Off-The-Beaten-Path Travel Adventures In Hanoi, Vietnam

"Tomorrow, Nice Hotel!"—Off-The-Map Adventures In Southeast Asia

Oct. 16, 2014, Hanoi, Vietnam: Discover Vietnam beyond the packaged tours for Western travelers.

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

For my husband David and me, one of the most gratifying aspects of living in Southeast Asia has been the chances we've had to do local things. To get to know our local neighbors and to be treated as though we're one of them, a real part of the community.

Our friend Tuan owns a minivan and makes his living as a private tour guide. He is Vietnamese, and most of his customers are also Vietnamese. This year, a group of ladies from Saigon hired him to show them Vietnam's remote Northwest Loop. There were two extra seats available in the van, and he asked David and me if we'd like to ride along on the five-day trip.

We were excited by the opportunity. It would have been difficult to undertake this journey on our own. Many places along this 700-mile trip are so remote that planning the logistics ourselves would have been almost impossible. Navigating tiny, winding, barely maintained roads through high mountains and soaring passes presents plenty of challenges.

We asked Tuan if we would be staying in hotels, and he assured us that we would be very comfortable. Great.

We enthusiastically accepted Tuan's offer, and certainly we're glad we made the trip, but we realized quickly after setting out that this would not be like any adventure we'd had in Vietnam before.

We were not traveling as Western tourists but as part of a Vietnamese group. Fortunately most of our traveling companions spoke English, making it easy enough for us to communicate. By the end of the trip, we had all become good friends.

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Comparing Street Crime In The Americas, Europe, And Asia

The World's Safest Places To Retire?

Oct. 15, 2014, Chiang Mai, Thailand: Asia is the most crime-free region in the world.

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

Want to reduce your exposure to street crime?

Consider moving to Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Vicki and I both grew up in the United States. Since then we've lived in Argentina and Mexico; England, France, and Spain; and Thailand, Malaysia, and China. We've also lived in New York, Las Vegas, and Austin.

In my observation, Asia's view on crime differs from that of the Western world in two key respects.

First, we in the West take crime for granted. We believe we have to live with crime, that it comes with the territory. Second, we in the West assume there's very little we can do about crime. As a society we've tried putting more people in jail, we've tried letting more people out of jail. Nothing works.

Asians reject both these views, in my experience. Thais and Chinese view crime as an aberration, rather than a daily occurrence. Thais may get ripped off now and again, or know someone who's been hit. Scams happen. Then again, Thais never take crime for granted.

Vicki and I have been pickpocketed in Paris, had a purse snatched in Panama, had items stolen from our luggage in a London hotel's luggage area, had bags stolen from a car in Mexico. For every theft we've been hit with, two or three attempts have failed.

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Retire To Bangkok, Thailand

More Than Go-Go Bars And Ladyboy Shows—Bangkok As A Retirement Choice

Oct. 14, 2014, Bangkok, Thailand: Bangkok, Thailand, is best known as a sex-tourism destination, but it is also an appealing choice for retirement and also for English-language education.

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

Bangkok is the largest city in Thailand and the third-largest city in Southeast Asia. It also has the biggest expatriate population of any city in the region, more than 155,000 foreigners. They come from throughout Southeast Asia and the Far East, Europe, Australia, and North America, giving the city a decidedly international flavor. Although the dominant culture is definitely Thai, it is easy to live a Western lifestyle here.

Many foreigners come to Bangkok to work. The demand for English teachers is insatiable, as is the market for skilled employees in many other industries. If you have at least a bachelor's degree and a willingness to work, you will have no difficulty finding a job in this city.

Many younger people who want to be in the region choose to live in Bangkok so they can take advantage of the many schools here offering good English-language education programs and long-stay study visas. You could earn a college degree from Stamford International University, Bangkok University International College, or Webster University.

Bangkok is also a popular choice among retirees who appreciate its cosmopolitan flair, vast variety of entertainment venues, shopping, and warm, tropical climate. The city's proximity to beach resorts is another plus. Pattaya and Cha-am are just two hours from the city, and the retirement haven of Hua Hin is less than three hours away.

When we first came to Bangkok, in 2003, we found the city difficult to navigate. The little Don Mueang airport was hopelessly crowded, with long immigration lines and a haphazard baggage claim. Buses with Thai-only writing were incomprehensible, and taxi drivers were notorious for overcharging.

