Living in Thailand
Thailand has long been the most popular destination for ESL teachers looking to come abroad for the first time. Thailand has a large population (around 60 million) and is richer than its neighbors, which means that it can offer salaries large enough to entice foreigners to come teach. Perhaps more importantly, Thailand has perhaps the most teacher placement agencies which can help people find a job and get set up in the country.
Thailand is more modern than its neighbors Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar, which can make it appealing for people looking to come abroad for the first time. However, there is a large supply of teachers in the country already and this has somewhat driven down wages in comparison with the cost of living. It’s a great place to live for sure, but don’t be too quick to make it your default first choice.
Thai is a challenging language for westerners, as it is a tonal language that uses a unique script. The script has 44 consonants and 15 vowel symbols, which can combine into 28 different vowel sounds. While this can at first seem quite daunting, it’s not quite so bad. In fact, one advantage of written Thai is that each character is pronounced the same way every time you see it, so you’ll always be able to tell how a word is pronounced when you read it. (On the other hand, consider that English words like tough, though, cough are pronounced differently even though they share the “ough” letter combination.)
Spoken Thai uses five different tones. Tones impact the meaning of the word, unlike in English where tone is used to convey the speaker’s feelings. Thus, the syllable “ma” could mean “to come,” “horse,” or “dog” depending on the tone used. This sounds difficult, but usually you can determine meaning from the context even if you’re not sure about the exact tone that was used.
The tone is determined from the written form of the word and follows a few rules. It’s often challenging for foreigners to produce the different tones, and a bit more challenging to hear them.
Eating in Thailand
Thai cuisine is one of the most famous of Southeast Asia, and rightly so. You’ll have loads of choices of curries, stir fries and salads, and you can eat from fancy restaurants to small shops and street stalls. Just like in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, you’ll be able to find cheap street food for around $1 per plate.
Familiar western food is easier to find in Thailand than in neighboring countries as a variety of food chains have entered the country. You can easily find Pizza Hut, Subway, McDonalds, KFC, Starbucks and other familiar chains. The only difference is that while McDonalds may be a budget option in western countries, it’s in the mid-range of restaurants in Thailand. For cheap eats, go to local food shops.
Shopping for food is also easy in Thailand. Most medium sized cities will have a large supermarket like Tesco Lotus or Big C, which are nearly identical to the large supermarkets you’ll find in your own country. You’ll find local markets as well, but not as easily as in other countries.
Larger cities like Bangkok and Chiang Mai have happening social scenes, with frequent mixers, parties, art gallery events, music performances and numerous other events. There’s less of an income divide between foreigners and Thais, so it’s easier for them to hang out together (somewhat unlike Cambodia, where foreigners tend to have significantly higher incomes than locals).
Compared with Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, you’ll have the easiest time finding modern gyms, bars and night clubs in Thailand (at least in bigger cities). Bangkok is perhaps the most international city in Southeast Asia, with numerous NGOs and companies headquartered there. It can thus be a good place to network and get to know interesting people from around the world.
Bangkok has a good transportation network including a metro line, a skytrain, an extensive bus system, and cheap and numerous car taxis. It’s one of the few cities in Southeast Asia where it’s feasible to live without having your own bicycle or motorbike.
Outside of Bangkok, though, few cities have either a bus network or car taxis. Most have quite a lot of tuk-tuks and motorbike taxis, though. You’ll likely need a bicycle or motorbike if you want to get around in Chiang Mai, Phuket, Korat and other cities in the country.
Teaching in Thailand
Check out Ajarn.com to get a good overview of the teaching work available in Thailand. The site tends to focus on teaching work in Bangkok, but you can find postings for work all around the country. Again, remember that the majority of teaching jobs don’t get posted on websites at all, and you’ll have better luck by sending out emails to schools and stopping by to drop off your resume once you’re in the country.
As mentioned above, many teaching jobs in Thailand are filled through teacher placement agencies. These agencies recruit within Thailand but also recruit directly from abroad and through teacher training companies. These agencies will have the largest selection of jobs available, but salaries will likely be a bit lower as the agency will take a cut of your salary as the fee for their service.
One reason there are so many teaching jobs available in Thailand is that the government gives public schools funding to hire foreigners to teach English. This means that there are jobs in lots of medium-sized and even smaller cities around the country. There are also loads of universities and private language centers around the country, so there’s certainly a lot of work available. However, with a large supply of teachers the wages aren’t quite as high as in other countries in the region when you consider the cost of living in the country.