Shelly is a South African teacher who packed up her life in sunny Cape Town for an adventure in Thailand in 2016. She now lives in Ao Nang, Krabi, where she teaches at Krabi International School. When she's not out and about exploring her new seaside town, she can usually be found with her nose in a book or enjoying a good glass of wine with friends.
Learn more about expat life in the Land of Smiles with the Expat Arrivals guide to Moving to Thailand.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Cape Town, South Africa
Q: Where are you living now?
A: Ao Nang, Krabi, Thailand
Q: When did you move to Krabi?
A: January 2016
Q: Did you move to Krabi alone or with a spouse/family?
A: Alone. Initially, I came over with a friend from South Africa but his job didn’t work out so he left after 2 months
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: I work in Education. I really liked my job in Cape Town but I wanted to experience teaching in another country early in my career. Thailand seemed perfect as there are many teaching jobs available, the lifestyle is good and it is also situated in amongst many countries I have always wanted to visit (Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos etc). It is also difficult, as a new teacher in South Africa, to build up enough capital to buy a car or pay off student loans while also enjoying a reasonably comfortable and independent standard of living.
Living in Krabi
Q: What do you enjoy most about Ao Nang? How would you rate the quality of life compared to your South Africa?
A: I live a simple life in Thailand but an extremely comfortable and enjoyable one! I love how far I can stretch my salary here (if I am careful). I love buying my vegetables fresh from the market and haggling over prices for clothes along the beach front. It’s also wonderful living amongst such beautiful scenery and being close to the beach. However, this is not much different for me from Cape Town which is also a beautiful place full of beaches! I also enjoy the relative lack of crime. Although there is some crime, very little of it is violent and I feel totally safe walking on my own to the local Family Mart at 10 or 11pm at night. The people are also fantastic. For example, I often walk when I need to go a short distance to get somewhere. I’m considered a little crazy for doing this because it’s so hot! But I find it’s the easiest way to acclimatise and I enjoy the exercise. What I love, though, is that I have never walked anywhere without at least one person pulling over and offering me a ride on the back of their scooter. People are generally really friendly and are happy to help you with learning Thai words or finding your way. They are definitely a highlight of living in Thailand!
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about South Africa?
A: Gosh… It’s difficult to put into words what is so special about South Africa. Only that it is… well, special. Unique in a way that you do not somehow appreciate fully until you leave. There is a generosity of spirit and a natural gregariousness that is in all South African people. That whole ubuntu thing…? It’s not a cliché. I also miss the diversity and beauty of South Africa. Don’t get me wrong, Thailand is beautiful! But there’s something wonderfully uncontrolled and spontaneous about the landscapes, coasts and communities in SA that is beautiful in a unique way. I also miss hearing multiple languages being spoken on a daily basis and seeing my family and friends on a regular basis, obviously.
Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life in Krabi? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: I live in quite a touristy area so I was lucky not to experience too much culture shock. However, it was jarring when I was apartment hunting and trying to communicate basic (but very important) information using mainly hand gestures and a cellphone app. That was when it truly hit me for the first time that I was living in a foreign place where English is not the first language. However, you quickly learn to be creative with how you ‘speak’ and it gets easier once you have picked up a bit of the local language. It’s particularly difficult when applying for things like driving licenses and working permits, though. Many people who work for government offices do not have more than a basic grasp of English which can be very confusing. I also had to get used to driving a scooter again as cars are extremely expensive and not at all useful a lot of the time as there is zero parking in town.
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to South Africa? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: The cost of living is definitely lower, generally speaking. I rent a very nice apartment for 15,000 baht a month (split between two people) which is much bigger than I could ever afford in Cape Town. Food is variable: If you eat ‘local’, it’s cheap. If you eat more traditionally ‘Western’ food, the costs start adding up quickly. Alcohol, particularly wine, is shockingly expensive compared to Cape Town. Even soft drinks at a restaurant can be very expensive and it’s quite normal to spend double, even triple, on drinks than you spend on food. Again, it’s very variable. I can get a lovely pad Thai for 50 baht and a Coke Zero for 15 baht from my local ‘takeout’ place whereas a restaurant on Ao Nang beachfront might charge 150 and 60 baht for the same two things.
Q: How would you rate the public transport in Krabi? What are the different options? Do you need to own a car?
A: There are quite a few public transport options but none are particularly formal. As a local, the bus and Songthaew services are most useful. The one that I use goes on a continuous loop from Ao Nang to Krabi Town, Big C department store and then on to the airport. Various other buses and Songthaews go on different loops throughout Krabi Town. There are signs that indicate bus stops which are easy enough to find.
However, if you are ever in a hurry to do anything, you need your own vehicle. Scooters and motorbikes are quite efficient as they are easy to use and readily available for rental or purchase. Cars are much more expensive and difficult to find parking for… But you will really appreciate having a car (or having a friend with one) during the rainy season!
