Lowest Cost Of Living? Best Health Care? Best Weather? Two Top Retirement Options In Asia Compared
Hua Hin, Thailand, and Nha Trang, Vietnam, are two pretty, coastal towns in Southeast Asia. Both boast lovely beaches perfect for lazy afternoons. Both are friendly and welcoming to foreigners, both are home to sizable populations of retirees and expats, and both offer the kinds of amenities that Westerners typically look for–including good restaurants and nightlife, recreational opportunities, and an all-around comfortable standard of living.
Both towns are set in very scenic areas, with plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventure, and, in both places, the climate is comfortable tropical year-round.
Nevertheless, Hua Hin and Nha Trang are very different overseas retirement choices.
Hua Hin is one of the very few classic retirement havens in Southeast Asia, complete with golf courses, factory outlets, and gated communities. Located less than three hours south of Bangkok, Hua Hin has a population of 70,000. Foreigners make up approximately 15% of that population, and most of them are retired. With 12 golf courses in operation and another 3 under construction, this is definitely the place to go if you’re a golfing enthusiast.
If you were so inclined, you could live a “North American lifestyle” in Hua Hin and never have to involve yourself more than superficially with Thai culture. With its Western-style restaurants, nightlife, club-sponsored softball leagues, and wine tastings, it would be easy to stay busy with North American-like pursuits. English is widely spoken and understood. Some foreigners have lived in Hua Hin for years without feeling the need to learn a single word of Thai.
Nha Trang is bigger, with a population of more than 200,000. However, here the expat population numbers only about 1,000. You could live here without learning Vietnamese, but, once you get away from the part of town where the foreigners congregate, English is not as widely spoken as in Hua Hin, and many foreigners make the effort to learn at least a little Vietnamese. It can come in handy.
Because the expat community is smaller, foreigners living in Nha Trang are open and curious about newcomers. There are few organized activities for expats, though–no expat clubs or softball leagues yet. You might see this as an advantage…or not. The lack of a big foreign population makes it easier to have meaningful interactions with the locals. Maybe this is what you’re looking for, or maybe not.
Although Hua Hin isn’t the cheapest destination in Southeast Asia, the cost of living is very reasonable by Western standards. The infrastructure is good, health care is modern and affordable, and the overall standard of living is excellent.
Nha Trang’s cost of living is a major attraction. If you’re a budget-minded retiree with an interest in Asia, this town should be on your list. Nha Trang provides great value for the money. In Hua Hin, a retired couple could enjoy a comfortable, upper-middle-class life on a budget of about US$2,000 per month. A comparable life in Nha Trang would cost half that.
Although many find Nha Trang a comfortable retirement choice, it lacks the orderly First World feel that Hua Hin offers. Driving, for example, is officially on the right side of the road, but you’ll find that it is frequently also on the left and in the center!
Vietnam is a very energetic country, and the pace of life can be hectic. In Nha Trang, however, life seems to mosey along. The lifestyle here is more laid-back than you find elsewhere in this country, and that can be attractive for the potential retiree.
Nha Trang offers a wide selection of restaurants, many with menus in English and bilingual staff. Nha Trang is well-known for its active nightlife, with dozens of bars and clubs that stay open until the wee hours.
Nha Trang also boasts a golf course, a marina, a lovely hot springs spa, and even a well-regarded amusement park. At the same time, again, it lacks much of the First World development that you find in Hua Hin. This is changing, as the area gains popularity. The infrastructure is being improved, new malls and luxury hotels are being built, and the lovely beach promenade is being extended.
In Hua Hin, meantime, it’s possible right now to enjoy a fully developed and supported lifestyle. There is a large imported-food store in Hua Hin, where you can shop for many imported groceries not typically found in Southeast Asia. And Bangkok, where you can find anything you might ever be looking for, is an easy day trip away. Bottom line, the availability of Western products is far greater in Thailand than in Vietnam.
Thailand offers formal retirement visa options, meaning that foreigners of modest means can arrange to live (legally) long-term in the country. Vietnam does not offer any such visa at this time, though staying long-term in this country is quite possible with an extendable tourist or business visa.
Although both Hua Hin and Nha Trang are located in the tropics at close to the same latitude and the climate in both, as I said, qualifies as comfortable tropical, Nha Trang sees more seasonal temperature variation than Hua Hin. During winter months, you might want a light jacket or a sweater, something seldom required in Hua Hin.
Here is a bottom line synopsis to help you see how these two top Asian choices compare…
Land Ownership: Not an option in either location, though land leases in Thailand are renewable and transferable. Many expats find this a reasonable alternative to ownership.
Home Ownership: You can own your home or condo in Hua Hin. This is not currently an option in Nha Trang, though, as Vietnam is interested in attracting foreign capital, the relevant laws may change anytime.
Cost of Living: Nha Trang is the winner hands down. A couple could live here very comfortably on a budget of less than US$1,000 a month.
Infrastructure: Hua Hin and Thailand in general boast a well-developed infrastructure, whereas the infrastructure in Nha Trang and Vietnam in general is much more developing world.
Health Care: Hua Hin is the undisputed winner here. If you have ongoing health issues, Nha Trang is probably not a good choice.
Visas and Residency: Thailand has formal options for long-term and retirement visas. Vietnam’s visa situation is more fluid and creative, although an open-minded expat who wants to stay on a long-term basis should have no difficulty accomplishing that goal.
Safety: The biggest risk in both places is traffic accidents. Scams are also a risk for the naive and unsuspecting in both towns. Petty crimes of opportunity are more likely in Nha Trang, though easily avoided by using common sense. Violent crime is rare in both locales.
Climate: Warm and tropical with monsoon cycles. Winters are slightly cooler in Nha Trang.
Cultural Immersion: Limited in Hua Hin; unavoidable in Nha Trang.
Organized Activities: Many clubs, teams, and events in Hua Hin. You make your own fun in Nha Trang.
Night Life: A tie. Lots of great choices in both places.
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