Living In Thailand: The Mark Stephens Interview Part 1

On a recent trip back to Thailand in February 2010 I stopped off at the lovely and oldest beach resort in Thailand called Hua Hin, which is located on the west coast to talk about living in Thailand,with an expat who has been doing just that for the last 7 years. Based over 3 days, a few restaurants and a couple of beer stops and a couple of live football matches, we managed to cover quite a few topics. I was most grateful to get the benefit of his expertise, but I have had to publish the interview in parts as it is fairly long. For anyone thinking of moving to Thailand indefinitely, or even spending any prolonged time in Thailand then this is well worth reading. The gentleman in question is Mr Mark Stephens married to a delightful Thai lady from the south of Thailand called Kwang. Incidentally Kwang owns one of the busier and better equipped Internet cafes in town called MK Internet Cafe (opposite the Tanawit condos in the centre of town) and I must say what a lovely charming, private setting it is to do your computer work from. Whenever you are in Hua Hin drop by the MK Internet cafe send some emails and say hello to Kwang and Mark and tell him you loved the interview.

   

   MK Internet Cafe                     Mark                    Mark & Kwang

Trevor:  When did you first arrive in Thailand and how did that come about?

Mark:  I had visited Thailand several times between 1990 and 2003, but moved here ”permanently” in  March 2003. With my younger brother Michael being based here for the best part of 15 years, and with me being based in Australia for most of the time, Thailand was an ideal stopping off point between the UK and Australia. I often took the opportunity to catch up with Michael and his wife, and to take a short holiday. In March 2003 I was offered the opportunity to work in Hua Hin, with a start-up company called Transformational Thinking, which is a consultancy that promotes better thinking and change within organisations. This came around at just the right time for me personally, and I decided to leave my ”adopted home” of Sydney Australia and set up here in Thailand. I quit my ridiculously well-paid internet sales job, sold my car and most of my possessions in Sydney and came over with just a few suitcases and tea crate boxes to my name – basically clothes and CDs!

Trevor:  What did you find were the biggest difficulties in adjusting to life in Thailand? 

Mark:  Having spent well over a year in total in Thailand prior to my move here, there were not too many surprises. Having a job sorted out before I came here, and being able to move in to my brother’s and his wife’s rented 3 bedroom house in Hua Hin removed two major issues that people normally face when they come here.

Trevor:  Was the language much of a problem to you at first?

Mark:  The language is always a barrier when you first come here, but within a few months you can pick up just enough to get yourself into trouble! And English is more widespread than it used to be so I wouldn’t call it a serious problem in terms of getting the basics achieved. I used a  ”2 new words a day” policy to expand my vocabulary and the usual, lazy ”learn by osmosis” approach, but came to a standstill about a year in when I got even lazier and stopped learning new words! So over the past year I’ve made huge efforts to learn to read and write Thai which has given more of a spur to my spoken Thai. This effort pays off as it means you can interact far better with Thais and really get to spend enjoyable time with them, rather than joining an expat clique that cocoons itself from the reality of what Thailand is.

Trevor:  I totally agree with you about the major benefits of learning to read and write Thai. Like you I started stringing a few sentences from memory together in the early days, but going back to the basics and starting with learning the alphabet like a child would, really kicked the whole process off for me. It is a nice feeling when you pass all the street and major road signs that are written  in Thai script, and it does not feel alien to you anymore, because you can read and understand them.

I actually despise the cold and love the heat, but Thailand even for me can sometimes be on the hot side. How have you learnt to adjust to the heat?

Mark:  The heat takes some getting used to, even for someone who hates the cold and has spent most of his recent past in Sydney. March, April and May are often energy sapping and it’s difficult to maintain the work mentality. It’s a struggle just to keep going at 3pm in 40 degrees heat, unless, again you cocoon yourself in an air-conditioned box. Adjustments to the working day to can help with this, as the climate is just not suited to a 9-5 set up.

Trevor:  Were there any other adjustments that took some getting used to?

Mark:  Food was never an issue. as even in Sydney, my dishes of choice were always Thai. I prefer rice to potatoes or pasta, and the spicier the better. Bureaucracy with things like visas and work permits caused us many headaches until we got a reliable Thai – run service to look after this side of things for us. My advice is not to tackle the paperwork alone, pay a bit more for someone who knows what they’re doing to do it, and remove the headache and repeated visits to Government offices. I had savings when I moved here, which were eaten into fairly frequently as we agreed as a company to work for the first year without paying ourselves. I would not recommend moving to Thailand without savings to back you up. as it’s difficult to save money here. Unless you’re on expat wages, from a multinational company based in Bangkok be prepared to use some of your savings in getting established here. If you do land a well paid job (for Thailand) then even if you can save money then it’s the Thai Baht which doesn’t stretch very far when you return to the west for a visit.

Trevor:  Yes, savings are indeed a must,  combined with a lifestyle plan as it is that which will determine  your cost of living. There will be the normal  things to factor in to the plan like accommodation, Transportation, electric, water and gas, food and drink, medical, phone, internet (unless in Hua Hin then better to use Kwang’s internet cafe). Then you come on to things like eating out, visa trips, travel, entertainment and things like buying clothes and miscellaneous things, but a less extravagant lifestyle can still see you living a very rewarding life and essentially why we live or spend periods of time in Thailand in the first place.

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