What is it like teaching English in Thailand?
“I fall in love with the Asian culture more and more every time I visit this amazing side of the world. Thai people are so gentle and are always willing to give you a helping hand. In the major city of Bangkok, home to 8.28 million people (where it’s all hustle and bustle), teaching in Thailand will never get boring!”
Read on to learn more about the life of a TEFL teacher in Thailand, with help and insight from Sarah Goggin, a former English teacher here.
INSIDER ADVICE ON LIFE FOR ENGLISH TEACHERS IN THAILAND
You’ll live like royalty.
Most foreigners love this about Asia—everything feels so cheap! When you go to the markets, like the famous Chatuchak Market (a must-see), you can always barter on price. It might feel uncomfortable at first since everything is already so cheap, but you’ll get the hang of it. Just remember not to cut the price too low if you can help it; this is their livelihood, afterall.
Here are some price points for reference (accurate time of writing)
- Water 10 Baht = US$0.30 / €0.20 / £0.20
- Chiang Beer 90 Baht = US$2.70 / €2.30 / £2.10
- 100 Baht = US$3.00 / €2.50 / £2.30
Master “Thank you” norms and etiquette
Don’t forget to say thank you! In Thai culture, it’s very important to show gratefulness! Different to many western cultures, expressing “thanks” in Thailand requires motion. While you say thank you, you should bow your head slightly and hold your hands in prayer position in the center of your chest. Go ahead and practice. Good, you look great!
Now that you’ve got the moves down, let’s figure out the words. Thank you in Thai is “Kub Kun” plus the gender dependent word, “krub or kap” for men and “ka” for the ladies. So for the lady selling you fruit at the shop, you’d say “Kub kun ka” while bowing your head in gratitude. Well done!
A stronger way to communicate your gratitude is “Kub Jai,” which roughly translates as “appreciated.” This gives your sentence a stronger sense of appreciation for the person receiving your gratefulness.
EATING & DRINKING
Eat family style
In Thailand, expect multiple dishes ordered that are shared amongst the table. Don’t fret—this is a great way for you to try all the different spices and flavors (maybe you’ll like something you thought you’d never touch!). It’s like a smorgasbord, but with less ham and cheese and more shrimp fried rice.
Pad Thai or die
A well known dish in Thailand is Pad Thai—it’s delicious! Pad Thai is made with soaked dried rice noodles that are stir-fried with eggs and chopped vegetables. It’s flavored with tamarind pulp, fish sauce, dried shrimp, garlic or shallots, red chili pepper and palm sugar. And sprinkled with chopped roasted peanuts.
If you’re wise, you’ll eat local dishes like these every day.
Even though it’s hot year round, there are a lot of interesting, delicious hot soups for TEFL teachers in Thailand to try (and fall in love with!). For example, Tom Ka Gai is a delicious coconut broth based chicken soup, whereas Tom Yum Gong is a to-die-for hot and sour seafood stew.
Tip: Some soups may have ingredients in there that you’re not supposed to eat, like lemongrass!
Chiang beer is the local suds—you’ll find it everywhere. It’s light and refreshing and pairs well with the end of an amazing week teaching kiddos English grammar rules. When it’s too hot, you can always opt for nonalcoholic chilled drinks like iced coffee and Thai iced tea (*drools*). Be sure to drink water from bottles or bring your own steripen for your time abroad.
TIPS ON YOUR JOB — TEACHING ENGLISH IN THAILAND
Pay attention during orientation
Bangkok orientation is your perfect start, easing you into Thai culture and teaching practice. You’ll meet your fellow teachers and mentors—having a strong community is essential for succeeding as an ESL teacher in Thailand. However, this isn’t a time to slack or goof off with your new friends. Pay attention and show respect, especially during your welcome ceremony.
On the first day, you join in on a blessing ceremony to wish you well on your teaching journey and are gifted white bracelets as a symbol of luck. Observe what’s happening and take note for how to behave sensitively within these new cultural norms.
Get your paperwork in order
In order to do your job well—and adjust to life in Thailand—you need to have your documents in order. You need a bank account, your contract, passport photos for your work permit, and a sim card. Having these items handy are important in your first days of work. Luckily, you won’t have to tackle this yourself (there will be plenty of folks there to help guide you through the processes!).
