Teach in Thailand

bangkok

Introduction

You have just graduated and now find yourself wondering what to do with your life. They say that graduating with a degree allows you to work in the chosen field you studied and opens plenty of doors. While this is true for some, many find that their degree is not enough to make it in their chosen field. For example, some study literature for years and cannot even get a job as a secretary. Whether this is due to the economy or lack of job availability, you cannot help but be affected by the limited choices of jobs to choose from in your area.

Have you ever considered relocating to somewhere exotic and working in a new location instead of settling for a mediocre local job? Many people have decided to take their future into their own hands and to pack up and leave their area in hopes of making it in a more desirable location. Not everyone can do this, or wants to do, but if you are interested in a new lifestyle in a new location then this guidebook is for you.

I have personally experienced what it is like to live in a new location and to make the most of your time there. One of the best ways to live in a country other than your own is to teach English. There is such a high demand for English teachers throughout the world. My personal choice has been Thailand and I am about to tell you why and how this amazing land of smiles can become the next place you call home.

Prang of Wat Arun, Bangkok ,Thailand

As we all know, English is an important language to know in our world. More than one billion people speak, or are learning to speak, English and many of those are currently studying the language itself. That is why teaching English is one of the best markets to tap into.

If you are reading this, you are most likely already an English speaker and English is your first language, or one that you know very well. This already puts you in an eligible position to teach English in a foreign country. Teaching English abroad is a wonderful way to learn about cultures, make meaning interactions, and gain local experience and to have enough money to make a living and enjoy your life.

Teaching is not always easy and some are better at it than others. With a willing attitude, almost anyone can become a successful teacher. Like most jobs, you will have to put in the work to make the money and there can be stressful times. But when you are living in a lovely location such as Thailand, there is not much to worry about.

So if this sounds like something you’d like to do, I strongly suggest reading this book to gain insight on the way to live in Thailand as an English Teacher.

My Story

It was the end of summer in 2007. I had just graduated from high school and enjoyed several months of holidays to celebrate. Once the holidays were over, I realized that it was time to start making some money since university was not an option for me financially. I have always been a lover of English and writing and had worked for several years as an SEO writer in high school. However, the kind of work I was doing was becoming monotonous and I needed a change. I knew I still wanted it to be related to the subject that I love: English.

I looked on the Internet and found options for working in Thailand as an English speaker. There were many volunteer options available, but nothing that would help me save up and live the lifestyle I desired.

I was invited to a friend’s house on a random afternoon and went to hang out. As we were talking and discussing English and my options, someone mentioned “CELTA”. “What is this CELTA?” I asked. I had never heard of such a thing. She explained that CELTA was a Certificate of English Language Teaching for Adults, which sounded quite interesting. She then added that it was certified by Cambridge University and my interest peaked. I couldn’t wait to get home and research more about this course, crossing my fingers that it would not be too expensive to participate in.

I read up on CELTA and found out that it was one of the highest certifications of English language teaching available and that it was highly regarded throughout the world. The price was not cheap but it was not what I would call expensive either, in terms of what you get out of it.

The application process detailed extensive testing and interviews. I was ready to jump right in and I began my application process. Fast forward a few months and I had received my acceptance letter into the course. CELTA is available throughout the world in a variety of amazing locations.

I selected Chiang Mai, Thailand as the course there took place in the midst of a lush garden resort surrounded by mountains. I figured that this would be a good contrast from the 120 hours of intense learning.

CELTA was a great experience, despite the times that I wondered what I had gotten myself into. It was challenging, exciting and opened my eyes to the world of teaching. Once CELTA was completed we had already completed several hours of teaching experience and developed important teaching skills that I believe have really contributed to making me a good teacher.

With the CELTA certificate in my hand, I went around to Thai schools in hopes of getting a job. This is when I was told that I was not qualified because I did not have a bachelor’s degree to accompany the certificate and that it was a requirement to teach in Thai schools due to the law. I was disappointed but decided to try my luck at language schools instead.

Then I got my first job teaching beginners level English to a group of 6-10 year olds, a huge contrast to the adults I had taught during CELTA. I taught at the school for quite a while whilst continuing work as a writer, as I realized during that time that writing really is my passion.

I still teach on occasion and I conduct Skype tutoring lessons as well. From my experiences living in Thailand for 13 years so far, and having plenty of friends who are full time English teachers, I feel I am the right person to bring you the information you need to make it as a successful teacher in Thailand.

Why Thailand?

Most people that visit Thailand tend to fall in love with the country and its people. When you travel around Thailand, you are likely to meet foreigners who have decided to make Thailand home and who rely on teaching income to do so.

Because of its unique culture.

Thai culture makes it enjoyable for people from all over to adapt to local customs, since it is largely based on Buddhist principles that promote kindness, patience and understanding. Thais are open to foreigners and are curious to learn about you, whilst teaching you about their culture as well. Thai language is dominant in Thailand but broken English is known by many and makes it easier to communicate on a basic level.

Because Thailand offers decent salary.

English teachers in Thailand make good money by Thai standards and have enough to enjoy a great lifestyle that accommodates eating out frequently, staying at good accommodations and enjoying life during time off. Good budgeters even have enough to travel during holidays. It is especially cheap to travel within the country and to its neighboring countries.

Because Thailand is a fun place to live.

You may hear the occasional complaint about corrupt governments and such but, during day-to-day life in Thailand, you will find that there is so little to complain about if you focus on the abundance of goodness that Thailand has to offer. The country is thriving with good food, entertainment options, exciting activities and endless attractions.

Because teaching in Thailand looks good.

Even if you do not see yourself teaching for the rest of your life, your resume will be that much more exciting with the time you spent in Thailand, immersing yourself in a new culture and enjoying an experience that so many do not know but envy.

Because it is a great place to teach.

