You’ve decided to teach English in Thailand and are knee-deep in your preparations for your job abroad. Having just returned from Bangkok, I’m here to deliver a very important message: It’s as badass as it sounds. Seriously. These are the things to know in Bangkok before you travel there.
Since everyone loves a few inside tips before jumping into something so new and exciting, I’m here to share my best advice for future ESL teachers in Thailand. Have a blast for me!
Here are the seven things to know about Bangkok before you travel there to teach –
1. Glorious food
Purveyors of divine cuisine while ballin’ on a budget—REJOICE! The food in Thailand is crazy cheap. And delicious. And spicy and strange and addicting and one of the funnest parts about living and teaching in Thailand. In rural smaller towns, you can get a beef noodle for $1.50 and a coke for 50c. Huzzah!
- Allergic to nuts, sugar, or chiles? All food is accompanied by these condiments, so if you are allergic, make sure to mention that.
- Be careful with the fish sauce! It is super super hot! I had it on the first day and couldn’t eat for three days. And I have a very strong stomach.
- Take into account that anything called “spicy” will be not edible for you for at least the first week, but, as with everything… you get used to it!
- Take advantage of happy hour. Thailand’s many happy hours have half-priced drinks and 2-for-1 specials.
Speaking of, we <3 Chang. It’s the best beer. Drink up!
2. The weather is hot. Really, hot.
It is hot in the morning. In the afternoon. At night. It is hot all the time. It is just hot! How do we recommend you stay cool?
- Pack sweat-wicking and quick dry clothes.
- Procure a plug-in fan in your first few weeks abroad.
- Bring peppermint oil; it’s your own personal AC system!
- Coconut sorbet. On repeat.
3. How to get around
The traffic is crazy! But it’s all part of the hustle and bustle of a rapidly developing Southeast Asian powerhouse. It’s quite amazing to see how so many people can move around the city centre. Lucky for you, there are plenty of ways to get around:
- On foot! Nothing moves a city from “strange” to “familiar” like exploring with your own two feet
- Tuk Tuk
- The metro/Skytrain (cheapest and fastest way around)
- Motorbike Taxi
- Download Grab—it’s the Uber of Southeast Asia.
- Rent a moped/scooter (yes, you’re badass enough for this!)
4. Relying on English
Don’t expect people to speak English (like in other countries)—learn a few Thai phrases before you go! Especially for ESL teachers who hope to venture outside of the capital on the weekends, we highly recommend investing in a Thai phrasebook or downloading a couple of apps to help you in a pinch.
Don’t freak out if you need to use your English though; it’s okay! Thai people are super friendly and will try to help you anyway.
5. The energy is astounding
Thailand is ALWAYS buzzing. There are giant shops everywhere, huge shopping malls far in advance of anything in Europe, market stalls selling everything, food stalls, people driving, and walking everywhere and this goes on for many many hours. This place makes you feel alive. 24/7!!!
6. Handy apps you should download
Arm yourself—and especially your smartphone—with a couple of handy tools for your stint teaching in Bangkok. Some favourites of mine and other past interns include…
- Line: Thailand’s version of Whatsapp
- Wongnai and Eatigo: Food delivery
- BK Now: Current events happening around town
- Nostra Map:
- Thai language translator: Find one that works for you
7. The do’s & don’ts of working in a Thai school
- Dress modestly.
Teachers are highly respected in Thailand. After Royalty and Monks, English teachers are third in the Thai hierarchy system.
- Use the wai.
The ‘wai’ is a sign of respect, and consists of a slight bow, with the palms pressed together in a prayer-like fashion. It is used to greet people, bid farewell, apologise, give thanks, and in a whole host of other social situations. If somebody wai’s you, you should return the gesture. If you see someone in your school who is older or holds a more senior position than you, you should wai them first (You don’t have to wai when paying for something in 7/11).
P.S. While it is almost impossible to cross the road in Thailand if you can manage it, we recommend you wai at every car that passes mid-crossing!
- Attend the Flag Ceremony in the morning Every morning at 8 am, the Thai National Anthem is played. Most schools will hold a small flag-raising ceremony at that time on some days of the week. You must attend this ceremony unless specifically told that you do not have to.
- Remove your shoes.
It is customary to remove your shoes before entering a home, as well as some offices and shops. A helpful hint is that if there are piles of shoes outside a doorway, you should also remove yours. Just be observant and do as the locals do!
- Be patient.
Practicing patience will prove critical to your success as an ESL teacher in Bangkok. 1) Practice patience with the culture—the Thai way of life can be much slower than the quicker pace that most Westerners are used to. There is nothing that you can do to change this, so practice restraint and accept the differences. 2) Practice patience with your coworkers—the road works both ways. Your style is different than theirs, and theirs, yours. Communication will be key to cultivating rich, productive co-facilitator relationships. 3) Practice patience with yourself—it’s a LOT to move abroad and start an entirely new job. You’re going to make some mistakes you’re going to have off days, you’re going to miss home terribly and consider packing it up and calling it quits. But stick it out. If you have self-love and patience, you’ll grow more than you’ve ever known! Don’ts
- Get angry.
- Thais rarely show anger or extreme emotions in public. If you do either, you will often be considered as being slightly unhinged. Although you may need to shout in a classroom to be heard and make students quiet, do so in a controlled way. Do not become angry in the classroom, no matter what happens. If you lose your temper, students will probably laugh at you, which will make you feel even worse.
- Touch anyone’s head.
- A person’s head is considered the most spiritual part of their body, and to touch someone on the head can be very disrespectful.
- Ride a motorbike unless you know what you are doing…
- You might have a longer commute than you’d like to get to school, but motorbikes shouldn’t be everyone’s go-to solution. I would say do not ride a motorbike unless you have a license to do so, but so many people, myself included, hire motorbikes for convenience. With a high death toll on the roads, and uncountable accidents involving motorbikes, do not be tempted to think that riding a motorbike is easy. The rules of the road and road conditions are certainly different to in your home country. Always wear a helmet and be aware while driving—no snapping the sunset right now!
- Thirsty for more Thai culture and insider tips? Sign up for our free 6-day in-depth tour for Thai-bound teachers. Join today’s tour!
- Teaching in Thailand is an experience of a lifetime
- Have YOU taught abroad in Thailand? Share your best ideas and details with future teachers in the comments!