Hawaii is, in my own personal (and sometimes humble) opinion, the best place to live on the face of the earth. I say that as a US citizen that grew up on the mainland. Those from another country probably wouldn’t say Hawaii is the ultimate place to live, but I started wondering if there were any viable alternatives to living in Hawaii. Here I am living in Thailand, and have been for the last ten years. Is Thailand an alternative to life in Hawaii?Here are some options for people wanting to live in Hawaii, that might not be able to live in Hawaii for whatever reason (money usually, right?) Though they are options, still, nothing compares to Hawaii. If you know another place well, like somewhere in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, Seychelles, or somewhere else, let me know with an email and I’ll add your bit to this, with your credit, of course.

1. Florida. I lived in Miami, Tampa, and Clearwater, Florida for 11 years. Florida is absolutely nothing like Hawaii, but it definitely has some good points. No FL state income tax is one. Hawaii can’t match that! Fishing is another. Shore fishing, boat fishing, whatever fishing – Florida is absolutely amazing for this. I’ve spent a couple thousand hours shorefishing and floating around on my Kayak in the waters surrounding Florida and I have to say, there is probably no better place on the planet for catching some amazing and delicious species of fish like redfish, gator trout, snook, cobia, flounder, blues, snapper, grouper, sheepshead. Just recollecting all the different fish I’ve caught is making me nostalgic. Not only that, my son is there, so Florida is always an alternative to living in Hawaii on some level.

Florida has a great variety of food. It’s cheap to live, to buy a house and to eat, to enjoy life. There are plenty of beaches and amusement parks. There are some hills, not mountains by any stretch, but some easy hiking through rolling hills is available in the Gainesville area. Florida is a big state so on the road adventures are fun – zipping down to Key West was always a blast when I was single and could mingle. Now I’m more likely to go to a water-park with my daughter.

Pipeline beach by JamesZ_Flickr is licensed under CC BY 2.0. Image may have been resized or cropped from original

Florida has a laid-back atmosphere outside of Miami and Orlando. Even so, I was able to fully relax in both these places. Florida has an allure for me because it’s attached to the rest of the nation. If I wanted, I could drive up to Alaska, Maine, California, or Area 51 and make a road trip of it. If I wanted, I could rent a mobile home and do one of those trips. I could take a train. A bus. All these would be reasonable costs. From Hawaii, you can visit other islands fairly cost-efficiently, but you’re going to be seeing much of the same thing on the other islands as what you have on Oahu or wherever you’re staying.

Florida is not Hawaii in many ways. There are far too many “blue-hairs” coming down from parts northern to muck up the roads with their fraction of the speed limit driving styles that is annoying enough. It’s hard to find a Florida beach without people on it. Not so in Hawaii. Hawaii has great mountains, and Florida doesn’t. Hawaii has strong ocean waves consistently year round and Florida has them during hurricane passes. Hawaii has far better snorkeling. Hawaii has far better food options, but not enough Mexican. Hawaii is super expensive comparatively. Hawaii has a culture that is really something special. Culture in Florida is nothing to get excited about.

Key West is almost like a Jimmy Buffett concert. The people there are unmotivated, old, retired, and love six-toed cats or some such nonsense. They call them Hemingway cats or something. It’s a place that’s great to go for a weekend, but then get out as soon as you can because you don’t want to become addicted to eating sea snails, booze and Buffett.

Well, that’s my take on some of the differences. Let’s move on.

2. Thailand. Unless you want to move to Puerto Rico or the Caribbean, you have to start thinking about moving overseas to find paradise. Notice I didn’t mention California at all? I’m biased, but, I didn’t find Southern California anything like my ‘ideal’ place to live. I’m sure there are pockets, there are places where life is great there. I don’t know where those places are. I haven’t seen much of the state. If you have any suggestions about where in California might be an awesome place on the ocean to live, do let me know.

I’ve lived in a few locations in Thailand for the past decade. I go through phases about whether I love the country or not, currently with the recent coupe – I’m going through a “let’s get out of this place” phase. It’s a love-hate situation. Thailand has amazing beauty and a level of laid-back that Hawaii will never have. Yet it is also one of the least secure places to live.

