Hawaiian Expat in Thailand - Expat Interview With Lani

Published: 11 Jun at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Thailand
Thailand is more than a tourist destination, a retirement outpost and hackneyed travel blog; it’s where Lani’s mother was born, her parents met and where her father died. It's a place that has changed her life at 6, 16 and 33 years of age. So she moved to Chiang Mai in June 2009, in search of some unknown quality that she felt missing, and to have - a good ol’ fashioned colonial adventure at Life, the Universe and Lani (see listing here)

Meet Lani - Hawaiian expat in Thailand
Meet Lani - Hawaiian expat in Thailand

Here's the interview with Lani...


Where are you originally from?
Hawaii, baby! Born and raised in paradise.

In which country and city are you living now?
Thailand, Chiang Mai.

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
I’ve been here for about 3 years, and for the time being, I plan to stay.

Why did you move and what do you do?
I write and I’m an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teacher. I moved to experience living and working abroad. My family is also here. I’m half Thai and I feel like I was raised on stories about Thailand through my mother. Let’s just say, Thailand and I have a long history and interesting relationship.

Kachin festival in Arunotai
Kachin festival in Arunotai
Did you bring family with you?
Well, my boyfriend (at the time) of 6 years moved with me, so it was like moving with family.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
Challenging at first. Ups and downs, we were attending university here, which adds another element of complication/language/cultural barrier.
Folks like to say, Thailand is easy, but it also depends on what you are trying to do.
So don’t feel bad if you are having a hard time. I spent a day crying into my pillow when I was trying to get my visa sorted out. Sometimes you feel lonely, confused, frustrated and it catches up with you into one glorious moment. It’s normal. And it sucks.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
Yeah, it’s easy but expats are a transient community. I've to get used to friends coming and going and I do not like it! Now I’ve adjusted, strangely enough. Maybe because some of my friends have returned!

What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?

I think the best things are unexpected things. Plus, I’m not sure if the things I like to do are the same things others would enjoy. And then there is the age difference…if you are in your 20s you’ll like different things than folks in their 40s.
That being said, get a massage, practice your Thai, make merit and take advantage of Chiang Mai’s large and varied expat community.

Me at Sukhothai market
Me at Sukhothai market
What do you enjoy most about living here?
My freedom. My first love is writing so I have time to pursue it: individually, through writers groups and poetry workshops too. I’m not living to work, as they say.
I also get a Thai massage every week. And every single time I get one, I remember to be grateful. I feel lucky. Thai food is world-renowned, life is rich with experiences, I work part-time and I make friends from all over the world.

How does the cost of living compare to home?
It’s cheaper. It’s affordable. And that’s a real nice feeling. Unfortunately Chiang Mai is getting popular so the cost of living is getting more expensive. The Chinese have discovered it in healthy droves too. I’m a cheap bastard so I’m keeping an eye on my budget and rising costs in Thailand.

What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
Once a year, the pollution gets atrocious due to the hill tribes “slash and burn” agriculture. Chiang Mai also has the loudest and most polluted taxis/tuk tuks/red trucks. It is NOT a green city, but easily could be.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
Don’t take things personally. Thai culture is VERY different than western culture.

Monks at our house blessing
Monks at our house blessing
What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
I had a harder time adjusting in Ecuador than Thailand to be honest. But overall, I’d say my first day in Cuenca, Ecuador: when my couch surfing host didn’t show up, when I had to look for a hotel, then move from a hotel that was unacceptable, when I got lost for hours, in the rain, shivering, sprained my ankle…oh, yes. That was a real magical day, magic, I tell you – magic.

What’s the biggest misconception people have about Thailand?
Apparently folks think Thailand is a dreamy tropical paradise or a third world hell hole. I learned this from retiree expert Hugh Leong. Thailand is a developing country and Chiang Mai is changing. The main gate of the Old City now has Burger King, McDonalds and Starbucks.

What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Take advice and information with a grain of sea salt or a drop of fish sauce. Travel, accommodation, and food preferences are so individualized. Not only that - things change - visa requirements, prices, businesses, and people come and go.
  2. Many Thais are obsessed with appearances, both physically and socially. Remember this and it can help you understand, thrive and navigate through the culture more easily.
  3. Be situationally aware. Thailand is overall a safe country. But it’s also a changing country with many migrant workers coming over from neighboring countries. Things still happen and to avoid accidents or being in a “it happened to me” story, keep an eye on your belongings, your family, friends, and your self.
  4. Pack light, pack less. You don’t need it. Or chances are, you can get it here.
  5. Even though we live in a high-technology society, Thais still prefer to do business face to face. You will get so much farther if you take the time to visit the place or person you need to talk to. Emails can be ignored. Phone calls can be tricky when you cannot see the person you are talking with.


My grandfather and his brother
My grandfather and his brother
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
Tell-Thai Heart is about being an American Thai-Chinese in Thailand (and Ecuador!), an EFL teacher and for folks interested in living or visiting Chiang Mai. I’ve been consistently blogging since 2009 so I have a great amount of information and experiences.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
Find me on my blog or my twitter account @lanivcox. Thanks Expats Blog!

About the author

Expat Blog Listing is an American expat living in Thailand. Blog description: I'm a first generation Asian American living in Asia.(Chinese-Thai to be exact!) Let's talk about teaching English as a Foreign Language, expat life, visiting & moving to Thailand.
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Comments » There is 1 comment

Mark wrote 3 years ago:

Lani, You wrote me back a few times regarding Ecuador. Im laughing my ass off at you sense of humor in the article! I have lived abroad while in the military six times including once as a military "brat!" I certainly enjoyed your article!

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