Asia Correspondents Wendy and David Justice: Hanoi, Vietnam Of all the places we could pick from in our travels, Hanoi, Vietnam, is the city we have chosen to call home. The city is an energetic and chaotic jumble of ancient neighborhoods, tranquil parks and lakes, modern high-rises, and centuries-old pagodas. It is also home to one of the most healthy and varied cuisines in the world. In more than two years of living in Hanoi, we are still discovering delicious and exotic new foods. Even more important to us are the people. They are curious, polite, friendly, and generous to a fault. They really want to get to know you and to make friends. Friendships we've formed here have lasted many years. There are always other foreigners to socialize with if we want, and there is always something to do. And the cost of living is so affordable. Here in Hanoi—anywhere in Vietnam, for that matter—we don't have to worry about money. We know that Hanoi isn't the right place for everyone, but we can easily imagine living here for many more years. If we ever had to leave Vietnam, we would probably head over to Pai, Thailand. Its funky, mountain-town ambiance reminds us of the small towns we knew in the Colorado Rockies. If we developed ongoing health problems or became too elderly and frail to tolerate the stimulation of Hanoi, we would strongly consider moving to Hua Hin, Thailand. Asia Correspondents Vicki and Paul Terhorst: Lviv, Ukraine Vicki and I are perpetual travelers, which means we wander around the world without a fixed home base. By default, therefore, wherever we are at the moment becomes our favorite place. Otherwise, why would we be here? I'm writing this in Chiang Mai, Thailand, which makes Chiang Mai a favorite place. Recently, we chose to spend time in Lviv, Ukraine, because of its combination of European culture (historic buildings and churches, art museums, opera and ballet, convenient public transportation, cafe society, hearty food, robust wine) and low prices. Lviv also makes a useful base for exploration to the rest of Eastern Europe, with six international borders within 200 kilometers or so. Just jump on a train or bus and you can get to Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, or Belarus. The rest of Europe lies just a bit farther along. Ukraine's pro-Russia rebel insurgency remains far to the east of Lviv, more than 800 miles away. Your biggest day-to-day problem in Lviv will be the language. Ukraine uses a different alphabet, making it hard even to guess at street names or menu offerings. Along with Lviv and Chiang Mai, I'd choose Paris as our third favorite place. Having three favorite places makes it easy to avoid running into trouble with 90-day visa rules in any one of them. Asia Correspondent Robert Carry: Cambodia Cambodia might seem an unusual number-one pick, but it has some serious strikes in its favor. First up is cost of living. Put simply, this is the cheapest place I've ever been to. You can get a great apartment in a city center location for less than US$400 a month. A Cambodian-style meal in a local eatery will run you less than a dollar and some of my favorite watering holes charge 75 cents a beer (and as little as 25 cents during happy hour). Everything here is just unfathomably inexpensive. Then there's convenience. You can turn up at the airport unannounced and get a one-year visa, renewable at the end of the 12 months, on arrival. It's almost too easy. Plus, the U.S. dollar is the main currency here, English is widely spoken, and there's a sizable expat community in place. However, Cambodia's real draw is its people. After decades of war and continuing poverty, the Khmers have somehow managed to keep their smiles. They're warm, welcoming, and infectiously optimistic. Cambodia's enchanting culture and Buddhist ethos underpins its peoples' relaxed, live-and-let-live way of life. When I retire, Cambodia is where you'll find me. Tomorrow, top picks from key correspondents in Europe and the Americas... Kathleen Peddicord Editor's Note: Want to learn more about what Live and Invest Overseas correspondents really think about living and retiring overseas? Join us for three days of live discussions next month when we'll be convening with dozens of our normally far-flung experts and expat friends for this year's Retire Overseas Conference taking place in Nashville Aug. 29–31. You have four days remaining to register for what will be the biggest retire-overseas event of the year taking advantage of the Early Bird Discount. This discount, which can save you up to US$300 off the cost of registration, expires this Thursday, July 31, at midnight. Complete details of the event are here, and you can register online here.
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
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.
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 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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