Teachers in Thailand, regardless of where you teach, are given a lot of respect. Thai culture encourages respect to elders and those in respectable professions. Teaching is looked at in a very positive way and students are generally respectful, courteous, and lovely to teach.

Because of its geographical location.

Thailand sits at the heart of Southeast Asia and borders Myanmar and Cambodia. It is an excellent place to experience what Southeast Asia has to offer and provides a unique blend of different cultures, cuisines and people.

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Because it is the land of smiles.

Though this is the promotional slogan for Thailand, it still holds true to anyone who has experienced Thailand for themselves. Thailand is a place full of smiles and people tend to have a good attitude.

Before Coming to Thailand

The best places to teach at in Thailand are private schools, government schools, bilingual schools, international schools, private institutes and corporations.

The minimum requirements for landing a teaching contract in Thailand include being a native English speaker and having a bachelor’s degree (or higher). The Thai Labor Department and the Thai Ministry of Education require a bachelor’s degree in order to obtain a valid work permit to teach at Thai schools. The bachelor’s degree can be in any subject, though a degree in education is preferred.

Additional Qualifications

Many schools request that teachers have teaching experience of no less than a year. It is almost always a requirement to have a TEFL (Teaching of English as a Foreign Language), TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) or CELTA qualification.

Plenty of TEFL/TESOL/CELTA courses are available throughout Thailand and many institutes help with work placement upon completion of the course. Having the certification allows schools to see that you have an understanding for teaching in classrooms and are not just relying on your English skills in order to make it as a teacher. While it is possible to get teaching jobs without certification, the pay is often less.

If you are considering moving to Thailand to teach, I would suggest that you find a local or TEFL/TESOL/ CELTA course or sign up for one in Thailand in order to gain the proper skillset that will help you to become a good teacher. These courses can also be completed online through distance learning.

The Thai Ministry of Education provides its own options for teacher’s who only hold a bachelor’s degree and do not have teaching experience or certification. Thailand’s own Teacher Training program costs around $2,500 USD and takes a year to complete (as opposed to a month or two in TEFL/TESOL/CELTA). Keep in mind that the Teaching Training program is valid in Thailand whereas TEFL/TESOL/CELTA courses are valid throughout the world.

Another option is to participate in a Thai Culture Course. During this 20-hour course, students learn about Thai culture, language, society, courtesy, music, arts and so on. It is basically an introduction to Thailand and does not really cover any aspects of teaching in Thailand. The course costs approximately $250 USD.

A less common option is to participate in a selection of exams chosen by the Thai Ministry of Education. The exams are selected from present diploma in education courses and eligibility to work as a teacher is given once four tests are passed.

There are plenty of male teachers in Thailand and Thai schools are often on the look out for female applicants. It also helps to look young or be of a relatively young age, though this is not a determining factor.

A master’s degree is highly regarded in Thailand and can help teach at more prestigious schools in the country.

Required Documents

The following documents are typically required in order to process your submission:

  1. Copy of passport
  2. Completed Teacher’s License Application
  3. Copy of various teaching qualifications
  4. 2 copies of 1 inch full face photographs
  5. Copy of Teaching Certification

Process of Coming into Thailand

The process of coming to Thailand to teach really depends on qualifications and personal preference. Qualified teachers have a good chance of securing work from home and have the advantage of help with setting up flights, accommodation, etc. I have even heard of some employers who help finance travels to Thailand.

If you are not yet qualified in teaching, I would suggest signing up for TEFL course before arriving in Thailand.

You will be valid for teaching (along with a BA) upon completion of the course and will receive help with finding work.

Many teaching jobs in Thailand can be found locally, while some schools such as international schools prefer to hire applicants from overseas before considering local ones.

Universities, government schools and private schools often arrange interviews within days of application. There are many job boards and forums that cater to Thailand, which are great for finding information on available positions.

Finding a Job From Overseas

Third-party Program Options

One of the advantages of working with a third-party program is that they have already pre-screened the job for you. They have also made arrangements regarding salary, accommodation, visa and other issues. Many organizations that help you secure work from home provide an orientation upon arrival in the country.

Another advantage is that all required documents are clearly mentioned and you will not feel as though you may be missing something. There are various fees depending on the kind of program you sign up with and services offered.

Plenty of organizations provide teaching abroad programs that cater to Thailand.

Some of the most popular include:

  • CCI Exchange: hwww.cci-exchange.com/teach-in- thailand.aspx
  • Visions TEFL: www.visionstefl.com
  • Cultural Embrace: www.culturalembrace.com
  • Bridge TEFL: www.bridgetefl.com
  • CIEE Teach Abroad: www.ciee.org
  • Echo English: www.echo-english.com

Independent Applicants

If you are happy with securing your own job, taking care of the necessary documents and so on, then you can begin looking for a teaching job through Internet searches.

Please note that it is significantly more difficult to secure a job from overseas if you are applying for a position on your own. Thai schools tend to rely on face-to-face interviews before making a commitment. Many online forums will tell you to not waste your time securing a job whilst overseas (unless you are working through a third- party program) and to just go for it when you are actually in the country.

Getting a Job

Common Places to Find a Job

If you have decided to travel to Thailand to find teaching work then you will need to know where to look for a job. As I suggested earlier, it is a great idea to sign up for a TEFL/TESOL/CELTA course for the beginning of your stay in Thailand. It is easy to look for work once you are enrolled into your course.

Teaching jobs in Thailand can be found through a variety of online resources. The most famous option is www.ajarn.com. Many teachers use this resource to either apply for listed jobs or find contact information for schools.

There are many forums where teachers discuss the schools they teach at and give tips about available positions. I have known people who have been low on money whilst visiting Thailand and, because they had the requirements, were able to find a job teaching English in a matter of days.

Listings are also found in local newspapers such as The Bangkok Post or The Nation. If jobs appeal to you then send them an email with your CV and photo. It is commonly known that Thai’s like to receive a recent photograph in order to know what you look like before the interview.

