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Here in Thailand, I've yet to hear of expats leaving because of the
coup: we've had a lot of coups here, too. But curiously, tourism dropped off dramatically. I speak from personal observation here. I figure hotels in Chiang Mai, where Vicki and I stay, should be more than half full in early June (shoulder season). Yet, in my survey, occupancy rates came out closer to 10% or 20%.

In June, Vicki and I played tourist here in Thailand. We took a week-long road trip with friends to Doi Ang Khang (a national park), went to Mae Sai (a border town snuggled up to the Myanmar border) and to Phayao (a popular lakeside town). We mostly shared the scenic sites with a handful of Thai tourists. We noted the almost complete absence of foreign tourists.

I can think of a few reasons for the decline in tourism. The western world remains mired in no-or-slow growth with young tourists having less money to spend. Until recently, Bangkok and other nightlife venues were under curfew, discouraging those who come to party. The Chinese came in large numbers after a Chinese movie called Lost in Thailand became a hit a few years ago. The movie was filmed in Chiang Mai, giving Chinese a special reason to come to town. I figure the movie tourism may have run its course.

Perhaps the major blow to tourism was the coup and street violence that preceded it. Beginning late last year, those thinking of coming to Thailand saw riots on TV. Middle-aged tourists crossed Thailand off their list as they planned ahead for their summer holidays. And I suspect Chinese, in particular, stayed away because of the coup. Young Chinese have only ever known a stable home government. They may never have heard of coups, much less understand them. Ditto the Japanese.

In spite of apparent misgivings abroad, the coup here has had little impact on the tourist experience, in my opinion, for Chinese or Japanese or anyone else. Street life has pretty much returned to normal, and more tourists are showing up. Meanwhile, those of us who spend time here enjoy less crowded restaurants, better prices, lower airfares, a slower pace, and special deals.

Paul Terhorst

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One of the biggest appeals is the cost of living. Rent, especially, is a global bargain. You can find a comfortable rental for as little as US$350 to US$400 per month, and most rentals come fully furnished. All costs considered, including groceries, utilities, entertainment, and your own motorbike for transportation, a retired couple could live here on a monthly budget of as little as US$1,000.

For the very low cost, you'd be buying a big and interesting lifestyle. If you're a night owl, you need look no further than Patong, where the party lasts until the wee hours of the night. Maybe you prefer to spend your days on the links; if so, you'll have your choice of six superb golf courses on the island. Restaurants, ranging from friendly one-star shacks to acclaimed, five-star international establishments, are abundant.

Phuket Island's large foreign population is scattered throughout several towns and villages. Patong is the largest town on the west coast; it's the one famous for its nightlife. To the north and south of Patong are the peaceful coastal towns of Surin, Kamala, Kata, Karon and many smaller villages.

Another reason Phuket is so appealing as a retirement destination is that everything you need is available on the island, including top-tier medical care and Thailand's second busiest international airport. Locals like to point out that they never have to go to Bangkok--ever. (And that's generally considered a very good thing.)

Medical care is not only international standard (Bangkok Phuket Hospital has Joint Commission International (JCI) accreditation) but a great value, as well. Thailand is one of the top spots in the world for medical tourism. Care in Phuket can average 20% to 80% less than "back home," and the quality of care, according to expats living here, can be far superior.

Phuket has something for nearly every budget. Again, if your retirement budget is limited, you could live inland, in Phuket Town or in one of the smaller villages on the north or south ends of the island, and enjoy a very comfortable and full life on as little as US$1,000 per month. If, though, your nest egg is more generous, you could live an elegant and affordable lifestyle in Patong or another upscale coastal village such as Surin and Karon.

Luc Montens, an expat who has been retired in Patong for 12 years, sums it up well:

"Phuket is not too big, and it's not too crowded. We love the greenery and the weather and being close to an international airport. There is no need to go to Bangkok for any reason.

"At one time, older single men would come here for a good time, maybe marry a Thai woman, settle down, and start a new family," Luc continues. "The area used to be tremendously popular with the young backpacking crowd, as well. Now, more families are coming to the area. They are bringing their children, enrolling them in one of the international schools, and staying for life."

Other long-time foreigners in the area agree. The mix of people moving to Phuket has definitely changed for the better, making Phuket more appealing now for the would-be retiree than ever.

Wendy Justice

Editor's Note: Wendy's complete report on the Pearl of the Andaman Sea is featured in the newest issue of our Overseas Retirement Letter.Subscribe here now in time to receive this fully illustrated guide.

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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.

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