of healthy food places and music nights. But BKK had it all going on for me at the time.
Bangkok is the place to meet new people and have new experiences, for young folk anyway, which I considered myself at the time. Chiang Mai has always been a close second choice for me, though.
So that's it really. Thailand became my adopted home because I took a leap of faith.
Of course the UK is “home home” and I enjoy 2-3-month visits each year to see family and friends.
But you know what? As mad as it sounds, quite often you see more of your friends when you live a 13-hour flight away than you do when you live back home. What with work and family, the older we get the less time there is for socialising.
But when you have been away for a while, people are excited to catch up and make time for it. You see friends for “quality time” together, and of course they can fly out and have an awesome holiday with you.
What Is It About Thailand That Makes People Want to Move?
Personally, I never stop feeling inspired in Thailand. There is always this feeling of possibility, of something exciting just around the corner. It's just a feeling, but it works for me and brings happiness to my life.
Whether it's a new friend, learning Thai, visiting a new part of the country, finding a new coffee shop to chill out in and pen a post, there's just this constant vibe that makes you feel alive – especially in Bangkok.
The attraction of cheaper living is a big bonus, even though the Pound is worth half what it was in 2008. I am able to save more here and not worry so much about the pennies. There are fewer financial burdens such as I don't need to own a car.
But people make a place. Bangkok isn't pretty by a long shot, and Thailand is not without its problems, but overall the people have been very welcoming and kind to me.
I hear so many negative stories, but my experience just doesn't resonate that way. Overall, 99 percent of my interaction with the locals is positive. There are idiots in every country; you'll always come across one now and again.
I eventually settled with my GF in Bangkok. We dated, ate out lots, took holidays, enjoyed Loy Krathongs & Songkrans, chilled in coffee shops and eventually, to cut 3 years short, got married.
Then we had my daughter. Life got far more routine, but more joyful in so many ways.
There is more than one country in the world to try living in, and if you have the chance then why not give it a go. It just so happened that Thailand came along at the right time for me, and for that I am eternally grateful.
In a way it kind of saved me from my then self, and forced me to reinvent my life and undertake a journey of self-discovery.
There's a whole lot more to this story and lots of bits in between, but this is it in a nutshell.
As for the future, who knows…
So, why did you come to Thailand?