Driving is an absolute nightmare. Word is, Thailand is ranked #2 for worst places to drive in the world. There’s no way that is true. There can’t be anywhere worse or the country wouldn’t exist. I’m sure Thailand is the worst. I am afraid every time I drive. There are a number of Thais in every city that feel like they can do whatever they want because they make $3,000 a month or something ridiculous to you and I, but to them, they’re rich and living the life. It’s a crazy place on the streets. Sometimes I want to leave JUST for this reason. Hard to justify staying when the probability that your daughter will die in a vehicle accident is so high. We live in a small city, but still, it’s an absolute madhouse every time I get behind the wheel or start the motorbike.

Food choices are rather limited. Thai, Chinese, or fast food that tastes different from the fast food joints in the states, so it isn’t even a good alternative. Still, I find myself eating McDonalds once every couple months just to remind me where I come from. I didn’t eat McDonalds in the states! Oh wait, I did love me some morning pancakes on the odd morning I didn’t eat a muffin at Starbucks. Coffee in Thailand is mud. There’s nothing about it that is good. All the chains make it whatever way they want. Starbucks never tastes like it does in the mainland or in Hawaii. It’s a fake. Everything in Thailand seems faked. We can’t find decent brand-name clothes, or any-name clothes. It’s all Chinese rip-off, including running shoes, tents, camera gear, bikes, etc. It is hard to go through life buying junk that will fall apart in a month, a year, when I’m used to buying good stuff in the USA and having it last for a decade or more. It’s no fun, in other words.

I’m sure this has been used in some ad campaign about a wireless signal by Andy Simonds is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. Image may have been resized or cropped from original.

Sure it’s cheaper in Thailand. I could, and have, lived for a fraction of what I lived on in Hawaii. In Hawaii, you make $50,000 and it’s nothing. It’s like minimum wage. Here, $50,000 would make me almost a god. I could drive the streets in an SUV and run people on motorbikes and smaller cars completely off the road, like they do here. I’d be making enough money to do that. Food is super cheap. I just had a plate of stir-fried veggies for lunch with garlic, pumpkin, asparagus, carrots, other greens, chicken… and it would be about $2 USD in a restaurant. My mother in law made it, so it was about $1 cost to us. That’s ridiculously cheap. It’s too cheap even. Guys making $500 pensions come from the USA to live in Thailand and drink their lives away on that. Seems impossible, until you get here and see them doing it.

The people – there’s a difference. Thais are a squirrely lot. I have yet to understand them as deep as I should be by now. I’ve avoided it some, and I’m clueless for a lot of what they do. Thais and Americans couldn’t be MORE different. I mean, we’re at complete opposite sides of the species. It makes living here hard, but in another way, it is easy to get rid of the bad things, the annoying things about America living here. Take the good and leave the bad, if at all possible. I’ve done that as much as possible, but probably reaching the end of my stay in Thailand soon. Probably this is prompting the article here about alternatives to live. I’m trying to find one to avoid having to return to the USA. Hawaii is, right now, the #1 alternative for us once we leave. Hawaii has many good things that I love so much… and some bad. I’ll have to prepare myself for the bad before I go. Then, prepare my family for them too!

3. Vietnam. Cambodia. Laos. Singapore. Taiwan. Hong Kong. Malaysia. Philippines. There was a time when I wondered whether any of these countries would offer an alternative to living in Hawaii. I can tell you now, they don’t. There are major issues about each of these places that have me pulling them off the list as alternatives. I’ll go through them quickly.

Vietnam is like Laos with a couple of major cities that might be livable, but little else. There are few that speak great English there. There is very little infrastructure for English speaking foreigners. Shopping would be limited. Food choices limited. People a little harsh and on the business end, abrupt and out to make a dime.

Cambodia is just too poor and corruption rules the place. Most of the expats are on drugs, or are annoying save the world types that have religion guiding them. They’re hoping to save everyone else from themselves. The local food is among the worst in the world. It’s cheap, but seeing that level of poverty in surrounding areas makes it less than an ideal place to live for any amount of time. ESPECIALLY if you have a family.