Setting Up a CV

You may be use to a certain level of discretion when it comes to CV’s in the states. Thailand has different requirements in that they want to see your picture and know personal details such as your age, marital status and nationality.

While some of the questions might seem a bit shady, in comparison to what you are used to, it is quite common for ESL (English as a Second Language) employers to ask a wide range of questions. The main reason for this is that they want to get a well-rounded understanding of you and in their culture it is perfectly acceptable to want to know these things.

So though it may should strange, try to include “extra” information in your CV – like your age, sex, marital status and nationality. This will help the potential employer see that you have nothing to hide and will put you amongst the top of the list if many candidates have applied.

You can use your existing CV to apply for teaching jobs in Thailand. Like most job applications, it is in your best interest to list related jobs, certificates and such at the top. Try to focus more on the academic side of your history.

CV’s should be no longer than two pages and a one page CV is perfectly acceptable. If your CV is quite long, simply select related jobs and education information or ones that contribute to your ability to teach.

If you are looking to teach a specific field of English, such as Business English, then make sure you list experiences that help show your knowledge in the subject.

A passport size photograph should be attached to your resume. You should look clean, smartly dressed and professional in the photograph.

Interview Tips

Most potential employers will contact you shortly after receiving your email of interest or CV and arrange for an interview. The way you conduct yourself during the interview is very important since schools are looking to hire teachers that are respectable and easy to work with.

What to Wear

Make sure you are dressed well for the interview. That is, dress as if you already have the job. Teachers in Thailand dress on the more conservative side.

Men should wear suit pants, long-sleeved button up shirt and dress shoes. Ties are acceptable and should simply/ not flashy. It is best to have a brief case for your documents.

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Women should wear long (or no shorter than knee length) skirts and blouses or proper shirts. Three-quarter length sleeves are typically worn by teachers throughout Thailand and tend to give off a more professional vibe. Dress shoes are necessary and jewelry should be kept to a minimum (if at all). Keep documents in a professional style bag.

Required Documents

It is common for potential employees to request the following documents:

  • Original BA degree
  • Original transcripts
  • Original TEFL/TESOL/CELTA Certificate

Do not let them keep the original copies and make sure you have several photocopies of each document to leave with them. Some might ask you to leave the original copies but this is not advisable. Thailand is full of photocopiers and printers so you do not need to bring the photocopies from home.

Be a Successful Candidate

Smiling and acting courteous in Thailand really goes a long way. Always be respectful and polite to the interviewer. Be your most friendly, helpful and smiley self in order to get on their good side. If awkward moments arise during the interview, it is perfectly acceptable to say you don’t know or to be polite and smile through it.

During your time in Thailand you will find that this is the natural and approved response to many situations: act kind and smile.

After the interviewer has asked their questions and it is your turn, show interest in the school, the students and ask many questions (without being overbearing). If salary has not been discussed and the interview is coming to an end then it is acceptable to ask, but wait until the very end.

Job interviews in Thailand are not daunting if you keep a good attitude, look sharp and are somewhat aware of Thai culture.

Work Permit Process

The process to obtaining a work permit in Thailand begins once you apply for a visa. If you decide on teaching in Thailand then you should try to come into the country with a non-immigrant B visa. This visa can only be issued outside of Thailand. Tourist visas are not eligible for conversion and would require you to leave the country in order to return with a non-immigrant B visa.

You can apply for a non-immigrant B visa at a Thai consulate or embassy. At the Thai consulate or embassy you will receive an application form and be asked to provide a letter from the school. This is difficult for those who want to look for work once they arrive in Thailand.

There are many different cases that I’ve heard of and it seems like rules are always being bent. Speak with the Thai consulate or embassy about your plan and see what they suggest.

If you do enter Thailand on a tourist visa because you were unable to obtain a non-immigrant B visa, then you should discuss this with the school once they have accepted you as a teacher. They will know how to find a way for you to work legally in Thailand.

Schools in Thailand tend to be helpful with the work permit process and often have the appropriate connections.

Your employing school will require documents such as:

  • Originals of education certificates/diplomas
  • Copies of education certificates/diplomas
  • Doctor’s certificate

The doctor’s certificate is given at a hospital or clinic and typically consists of standard blood tests and measuring heart rate.

Once you receive the work permit, the Immigration Bureau will issue a visa that allows you to teach. The visa is valid for one year, after which you must either apply for renewal, extension or leave the country.

Other Kinds of Work

So you’ve landed a teaching job and find that you have some spare hours in your week or would like to take on some extra activities. There are several jobs you can take on the side in Thailand, especially if you decide to make Bangkok your base.

Acting & Modeling

I have been an extra and a freelance model and know that it is possible for mixed kids, western and all types of people to do the same. There are many western actors working in Thailand, some of whom land major roles in soap operas and television commercials.

Most freelance actors/actresses/models in Thailand get a lot of extra work. Extra work does not pay as well as landing a lead role, but it can help you meet the right contacts and get your foot in the door.

On my days as an extra I earned around 2,000 baht ($70) per day, whereas landing a bigger gig can pay 9,000 baht ($300) or more per day.

There are many forums on Facebook and other social media sites that will help you know about available jobs and make contacts in the industry. Two of these groups include “Actors Association of Thailand” and “Thailand Extras, Talents, Models & Actors Community”.

It is a good idea to visit some agencies (a frequently updated list of agencies can be found on these forums) and get your snapshots taken there. Once the agencies have shown interest and have your snapshots, they will be able to find you some work.

Writing

There are many options for freelance writers in Thailand. Bangkok has plenty of newspaper and magazine companies that are always looking for interns or columnists. There are posts looking for writers in popular newspapers such as The Nation and The Bangkok Post as well as Craigslist Bangkok.

Sales Jobs

Advertising and Sales are also available to westerners in Thailand. Jobs that involve being a call center agent or selling advertising offer another way to make money during your time in Thailand. Advertising is not for everyone but if you have the skills for it then it can be a great way to make extra money.

