Graham Nash identifies as a Spaniard with British blood. He left the sultry South of Spain with his Thai wife and his two young girls to move to Chiang Mai. In early 2010 he was offered a job teaching English in a small-town in the Thai countryside, and he now divides his time between indoctrinating the youth and lapping up the cool lake breezes.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: England; I sailed away from Dover in 1987, just a few days after the hurricane.
Q: Where are you living now?
A: I am now in Phayao, Thailand.
Q: How long you have you lived in Thailand?
A: I have been in Phayao for almost a year now.
Q: Did you move with a spouse/ children?
A: Yes I moved with my wife and two youngest children from Chiang Mai.
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: I was offered a job teaching English at a Thai government school, and it came with a free house. I was not willing to drive the 90 miles (145 km) twice each day so we closed up our house in Chiang Mai and only go back for long weekends and high days.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your host city, how’s the quality of life in Thailand?
A: The town is very nice you can get almost all you need, otherwise we have to wait until we go to Chiang Mai. The people here are very nice, the town has a large lake and it’s nice to go walking there and take a picnic. The climate feels a little cooler here than Chiang Mai, and the air is much better. This is a very interesting area, not far from Laos and Myanmar (Burma) known as the Golden Triangle. Here you can see many different hill tribe people, this adds colour and makes the place very interesting.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: I no longer think of England as home. I lived in southern Spain for so long, that's the place I feel I miss now and again. I miss a few things; the good cheap wine, Spanish café breakfasts, and most of all, some of my family who are still living there.
Q: Is Phayao safe?
A: Very safe, but it’s dangerous on the roads like all of Thailand. You have to see it to believe it, once you understand the unwritten rules you have a better chance.
About living in Thailand
Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in the Phayao as an expat?
A: It’s just a small town, but living by the lake would be very nice, you even get a nice breeze off the lake every now and then.
Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation in Thailand?
A: The school house I have would never be accepted by a Westerner, and it is very different from my house in Chiang Mai. You get what you pay for.
Q: What’s the cost of living in Thailand compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Again I do not know much about the prices in the UK but Thai food is cheaper here than Spain, wine will cost upward of 4€ and a Chiang beer will set you back about 1€ for a litre bottle at the 7 Eleven.
Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: I have only met 3 or 4 expats in Phayao one is a co-teacher we tend to have more Thai friends. Same goes when we are in Chiang Mai.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?
A: Very easy, especially when I have my small girls with me, everyone stops to chat, men as well as women. People tend to be very open and friendly.
About working in Thailand
Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?
A: The school got my work permit, and I have what they call a marriage visa. I have to report to immigration every 90 days, then renew my visa every year. It’s a bit of a run around first time you do it but after that you just have to remember to renew.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in the city, is there plenty of work?
A: You can't just do any work in Thailand you need to show that a Thai can’t do it. In short, there are only some jobs open to non-Thai people, you would need to look into what type of work you would be allowed to do.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: It’s a bit like southern Spain, Thais tend to work longer hours with less days off.
Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move?
A: No, I always move myself.
Family and children
Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home?
A: My Thai wife went to Spain with me for two years, while there, we visited many other places in Europe. she was happy there but prefers to live in Thailand.
Q: Did your children settle in easily?
A: Yes, but they are young; one is three and the other only one. Not sure if I would want to move here with small children if there wasn't Thai/English. I want my girls to grow up in Thailand and Europe, so they understand both cultures.
Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: As a teacher here I can say that the Thai schools lack many things. There is no real curriculum, and I am told that we must pass the children at exam time. The standard is low, and children must go to school here now. They start primary school when they are seven and move to secondary school when they are 12, where they can study until they are 18 years old. I teach 20 classes a week with 50 children in a class from 11 to 12 years of age. I have 1,000 students to get to know and teach a week.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Thailand?
A: Very good if you are in a private hospital, and not expensive, that's why so many people come to Thailand for treatment.
Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Get a 3 month visa before you come to Thailand. This can be changed in Thailand if you want a retirement, work or study visa. Otherwise you will have to fly out of Thailand and apply again for the 3 month visa, many do and then have to go to Penang or KL etc for the 3 month visa.
Don’t buy, rather choose to rent. Use the first year or more in Thailand to look for housing that you'd like to purchase. If you still own property in the UK, Europe or the US, it can bring in rent that you can live on here.
Get a good travel insurance so you are covered at least for the first few months.
Read about Thai customs and try to learn some Thai.
Don’t burn any bridges before you leave the UK, someday you might want to go back.
Remember this is Thailand, and they do things the Thai way, just as the Spanish do it the Spanish way. Don’t try to change it, you will just be bashing your head against the wall.
~ interviewed December 2010