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Two Years “Retired” In Thailand

Steps To A Working Retirement

‘L unchtime!’ The welcome words were barely audible over the roar and hiss of the bush cutter I was wielding. I cut the engine and as the silence enveloped me I pulled off my head covering and goggles and wiped the sweat from my face.

Our farm today.
Our farm today.

It was well into the 90s and I was outside in the fierce Thai sun and had been since soon after dawn. This wasn’t exactly whatI had expected when we’d decided to finally leave Taipei after 15 years working there to take up a more outdoor and relaxed lifestyle and an early retirement.

Deciding on a Change

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We had been happy in Taiwan, but we had had enough of apartment living and of big city life in general; while Taiwan’s climate, which can best be described as damp and humid was another factor. We often felt that it was only a matter of time before we started developing gills and growing webbed feet.

The farm then
As it was in the begining …

Then there are the earthquakes which seemed to be getting stronger and scarier each year. The cognoscenti will tell you that these are best appreciated while crouched under a sturdy piece of furniture.

On our travels in the region we had found that the area of the north of Thailand, known rather romantically as the Golden Triangle, to be pretty much what we were looking for, and had found a lovely spot near the city of Chiang Rai.

The Best Laid Plans …

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During our last couple of years in Taiwan, we had built up a good idea of what we thought we wanted and had spent happy hours planning our new life. Stuck in Taipei’s traffic jams I had happily day-dreamed of the time this would all be behind me.

We would have long, leisurely breakfasts on the veranda. We would spend our mornings on gentle country walks and bicycle rides or pottering in the garden growing our own fruit and vegetables. Hot afternoons would be spent snoozing in a hammock or finally reading all those Folio books. After watching the sunset, we would spend the warm fragrant evenings on the veranda or in one of the many pleasant riverside restaurants in and around Chiang-Rai.

Reality Bites — Hard!

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A Sugarapple
Sugar apple — one of our
more successful crops

However, this wasn’t to be. Our big mistake was falling for rather more than a small garden. Several acres more in fact. Not only do we have a beautiful piece of hillside with bamboo-covered slopes behind us and farms all around, but we also have a lot more work than either of us had imagined. It’s certainly not the part-time gentlemanly pursuit we had imagined it would be. We thought that we could plant a few mango and litchi and sit back watching them grow and we might even make some money. After all, trees grow. It’s what they do. They’re famous for it.

A jackfruit tree.
A young jack fruit tree with fruit.

It turns out that litchis are rather delicate when young and need plenty of tender loving care. They are also considered a delicacy by many types of bugs whose existence I had so far been blissfully unaware of though I am pleased to report that the bugs in turn are considered a delicious meal by the locals. As a goldfish knows more about riding a bicycle than we did about farming at that time, there was a precipitous learning curve. We suddenly needed to know about irrigation and pest control and pruning and–the bane of my life–keeping undergrowth in check. There were infestations of caterpillars, bugs that can strip a young tree of its leaves in a day, termites, and vicious biting ants. We had wanted to be organic and environmentally friendly but that seems to be an option only if you don’t actually want a harvest.

Then there the natural hazards; like scorpions and toads in your shoes; learning which of the many snakes are poisonous: cobra, yes; rock python, no-but keep the dogs away; which bugs bite, sting, give rashes or merely cause your hands to swell alarmingly.

Sticking it Out

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We had local labour helping us but as any foreman knows, if you turn your back for a minute, everything goes wrong which is why that instead of sitting on my veranda sipping something long and cool, I am out in the blazing tropical sun, swathed in from head to foot in sweat-soaked protective clothing explaining for the umpteenth time in fluent sign language that it’s cut the weeds and go round the trees!

Snake emerging from a hole
One of our more unwelcome guests.

There were days when, completely exhausted and frustrated, we considered just giving up or letting everything run wild but of course we didn’t, and we can look out over our neat tree covered hills, alive with birds and promise and feel we are doing something worthwhile. And we certainly have no time to be bored.

So next time you see what appears to be a Thai field worker, look more closely. It may be a big‒nosed farang “enjoying” his early retirement.

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