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  Overview of living and working in Thailand.

 
  Thailand is well known for low cost of living. Find out just how low here.

 
  clickable links to the following three sections:

Bangkok
Chiang Mai
Phuket


 
  Get the lowdown on golden temples, orange robed monks, and do's and don'ts of the local culture.

 
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Teaching English in Thailand and Thai Lifestyle

In Thailand you'll discover the rich and mysterious heart of South-East Asia. In this fast developing country the people have retained much of their traditional culture whilst absorbing many western ideas.

Buddhism is practised by 95% of the population and the shaven heads and saffron robes of the monks soon become a familiar sight. Thai Buddhism is renowned for its tolerance and compassion.


Thailand is also famous for its festivals - there's at least one a month somewhere in the country! Lion dances usher in the Chinese New Year in January. Exuberant water throwing greets the Thai New Year in April. In November moonlit lakes and waterways shimmer with the floating candles of Loi Grathong - if you and your lover launch a single candle, you will be destined for each other, if not in this life, then in your next incarnation.

The language is intriguing: the grammar seems telegrammatically simple but strange sonorous vowels and subtly varying tones keep it elusive. The climate can basically be described as steamy. There are three seasons: rainy, hot, and even hotter.

The food can be hotter still and Thai chefs get through chillies by the bucketful! Rich creamy coconut milk smoothes the fire of Central Thai dishes and lemongrass, coriander, galangal and Kaffir lime leaves add subtlety whilst lime juice, garlic and (for the strong of stomach) fermented fish make their contribution to the distinctive pungency of the popular North-Eastern cuisine.

There's adventure, too. You can go trekking into hill tribe territory in the North, snorkelling and diving in the South and exploring ruined cities in the central region or crumbling Khmer temples in the North-East.

Living in Bangkok

Bangkok is different! On arrival your first coherent thought is often, "Run away!" The traffic seems chaotic, the air unbreathable, everyone’s trying to sell you something and you can’t get your bearings because everywhere looks the same!


But nose around down leafy sidestreets just a few steps from the concrete jungle or take a canal boat through the sleepy sprawl on the west bank of the river and you’ll still find poignant reminders of the vanished “Venice of the East”. Take a sincere interest in the people and you’ll find beyond the surface image of taxi-drivers trying to rip you off, clinging jewelry-shop touts and pushy sex-workers that in reality most Thais are gentle, considerate, humorous and inexhaustibly patient. You may soon find yourself joining the many who have already fallen for Bangkok’s idiosyncratic and dynamic lure.


There can be few cities of its size where you can feel so safe. You may need to keep your wits about you in commercial dealings and your eyes open when crossing roads, but for a city of at least 10 million people, street crime is still extraordinarily rare.

Thais look with contempt on any expression of aggression or anger - even mild irritation - in public and no matter how pressured the situation, they remain outwardly calm and gracious. Forget about attitude, forget about those scowling rush-hour crowds - for Thais there’s rarely any day so bad or job so tiresome it can seem reason to begrudge another human being the small gift of a smile.


In Bangkok, eating well is an obsession and it’s no exaggeration to say there are restaurants on every corner. Patronising them every night won’t burn much of a hole in your pocket, either. International cuisine is increasingly fashionable and readily available, though high quality western food comes with a western price tag.

Nightlife in Bangkok starts late and finishes later. There are bars and clubs to suit every taste from tango to techno, trampling over jazz, blues, dance and heavy metal. Bangkokians are also movie-crazy! There are 18 cinema screens within walking distance of our head office, for instance, but if your interest is in anything other than Hollywood action movies or Thai historical blockbusters, you’ll need to wait for the European, British, Australian or French Film Festivals which each come round once a year.

Apart from dancing, there are other ways to use your energy, swimming pools, sports and fitness centres, an ice rink, and the opportunity to practise martial arts. However, shopping is the national pastime and roundabout haggling a useful art to acquire.