Where to Live

If you are coming to Thailand with a third-party program then chances are that they will have accommodation arranged for you. For the length of your contract, these programs often offer housing that consists of simple facilities like a bedroom, bathroom, living area and kitchen.

For those traveling alone, it is possible to arrange accommodation before arriving in Thailand, though I believe it is best to have a look around at the options once you are actually in the country. Pictures never really show enough when it comes to accommodation.

It is important to find a place that you can call home while you are in Thailand. This is why I think it is best to view as many options as you can before making a decision. Most properties in Thailand tend to have basic amenities and a small balcony.

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It is best to find an apartment that it not too far from work or that is easily accessible with public transport. It is a good idea to know where you are teaching first and then look for apartments in the area, as this can save a lot of time commuting. There are many options available for accommodation for a wide range of prices.

Common Living Arrangements

Life is more enjoyable if it is not a struggle to get to and from work everyday. Bangkok can be very crowded, especially during its rush hours. Chiang Mai is similar in terms of busy rush hours.

Look for your accommodation after you have found employment. Teachers that live in Bangkok tend to live in the Samut Prakarn or Rangsit areas, which are suburbs of the city. Even though it is a little far from the main entertainment areas of Bangkok, such as Silom or Sukhumvit, it is often closer to many of the schools and has a variety of transportation options.

Chiang Mai is smaller and easier to get around than Bangkok. While it is still ideal to live near work, it will not be as difficult or timely to commute if you live further away. Accommodations near the universities in Chiang Mai tend to be cheaper than apartments in town because they cater to the university students. The city is full of serviced apartments for all budgets and tastes.

Types of Places

Most locals are comfortable living in studio apartments – many of which are extremely small at 20-30 sqm’s. Due to their income, it is common for a few Thai’s to live in one crammed apartment. It is not advisable to live in one of the cheaper apartment buildings in Thailand, which is often noticeable due to poor construction and upkeep, as well as tiny apartments. There can be all sorts of conflicts in these places that do not forgive the cost of the place. Electricity shortages during storms, noisy neighbors and poor maintenance are typical in these types of buildings.

It can make a world of a difference to live in an apartment building where rooms typically cost around 6,000 baht ($200) as opposed to 3,000 baht ($100).

I have lived in a single room apartment and it is no fun. You can pretty much do everything from the bed and there is no separate space to kick back, eat meals and so on. I’m not saying it can’t be done but it is not for everyone.

For around 4,500 baht ($150) per month you can have a standard Thai apartment that comes with a simple wardrobe, table and queen-sized bed. Sometimes they come with a fridge and a TV but that is not a given. I have witnessed those with an eye for interior decorating really spruce up one of these places. You will probably need to invest in some personal comforts like curtains and such if you want to call one of these apartments home. Bathrooms are typically small and simple.

The average range for accommodations is between 5,000 -8,000 baht ($160-250) a month. Though it does come down to the exact place, as I know some people who have found excellent accommodation at a cheaper price and others that pay a lot for a box.

If you can afford to spend a little bit more on accommodation, the best range is between 8,000-16,000 baht ($250-500) per month. For this price, it is possible to find rooms with a separate living area and you can have space to move around and invite friends over.

While it is still not in the luxury apartments category, it is an upgrade from the single room and often has better floors, curtains and furnishings. These apartments are often found in buildings that have a more professional lobby with receptionists and security guards. They also provide cleaning staff (that can be hired) and a restaurant that can serve food directly to your room.

Price Ranges

Prices for accommodation are largely based on the area. Prices differ depending on the region as well as metropolitan or rural locations. There are accommodations to suit all budget types in Thailand, since the minimum wage of the locals is less than you would be receiving.

It is possible to pay as little as 6,000 baht ($200) a month. Apartments also range in amenities. Some come with complimentary Wi-Fi, furniture and gym and pool access.

A studio apartment in a good area of Bangkok, such as Lad Phrao, costs around between 4,500-6,000 baht ($150-200) monthly. Apartments in Chiang Mai cost around the same price, even though general cost of living is cheaper in the north. Apartments in popular areas in the south cost around 6,000 baht ($200) per month and can go as low as 3,000 baht ($100) in rural areas.

Amenities, Utilities & Common Costs

Apartments in Thailand charge separately for water and electricity. The cost is tallied by the amount of units used. Make sure you are aware of the price per unit and to double-check it on your monthly bill. The first month or two may be difficult to know how much it is costing you but from then on you should be able to make smarter choices regarding the use of utilities.

The price of water per unit is typically around half a dollar. If you are just using water for showering two times a day and washing clothes here and there then you can expect to pay for 8-10 units per month.

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Electricity bills tend to be higher since using air- conditioning can greatly increase your monthly bill. Some tenants pay up to 4,300 baht ($140) extra per month just for using air-con regularly.

I only use air-con when it is very necessary, such as the hot season months, and only in the evening. I use a stand-alone fan during the day and this has always been enough – believe me, most people get use to it.

If your apartment comes with an in-room phone then you can expect to pay 6 baht (20 cents) for one local phone call. There is no reason for calling international numbers from your apartment phone since there are much cheaper options such as Internet shops.

Additional charges can include Cable TV packages and DSL Internet options. Some apartments offer an installation service for a small fee. Some apartments don’t offer this service and require you to visit the providers and arrange installation.

A 10 mbps Internet connection costs around 600 baht ($20) per month and cable TV is around 900 baht ($30).

Thailand has plenty of laundry services throughout its streets. You just take your load of laundry, have it weighed there, receive a quoted a price and are told when to pick it up. It typically costs between 30-60 baht ($1-2) for a kilo of laundry, which you get back in a day or two. Alternatively there are also coin Laundromats available, but there are no ironing options with these.

