Thailand Region Guide

Thailand Region Guide

Making a life for yourself in the Land of Smiles, without losing your own smile!

Overview

Thailand is located in Southeastern Asia, bordering the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, southeast of Burma.

Thailand’s climate is tropical, with rainy, warm, cloudy southwest monsoons (mid-May to September) and dry, cool northeast monsoon (November to mid-March). The southern isthmus is always hot and humid. The central plain on the Khorat Plateau in the north-east is drier. Mountains grace the northern regions.

Thailand is Southeast Asia's biggest tourist destination. This is not surprising, considering the natural beauty, ancient architecture, warm hospitality, and savory cuisine. Whether you prefer the mountains of Mae Hong Son, the lush islands of the Andaman Sea, or the nightlife of Bangkok, you will love Thailand.

A unified Thai kingdom was established in the mid-14th century. Known as Siam until 1939, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country never to have been colonized by a European power. A bloodless revolution in 1932 led to a constitutional monarchy. Thailand was allied with Japan during World War II, and became a US ally following the conflict. Thailand is currently facing armed violence in its five Muslim-majority southern provinces.

Facts

  • Population: 62 million
  • Capital City: Bangkok
  • People: 75% Thai, 11% Chinese, 3.5% Malay; also Mon, Khmer, Phuan and Karen minorities
  • Language: Thai
  • Religion: 95% Buddhism, 4% Muslim
  • Major Industries: Tourism, computer parts, garments, rice, gems, jewellery

Visas

Most visitors can stay for 30 days without a visa. Extensions are mostly easy, or a trip to the border will get you a new 30 day entry visa.

Work permits are difficult to come by, especially if you don’t have a university degree in the field relevant to your work. Work permits can only be obtained once you have a confirmed post and the employer signs various forms and deals with the relevant bureaucracy. However, it should be noted that where there is a will in Thailand there is almost always a way.

Living

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +7
Dialling Code: 66
Electricity: 220V, 50Hz
Weights & measures: Metric

Currency

The currency of Thailand is the Baht. (Currency code: THB)

Denominations

Coins: 25 Satang, 50 Satang, 1 Baht, 5 Baht, 10 Baht

Notes: 20 Baht, 50 Baht, 100 Baht, 500 Baht, 1000 Baht

Be careful of confusing 1000 Baht notes with 20 Baht notes; although they are a different size, the design and color can be cause for confusion.

Meals

  • Budget: Bht 30-40 (local)
  • Mid-range: Bht 70-200 (fast food etc)
  • High: Bht 300-500 (nice restaurant)
  • Deluxe: Bht 500+ (very nice restaurant)

N.B. Some more local knowledge and some language can get you a plate of food as low as 20 Baht in Bangkok, but usually figure on 30 to 40 Baht. There are also many street vendors which sell snacks for 5 Baht up.

Accommodation

Overnight

  • Budget: Bht 130-300 (back packer areas)
  • Mid-range: Bht 500-1000 (2-3 stars)
  • High: Bht 2000-3500 (4 stars)
  • Deluxe: Bht 4000 + (5 stars)

Long Term

Small, Thai style apartments can be had for as little as 2,500 Baht in the suburbs of Bangkok. These usually have one room, a bathroom and no kitchen. They are usually quite spartan. Pay around 4,000 to 5,000 Baht for a larger, more comfortable apartment or one that is closer to amenities. Contracts are generally a minimum of 3 months or more with 2 months deposit.

For those who are willing to live in the suburbs and perhaps be a motorcycle taxi ride away from public transport, you can find some real bargains. Two or three storey houses can be rented for as little as 6,000 Baht. Unfortunately these require some knowledge of Thai and/or perhaps a Thai friend or partner to do the communicating. These are usually found by people who have been in the country for some time and who are intending to stay on. The houses are usually unfurnished, so you’ll have to splurge on everything from a bed to a hot water heater for the bathroom.

For those prepared to spend more, very comfortable apartments or condominiums are available in the city for 15,000 to 25,000 Baht, and more.

Teaching

The demand for teachers in Thailand is very high. While Bangkok absorbs an enormous number of English teachers, both trained and untrained, there is also demand in the other cities such as Hat Yai and Songkhla in the south, and Chiang Mai in the north, where there is less competition for work. With the exception of the IB International schools, not much teacher recruitment takes place outside Thailand. Even Thai universities and teachers’ colleges, as well as private business colleges, all of which have EFL departments, depend on finding native-speaking teachers locally.