There are countless palatial shopping malls to tempt the fashion-conscious and several huge markets for those in search of atmosphere and bargains. Things like English-language books, imported CDs and western foodstuffs can be found easily, but they don’t come cheap and don’t expect the range you’d get at home.

Bangkok's chaotic charm doesn't appeal to everybody. The traffic and pollution can be overwhelming. If you hold punctuality and prompt responses in high regard, or if you’re looking for up-to-the-minute efficiency in services, you won’t find life here easy. A sense of humour and an enjoyment of the absurd is also essential.

If you’re not into new culinary experiences and your idea of hot food is adding a smattering of pepper, then Thailand may not be for you. And if you start to complain about the heat when the temperature reaches 25C, forget it!

Siam Square


In contradiction to what you might expect from its name, Siam Square is not a public square graced with statues of national heroes but a grid of narrow animated streets devoted to the popular national pastimes of shopping and eating. It’s not square in any other sense either but one of the trendiest spots for Bangkok’s expanding middle-class youth to meet and be seen. It has sometimes been described as the closest thing Bangkok has to a centre and it is at least true that it is now the point where the two lines of the skytrain system converge and intersect.


Siam Square is built on a plot of land belonging to the adjoining Chulalongkorn University, whose well-heeled and often precariously high-heeled students still form probably half of its pedestrian population at almost any given moment of the day. The University was not slow to sense the commercial potential of the site and oversaw the erection of its current rows of traditional shop-houses some fifty years ago. It is part of the character of the place that some of its original businesses still remain while new ones on the cutting edge of juvenile fashion are constantly opening.


The original shop-houses are still there for the most part. While in many places they have become unrecognisable behind walls of advertising, in one or two others their traditional shutters have received coats of varnish to highlight their distinctive architectural charm. Most of the access roads recessed from the main central street have become crowded car parks patrolled by fearsome matrons in purple uniforms but towards the Novotel one has been paved over and its spreading trees shelter circular benches, ice-cream and drinks stalls and a particularly large and opulent spirit-house, where the resident spirit of Siam Square is regularly regaled with flowers, incense and plates of sticky desserts by grateful prospering shopkeepers.


The tastes of Chulalongkorn students dominate the Square. The tame, sentimental but inventively tuneful Thai pop they favour wafts all day from the corner loudspeakers of Siam Square Radio, whose youthful presenters occasionally give announcements in an English heavy with the accent of the US or Australian high schools they have recently left. Shop windows sport platform shoes (‘office block shoes’ in Thai) that should carry health warnings for the acrophobic, pink and turquoise fluffy handbags, colour-coordinated sunglasses. Unisex hairstylists wait to cosset you on every second corner while if that’s not enough, you can drop into one of the many skin clinics where trained professionals will fall over each other to give advice on banishing spots and freckles you didn’t even know you had. The unashamed cuteness of Thai youth culture comes into its own especially on St Valentine’s Day, when every pavement of Siam Square is clogged by students of both sexes staggering under the weight of padded pink hearts on glittery sticks, bunches of coy rosebuds swathed in white veils and winsome teddy bears.


The sois of Siam Square are numbered consecutively from west to east on the skytrain side and from east to west on the university side with the busy central soi being Soi 7. To either side of almost every soi, dimly-lit arcades lined for the most part with small trendy clothes stalls thread the blocks of shop-houses. Each has received its own name, ranging from ‘Siam Bypass’, appropriate enough for a short-cut, to the more quirky and inscrutable ‘Siam Carrot’. The well-known ‘Centrepoint’, on the other hand, is an open paved area between rows of shop-houses furnished with a small fountain at one end and a stage hosting weekend concerts at the other.


Along the north side of Siam Square, there are three cinemas. The three small screens of the Lido are the best place for finding some variety from the standard fare of Hollywood blockbusters, frequently showing US independents, European and Japanese movies. The magnificent sweeping screens and vast auditoriums of the Scala and the Siam, a little way to either side of the Lido, make them period buildings almost worth visiting for their own sake. All three cinemas regularly play host to the Bangkok Film Festival and other smaller festivals.


