Expat Tales: Saving strays

ANIMAL WELFARE: Baker, second from left, with good friends who work and volunteer at Soi Dog.
ANIMAL WELFARE: Baker, second from left, with good friends who work and volunteer at Soi Dog.

Cristy Baker's love of animals took her to Phuket, Thailand.

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

My partner and I moved to Phuket, Thailand at the end of 2006. We loved Thailand and wanted a change of lifestyle with great weather, food, people and beaches. I pushed for the move as I wanted the adventure and wanted to get away from the 9-5 Monday to Friday rat race.

POOLED RESOURCES: Cristy Baker, centre top, relaxes at a friend's house in Phuket.
POOLED RESOURCES: Cristy Baker, centre top, relaxes at a friend's house in Phuket.

What do you do there?

I am the adoptions manager for the Soi Dog Foundation in Phuket, Thailand. The Soi Dog Foundation was started over 10 years ago to help combat the stray population in Phuket. Since then we have sterilised over 66,000 dogs and cats on Phuket and surrounding areas.

My role is to manage the adoptions programme from Phuket - at the moment, we are managing to get about 80 per cent of our dogs adopted overseas. They go to the UK, the EU, the USA and Canada. We do adopt to other countries but these are the main ones.

We have nearly 400 dogs at our shelter in Phuket and dozens of cats. We also help to rescue dogs which are destined for the dog meat trade, and take them to our refuge shelter about four hours' drive from Bangkok. Our Bangkok office helps to co-ordinate with all our overseas adoptions for there.

What are the greatest advantages to living there?

The lifestyle! Living in Asia definitely has its advantages in regards to cost of living, weather and all the other interesting expats you meet who also live abroad. I love Phuket for the beaches, great food and all the wonderful friends I have met since living here.


There aren't many, but if I had to say it would be missing some Western food.

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

If you buy a beer from the local 7-Eleven it will start from about NZ$1.50. Wine however is much more expensive - the import tax that is added is quite high. Rent is very cheap living in Phuket. Going out and enjoying a meal or out for drinks is also very reasonable. One cost that is higher here is schooling - international school fees are more expensive.

What do you do in your spare time?

Before I started working fulltime I exercised every day, surfed when we had our surf season and organised fundraisers a few times a year for Soi Dog in Phuket as a volunteer. I also have two sons, so weekends consisted of play dates with other mums on the island.

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

I haven't really eaten any local delicacies as I am a vegetarian and there is so much meat! But I do eat Thai food nearly every day. I love spicy food, and the strong flavours.

Easiest way to get around?

I drive. There are many taxis but the pricing is quite high and it is just easier if you have your own car.

What's the shopping like?

It is getting better, and we now have a Mango and H&M in Phuket. For a serious shop most people will hop over to Singapore, which is only a 1 -hour flight away. Bangkok is also good, and cheaper than Singapore.

Best after-dark activity?

There are some great beach clubs in Phuket - one I recommend is called Catch. Otherwise, you can't beat a nice pot-luck dinner or house party.

Best time of year to visit?

From November to February is high season so this is when there are a lot of tourists here, and the beaches look the best. The water is very blue and if a sunny, beachside holiday is what you are after then this is the best time. In low season there's more rain, but a lot less tourists!

What are the top three things you recommend for visitors?

Day trip on a private speedboat to Phi Phi island with a company like Laguna Tours. Do not go on a big group tour as the experience is not the same. Surin beach - great food, sun and restaurants. A visit to the Soi Dog Foundation shelter to visit the dogs and cats!

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

Food and shopping. Especially good chocolate.

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

I have not been back to NZ for a long time. Most of my family moved to Australia when we were younger and that's where they still live today.

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

Tourism is probably the best bet. Or the boating industry. These are also the industries where you will earn the most.

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