Mobile phone promotions are very cheap in Thailand. It is easy to buy a phone from a second hand shop and go to a mobile service provider, such as DTAC or AIS, to find a plan that is ideal for you.

Eating in Thailand

Thailand is pretty much synonymous with good food. The country lives off of delicious, affordable meals due to its abundance of fresh local produce. I have found that it is very difficult to go hungry in Thailand.

One of the first things you will notice when you arrive in the country is the large amount of street vendors everywhere. They are excellent for grabbing a quick bite to eat and sell foods varying from a huge selection of Thai dishes to noodle shops to meat on sticks. There is always something to eat whether you just need to fill your stomach or want to enjoy international cuisine.

The popular restaurants in Thailand are not always reflected by their décor. By Thai standards, it is much more important for the food to be tasty than how the restaurant actually looks. Many simple restaurants and street vendors cook up tasty food while ones that don’t often go out of business quite quickly.

Despite their exterior, even food vendors are quite hygienic. I have yet to have a problem with food quality from a huge selection of food vendors. Sure, there are stories of food poisoning here and there but that can happen anywhere – from a high-class restaurant to a bad batch of meat. In general, food in Thailand is quite clean and safe to eat.

Food stalls are the easiest and cheapest option when it comes to eating in Thailand. The food is sold off of a small cart parked along the roadside. Some street vendors have small sets of chairs and tables that allow you to eat on the spot, while others pack the food in Styrofoam boxes and food grade bags. Some stalls specialize in drinks and snacks. It costs between 30-60 baht ($1-2) for a meal from these vendors. Prices can be a little bit higher if it is in a popular location.

Another cheap and fast option is to eat at small restaurants. These small restaurants are open-air and open towards the street. The food is typically cooked at the entrance of the restaurant and there are several sets of tables and chairs. Meals cost around 30-60 baht ($1-3).

If you are looking for a little extra comfort then it is best to go to an air-conditioned restaurant or one with nicer scenery. Thailand has lots of garden and riverside restaurants that are lovely to sit in. These restaurants are typically used for group meals instead of solo dining.

The surroundings and air con tend to increase the meal price to 120-600 baht ($4-20). It is more common to share dishes in these restaurants (as opposed to single plate at food vendors/small restaurants) therefore the total tends to be higher.

Thai meals are typically comprised of snacks (hors d’oeuvres), dips, salads, curries, soups, single dishes and desserts.

Thai’s love food and love talking about it. It is common to hear “have you eaten yet?” as opposed to “how are you?” They love to give advice on their favorite places and are more than happy to point you in the right direction. I am always trying new places that I pass by or ones that are recommended by friends. Word of mouth is the best way to find hidden gems.

You cannot go wrong with simple yet tasty Thai food at street vendors or restaurants. For more high-end restaurants you can go to one of the many malls in Thailand, where they have branches of various food chains and higher quality foods to choose from.

Malls and department stores in Thailand typically feature a food court that offers a selection of several restaurants to choose from. Once your dish is finished, you choose a seat in a large area full of tables and chairs. At most of these places you leave your used dishes and utensils at the table for the cleaning staff to remove.

Guidebooks and online forums are ideal for searching for various types of food. My hunt for Indian food became a success after trying many of the suggested restaurants on online forums and finally finding my favorite “Al Masri” at Nana Soi 3/1 in Bangkok.

Bangkok has so many restaurants to choose from that I could not possibly list them all here and the same goes for Chiang Mai. For a country that loves food, it really is available everywhere.

Thai dishes come in such a wide variety of flavors that it is hard to get bored when it comes to eating local cuisine. Many dishes, especially those from street vendors and small restaurants, come with white rice and a fried egg.

The dishes range from stir-fried vegetables to meat to seafood to curry. If you like spicy food with a sour twist then I suggest trying Isaan (pronounced e-saan) food, which consists of somtum (papaya salad), nam tok (meat with a variety of herbs and spices), grilled chicken and more.

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Thailand has plenty of good vegetables to choose from, such as kale (called Ka-na in Thai), morning glory (Pak boong), bok choy, broccoli and spinach. These vegetables are very fresh in Thailand and dishes featuring these vegetables are typically tasty.

Thailand is big on pork. They also use a lot of chicken and seafood in their dishes, while beef is more upmarket and only used for certain dishes or high-class restaurants.

Noodle soup is a common meal in Thailand and comes in two main varieties: dry and wet. The wet noodle options are clear soup and dark soup. The dark soup is typically dark due to added pig’s blood, which might not sound appetizing but tastes delicious. The dry noodle option is similar to the wet option but has more of an intense flavor because it is in a light sauce instead of soup.

Whether you are vegetarian or pescetarian, there will be something for you to eat no matter where you go. Simply select dishes that only use ingredients you can eat, such as a vegetable dish with no meat for vegetarians and a curry seafood dish for pescetarians. Thai’s are very accommodating when it comes to asking for a special order, such as no meat. However, they are also use to making the same dishes all the time so sometimes their routine causes them to make mistakes.

I find it best to explain to them once or twice that you do not want a certain ingredient and, if you can, watch the cook prepare it and simply say “no” when they are about to chuck in the ingredient you don’t want. Otherwise you may end up having to pick out the pieces you don’t like.

Western Fixes

Lucky for us, Thai people love western food. There are many options when it comes to international cuisine ranging from pub food to pizza to Tex-Mex to 5-star Italian restaurants.

The fast food options were noticeably the first major introduction to western food in Thailand. Since then, many restaurants have hired international chefs or adopted western styles of cooking in order to produce tastes that are not found in Thai cooking.

The easiest way to find foreign food restaurants is to go to the areas where there are many expats or tourists. However, in larger cities like Bangkok or Chiang Mai, there are plenty of options for international cuisine scattered everywhere. It is not difficult to find a home- style meal. Foreign food restaurants cost a little more than your average Thai restaurant, with meals ranging from 250-1000 baht ($8-$30) per person.