To the north and west, the square is walled off by more recent shopping mall buildings. Shutting off the sunset, the gigantic Mah Boon Krong runs into the Patumwan Princess Hotel, a comfortable and stylish choice for those who can afford it. It’s easy to lose your way in the cavernous interior of MBK (as it’s often called), where labyrinths of small stalls specialize in electronic equipment and clothes at reasonable prices. For those who prefer the familiarity of a conventional department store, a branch of the Japanese chain, Tokyu, spreads over four of its floors at its northern end. You can access the National Stadium skytrain station direct from here. The National Stadium itself (there are football matches here on many Saturdays) is immediately to the west of MBK while from the other side of the skytrain station, you can descend straight into the surprisingly quiet Soi Gasemsan 1, where most trainees stay in a cluster of upmarket guesthouses. To the east of here, closing off Siam Square to the north, the Discovery Centre is joined by a bridge to the Siam Centre, which is linked to the Siam Paragon, the latest of Bangkok's glistening malls and which opened in 2006. The fashionable shops in these two buildings are far from cheap but the flagship branch of Asia Books on the fifth floor of the Discovery Centre sells a very wide range of English-language books at almost nothing more or sometimes even less than the cover price in pounds or dollars. There are plush, state-of-the-art cinemas showing Hollywood movies in both MBK and the Discovery Centre. Siam Paragon also has a branch of the Kinokuniya bookshop on the 3rd foor, which sells an enormous selection of quality books.


There is a wide range of places to eat in Siam Square. Both MBK and the Siam Centre have the crowded, noisy ‘food-courts’ typical of Thai shopping centres, where a range of stalls specialise in different types of Thai food at very low prices. In Siam Square itself you can find anything from gloomy Chinese restaurants complete with gangsters gathered in a dark corner, where the staff seem to have aged along with the building, to Kentucky Fried Chicken, Macdonalds and a range of copycat Western fast food outlets. More traditional Thai restaurants, such as the famous Baan Khun Mae (‘Mother’s House’), its interior a dark wooden treasure-store of Thai antiques, sit next to trendy fusion cuisine outlets, all brightly coloured plastic and soft music, that appeal to the tastes of slim-waisted fat-pursed ‘Chula chicks’. The second and third floors of the Siam Centre are also a good place for Thai fusion cuisine and for Japanese food but everything comes at a price here.


Even a few years ago you would have been hard-pressed to find a good cup of coffee in the whole area but its recent trendiness has caused cafés and stalls to spring up all over the place, offering latte, cappuccino and espresso alongside more typically Thai delights such as raspberry-flavoured coffee shakes. There is even a branch of Starbuck’s incorporated into the Kasikorn Bank (they call it "coffee banking"). Siam Square is not really a place for drinking in the evening but there are a few bars with music too loud for conversation that cater to students who are not yet ready to go home.


Because of its skytrain connections, Siam Square is within easy reach of the shopping and entertainment areas along Silom and Sukhumwit Roads and about twenty minutes from the weekend market at Chatuchak. The Grand Palace, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and Wat Po can be reached easily by taxi (around 60 baht one-way), by air-conditioned bus or for the more adventurous, by canal boat from the pier at the Elephant Bridge, just beyond the end of Soi Gasemsan 1. Jim Thompson’s House, a collection of lovingly preserved and elegantly furnished traditional Thai teak houses, can be found in a small peaceful garden at the end of Soi Gasemsan 2.


Phuket Town


Tucked into the south-east corner of Phuket, close to the island’s main deep-water harbours but away from its beaches, the capital of Phuket province has a population of about 70,000. It is a well-tended, low-rise town, encircled by forest-covered hills, where the smell of the sea hangs on the damp tropical breeze.


