Thailand, the “Land of Smiles,” is a great destination for ESL teachers who want to teach abroad and experience a country that’s rich in history, famous for its culinary arts, and replete with vacation destinations. Most ESL teaching positions here are in Bangkok, a beautiful and busy metropolis famous for its floating markets, spectacular sights, and delicious food. On days off, ESL teachers can tour Thailand’s world-renowned landscapes like the evergreen limestone islands of Ko Tao and the white sand beaches of Kho Phi Phi Don.
Here you will find out what it is like living in Thailand, from housing, to transportation, to food, etiquette, and culture.
Living in Thailand as an ESL Teacher
Housing in Thailand varies greatly between simplistic village dwellings and downtown luxury condominiums and houses. They are normally a single room with a bathroom, AC, and a bed, wardrobe and chair. The AC and water heater (if included) are usually area units that can be turned on and off as needed. As electricity charges can be quite expensive, ensure all units are turned off when leaving the apartment to avoid a large bill.
Some landlords require three months’ (or more) rent in advance. A better price can often be negotiated with a full year’s payment up front. As in America, landlords vary in quality, with some being very attentive and others responding slowly to requests. If possible, secure a reference from a previous tenant to ensure that your landlord will be competent enough to take care of your housing needs.
Schools sometimes provide or assist in securing accommodation. Finding an apartment near the school will help you avoid heavy traffic in large urban centers.
Health Care Benefits When Teaching English in Thailand
Most schools include medical coverage in their contracts following a three-month probationary period. During the first three months in country, some schools may ask for an employee to obtain their own insurance or may assist in covering it through one of the various organizations such as BUPA or AIA.
Health care in Thailand is inexpensive and normally of high quality. ESL teachers can also choose to obtain insurance through a company in their home country before going abroad. This is normally a good idea no matter where you travel.
It would be prudent to bring a year’s supply of any medication for which you would not be comfortable using a substitute, as brands will often vary from North American pharmaceuticals.
Communication in Thailand
With Thailand’s technological advances in communication, you will find communicating within the country and outside of it relatively easy and inexpensive. If you do not have Internet access at your accommodations, there are options for accessing the internet and making phone calls elsewhere:
- Purchase a cell phone with a SIM card
- Purchase calling cards
- Visit an Internet café
- As many schools now have high-speed Internet, Skype is a great option to call loved ones back home.
Transportation in Thailand
There are various options of transportation in Thailand, but understanding which is most efficient and safest to get to your destination is crucial. Consider the following for personal travel or getting to work:
The three-wheel taxi known as the Tuk Tuk, is slowly being replaced with the fuel efficient and air-conditioned automobiles. Most taxis are metered and as such, fares do not need to be negotiated. Choose a metered taxi unless traveling a long distance. Fares are very inexpensive, making taxis a great way to get around a city. See below for tips when traveling by taxi:
- Hail a taxi instead of entering one that approaches you.
- Be alert and appear confident. You are most vulnerable when you appear to be an unaware tourist.
- Carry a map and have your destination written in Thai on a piece of paper in case the taxi driver cannot speak English.
- Note the name of the company, name and ID of the driver for security purposes.
- Give a small tip at the end of each ride.
Taxis are easily identified as the drivers are clad in orange or red vests. The motorcycle taxi is a great option for beating the traffic, although it does carry risks. Some motorcycle taxis can be aggressive and exacerbate the normal risks identified with motorcycle transportation. When riding a motorcycle taxi, keep your knees in tight and wear a helmet. You will be fined you are caught without a helmet so hail a taxi with an extra one.
Thailand’s railway stretches to the farthest corners of the kingdom and its borders with Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia. Five main lines can transport you comfortably from Bangkok to destinations throughout Thailand, however, the only train options in and out of Thailand currently are through Malaysia, and serve as a transfer point to Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
The Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand (MRTA), also referred to as Bangkok Metro, has an approximate 240,000 daily ridership and costs between 16-40 Baht. The trains run from 6am through to midnight and trains arrive every 5-7 minutes making this an effective way to travel.