Getting Around

Public Transportation in Thailand

Many of those living in Thailand rely on public transportation to get around. Bangkok has a larger selection of transportation options than Chiang Mai due to its size and amount of traffic. The most popular modes of transportation in Bangkok are the BTS, MRT and ARL systems, buses and taxis.

BTS

The BTS Skytrain is an excellent way to move around the downtown area since it stops at many major destinations. The Skytrain has two lines, Sukhumvit and Silom. The Sukhumvit line moves along Sukhumvit Road, Siam Square, Phahonyothin and finishes at Mo Chit. The Silom line begins in Thonburi, passes Saphan Takin, Silom and terminates at National Stadium. The lines meet at Siam and are interchangeable at this location.

A single Skytrain journey costs between 15-45 baht ($0.50-1.50). Most residents or long-term visitors to Bangkok buy a rechargeable value card that can be topped up at the ticketing counter. There are a variety of promotions to choose from at any of the Skytrain’s ticketing counters. You should be able to get around the city with BTS/MRT/ARL by using 1,000 baht ($30) a month.

MRT

The MRT runs underground and stops at many places that the BTS does not. It can be useful to get to know the BTS and MRT routes to map out the best route to your destination. Several BTS and MRT stations are connected via footbridge.

ARL

The ARL is an express line that is used to get into the city from the airport and vice versa. The City Line route stops at many unique stations and is often used to reach the city center by those living in the eastern part of Bangkok.

Taxis

Taxis are available throughout Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Taxis in Bangkok can practically be found anywhere just by waiting along the sidewalks and flagging one down. In Chiang Mai, taxis are only available at certain places such as the airport or various shopping malls like Airport Plaza.

Taxis in Bangkok are supposed to use the meter so make sure your taxi turns it on when you get in. It is often better to use another taxi if they refuse to turn on the meter since it can end up costing you a lot more. The starting price of a taxi in Bangkok is 35 baht ($1.20) and each kilometer after that is 5 baht ($0.20). An hour of waiting in traffic costs around 95 baht ($3).

Chiang Mai taxis do not typically use the meter and instead agree on a fixed price before departure.

Motorcycle Taxis

Motorcycle taxis are one of the most common modes of public transportation for short distances in Bangkok. Many people living in Bangkok rely on motorcycle taxis on a daily basis, whether it is just to move them from one end of a street to another or for slightly longer distances during hectic rush hours.

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Make sure to agree on a price beforehand. Motorcycle taxis can drive quite crazily because they have to squeeze through cars in order to make it through traffic. I am not a fan of the motorcycle taxi and find the whole experience quite scary. Motorcycle taxis are much less common in Chiang Mai and are typically only available in village areas to take people to and from main roads.

Boat

In Bangkok it is possible to get around by boat using the Chao Phraya Express. It is a very cheap option as well as a popular attraction for tourists. The boat travels along the large Chao Phraya River and stops along many piers that are close to popular areas.

The Saen Saep Express Boat caters to the Saen Saep Canal and is frequently used by locals to get to work. Boats are another option to avoid the heavy traffic during Bangkok’s rush hours.

Bus

Buses are a complicated way of getting around the city unless you really understand the routes and bus numbers. Locals use buses because they are the cheapest option for getting around but even they have difficulties understanding the large selection of bus numbers and changes. Most buses do not have air-con and tend to be quite overly crowded during times of heavy traffic.

Song Taews

Song taews are converted pick up trucks with two rows of seats. They are more frequently used in Chiang Mai and come in a variety of colors depending on the zone. The city area song taews are red, while other zones include yellow, blue and white. Locals use song taews to get to their destination and many tourists rely on song taews throughout their entire stay.

It costs $0.50 for a short trip. Make sure to ask the driver before getting into the vehicle in order to avoid confrontation later on if you are unsure of the cost. Bangkok also has song taews but they tend to stay in residential areas instead of providing cross-city transport.

Riding Yourself: Scooters

Scooters are one of the most popular ways of getting around Chiang Mai. Many tourists come to Chiang Mai and rent their own motorcycle instead of dealing with public transport.

Rental operators tend to be quite lenient when it comes to having an actual bike license and, unfortunately, this is evident in the way that many people ride around town. It is safer to use public transport if you are not a confident bike rider.

If you do rent a motorcycle, remember that the law states that riders must wear a helmet. Even if you see locals riding around without helmets and are tempted to, it is against the law and “surprise” checkpoints happen all the time. The police will pull you over if you do not have a helmet and charge a fine.

Rental scooters in Chiang Mai can be found throughout the city center area. The most famous rental shops include POP Rental and Mr. Beer. It is best to take public transportation to Thapae Gate and walk around the area to select the bike shops that suits you.

There are options of daily and monthly rates, with monthly rates being significantly cheaper. It can cost as little as $10 per day to rent an older scooter such as a several year old 100-125cc bike. Bigger and newer bikes tend to cost quite a bit more.

Driving Yourself: Cars

Renting a car is a less common choice for getting around Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Even though there are good roads in the cities, the actual driving is quite stressful due to driver’s inabilities and traffic jams. Signs throughout Bangkok are very difficult to navigate and most people rely on public transportation instead.

If you do want to drive in Bangkok, you must constantly watch out for erratic lane changes, lack of signal indication and crazy motorcyclists who appear out of nowhere. It is best to park at car parks or in side streets that allow parking. It is common for your car to get blocked in by two or three lanes of other parked cars if you park along busy roads.

Chiang Mai is easier to navigate by car than Bangkok but the same rules of being cautious apply. Most Thai drivers do not give much regard to road rules and drive how they want. If you do choose to drive in Chiang Mai then it is best to drive cautiously and not use the horn or get noticeably upset at other drivers. It is quite common to hear how personally Thai drivers take it when they are being told off and these situations often end in confrontation.