The main types of teaching are:

  • Private & Public Universities: General English, EAP, ESP, TOEIC, TOEFL, IELTS, GMAT
  • State Primary & Secondary Schools: General English, English for Younger Learners
  • Teachers' Colleges: General English, EAP, ESP, IELTS, TOEFL
  • International Private Secondary Schools: General English, English for Younger Learners
  • Summer Camps: General English, English for Younger Learners
  • Private Language Institutes: General English, Business English, IELTS, TOEFL, TOEIC, English for Younger Learners

The market is busy year round, but slows after New Year and during the hottest part of the year. For those working at government schools, loss of work during school holidays can be offset by picking up summer and winter camps and jobs at language schools.

The busiest season for private language schools is mid-March to mid-May during the school holidays, when many secondary school and university students take extra tuition in English. This coincides with the hot season. The next best time to look for work in private schools is October. The worst time is January and February.

Salaries range from 20,000 - 40,000 baht per month. A new teacher on a full-time contract with a language school or government school can expect to earn around 30,000 Baht in Bangkok. Country positions generally pay less. Local International schools, which have only Thai students, pay more 45,000 – 75,000, but usually considerable experience, and a proper teaching qualification are required.

Tax is deducted at 3-10%, depending on the amount earned and whether the teacher has a work permit or not. Contracts range from 6 to 12 months.

Many TEFL teachers in Thailand teach on a casual basis, without formal contracts. The basic hourly rate in Bangkok is about 250-300 baht (around US$6), with a few schools paying less and some promising considerably more, especially if travel to outside locations is required. Rates outside Bangkok are lower.

To qualify for a work permit, teachers are required to be native English speakers with a TEFL qualification, a university degree and an offer of employment.

The vast majority of EFL teachers in Thailand do not have a work visa, and this seems to cause no serious problems. At present, foreigners mostly teach on a tourist visa or (preferably) a non-immigrant visa. So far a crackdown, threatened by the authorities, has not happened. Universities and established language schools may be willing to apply for a work permit on behalf of teachers who have proved themselves successful in the classroom and who are willing to sign a 1-year contract. However, most teachers simply cross the border into Malaysia every three months where a new visa can quickly and easily be obtained from the Thai consulate.

First impressions are important throughout Asia. Dress smartly for interviews. A professional-looking resume and references help. University graduates (ajarn) are highly respected in Thailand and are expected to look respectable. At your interview, be prepared to undergo a grammar test. As usual, it may be necessary to start with part-time and occasional work with several employers, aiming to build up 20-30 hours in the same area to minimize traveling in the appalling traffic conditions of Bangkok (smog masks are cheap and a wise investment).

Working as a self-employed private tutor pays better than working for a commercial school, but tutoring jobs are hard to set up until you have been settled in one place for a while and found out how to tap into the local elite community. Placing an ad for private pupils in English language papers often works. Possible venues for would-be teachers include hotels where a native speaker is needed to organize conversation classes for staff.

In short, anyone who is determined to teach in Thailand and prepared to go there to look for work is virtually guaranteed to find opportunities. Finding language schools to approach is not a problem.

Tourism

Events

Many festivals are linked to Buddhist or Brahman rituals and follow a lunar calendar. New Year/Songkran is celebrated in mid-April by 'bathing' Buddha images, paying respects to monks and elders by sprinkling water over their hands, and generally tossing a lot of water in the air for fun. Expect to get soaked, unless you'd prefer to skulk in your room. The sowing and harvesting of rice has given rise to a cycle of festivals. To kick off the official rice-planting season in early May, the king participates in an ancient Brahman ritual in a large field in central Bangkok; a Rocket Festival is held in May in the country's northeast, using a volatile mixture of bamboo and gunpowder to convince the sky to send rain for the new rice season; and the rice harvest from September through to May leads to joyous local celebrations throughout Thailand.

The Vegetarian Festival in Phuket and Trang, during which devout Chinese Buddhists eat only vegetarian food, runs for nine days from late September to early October. Merit-making processions are the most visible expression of this festival, but there are also ceremonies at Chinese temples. The Elephant Roundup in Surin in November is a festival popular with the kind of people who enjoy watching pachyderms play soccer. During the Loi Krathong Festival, held after the rainy season (usually in November), candle-lit floats are cast into waterways to bring good fortune for the coming year.