Laos is like Thailand was 150 years ago. It’s like some people cleared a spot for a town in the dirt and threw up some tents and half-built structures and called it the second biggest town in the country. I’m speaking of Savannahkhet, but I could just as easily be talking about Vientienne, the capital. The entire country is super poor and there is nothing for expats to do. I mean, it’s deader than dead. The entire country is like the outskirts of Cambodia. It’s unbelievably poor and depressing.

Singapore is far too crowded, too few beaches, and expensive more than Hawaii by double or triple for those hoping to live there. Sure salaries are more, but the work ethic is like NYC – work until you drop. Food opportunities are good – but everything is so damn expensive, it’s hard to justify eating out. The airport would be your savior if you lived in Singapore because you could get away to Bangkok, Hong Kong, Australia, Kuala Lumpur or somewhere else. Anywhere else just to get out off the crowded island.

Big Ship Sailing On The Ocean by Justin De La Ornellas is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0. Image may have been resized or cropped from original.

Taiwan is similar to Singapore, but more on the cold side. I know a number of people living in Taiwan and teaching English. Some are happy there. There is some forest, and mountains, some nice beaches and parks. There are far too many people on the island. Few speak English. Lots of food opportunities. Few jobs for expats but teaching English. Taiwan is too cold for me. Too far north near places I don’t really want to see except maybe Japan for a weekend or a week. Taiwan is very expensive.

Hong Kong is more crowded than Singapore and is focused entirely on business and making money. Not a good place to live by any one’s standard. They may yet be taken over by China. That wouldn’t be so cool to go through!

Malaysia is almost some place to consider except there are Muslim extremists in the north by the border of Thailand and there are more in the south, and over in Borneo area. The country is predominantly Muslim. It might be prejudiced to say, but I don’t feel comfortable living among them. I see too many factions breaking off to create terrorist groups to feel good about it. I don’t like groups of Christians much either, but I don’t see them cutting people’s heads off while they’re alive either. Kuala Lumpur is a nice enough big city. Great shopping. A bit expensive, but not out of bounds. There are not many US expats living in Malaysia, but those that do are fairly happy with the arrangement.

Philippines. When I was younger, I married a girl in Hawaii that was from Cebu, in the Philippines. I was introduced to Filipino people and culture and loved it. Some of the food is good, overall though it isn’t something I can eat on a daily basis, that isn’t why we broke up though! Philippines itself is overall very, very poor but there are a few places that are good enough for the estimated 1 million expats from the USA that reside there. It’s a retirement haven for old expats, especially retired military. I couldn’t live there. The typhoons, the near constant earthquakes, flooding, distance between islands, the difference between the haves and have nots, the Christianity shoved down your throat… I couldn’t like that very much for very long. :P

girl in tepee

We live in more than just grass huts in Hawaii, but to be honest, our grass huts can get expensive, too. Image Copyright Celina Ma Photography. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

4. Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti, Tonga. These are islands that are very similar in appearance to Hawaii, but they have very little in the way of infrastructure for US expats. Sure, some live there and love it. For me, it is too small, too isolated, and with too few foreigners there to make me feel safe enough for my family. As a single, yeah, I could live in any of these places. The beaches, the mountains, must be incredible. I could explore the heck out of these places. I think for living these places are out. For visiting, yeah, some great vacations could be had at any of these.


To me, Hawaii has the best mix of everything that is important to me. It’s perfect for family as long as I can get my daughter into a nice private school. The food choices are excellent. The terrain I can explore, especially mountain hikes, are great. I do wish some other places were closer, like mountains of Colorado, the fishing in Florida, the food in Thailand, but overall I think there is just no better place to live than Hawaii for me. Many people feel the same way, but very few ever make the decision and go try living on the islands. A lot of people think about it, but few make the jump. It’s a great unknown if you haven’t done it before. It’s a bit frightening, for sure. So was riding a bike and learning to drive, but most of us make that happen.

Think about whether you might be able to make the move to Hawaii. Think a lot about it. You are not getting any younger. You only live once, and the world isn’t getting any easier.