The Skytrain has reduced commute time in Bangkok significantly for many. It reaches most places in Bangkok and while more expensive than a taxi, is a welcome alternative to sitting in heavy traffic. There are two lines: Silom runs West to South and the Sukhumvit runs North to East converging at Siam station, Sala Daen and Asok stations. While fares vary in price, an average trip costs 15-25 Baht.
Etiquette in Thailand
Like most foreign countries with their own customs and traditions, understanding their culture is the easiest way to make friends, and show locals respect. Consider the following etiquette when interacting with locals:
- The “wai” (palms of the hands together in a prayer-like fashion) along with a slight bow, is a common greeting.
- Monks are highly respected and receive preferential treatment, such as giving them the seat close to the door on buses. Avoid touching or sitting next to a monk.
- The left hand is considered unclean. Use your right hand to give or receive a gift, pass food, or to shake hands.
- Shoes should be removed before entering a home unless otherwise directed.
- Modest clothing is advised for men and women. Shorts are often deemed inappropriate for adults.
- Affection between members of the same sex is very common and not to be interpreted as sexual preference.
Traditional dining in Thai restaurants is somewhat communal in nature. Generally, a group would order their selections as shared dishes. While the younger generation is adopting many western practices, it’s helpful to keep the backdrop of traditional culture in mind. Consider the following customs:
- Avoid blowing one’s nose or licking fingers when eating.
- Lingering over the meal and enjoying the conversation suggests your acceptance of the culture, and is a compliment to the host and others present.
- Typically, the wealthiest person at the meal covers the cost. A polite offer to contribute is acceptable but should not be insisted upon as it can cause a loss of face.
- Take small portions so that there is enough to go around.
- It is polite to wait for the host to invite the guests to eat.
- Do not leave chopsticks in your bowl as it symbolizes death.
Authentic Thai cuisine generally includes a balance of spicy, sour, sweet, salty and bitter within each meal. Similar to the French, Thais place a strong emphasis on quality and detail, taking small portions and making a meal linger through the enjoyment of conversation and community.
Rice and noodles are staples in Thailand, and are served at virtually every meal. Pad Thai is one of the most common noodle dishes, having become very popular in the West. Purchasing a meal from a street vendor is extremely inexpensive and usually delicious. Exercise caution and avoid meat dishes in extremely hot weather and choose vendors using a cooling device of some sort.
Remember: Tap water is not potable and should not be consumed. Purchasing bottled water is very inexpensive and accessible.
Some of the most popular Thai dishes foreigners choose include:
- Pad Thai (fried noodles)
- Kaeng Khiao Wan Kai (green curry with chicken)
- Phat Kaphrao (fried meat with sweet basil)
- Tom Yam Kung (spicy shrimp soup)
- Phat Siew (wide rice noodles with broccoli and meat)
Climate in Thailand
Three seasons dictate the weather of Thailand: hot, wet, and cool. Consider taking attire to match each of these seasons. There is some variety in temperature, depending upon the location, with temperatures in the hills being wetter and cooler than in other parts of the country.
- Hot Season: Typically lasting from mid-March through late May, daytime temperatures reach up to 104° Fahrenheit with high humidity.
- Wet Season: Monsoon rains kick off the rainy season in late May or early June. The season generally lasts until October, though full days of rain are rare. Temperatures average around 89° Fahrenheit.
- Cool Season: Beginning in early November and lasting through February or March, the cool season brings with it temperatures averaging around 82° Fahrenheit.
How to Get a Job Teaching Abroad
Available exclusively to Oxford Seminars TESOL/TESL/TEFL Certification graduates at no additional cost, our Job Placement Service provides assistance with finding teaching jobs at ESL schools in Thailand and around the world. We have formed partnerships with language schools worldwide that are searching for certified ESL teachers. Our Job Placement Advisors provide timely job placement assistance to help make your experiences abroad as rewarding as possible.