Public Holidays 2005

1 January - New Year's Day
9 February - Chinese New Year’s Day

23 February - Makabucha Day

6 April - Chakri Day
13 to 15 April - Songkran

1 May - International Labour Day
5 May - Coronation Day

11 May - Royal Ploughing Day

22 May - Visakabucha Day

22 July – Start of Buddhist Lent

12 August - Queen's Birthday
18 October - End of Buddhist Lent

23 October - Chulalongkorn Day
16 November - Loi Krathong Day

5 Dec - King’s Birthday

10 Dec - Constitution Day
31 December - New Year’s Eve

Attractions

Thailand’s international reputation as a tourist destination is not without substance, and there is certainly no shortage of places to go and things to do.

Although Bangkok has a reputation for pollution and traffic problems, there are many wonderful sites, hundreds of temples and lovely gardens and parks, if you know where to look. Visit the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in the Grand Palace, and the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. Wat Pho which has a 50 foot high Buddha. Museums worth visiting are the National Museum and the Royal Barges Museum. The city has a network of canals called khlongs and exploring these by river taxi provides a different view of Bangkok life. Shopping is another obvious attraction in the city. Bargain hunters can try the weekend market at Chatuchak Park.

Phuket is the country's largest island and one of its main tourist destinations, which means some of the beach resorts are ugly and crowded there is a lot going on. If you're after neon and nightlife you'll enjoy Patong Beach. If you want peace head north to Mai Khao and Nai Yang which are a national park with unspoilt beaches and marine turtles. Activities on the island include bungee jumping, elephant trekking, sea kayaking, cookery courses and mountain biking; that's if you can tear yourself away from the spectacular diving and snorkelling. The interior is interesting too with its paddy fields, rain forests and plantations of pineapple, rubber and coconut.

Other island destinations that have excellent beaches, swimming and snorkelling are Ko Samui, a place of coconut plantations and palm-fringed beaches. Nearby Ko Phangan is quieter, although the beach at Hat Rinis renowned for wild full moon parties. Ko Samet is close to Bangkok, so it gets busy at weekends but it is relatively undeveloped and has some peaceful beaches.

Pattaya, besides being Thailand 's infamous sex resort, has a lot to offer in terms of shopping, activities and cultural attractions.

Chang Mai is a lovely old city, the second largest in Thailand, in the northern highlands. There are interesting temples and markets in the town and it's a good base for exploring the north of the country. The road from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son close to the Burmese border winds through mountains, paddy fields, jungle and limestone cliffs. There are lots of mountain treks on offer, particularly to the villages of hill tribes. Nearby is Doi Suthep National Park with a 5,000 foot peak, Buddhist temple and Phuping Palace, the winter residence of the Royal Family.

Thailand has over 80 national park conservation areas. Khao Yai in the northeast is the oldest and one of the best for wildlife with elephants, bears, leopards, tigers and a good selection of snakes. Thung Salaeng Luang in the centre is one of the largest forest areas with unusual rock formations. Khao Sok is dense tropical rain forest and home to elephants, leopards and a wealth of birds, reptiles, and insects. Thaleh Ban on the Malay border has a huge variety of wildlife including the Malayan sun bear, gibbons, macaques and several rare birds. In the south of the country there are several marine and coastal parks, however many have not escaped development.

Thailand is a good destination for active people. Try diving and snorkeling in Ko Chang or Ko Samet, or the gulf coast resorts such as Ko Samui and Ko Pha Nang offer where diving is best from January to October. Diving on the Andaman coast is best between November and April.

Alternatively, try kayaking, canoeing or rafting through the islands, limestone caves and rock formations around Phuket and Ao Phang-Nga, or inland on the Mae Klong and Kwai Rivers in Kanchanaburi Province. There is also excellent white water rafting on the Pai River in Mae Hong Son Province.

For climbers, there are limestone cliffs at Laem Phra Nang in Krabi province . Mountain biking is a good way of getting around and exploring the countryside especially in the Mekong River basin in the north-east and in the north around Chiang Mai. There is also trekking through the areas around Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son and Chiang Rai. Treks here are more about seeing the way the local hill tribes live rather than hikes for the sake of scenery. The attraction initially was the isolated and unique lifestyle of the villagers, but the tens of thousands of trekkers who go to observe this each year are likely to change that. Independent trekking is difficult as there are few maps, but hundreds of agencies offering guided treks can be found.

Learn to cook Thai food, or do a course in Thai boxing at Naklua in north Pattaya. There are also many meditation centres which provide instruction in English and offer accommodation free. Staying in a monastery means sticking to the eight Buddhist precepts which include not eating after mid-day, no sex, alcohol, tobacco or use of cosmetics.