While it has no sites of special interest, the so-called "Old Town", especially the two streets of Thalang and Deebuk, is one of the best preserved areas of traditional Chinese row-houses in Thailand. Like the elaborate Chinese temples that can be found dotted about the town, they were built by the many Hainanese and Fukienese who emigrated here in the 19th century to work in the tin mining business. Many of them have now been lovingly restored and house contemporary art galleries and restaurants as well as longstanding Chinese family businesses. Often built around a cool central light-well, their doors and windows are usually archetypically Chinese but European touches fashionable at the time, such as Ionic columns and Italianate floor-tiles, pop up here and there. On the fringes of this area and beyond, you can also see a few larger ‘Sino-Portuguese’ mansions, surrounded by extensive gardens. Commissioned by Chinese who had made their fortunes in tin, they were constructed mostly, in fact, by Italian architects but modeled on older Portuguese mansions in Singapore and Malaysia. One or two of these are occasionally opened to the public.


Further out, a ride or walk up Khao Rang will reward you with a panoramic view of the whole town and beyond, taking in the harbours, the beach at Rawai and its offshore islands and the mountains that close off the popular western beaches. You can wander a few paths cut through the forest up here or enjoy exceptional cooking (at a price) in the hilltop Tungka Café, which is especially popular at night when the lights of the town are strung out below.


Walking the central streets, it can seem at first that every second business is either a travel agency or an internet café. Given the extraordinary number of opticians, you might also be tempted to wonder if myopia is unusually prevalent in the island. In fact, the town’s shopping facilities are quite diverse for its size. In the centre, on Tilok Uthit 1 Road just beyond the clock-tower roundabout, a large branch of Robinson’s department store has outlets for most major brand names while the Ocean Shopping Centre almost next door has a wide range of cheaper clothing stalls. Both of these have supermarkets on their ground floors (TOPS in the Robinson’s building is the better of the two). On the north-western edge of the town, near the junction for Patong, you can find three large and lavish shopping complexes within a short distance of each other: Central Festival, Big C and Tesco Lotus. One of the town’s two bus routes will take you here from the centre or they can be reached by motorbike taxi for about 50 baht. All of them are new buildings and Central Festival, in particular, is attractively designed with an outdoor art exhibition on the balcony walkway surrounding its outer courtyard. For a different type of shopping experience, try the main market just beyond the fountain roundabout (at the intersection of Ratsada and Yaowarat Roads), which is also the terminus for public transport to and from the beaches. Even if you’re not hungry or are not sure what to buy, its food and spice stalls are a feast for the eye. There are also a lot of cheap clothes and souvenirs here too and these can also be found in the small night market that opens late in the day along Tilok Uthit 2 Road, near the Tavorn Grand Plaza Hotel. There’s an excellent second-hand bookshop on Phang Nga Road, near the On On Hotel and opposite the Kasikorn Bank, two or three minutes’ walk from ECC. Other bookshops around town and in the Central Festival building stock English-language newspapers and magazines and a small range of novels and books about Asia supplied by the Asia Books chain in Bangkok. Though it’s unlikely that you’ll be thinking of buying any original artworks while you’re doing your CELTA course, Phuket is home to many painters and Phuket Town is well-known for its many private art galleries. These can be enjoyable to take a look at even if you’re not planning to take any of the paintings home.


For its size, Phuket Town has a great variety of places to eat. In all but the most basic places, however, prices tend to be high, just as high indeed as in Bangkok. For those on a tight budget, noodle and khao man gai shops are as ubiquitous as anywhere in Thailand and the Muslim-owned roti and curry shops are also very cheap. Reasonably priced food stalls set up behind Robinson’s in the area known as Talaat Kaset from the middle of the day till late at night. This can be a good place to sample seafood in addition to the popular standards and most stalls have an English menu card giving you an idea of at least some of the dishes they can rustle up. As more expensive places tend to come and go in Phuket as elsewhere, it’s difficult to give a list of recommendations. Walk the central streets or ask the locals and in addition to upmarket Thai places (such as Le Café on the approach road to the Phuket Shopping Centre opposite ECC or the extensive Ta Yai by the canal on Soi Taling Chan), you'll find several Italian restaurants and at least one Indian and one Vietnamese. Of the Italian places, La Gaetana on Phuket Road near Robinson’s is worth seeking out if you can afford it, though it’s often full. The restaurants in the Old Town are worth splashing out on at least once during your stay, as much for their ambience as for their good quality food. The China Inn Café on Thalang Road, for example, offers Thai fusion cuisine in a delightful garden at the back of a Chinese row-house fitted out with period furnishings and photographs. If you like the distinctive food of Isaan (the north-east of Thailand), there are four long-established Isaan restaurants within a short distance of each other at the southern end of Mae Luan Road, not far from Khao Rang. Saep Bo is the biggest and most popular while Talung offers the option of atmospheric village-style dining on mats stretched out on the ground beneath its trees. At the beginning of the day, if you’re in need of a Western breakfast, you can pamper yourself in any of the big hotels while several restaurants near ECC along the stretch of Phuket Road between Ratsada Road and the clock-tower roundabout offer a cheaper alternative.