Bangkok has had quite a facelift in the past decade. The Don Mueang airport now handles only a small percentage of the flights it once did, while the sleek new Suvarnabhumi Airport, opened in 2006, serves more than 45 million passengers per year. Bangkok is the gateway to the rest of Thailand and points beyond. If you come to Southeast Asia, there is a good chance that you'll at least transit through the city. Indeed, Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi services more flights than any other airport on the Southeast Asian mainland, and Bangkok is also a major rail hub.

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Retire To George Town, Penang, Malaysia

A Foodie's Dream Retirement

Oct. 13, 2014, George Town, Malaysia: George Town, Penang, Malaysia, is a top retirement choice in Asia.

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

It's hard to think of George Town, Malaysia, without thinking about food. Few other places in the world do you find cuisine so varied, food so fresh, or prices so low. In 2013, CNN Travel named George Town among the "Top Ten Street Food Cities in Asia," and, this year, Robin Barton, commissioning editor for Lonely Planet, announced that Penang has been chosen as the top food destination in the world.

Penang is one of our top picks in Asia and, indeed, the world, too—not for eating (that's not our beat) but for expat living and retirement.

Penang in general and George Town in particular have a great deal to offer the would-be expat and foreign retiree. The natural surroundings are beautiful, and you have many options for how to spend your time (beyond eating!). In addition, Malaysian immigration laws are welcoming, including for retirees. For these reasons, thousands of foreigners, both working and retired, have settled in the area, creating a network of support for others who'd like to follow in their footsteps.

Historic George Town, the capital of the state of Penang, got its start in the 18th century, when the British established a colonial outpost to control trade in the Straits of Malacca and exploit a thriving opium market. Commerce prospered and, by the 19th century, George Town had developed a busy financial district, an active seaport, and scores of wholesale shops. Immigrants flooded the town hoping to improve their fortunes.

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Pensionado Programs In Thailand And The Philippines

Retire To Asia—It's Easier Than Ever And Cheaper Than Anywhere Else On Earth

Oct. 12, 2014, Panama City, Panama: Thailand and the Philippines are two Southeast Asian countries in particular recruiting foreign retirees with benefit-rich, low-cost-of-entry visa programs

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

Starting in the 1980s, when Costa Rica launched its now famous pensionado visa program, Central and South American countries have made an agenda of attracting foreign, especially North American, retirees, who had something these countries were in the market for—disposable currency. Today, Panama, Nicaragua, Belize, and Ecuador offer competitive pensionado programs that make it easy to establish full-time residency as a retiree and to enjoy, when you do, tax and other discounts and perks.

Key countries in Southeast Asia have taken notice and are now also competing for the attention of North American retirees. In several countries in this part of the world, the visa run is a thing of the past, replaced by user-friendly, turn-key, and affordable retirement residency programs.

Bottom line, Southeast Asia's big appeal for the foreign retiree is its cost of living. Countries in the region top any list of the world's cheapest places to retire. Your money goes much further than in the United States or any other Western country, but that does not mean that the standard of living is necessarily lower. It is possible to buy whatever lifestyle you're looking for and to stretch whatever retirement nest egg you've got to be able to enjoy a better lifestyle than you could afford anywhere else on earth.

In the United States, you're probably paying at least US$50 per month for reasonably fast Internet. In the Philippines, Internet costs US$12 per month, likely for faster speeds than you have now. In Thailand and Malaysia, fast internet is US$18 per month.

Similar savings can be seen in the prices of everything from rent and phone service to cooking gas, electricity, and your monthly spend on groceries. A visit to the doctor costs less than US$20 throughout most of the region, and the care you'll receive likely will exceed your expectations. English-speaking doctors educated in Europe, Australia, and North America are the norm. They work in hygienic offices with modern equipment and can be affiliated with state-of-the-art internationally accredited hospitals. Thailand and Malaysia are among the top five countries in the world for medical tourism.

English is widely understood throughout the region, and it is an official language of the Philippines and parts of Malaysia. The majority of people you come into contact with in these two countries are English fluent. Additionally, English is a required subject at schools in every country in Southeast Asia. Urban areas and many small towns have enough English speakers so that communication rarely presents a significant barrier.

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Kathleen Peddicord

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter.

Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.

Read more here.

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