The Baan Thai Project
[later the name was changed to The Panya Project]
The (official-as-it-gets) proposal to buy and develop property in Thailand for our personal (and collective) fulfillment.
The decisions we make today are going to have a great deal of impact upon what happens tomorrow. Being in the early years of our adulthood, we are at a critical point in our lives, where we have many important decisions to make about family, occupation, lifestyles, and relationships. Because we are not yet tied down to a career, or restrained by major financial obligations, this is the perfect time to do something that could greatly enhance the rest of our lives. We need to be conscious of how our decisions affect our future and do what we believe will lead us to the fulfillment that we are ultimately looking for.
There is a chance that if you just let life live itself out, you may find the happiness you are looking for, but when you take it into your own hands, I believe your chances are ten-fold.
It was down this line of thinking that I came up with the idea for the Baan Thai Project. I have been actively searching for a way to live my life that involves day to day activities that have real meaning to me, and help me to continually grow. At the same time I have been looking for a way to avoid thirty years of a 40-hour work week.
I believe that the Baan Thai Project will help me to achieve both of these goals, and the real kicker is that it may help you achieve these things as well. The other wonderful aspect about this plan is that it will surround each of us with great people (each other) for a good portion of our lives. Aside from these things, I know that the coordination, construction, cultivation, and celebration of every aspect of this project is going to be very rewarding; not only will we end up with property that is beautiful, but we will have a place to creatively live a lifestyle that fits much more closely to the beliefs that most of us share.
What is the Baan Thai Project?
Baan Thai (bahn-tie)- “baan” in the Thai language means home, or house, so “Baan Thai” can be translated as “Thai house.” The word “thai” also means freedom in the Thai language, so “Baan Thai” can also be translated to “House of Freedom.” I think the combination of the two is a fitting name for this project.
The way I came up with how to put this project together, was by thinking about the amount of money my friends and I would spend on houses in our lifetimes (I am a math major after all). Taking twenty of my friends, and assuming that each of us lived the societal norm, each would eventually buy a piece of property with a house. If the average cost of each house was $200,000 (though it will probably be more like $400,000 by the time we look for houses), then the combined total we would be spending on our homes would be (20 x $200,000) $4 million!!! With taxes and interest on the loans taken out that figure would probably be closer to $8 million. Imagine what could be done with $8 million (or even $4 million)!!! It seems to me we would get something a little more exciting than 20 houses in the suburbs.
Why not pool all of our money and get something a little more exciting? I decided it would be wise to try something like this, but on a much smaller level. Instead of asking each of you to put in $200,000 into the pot, I thought we’d try something a little smaller, like $5,000.
My parents already have property in Thailand, so I have been learning how it works and what the logistics and costs are. They were able to have a house built right on the beach, with a pool and all the modern amenities for around $110,000. If about 20 people are interested in throwing in $5,000 on property in Thailand, we would have around $100,000 to play with.
After doing a bit of searching, I believe that we could purchase between five a twenty acres, and build a house (or multiple buildings) for around $100,000. By buying land set back from the water, the land costs are much more affordable and if we were to build our own structures (possibly using natural building techniques), the costs could be significantly reduced. There are no property taxes in Thailand (once you have a house on the land), solar power is very feasible and the land is fertile. These conditions are perfect for being able to live a wonderful existence, without having to pay all sorts of bills and monthly fees. We may even be able to grow a vast majority of the food that we need!
We will have to discuss how we would like the property laid out, but the $100,000 will give us a great start. Some of the hundreds of questions we will have to answer will be: What kind of building techniques shall we use? What size of buildings do we want? How many? Should they be all communal spaces? Etc. I also picture that we would have a huge beautiful garden and possibly a swimming pond of some sort, to cool the hot days. We will need to work out all of these details as a group, and use the combined creativity of all 20 of us to make the property the amazing place that it is destined to be.
Are you talking about a commune?
The property will probably encapsulate many of the values of a commune, but there will be a couple of things that will make it very different. The main difference is going to be the flow of people on the property. I am not proposing a place where we all live happily ever after. I had not envisioned this as being a place that we would stay all the time. What is cool about it is that it can work into your life however you would like it too. It may serve a different purpose for each of us.
Some of us may be inclined to work full time here in the states and use the property as a place to take our vacations. Even in this sense, the $5000 is a good investment, because it would be like a time share that you can use whenever you want, for as long as you want. Plus it is cheaper than a time share. Airfare to Thailand is now around $600 round trip from Seattle and when you are living in Thailand the costs are a fraction of what they are here. There are local markets for fresh produce and seafood, and restaurants that can serve you authentic Thai food for $1-$3 a meal.