North Wheels is a reputable source to hire from if you are renting a car in Chiang Mai. They can meet you with the car directly at the airport or your accommodation for no additional cost. More information can be found at www.northwheels.com

It is a requirement for drivers to have a driving license so make sure you have an international driving permit in case the police pull you over.

Entertainment

There are many options for entertainment in Thailand. Most people who live in Thailand know how to have a good time regardless of the amount of money they make.

Bars & Clubs

Bars in the busier areas of Bangkok and Chiang Mai cost more than hole-in-the-wall bars in quieter areas. A cocktail in a bar costs around 200 baht ($3) and a beer costs about 80 baht ($2.5) depending on the brand. Cheaper beers options are locally brewed beers such as Singha, Leo and Chang, which cost around $1 from a convenient store and double at a bar.

There are plenty of roadside bars throughout Thailand that are the typical watering hole for locals. In these bars you will find variations similar to moonshine that cost next to nothing and pack quite a punch. The more upmarket bars reflect the ambience in their price.

Thailand has a mix of international standard and local clubs. Bangkok has many famous clubs such as the clubs found along RCA. These clubs tend to have an entrance fee of around 300-500 baht ($10-15) that typically comes with two or three “complimentary” drinks. Once you are inside the club, beers cost around 150-200 baht ($5-6) and mixed drinks cost around 200 ($6). It is quite common to order a bottle of alcohol inside a club in Thailand.

The cost depends on the quality of the alcohol. Black label is normally the cheapest option and the prices rise from there. There are often “mixers deals” where you receive a set amount of mixers like soda, coke and ice for a fraction of the cost.

Clubs in Chiang Mai tend to have cheaper promotions than Bangkok. Many clubs in Chiang Mai do not charge an entrance fee is you arrive before midnight. After midnight it is normal for foreigners to be charged 300 baht ($10) for entry with a complimentary drink or a discount coupon on a bottle.

If you are big on going out and drinking it is reasonable to predict a minimum of $50 per time you go out partying and drinking. It can definitely be done for less but this is a safe average to go on.

Events

Events at clubs, such as famous DJS or musical acts, typically require a pre-booked ticket that can cost as little as 500 baht ($15) or as much as 3,000 baht ($100). While it is best to secure tickets beforehand, touts often sell tickets outside of the venue on the day of the event.

Concerts and events are one of the more expensive entertainment options in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. The average cost of a ticket to a special concert or event is 3000 baht ($100) for the best seating or access and can be as little as 1500 baht ($50) for average seating or access.

Restaurants

If you are eating street food three times a day then it is possible to live off of 150 baht ($5) for food each day. Small restaurants or backpacker type restaurants can end up costing around 300-400 baht ($10-12) for three meals a day. Proper dining experiences cost around a minimum of 300 baht ($10) per visit. Water is often free in the cheaper restaurants with self-service ice and cups available. A bottle of water in a small restaurant costs 10 baht (less than half a dollar) while fancier restaurants tend to triple the price.

Movies

Movie theatres in Thailand are well built and offer a sense of luxury. There are a variety of seating options from regular seats to lazyboy-esque seats that cost a little more. The average price of watching a movie in theatre in Thailand is between 120-180 baht ($4-6). Bangkok has several IMAX theatres that cost between 300-500 baht ($10-$15).

Free Activities

Activities in Thailand do not always have to put a dent in your wallet. Make the most of your time in Thailand since you are in a new country full of culture and attractions. There are plenty of activities and sights to see that cost nothing.

Temples

Thailand is absolutely mad about temples. Bangkok and Chiang Mai are full of unique and amazing temples that are open to the public.

The most popular temples, known as “wats”, in Bangkok are Wat Patum Wanaran, Wat Mangkorn Kamalawat and Wat Indraviharn. Wat Patum Wanaran sits in the heart of Bangkok between Central World Shopping Mall and Paragon in Siam area. Wat Mangkorn Kamalawat is in in Bangkok’s Chinatown while Wat Inndraviharn is found in Dusit.

The most famous temples in Chiang Mai include Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phra Singh, Wat Jed Yod, Wat Umong and Wat Chiang Man.

Nature

Even though Bangkok is a busy city there are still some secluded nature areas that are worth visiting. Lumphini Park is one of Bangkok’s most recognized public parks. The park is also home to a selection of unique (and free) activities depending on the time of day. In the morning Lumphini hosts Tai Chi practice and fan dancing. Aerobic classes are free to join at six p.m. every day.

Hiking is a popular activity in Chiang Mai with plenty of spots to choose from. There are maps available throughout town and on the Internet (such as: http:// www.everytrail.com/browse.php? activity_id=5&country=thailand&state=Chiang+Mai) that will help you pick the best and most beautiful routes.

Markets

Thai markets are worth visiting during your stay. The busy, colorful outdoor markets of Thailand present some of the countries best selections of vegetables, produce, products and offer an interesting look into local life.

The most famous markets in Bangkok are Khlong Toey and Thewet Market. Chatuchak market is another famous market that opens on the weekends but is more about fashion and street performances. There are plenty of interesting shops and acts to see.

Chiang Mai’s Sunday Walking Street is a famous market that starts in the afternoon along Ratchadamnoen Street all the way up to Wat Phra Singh. The market features many local handicrafts, foods, musical acts and more. The famous Wararot Market is situated by the Ping River and is an old-fashioned venue with typical items for everyday life, flowers and produce.

Banking & Foreign Remittance

Banks in Thailand

It is possible to open a bank account with a Thai bank. Most banks in Thailand require a work permit in order to open a bank account while some are happy to accommodate you with a bank account if you hold a non- immigrant visa. The initial fee for Thai banks is a deposit of 100 baht ($3) with an additional 150 baht ($5) for an ATM card. You will also need to put down a minimum deposit of 500 baht ($16). You can sign up for a bank account at the head office or larger branches.

