He fell in love with Thailand while traveling in his 20s. Now 40, he's back and has built his dream 'James Bond' luxury villa.

  • Johnny Ward, an Irish travel blogger, built a luxury villa in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in 2021.

  • He says he spent about 22.5 million Thai baht, or around $600,000, on the entire build.

  • His two-story villa has a pool, a home cinema, and a man cave.

The first time Johnny Ward went to Chiang Mai, Thailand, he was 22.

He paid for his one-way flight with money he earned from participating in a five-week medical-research study. It was the first time he'd traveled anywhere in Asia.

A Caucasian man on a scooter in front of his house in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Johnny Ward on a scooter in front of his house in Chiang Mai, Thailand.Johnny Ward/onestepforward

Over the next year and a half, Ward taught English at a local school and fell in love with Chiang Mai's laid-back lifestyle.

When that stint was over, he moved to Australia to take up a sales job. Although the pay was good, he was dissatisfied with corporate life. He decided to quit his job to travel and ended up starting a blog to document his adventures.

"I was living a fun, cool life, and I just wanted to show other people from working-class backgrounds that you don't need to come from a rich family to live a cool life," Ward, now a travel blogger who also runs an online-media company, told Business Insider.

But after traveling the world, Ward realized that Chiang Mai still had his heart.

"If you ever Google things like '10 best places to live,' 'Best place to be a digital nomad,' 'Best place to retire,' Chiang Mai often features in top 20 of all these things," Ward said. "It's so nice."

So in 2019, he decided to return and build a permanent home.

"I always wanted a James Bond villa — Miami-style, Ibiza-style. So I kind of think that's exactly what I did," Ward said.

2 floors of luxury

The front of the house.
The front of the house.Johnny Ward/onestepforward

In late 2020, Ward bought a 13,000-square-foot plot of land with his wife, Jaa, who is from Thailand, for 6 million Thai baht, or about $160,000.

He said the land is located in a gated community about 15 minutes outside the city center. Chiang Mai, which is surrounded by mountains, is the largest city in northern Thailand.

Ward found a local luxury developer to help design his home and they broke ground in early 2021.

The dining area.
The dining area.Johnny Ward/onestepforward

"The entire process was very smooth," Ward said. "He's like a one-stop shop. He did everything from the architectural drawing to the actual design. He's got a team of interior designers."

Thailand has strict criteria for foreigners who want to take out property loans. Ward was self-employed, which made it difficult for him to get financing, so he paid for the entire project in cash.

One of the lounge areas in the house.
One of the lounge areas in the house.Johnny Ward/onestepforward

Ward said he spent 13 million Thai baht building the home and another 3.5 million furnishing it, or about $460,000 in total. Including the land, the entire project cost around $600,000, which was about 22.5 million Thai baht.

The two-story villa has a pool and seven bedrooms, three of which have been converted into an office, a home cinema, and a man cave.

Ward grew up on welfare in Ireland and it had always been his dream to own a large house.

Growing up on welfare in Ireland, it had always been Ward's dream to own a large house.

"When I was like 12, I used to watch all those real-estate shows in Ireland," Ward said. "I thought, 'I'm going to build myself my big dream house one day.'"

The office.
The office.Johnny Ward/onestepforward

Ward said it would've been difficult for him to have all the things he wanted if he had bought an existing home in Chiang Mai.

"And finally, most important of all, I couldn't afford to buy what I want," Ward said. "It's much cheaper to build. The final product that I have here, I couldn't have afforded to buy that off the shelf."

For instance, a fully furnished seven-bedroom home on a similarly sized plot in Chiang Mai is listed for 85 million Thai baht, or about $2.35 million, on the property platform Elite Homes Thailand. Six luxury homes with five or more bedrooms are also listed on the luxury marketplace JamesEdition with asking prices between $600,000 and $11 million.

One of the bedrooms in the house.
One of the bedrooms in the house.Johnny Ward/onestepforward

A dream come true

Ward said building his own luxury home would've been impossible if he hadn't started his blog all those years ago.

"The key to happiness and a fulfilled life in 2024 and beyond is to make money online, whether that's remotely for a company or, even better, if you can make your own from your own business online," Ward said. "I know it's a very fortunate position to be in, but anyone can have it."

Since he paid for his home out of pocket, he's free of housing debt.

Although there are some exceptions, he says the cost of living in Thailand is generally lower than in Ireland.

The gym.
The gym.Johnny Ward/onestepforward

"I'm from Ireland, so a pint of Guinness is double the price here. And while something like a 90-inch TV can also be slightly more expensive in Thailand, the day-to-day costs are just a fraction of back home," Ward said.

According to data on the user-contributed database Numbeo, the cost of living in Thailand is, on average, 50.9% lower than in the US.

Ward said he will still have to consider some bigger costs in the future, especially if he has kids and they attend international schools in Thailand.

One of the bathrooms in the house.
One of the bathrooms in the house.Johnny Ward/onestepforward

Ward is also building a house about a half mile away for his mother.

"She's got Parkinson's disease," Ward said. "In the future, if she needs to have a nurse or something, there's the affordability of having a lovely, kind nurse who could live in the house with her and also for me to be able to take care of her."

The pool.
The pool.Johnny Ward/onestepforward

Ward, 40, says he's proud of achieving his homeownership dreams in his 30s.

"People want to say like, 'Oh, it's not what you have. It's all about your mentality.' I'm a positive guy; I love my life regardless. And my life, on top of that, got better in my lovely house," he added.

Have you recently built or renovated your dream home in Asia? If you've got a story to share, get in touch with me at agoh@businessinsider.com.

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