Some people might choose to use the property as a seasonal dwelling, escaping the raining northwest winter for a couple months in the tropical sun.
Others might decide that they will work for six months a year, and live in Thailand for the other six months. This is an option that I am considering. I believe I could fulfill my financial needs including slowly building some savings (for fun and retirement), while at the same time living a joyful, fulfilling existence in the tropics.
And yet others might want to work for two or three years and then live and travel in Asia for a year or two, using the property as a home base for their extended travels. From Thailand it is easy to travel without flying to Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, and Burma, all of which are an adventure in themselves.
And there may still be others who find a living in Thailand and live on the property for the majority of the time. However how this idea fits into your life, I believe it will enhance the experience we call life. As far as I know we only get one time around; we might as well make it as amazing as possible! I believe (and am going to actively work to make it so) the property will be a place of learning, a place of growth, and a place of fun. Bringing together the knowledge, ideas, talent, and interests of the 20 people going in on this together will doubtless create something wonderful!
What is the property going to be like?
I have described a bit of what I am envisioning, but have for the most part been very vague. This is deliberate. I am sure that each person has a picture in their mind of what our tropical paradise, Baan Thai, will be like, and doubtless there are 20 different visions. Baan Thai is simply going to become what it becomes. I believe that we should just take it one step at a time and the result will be awesome.
Sounds like a great investment!
Baan Thai is not an investment in the sense that you will ever make money on it (unless you believe that a penny saved is a penny earned). It is however an investment in your future, and the future of the planet. This $5,000 will probably provide you with more chances for growth and enjoyment than any other $5,000 you ever spend. (Do you think that ‘87 Ford Ranger is a better deal?) I think that the experience alone is worth the money. Twenty of us are going to come together will all of our ideas in order to create and build a wonderful place for all of us (and our children) to share, for a long time to come. Do not expect to be able to sell your share for a profit. If for some reason someone does want out of the group, then first we would see if the other people already involved could buy that person out (for the original $5,000) or the remaining people could find another person to buy that share (these are the kind of things we will figure out as a group, I sure as hell don’t have all the answers). My point is, don’t look at this as a monetary investment.
Collecting the Money
I realize that for the majority of us the only thing that would hold us back from doing something like this is the money. I devised a plan that theoretically gives everyone enough time to save up some money. We will pay the $5,000 in two parts. I would like to collect the initial $2,000 from each person in two years (the summer of 2004) which will give us $40,000 to buy the property. I am going to be looking for property in the mean time and will present the options to the group to decide on. Hopefully by the fall of 2004 we will own a piece of property. Then in another 2-3 years (2006-2007) I would like to collect at least another $3,000 from each person. By that time I would imagine that we would have come up with some ideas of how to spend the remaining $60,000.
Sample Payment Plan
If you start putting $100 a month into your savings account, then by the end of two years you would have enough to cover the initial $2000, and at the end of four years you would be just $200 short of the other $3000. The budgeting to save the money is important. It is hard, but it is worth it. The only way this project can move forward is with the capital to make it happen. If you would rather give the money to me when you have it, I can put it into a secure account and hold it until it is needed. Also, if someone needs a little extra time we could probably work something out.
This $5,000 a person is just to get us off the ground. There will be more costs, as there inevitably are, though we will try to keep them to a minimum. We may need a yearly “dues” or something just to cover random costs that inevitably come up. I was thinking something like $50 a year (less than $5 a month), which would give us $1,000 a year for expenses. And if there aren’t the random costs, then this $1000 could be used for further improvement.
There are some people who might spend a lot more time there than others (myself included) who may put in more money just because they want to. Obviously this is the individuals’ choice and gives them no greater share of the land, seniority, or greater influence on decisions.
Questions That May Come Up:
The main reason I chose Thailand is that it is a place I am familiar with. I lived there from the time I was twelve until I was eighteen and have gone back every year since then for three months. By having lived there for the time I did, I now know that something like this is both affordable and socially possible in Thailand. Other reasons for choosing Thailand would include the fact that Thailand is hot, tropical, and beautiful, and the people are wonderful. Also our money goes so much farther in Thailand. I have watched my parents build a house on the beach for about one third of what it would have cost here and thought that it would be great to take advantage of such an opportunity. Another great thing about having a place to live in Thailand is that when you want to get away, there are beautiful beaches, and wonderful tropical rain forests right around the corner and it will probably only cost you $50 to take a week-long vacation. You can also travel to the many other countries in the region very safely and easily.
What about the language barrier?
As far as people being in the country and trying to get around without knowing the language, Thailand is fairly easy. I am sure that each person who comes to Thailand will pick up varying degrees of the language, but even if you don’t phrase books are available if you need them. One of my goals is to become fluent in Thai, which will definitely help at every step in the process, but I know the whole thing could be done even if none of us were fluent.