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Krabi? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: My local GP is a wonderful man called Dr Somboon. I visited his practice after hurting my foot in a small scooter accident just after I arrived in Krabi. He provided wonderful care for very affordable rates and is a very affable and comforting man who is good about explaining things carefully. I would highly recommend his practice.
I have a work permit and pay social security so I’m also legally entitled to healthcare at any public hospital. The closest one to me is Krabi Hospital which is about 20km away. I am a type 1 diabetic so I visited it pretty early on (to make sure they had all my details should an emergency ever arise) and found the experience pretty much as can be expected from a public hospital. Relatively efficient, good care but one has to be willing to wait in several lines (for several hours) to see a doctor. I arrived at the hospital around 8am and only left after 2.
I have not heard great things about Krabi Nakharin International Hospital… This is mostly hearsay but there are often rumours of them overcharging tourists or admitting patients overnight for nonsensical reasons so that they can drive the bill up doing the rounds. However, this is all unsubstantiated.
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Krabi? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: I can’t think of any place in particular but obviously, common sense should be applied! Stick to common, well-used routes and areas until you have your bearings and know Krabi well. Don’t drive anywhere after dark that you do not know well by daylight hours. Don’t openly flaunt wallets full of cash etc… Every country has its fair share of opportunistic criminals.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Ao Nang? What different options are available for expats?
A: I have a double storey apartment with a rooftop BBQ area that I share with my flatmate. This sets us back 15,000 baht a month but it’s only 3km from the beach and just round the corner from the local Makro and Tesco. It’s quite a developed area so less chance of finding snakes in your living room!
In general, there is a wide variety of housing options available including modern apartment buildings, modern housing complexes or more old school ‘Thai style’ houses. These are obviously much cheaper but not always equipped with air conditioning units or other, more modern amenities. It really depends on what you are looking for. The best way to find accommodation is to join the Krabi/Ao Nang Real Estate group on Facebook. Or just drive around and look!
Q: Any areas/suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: Ao Nang is very comfortable for expats and, especially with the addition of the new Makro, has most of what you need. Krabi Town is cheaper and has a wider variety of shops and entertainment but is further from the beaches. Khlong Muang is beautiful but much quieter and has fewer shops and transport options. Again, it really depends on what you are looking for.
Meeting people and making friends in Krabi
Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there any obvious discrimination against particular religions or women etc.?
A: The locals are very tolerant of foreigners. There’s no obvious discrimination although women are expected to cover shoulders and feet (preferably knees as well) when visiting government buildings. The dominant religions are Buddhism and Islam and if you visit temples or mosques, you naturally need to follow the dress code for those places. However, people are not put under any pressure, religion wise, from what I have observed anyway.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends in Ao Nang? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: I work long hours so most of my close friends are colleagues. I have also become friendly with people from my local gym and church. There are plenty of opportunities to meet and mix with people however Krabi is a ‘tourist’ town so a lot of the time, people are just passing through. This can get frustrating.
Q: Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends?
A: The best thing to do is join one of the local Facebook groups such as ‘Krabi/Ao Nang locals’. There’s often invitations for activities and clubs being posted there and it’s also a wonderful way to buy cheap furniture and necessities (Thailand doesn’t have Gumtree!)
About working in Krabi
Q: Did you have a problem getting a visa or work permit for Thailand? Did you tackle the visa process yourself or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: I was very lucky with regards to the visa and work permit process. My school has been through it before so they knew how many, sometimes very specific, hoops one has to jump through to organise the right visa and permits. As such, they more or less handled everything. I came in on the normal 30 day tourist visa and then, after getting all the necessary medical tests done and papers signed and photocopied, I flew to Kuala Lampur and received my Section B Non-Immigrant visa there. This was a very easy and efficient process if you have all the correct documentation in place (and costs 300 ringits). The school also handled all the paperwork for my work permit, which I gather was relatively complex, and sent a Thai person with me to the immigration department to communicate with the government employees clearly. It would have been extremely difficult to do on my own and if your school/workplace does not know what they are doing, I would highly recommend hiring an immigration consultant.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in Thailand? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job there? Which resources did you find most useful?
A: It depends on what you are planning to do in the country. If you are wanting to open a business, be aware that you must have a Thai national partner with a 50% share in the business. English teaching (TEFL) jobs are relatively easy to find but are not particularly well paid. International teaching jobs are much better paid but you need to have a teaching degree/PGCE and preferably several years of experience. Ajarn.com is a great website for seeking out teaching jobs.
Q: How does the work culture differ from South Africa? Do you have any tips for expats doing business in the Thailand?
A: It’s hard for me to speak outside of my own experiences. From what I’ve gathered, it used to be a lot cheaper and easier to start a business in Thailand than it is now. But there are plenty of expats doing business in the country so it can’t be that hard! The working hours are quite different. Many businesses will close completely in the low season but stay open until 10 o’ clock at night during the high season.
Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Don’t expect to fit in straight away. Getting used to a new place takes time and effort. However, Krabi is a wonderful community to be a part of!
~ Interviewed in August 2016