Could ChiangRai become a “hub” for expat health care? We’re already a massage “hub”; we’ve hot-springs and spas, lots of good clinics (skin, dental, cosmetic, you name it), the best weather in Thailand (and maybe, excepting Shan State, in Southeast Asia)… Could ChiangRai host retirement homes, health resorts, assisted-living communities and rehabilitation centers? Maybe.
But consider all the resorts around Mae Chan (or, as I’d prefer to spell it, Mae Jaan). About 10 times as many as function (adequately, profitably, regularly, however you wish to look at it) simply don’t. I enjoy telling folk they were bought on credit, defaulted on then auctioned off and bought by representatives of the defaulters – for use privately, by their families. But I couldn’t provide any proof for such an assertion. Still, the many falling-apart resorts are there to see.
Too often middle-class Thais have been led by Thai elites into foolish investment gambits: island paradise resorts and other flash-in-the-pan fads. For a while it was computer game and e-mail shops. Home-stay accommodations had a recent surge in popularity, and right now coffee-shops are ubiquitous.
But with ChiangRai’s low cost-of-living, increasing modernization and now fairly reliable infrastructure, might not Farang, Japanese, Overseas Chinese and others find a better deal for their “Golden Years” here? It could happen. But not only is the level of general education against it, and political stability worrisome, there’s this matter of recurrent fraud.
An interesting example is the recent rage for rubber-tree planting. Called yang para (sounding to me just like the para used to refer to Paracetamol), absentee landlords have taken to planting lots of it here in ChiangRai. But do they stand a chance of making a profit? From selling the wood (rubber wood accounts for 70% of Thailand’s wooden furniture), maybe, but from rubber itself, I find doubtful. The world’s rubber markets have bounced around, well, like a rubber ball, for over a century. Rubber export is Thailand’s 2nd largest, after rice, bringing in about $US2 billion annually, but a family working in the rubber plantations is very lucky to earn over B4500/month.
Rubber trees originated in Brazil, and were brought to Thailand a century ago from Indonesia. Indonesia and Malaysia dominate the world’s rubber trade, and although the latex flows best in cool, still weather, good production requires more of a hot season than we’ve been having here lately. The price often falls below break-even, work is quite labor-intensive, and it takes about 7 years for a tree to be ready for tapping. But rubber will grow in poor soil, and the wood certainly becomes more readily available than that of teak, another popular long-range investment crop of recent. Maybe those putting rubber trees on otherwise vacant land are thinking mostly of selling the wood, and will do OK from that. There’s got to be lots of healthy competition from the South’s rubber-wood, but still…
In Thailand’s touristy places, vulgar scams have long been the norm. The Bangkok jewelry (especially unset stones) have long been well known, in fact notorious, but they still take place. Letters-to-the-Editor in our English-language papers have recently featured reports of damage claims on jet-skis, hotel rooms, and other things innocently rented by unsuspecting tourists. It seems nothing is done, as these things are under the control of “influential figures.” Well, we still have mafia-types here… in reference to which I’ll mention a recent heavy upsurge in gambling venues, and then keep my mouth shut about that!
And not only are foreign-language abilities low (although many locals are bi- or tri-lingual, it seems only Akha folk are frequently conversant in English), but even maid-service too often is totally inadequate. It seems generally considered too demanding to sweep under and behind beds, or to dust atop things. Spider-webs accumulate dust in ceiling corners. Dishes aren’t washed in hot water. And food… well, bakeries are just another example of much foolish investment in nothing.
Some of our best restaurants offer Japanese cuisine, but I’ve seen plenty of questionable sushi, and flies still abound where fresh meat is sold, as do rats. We’ve lots and lots of restaurants, but that’s about as significant as our plethora of 7-11s and other retail shops. Selection isn’t really great.
It’s said educational reform will take generations, and there’s much to that. And there’s a lot to be said for a non-anal-retentive society which places fun and good feelings above order and discipline. But people in need of health care often find being generous and forgiving counterproductive to real personal requirements. There’s good reason to wonder if the talk of turning our wonderful province into a health destination isn’t just another scam.