Expat Tales: South Thailand

HATYAI BY NIGHT: Cooler after dark.
HATYAI BY NIGHT: Cooler after dark.

What inspired your move, and how long have you been there?

I have lived in Hatyai, South Thailand for 14 years. There were a number of reasons inspiring me to move here. When I first came to Thailand in 1993 I loved the people's friendliness and the Thai food, country and culture just fascinated me. I returned in 1994 and saw many of the Thais had real hurt and pain in their eyes, and that they sought supernatural help by praying to idols made of stone and they feared all types of spirits. I was struck by the fact that many of them had never heard about Jesus.

Mitchell Atkins
Mitchell Atkins

In 1997 I married a Thai and we wanted our children to live in Thailand to learn the Thai language and culture, which they wouldn't understand if we lived in New Zealand, so we moved back here in 1999.

What do you do there?

I work for a Christian organisation called "iServe" here (its equivalent is "Student Life" back in NZ under Tandem Ministries). We help students learn about what Jesus really taught about having a relationship with God and also help them apply his principles in their life. For example, we ran a camp for youth in Phuket in the first week of June and helped the community by picking up rubbish off the beaches and talking to the locals and putting on a big Christian concert with famous Thai singers.

What are the greatest advantages to living there?

The cost of living is much cheaper compared with New Zealand - the food is amazing, and has so much variety. We live close to many beautiful beaches both on the gulf of Thailand (including Samui Island) and amazing diving in the Andaman Sea to the west (where Phuket and Krabi are). The shopping is good too and the restaurants quite cheap.


The heat, it's about 30 degrees Celsius every day, being so tropical and just north of Malaysia so it limits outdoor activities. The wildlife in the forests is really wild, with king cobras, komodo dragons, scorpions and poisonous centipedes! Second-hand cars are more expensive than in NZ.

Many Thais struggle with the English language.

How expensive is it compared with New Zealand? How much is a beer?

The cost of food is at least half, if not 3 times, cheaper than in New Zealand (except imported dairy products are similar price). A can of coke costs 50 cents.

What do you do in your spare time?

In my spare time I love to swim or run (really only possible during the hours of 5.30-7.30am or 5-7pm because of the heat) or watch football on TV for free! (the Thais are crazy about football)

What's the local delicacy and would you recommend eating it?

Oh yes, it is called "gaeng-som":, it is a spicy peppery yellow/orange curry with chunks of fish and shrimp and coconut. It should be eaten with rice and clears any sore throats away in seconds.

Easiest way to get around?

There are motorbike taxis or tuktuk everywhere.

What's the shopping like?

The shopping is amazing, from the fresh food and second-hand markets in the early hours of the day to the fantastic airconditioned malls open until 10pm every night. Non-labelled clothes are very cheap.

Best after-dark activity?

Most restaurants are open until 10 or 11pm each night and so are most shops, including good coffee shops as well as roadside tea shops where the locals are always ready to yarn with you into the night. There are also many artificial futsal soccer grounds around which are popular until midnight as well (cooler to play at night).

Best time of year to visit?

The coolest time of the year is November/December but it also comes with the monsoon rains, but most Kiwis would enjoy being cooled off by such passing storms. (Forget coming March-May it is 35+ every day)

What are the top three things you recommend for visitors?

Shopping, restauranting and beach visiting.

Besides family and friends, what do you miss most about home?

The clear, cool air of NZ. Skiing in the snow. Traffic laws that people actually obey. Zero police corruption.

How easy is it for you to get back to NZ?

Hatyai has its own international airport which receives flights to Bangkok or Singapore daily from budget airlines or Thai airways.

For Kiwis looking to move there, which industries are seeking fresh talent?

There is a real need for qualified English teachers in all universities and at all levels of schooling.

If you know an expat who wants to share inside knowledge about their home away from home, email escape@star-times.co.nz with Expat in the subject line.

Sunday Star Times