Who legally owns the land?
This is a little complicated, but it is all worked out. My parents just went through the whole process of buying property a couple years ago. To buy a house they had to set up a company (the fact that it doesn’t do any business doesn’t matter). This is because Thailand wanted to avoid the massive acquisition of land by foreigners, so all land must be majority owned by Thai citizens. Their company is owned 51% by a Thai woman who my parents work with, and the other 49% by my family. It was a bit of a task to work through all the legalities, but they had a law firm in Thailand help them. They decided, partly for my benefit, and partly because it is Thai custom, to put the company in my name. This means that any further acquisition of land will be much easier. All the legal technicalities have been worked out. This process is all perfectly legal, and is done fairly often when foreigners want to buy land. The lady who technically owns 51% of my parents’ house is a friend of my parents of 13 years, but even if she were to turn evil and try to sell her share of the property, it wouldn’t work, because she has already signed something saying that she has sold all of her shares to me. All I need to do is sign that document (if something like that ever happened), and it would all be in my name.
We could buy our property legally through this company, so legally it will be in my name. I could turn evil and run off with all your money, but I am hoping that my most sincere no-turn-evil guarantee will suffice. I am going to be talking to the law firm that has helped us with the legalities of this process, and find out about legally putting all of our names as the owners of the company.
What happens ten years down the line when I decide I am no longer interested in being a part of the property anymore? Can I sell my share to someone else?
This is something that the group will have to decide. I would think that if the rest of the people could buy out your share, then that would be the most preferable option. If they could not, then I think the remaining members would have to agree upon someone to buy your share. Whatever the case, do not plan on making money. Most likely it will be the original $5,000 you get back. I am sure that we as a group can come up with something accommodating for most issues like this.
Aren’t there going to be too many differences of opinion to get anything done?
This is the criticism that I hear most often about this idea, but I think we can make it work. First of all, you are only spending $5,000. This may seem like a lot of money at this point in our lives, but (hopefully) in the whole scheme of things it’s not much at all. $5,000 is probably less than you will spend on your next car, and that will only last you a few years. If there were only three of us doing this, and you were putting in $40,000, then I could see why you would need things to be exactly as you want them. But since we are only putting in $5,000, I think we should be quite a bit more open to the ideas of everyone else, and accepting of the way things go, even if they are not your idealized vision. I can virtually guarantee that whatever the property ends up being will be well worth the $5,000. With the group of people that are being offered a chance to be a part of this, I don’t think this will be as big of a problem as with the average 20 people.
I already have a vision in my mind of what the property is going to look like, but I constantly remind myself that it is going to become something else. In fact, I bet it will become something far better than my vision, because instead of just having my (limited) creativity, we have the creativity of all twenty of us. I am ready and excited to blend all of our ideas.
This is an important issue none-the-less. We are all going to learn quite a bit about group dynamics. Everyone needs to be willing to listen to the others’ concerns, and come to an agreement. I guarantee that there will be some of these issues, but we’ll just have to work through them when we get there. Every idea is important, but we must agree, to move ahead. Whenever there are disagreements, I think that it will help to step back and remind ourselves that something great will come of this, regardless of the decision we make.
Isn’t it going to be difficult to get everyone together for all the decisions?
Yes, in fact I have a hard time picturing a time when all of us will be together at once. This is another reason we need to be accepting of how things go. You are not going to get to have a voice on every decision made. For example, if ten of us are in Thailand building a house, it is not realistic to try to get everyone’s input on what kind of screen doors to put in. Most likely the ten people building the place will have to make that decision amongst themselves, though always thinking in the best interest of the group. Once again, these are the kind of things that we will need to figure out as a group.
It sounds like there is going to be a lot of work to do. Am I going to have to work a certain number of hours a day or anything like that?
Hell no! When you come to stay on your piece of property, it is up to you what you want to do. If you are there on vacation, and just want to lie around all day, then that’s what you should do. There probably will be a lot of work to do on the property from designing and building the house, to keeping a garden growing, and landscaping and maintaining the property, but the way I see it, this is the kind of work that is worth doing. This is the kind of work that makes you feel great about what you have achieved at the end of the day. I am fairly certain that there will be enough people interested in doing these things that you can just kick back when you like.
There are chores that come with the ownership of any property. Keeping the house clean, taking out the garbage, etc. These kinds of things are unavoidable, and will require everyone’s participation, but as far as building a new building or something, I think that small groups of people will do things like this out of their own choice. Now that I have said this, if you decide that you don’t want to do anything, and yet you still eat the food that others are growing, and relax in the pond that others are maintaining, then there might start to be some resentment. Just stay conscious of what you are doing, and respectful of what others are doing, and everything will work out just fine.