Get tight with your local crew
While there will be lots of new folks joining you on your TEFL Thailand adventure, your localized group of teachers will be the most important. These fellow newbie TEFLers will join you in your placement location—you’ll be seeing a lot of them! Make a special effort to invest in these relationships early on to improve your overall community building outside of the classroom.
Have a few lesson ideas planned in advance
You’ll have a few days to do practical teaching in your groups. Come ultra-prepared with a few ideas ahead of time. “It’s lots of fun and really interactive. You pair up and conduct a mock class together in preparation for your teaching in your school. I laughed a lot at some of the teachers’ creativity and fun teaching styles,” shares Sarah.
ADVENTURE ADVICE FOR WHEN YOU’RE NOT WORKING
Sarah recommends: “On your time off, you can do a traditional Thai cooking lesson, go island hopping, or why not visit the majestic elephants in Chiang Mai? I’ve done it all and I’d happily do it all again.”
What to do in Bangkok
So Wat? TEMPLES FOR DAYS
Tip: “Wat” translates as “temple.”
The Grand Palace Temple and The Temple of Emerald Buddha
Within the grounds of the Grand Palace, it enshrines Phra Kaew Morakot (the Emerald Buddha), the highly revered Buddha image meticulously carved from a single block of jade.
Wat Pho is a Buddhist temple complex in the Phra Nakhon District that includes the famous reclining Buddha. We got here by a short ferry ride across the Chao Phraya River to this district near the Maharaj pier. While there are bridges that go over and back from here, it’s the best means of transport because it adds to the experience—and it’s nice to see the temples from the water!
Wat Arun – Better known as Temple of Dawn
Sarah shares: “I climbed the Central Prang; the steps are very steep, but there is a railing to balance yourself. Getting up is as tricky as getting down!”
When you reach the highest point, you can see the winding Chao Phraya River and the Grand Palace and Wat Pho opposite. Be sure to look along the base of this central tower—you’ll be able to spot many sculptures of Chinese soldiers and animals.
What to do in Chiang Mai
Spend a glorious, tasty day learning traditional Thai cooking techniques and how to work your way around a wok. Learn classics like stir fried noodles and vegetables, red curry with fish, and steamed banana cake. Yum! (*mouth already watering*).
Get to know unfamiliar spices, herbs, fruits, vegetables, and cooking styles. It’s so fun to learn about the Thai culture by-way of your belly!
If you’re going to Thailand, you need to go up north and experience the elephants. And by experience, we definitely don’t mean ride (please don’t do the elephant riding it’s too sad and harmful to the creatures).
The sanctuaries in Chiang Mai look after the elephants and keep them safe from poachers, tourism maltreatment, and other risks. Sarah shares: “Feeding them was so cool—I never knew how they eat is so interesting! Grabbing everything with their trunks is just amazing to watch and experience.”
You think elephants look cool on TV? Being there is SO much better!
Wat Rong Khun (better known as White Temple)
This temple serves as the highest point in Chiang Mai and is a more modern construction (built in the 2000s). Not like all the other temples, this one is exactly what it says on the tin – all white. The attention to detail on this temple and the rampant sculptures are really amazing. This is a must-experience!
Get a charter
It’s easy to bounce between islands on speedboats or more traditional long-tail boats. You’ll never tire of the new views and hues of blues. At least we never did!
Tired of walking along the beach? Water taxis can take you from one end to the other for cheap.
Howl at the moon
Take the chance to experience a full/half moon party. Sarah shares: “I went to the full moon party on Koh Phangan—we stayed for one night. 30,000 people on a beach partying = carnage!” Listen to a variety of music as you dance the night away with thousands of your new BFFs.
Thailand is famous for its “tuk tuks”—you have to experience them at least once. They’re a lot cheaper than riding a taxi, too! Public buses are crowded, making the experience very up close and personal (don’t expect air conditioning!).
Getting around Bangkok is much easier thanks to the Skytrain, an elevated rail system. It works well and is easy to navigate; definitely rely on this public transportation system as a TEFL intern in Thailand!