First, my sincere apologies for the lack of updates recently. I’ve been traveling for the last two years and spent very little time in Thailand, so didn’t have a lot of relevant ideas related to the blog.
With that out of the way, I came across this interesting article recently: https://www.chiangraitimes.com/tourism/expats-changing-their-minds-and-relocating-to-vietnam/
The core point of the article is that, as Thailand tightens up its visa system and the cost of living increases, a large number of Western expats are trading it in for life in Vietnam.
This is interesting to me because, until recently, I never viewed Vietnam as an equally nice place to live as Thailand. Thailand, to me, always had a fairly significant advantage over its neighbors, with the exception of Malaysia — which is a place I’ve always enjoyed visiting, but have no particularly desire to move to.
Well, the times are changing and, as the article says, many people are leaving Thailand for greener (or, I should say “redder,” considering the national colors of Vietnam) pastures.
Part of this is due to the changes in visas, which, as the article says, have become frustrating recently. The last time I visited Thailand I was quizzed by immigration about whether or not I planned to work in the country on a tourist visa despite having been out of the country for almost four months at a time.
I’m not the only person that has experienced this, by the way. After talking to a number of friends that either travel to Thailand often or live there on-and-off using tourist visas (none of whom work illegally in Thailand), others have had similar experiences.
Another factor that’s undoubtedly causing this exodus is the overly strong Thai baht. When I first moved to Thailand, one US dollar bought almost 40 baht. Today, it barely gets you 30 baht. Along with this strong currency there’s also been a huge increase in costs, meaning that an item that cost 100 baht ($2.50 USD about a decade ago) may now cost 200 baht ($6.70, at the current exchange rate).
You can see this huge change in currency value here (select the 10 year chart to see recent changes). Needless to say, this is a massive factor for many expats who earn in a foreign currency, or live on a fixed income pension.
The third factor, that I think is not adequately mentioned, is the big increase in livability in Thailand’s neighbors, particularly Vietnam.
The first time I visited Vietnam, which is more than 10 years ago now, the country wasn’t very developed. There were few apartments similar to those found in Thailand and the prices for those that were available was higher than in places like Bangkok or Chiang Mai, I assume as a result of the limited supply.
The same was true of supermarkets and other essentials. There were few Western quality supermarkets and the few that were available were often overpriced. Similar story with dining options, things to do, travel opportunities and so on.
Compare that to today. A quick glance at a real estate agency website such as RentPro shows countless apartment buildings near identical to those in Bangkok, usually at prices about 30% lower. Big C, a Thai company, has expanded massively into Vietnam, along with a wide range of other supermarket brands. There are malls everywhere, including the extremely impressive Saigon Center in District 1 of Saigon.
Put simply, Thailand’s competition (at least from the perspective of a destination for Western expats) is starting to catch up with it. While there’s still a gap between Thailand and Vietnam, it’s nowhere near as large as it used to be.
With Thailand largely stagnating economically, there could eventually come a time when Vietnam becomes the predominant destination for Western expats in Asia. Will that come soon? Most likely not, although the outflow of productive, often talented people from Thailand doesn’t seem to be slowing down.