The documents you need to bring to a bank to open an account are:

  • Personal identification (passport)
  • Work Permit
  • Letter from your employer

The most famous commercial banks in Thailand are Siam Commercial Bank, Bangkok Bank, Kasikorn Bank and Bank of Ayudhya. Banks are available for service throughout the weekdays and typically open at 8:30 and close at 15:30. Banks in malls or department stores often stay open during the weekend as well. Thai banks are closed on public holidays.

The types of bank accounts available in Thailand include: current account, business bank account, savings account (in Thai currency) and deposit account (in foreign currency). Current accounts are best for typical day-to-day banking services. Those who want to store their money safely and potentially earn small amounts of interest typically use savings accounts. The highest rate of interest is available through deposit accounts.

While there aren’t any monthly fees, most banks do have a small annual fee. Thai interest rates tend to be low and there are additional charges for services such as money transfers.

Most schools pay their teachers directly by depositing the amount into your bank account at the end of each month (or on your agreed payday).

Keep in mind that the branch that you choose to open your account at is the one you will have to visit in order to deal with any problems or modifications, such as losing your card or changing information.

Internet banking is possible with most Thai banks. The banks with the best reputation for Internet banking are Kasikorn Bank and Bangkok Bank. You just need to tell the staff that you require Internet banking and they will give you the necessary forms to fill out.

ATMs

ATMs are available at every branch and are accessible most of the time. They can also be found throughout major cities. It is quite common to find an ATM next to every 7-11 store and in front of shopping malls and department stores.

If you do withdraw from your ATM card using another bank’s machine then the cost is typically 20 baht ($0.60) per withdraw. It can be costly to use debit or credit cards from other countries with local ATM machines. ATM instructions can be found in both Thai and English. The only ATM that does not charge withdraw fees are Aeon ATMs.

Banks for English Speakers

It is best to sign up with a bank that is located in a popular tourist area since they tend to have more experience with westerners and are better at helping out.

A convenient branch to visit for Bangkok Bank is situated next to the Emporium shopping center, also known as Sukhumvit 24. The best bank branches to open an account in Chiang Mai are in Central Airport Plaza or Central Kad Suan Kaew. Central Airport Plaza has all the major banks while Central Kad Suan Kaew has Bangkok Bank and Siam Commercial Bank.

How Foreign Remittance Works

It is easy to transfer money to Thai bank accounts by using the SWIFT code number and bank’s address. It is more difficult to transfer funds out of Thailand of amounts of $50,000 or more since banks require proof of earning and paid taxes. All banks comply with similar policies for transferring money out of Thailand.

Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) states:

“We are pleased to provide International Fund Transfer service via SCB Easy Net only for the following purposes.” After which the purpose “Remittance for Savings (for foreigner only)” is clearly indicated.

If you register for SCB Easy Net or similar services at other banks then it is easy to send smaller amounts (less than $50,000) back to the US. Similar services at other banks include Kasikorn Bank’s International Funds Transfer via K-Cyber Banking and Transfer Funds Overseas via Bualang iBanking (Bangkok). Bangkok Bank has been known to have the lowest fees for international outgoing transfer.

Another option aside from using your bank is to use Western Union’s Money Transfer Service. The following information is required to send funds overseas:

  • Recipient’s account name, number and address
  • Recipient’s bank name and address
  • SWIFT address of the bank (if there is one)
  • Documents stating the source of the funds

Fees can either be charged solely to the sender or split between the sender and beneficiary. Fees for transferring funds overseas and other information can be found on Western Union’s website (http:// www.westernunion.co.th/).

Broader Saving Tips

Thailand is already known for being a cheap place to live but there are still ways that you can save some change. If every little bit counts then the following tips can help you save some extra money during your stay in Thailand.

Learn to Bargain

You can bargain for a lot of things in Thailand, such as transportation and various services. While you wouldn’t bargain at a restaurant or shop with fixed prices, it is acceptable to try and bargain at standalone stalls. Snacks, food and items with barcode prices are items that you do not bargain on, whereas items in shops (other than department stores) are definitely acceptable.

There is no harm in asking for a cheaper price than the initial price but do not bargain over ridiculously small amounts. A good trick to know when it comes to bargaining is to first state an amount that is very low for the product. From there it is easier to agree on a price that is closer to halfway than not at all.

Shop Locally

Markets in Thailand are a great place to buy clothes and products that you need. It is much cheaper to buy them at these locations than at a department store. Those living in Bangkok can go to Pratunam Market, which is situated in the downtown area of the city. Those living in Chiang Mai should try the University Market and individuals shops in shopping malls instead of brand name stores. You can buy pants and shirts for just a few dollars.

Speak (some of) the Language

You do not need to know Thai like a local but it helps to know the basics like simple phrases and ways to make the locals laugh. If you can be pleasant to the seller and speak a little bit of Thai then they are likely to offer you a Thai price instead of a marked up one.

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Say No to Western Food

Western food is so much more expensive than a Thai meal. It is typically three times more than the price of a dish at a local restaurant and is a large reason that locals are able to survive on their small salaries.

Cook for Yourself

Rice is very cheap in Thailand so you can invest in a rice cooker and make plenty of dishes to accompany it. It is cheap and easy to buy ingredients regardless of where you live and can really help save money by the end of the month.

Don’t Drink (So Much)

Anyone that drinks alcohol on a daily basis knows how much it can add up to. Even though beers and alcohol might seem cheap in Thailand, they do add up as well and can easily double your monthly expenses. If you do choose to drink then it is cheaper to drink whiskey than beer. This is especially true for going to bars or clubbing, since a bottle of whiskey and mixers will be much less than buying individual beers or spirits.

Use Cheap Transport

It can be more enjoyable to use a taxi to get around but it really adds up. Instead, take the train systems or buses to get around. If you have time for a visit to other provinces (such as Bangkok to Chiang Mai) then it is best to take a train instead of flying or taking a taxi.

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