NEWS IN BRIEF: Foreign Retirees Find Unlikely Home in Rural Buriram

BURIRAM – After living in Switzerland for 18 years, Lanee Jaeger recently returned to her home village of Baan Na Phaeng in Na Pho district to fulfill her Swiss mother-in-law’s dream. On December 9, Ms. Lanee officially opened a foreigner village called Lanee’s Residenz that sits on the fringes of the Isaan village where she was raised.

Lanee’s Residenz, which hosts 13 houses arranged around a man-made lake, is currently home to six foreigners, some Swiss and some German.  Ms. Lanee opened the village in the memory of her mother-in-law who had wanted to retire in Isaan, but only if she could among friends.

“This isn’t a resort for helping farang men find Thai wives,” said Ms. Lanee. “That is not the purpose of this village.”

Though the region has a reputation for attracting farang men seeking Isaan spouses – last year The New York Times reported close to 11,000 foreign husbands in the Northeast – Lanee’s Residenz boasts a different focus altogether. Her goal is to run a village that welcomes foreigners into a peaceful, affordable retirement plan.

Lanee’s Residenz is located 85 kilometers north of Buriram city.

Such retirement communities of expatriates do currently exist, most prominently in Southern Thailand. In Phuket alone, one of the most popular foreigner destinations in the country, the provincial Immigration Office estimates that 20,000 of Phuket’s 350,000 residents are expatriates. According to Ms. Lanee, her retirement village is the first of its kind in Isaan.

Christa Maegerle, one resident, recently relocated from Phuket to Lanee’s Residenz at the age of 68. “My head is clear, my health is okay and I wanted to decide by myself where to grow old,” said Ms. Maegerle. “[People in Phuket] are afraid I’ll miss the shops or my face massage! I don’t miss them,” she added.

Ms. Maegerle moved into Baan Na Phaeng foreigner village from Switzerland in October, before its official opening. Though she had never traveled to Isaan before, she is thankful for the opportunity to settle down here and cut spending.

“My health insurance each month in Switzerland is the same price as the cost of my whole life here each month,” Ms. Maegerle explained.

Though there is the expectation that most foreigners have come to Isaan for a second chance at love – among the most common greetings to foreign men here is “Do you have a wife, yet?” – Ms. Maegerle has found something else entirely. “When you talk about Isaan in other parts of Thailand, people think you are crazy. But they have clearly never seen it before,” said Ms. Maegerle. “I’m just so happy here.”

Ms. Lanee also has high hopes that the foreigners in her village will establish a close relationship with the Isaan villagers right next door. In the past few weeks, the foreigners have been visiting the Isaan families in their traditional wooden houses, taking photographs of the rice harvest, and commissioning silk fabrics from the older generation of silk weavers.

Yanyong Yungthaisong, a 56-year-old silk weaver from Baan Na Phaeng, told The Isaan Record that she is delighted to meet the foreigners, and even more delighted to sell her silk directly to foreign customers. She claims the rest of her neighbors seem to feel the same way.

“For us old people, we won’t change our ways now. Silk is a part of us, we will make silk our entire lives,” said Ms. Yanyong when asked how the foreigners’ presence had affected her village. “But the teenagers seem to be changing. They are making themselves more modern, studying German sometimes. Some even use their English and act as guides for the foreigners, leading them around the village.”

With positive feedback from her guests and her home village, Ms. Lanee is hoping to expand her foreigner village. An advertisement for Lanee’s Residenz was recently produced by Swiss TV and will soon air in five languages in countries all over Europe. Ms. Lanee is hoping she will be able to accommodate for the anticipated demand.