Is it worrisome or dangerous to be an American in Thailand, especially in light of the “war on terrorism?”
I personally think that Thailand is a safer place to be than many places in the US, especially because of the war on terrorism. Thailand is a Buddhist country and has traditionally been a neutral country (though it did declare itself “with us,” when the whole “you’re either with us or against us” thing was going on). The Thai people seem to love Americans, and are extraordinarily friendly. There have only been two reported incidents of violence towards Americans in Thailand since September 11, which is amazing considering that there are over 20,000 American citizens living in Bangkok alone (The U.S. embassy in Bangkok is the second largest in the world, ever since the Vietnam war). Who knows where the “War on Terrorism” is going, but it sure doesn’t hurt to have place to retreat to in a neutral country, about as far removed from the terrorism issue as any.
Is there a chance for work in Thailand?
There are limited job opportunities in Thailand that would pay anywhere near what you can make here in the States. I would not count on being able to find work in Thailand. Though down the line, some of us may decide that we would like to open a business or something. We do have a Thai business license, so, theoretically, we could open an organic restaurant, start an eco-tourism business, start a brewery, or even buy more land and open a hostel or guest house. These things are not part of this plan, but may be a possibility that some of us would pursue at a later date.
So, tell me again, what am I actually getting with my $5,000?
Depending on how many people throw in their $5,000 (and I am aiming for around 20), you will have about a one twentieth share of this land and everything on it, equal with each other person in the group. This is not to say that you can do whatever you want to it or on it. The group is going to have to decide what happens to the land and how things operate on it, but I am confident that it will not be too restrictive or domineering. By owning part of this project you can come and stay whenever, and for however long, you like. The property will not be set up like a time share where you can only go during your specified two weeks of the year. This property is yours, and you may use it whenever you like. Obviously this also means that you will rarely have it to yourself, but hey, the more the merrier!!
Can I bring my friends or family to stay as well?
It would be a shame to own a piece of property, and not be able to have your friends and your family over for visits. I think that the majority of time it will be fine to have people come and stay for a while, but this may be something that we will have to coordinate. I can just see ten of us each bringing our four best friends to come and stay. All of a sudden we have 50 people staying on the property. You can see how this might be a problem after a while. As a group, this is just one more of the details that we will have to work out.
Why does it feel like you are trying to sell me something?
Yeah, that is something I don’t really like about this proposal, it does sounds like I am trying to sell you this idea. The fancy fonts, the corporate layout, the perfectly placed catchwords… In a sense I am trying to sell you something, because I would love for you to be a part of it. But I am not going to profit from this any more than you are. I am going to be an equal contributor to this project, and am putting in my $5,000 like everyone else (actually I will probably put in quite a bit more, just because I am so excited about this that it seems like the best place to put my money). Obviously I do benefit from you doing this, because it just cannot happen without the involvement of more people and money. This is just something that I believe helps all of us live in a way that is more closely aligned with our beliefs. The planet and the human society are going through some crazy times, and I truly would like to be more a part of the solution than part of the problem. The Baan Thai Project helps all of us to live closer to these ideals.
Turning a Dream into Reality
The dream of making this a reality has been running through my head for close to two years now, and frankly it is the most exciting thing in my life. I can think of nothing better to do with my life than to be surrounded by people I love, working the land, doing projects and just being. The prospect of living a fairly sustainable life, and not having to work 40 hours a week for 30 years is becoming a reality, and I want it to be the reality for all of us. Let’s grab the bull by the horns and make our lives something extraordinary.
Please get back to me sometime soon and tell me your level of interest. I would like to get a fairly accurate idea of how many people are going to do this. Please write to me, call me, e-mail me and talk to me. I am excited about this and am going to make it happen regardless of how many people want to join me. If you have any questions, or just want to talk about the possibilities, please contact me.
With Love and Respect,
Time Table of Events
Summer 2002 - Proposal goes out
2003 - Property search. I am going to be looking at many pieces of property. I will take photos of the different possibilities and describe each one. Anyone else who would like to join me or look independently is urged to do so.
Summer 2004 - Collect the $2000 from each person, decide on a piece of property and buy it. Maybe put up a couple bamboo bungalows. From this point on, anyone can come and stay for as long as they like.
2005 - We will have all of this year to decide how we would like to lay out our property, design our house, and plan for the future.
Summer of 2006 - Collect the $3000 from each person. And at some point have a work party on our property to construct our vision. It would be great if we could get everyone involved to be able to come for the groundbreaking and stay for at least a couple of months.
2007 - Livin’ the good life.