Good coffee is not too hard to find (try the Siam Bakery on Yaowarat Road near the fountain roundabout or Coffee Lovers on the ground floor of the Robinson’s building near the supermarket). For drinking in the evening, there are more bars than you might imagine from the generally sleepy atmosphere of the town, including several with live music. Check any of the websites providing tourist information about Phuket Town for a list (e.g. www.phuket-town.com) but before you make a special journey, bear in mind the list is unlikely to be up-to-date. Michael’s Bar on Takua Pa Road, a few minutes’ walk from ECC, has been recommended by trainees as a quiet and friendly place.


There are two cinemas in town, usually showing the same predictable selection of current Hollywood movies. The Grand Paradise is located in the Ocean Shopping Centre and the Coliseum in Central Festival. Check the details of films carefully as most showings are Thai-dubbed versions. However, there are usually two showings a day with the original English-language soundtrack.


The centre of the town is compact enough to explore on foot but if you want to venture out to the shopping centres on the edge of town, for example, or to Khao Rang, you’ll really need to use some kind of transport. There is, in fact, a rudimentary public bus service with two routes. Details of the routes and the frequency of buses can be found on www.phuket-town.com, for example. Taxis are everywhere but if you’re worried about your budget, they’re best avoided except in emergencies as they’re usually unmetered and the prices demanded by the drivers are extortionate. Motorbike taxis are even easier to find and very much more reasonably priced, though here as elsewhere in Thailand passengers are not provided with a helmet, so you take your life in your hands. If you want to get out of town to the beach at the weekend, small buses or sawng thaew, i.e. converted pick-up trucks with two rows of wooden seating, run to all the beaches from in front of the main market. These are cheap (20 – 25 baht) and frequent (about every 30 minutes). Taxis and motorbike taxis will also take you there but a taxi will ask about 300 baht for a one-way trip, a motorbike half this. However, these are your only option after 5 in the evening when all other transport stops. If you want to explore the island, the best way to do it is to hire your own transport. For those brave enough, motorbikes are available for rent for about 150 baht a day all over the place, including right next to ECC. Cars can also be rented, of course, but there are fewer places where you can do this.


Information about Phuket’s beaches can be found in many places. The scenery is attractive all along the coast and the standard of accommodation is generally high, but so are the prices! Briefly, Patong has the longest stretch of sand but it’s also the most built-up and potentially crowded of the resorts. Karon and Kata are a little quieter and Rawai is more Thai-orientated. At once the most beautiful and the quietest beach with anywhere to stay within easy reach of Phuket Town is probably Naiharn. If you have your own transport, the tiny, secluded beaches of Laem Sing and Paradise Beach (to the north and south of Patong respectively) are worth a visit, though if you come to the latter by motorbike, you may think it so-called not so much for its otherworldly beauty as for the high likelihood of your arriving in paradise itself somewhere along its winding and precipitous approach road!

For more information about Teaching English in Thailand and Thai Lifestyle check out:

  • Information for expats at eThailand.com
  • News and Events from the Bangkok Post
  • News and Events from the Nation
  • The Lonely Planet's Guide to Thailand
  • Phuket Gazette - news and events in Phuket
  • Phuket Tourism - where to stay and what to do in Phuket
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