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As seen in the Transitions Abroad 2014 Webzine Asia Issue

Live and Teach in Smiling Chiang Mai, Thailand

One of the World's Friendliest Cities

Temple near Chiang Mai, Thailand
If you venture a few hours away from Chiang Mai towards Bangkok, you can stop off at the historic town of Sukhothai.

Recently voted one of the friendliest cities in the world (#11 CNN), Chiang Mai is a fantastic place to dip your toes into the world of teaching English. The relaxed environment and low-key attitude make for a gentle introduction to TEFL for those just starting out. Though you’ll enjoy your time in northern Thailand, your salary will also reflect the laid-back atmosphere. You won’t make a fortune teaching. But that should not dissuade you. Chiang Mai is a cheap place to live. Your cost-of-living per month may be as low as US$500. With scores of friendly foreigners and an abundance of surrounding places to visit, let us help get you started on your Chiang Mai teaching journey with some key tips and information.

Fireworks during Loy Krathong Festival in November
Fireworks above Thapae Gate during Loy Krathong Festival in November.

Yee Peng ceremony with lit laterns in night sky
At the Yee Peng Ceremony, everyone releases their lit lanterns into the night sky simultaneously—it is magical.

First Things First: Getting the English Teaching Job

Certification

Enroll in a 120-hour in-person TEFL course if possible while in Thailand or before you arrive. ITTT is one example of an organization providing a TEFL course you can take while staying in Chiang Mai. TransitionsAbroad.com lists other TEFL schools in Thailand that often lead to teaching jobs. If you have prior teaching experience, it is obviously a huge bonus. Note that it is quite challenging to be hired at a reputable school without a university degree. If applying at international schools, you generally need to be a certified teacher in your home country (or have a connection at the school to help network for you). Another option is to volunteer with language programs or at language schools.

In every case, it is very important to be professional and culturally respectful at the workplace in Thailand regardless of the route you take.

Reach Out Online

If you want to be well prepared for job-hunting in Chiang Mai, email a well-written cover letter and TEFL CV to schools ahead of time. You can perform online searches for schools in the area or check out the sidebar below for starting tips. You’ll need to hit the ground running no matter what course you take, but having a CV at the very least gets your name out there. In addition, you can take these steps while still in your home country.

Hit the Ground Running

No matter the type of correspondence you’ve received online, you’ll need to visit in person every school where you would like to work. For private schools, ideally start your job hunt in March. You really need to be in the city in order to be hired; it is nearly impossible to secure a job in Chiang Mai if you’re not actually there. Map out the schools where you have already emailed your CV, and take a songtaew ride to visit and knock on their doors. Most schools will have a separate application form that you can only fill out in person. Hand your CV and cover letter to the director with a big smile and friendly demeanor. Personality, at home and abroad, goes a long way in the ESL field.

Mind your Manners

Good manners, smiles, and compliments go a long way in Thailand—as does having a sense of humor. Thais love to laugh! Smile and laugh a lot, and don’t cause anyone to lose face. Many schools will want to see that you can entertain children primarily, so act like someone capable of holding your students' attention.

Appearance Counts

In Thailand, looks count, especially when it comes to work. Dress the best you can for an interview. A crisp, white shirt, with ironed pants if you’re a boy, a knee-length skirt if female. Shiny shoes and jewelry will help women as well. You can have your hair curled, straight, or whatever works for you. While Thailand has many great assets, one challenge is that there are aspects to the customs and manners that may at first appear to be very superficial to the westerner. If you take the time to understand the subtleties and importance of customs and manners in Thailand, you can use this to your advantage when job-hunting.

The Lowdown on Schools

  • International schools pay around 60,000 Baht/month (around US$1,600-1,750 depending upon the current currency conversion rate) or more.
  • Private schools pay around 30,000 Baht /month or less (US$900).
  • Language schools pay varies, but generally is less.

Personal Experience

I made 30,000 Baht/month (~US$900+) at Dara Academy, a prestigious private school. It is a good school for which to work. Employees are allotted a total of six weeks paid vacation yearly! Dara even helps its teachers with their work visa fees and processing. Many other schools will not help prosepective empolyees to such an extent, so be sure to ask what they will do for you before accepting a job. Work visas can be pretty paperwork intensive to do alone.

When working at a private school, be prepared for large class sizes of between 40-50 children. Class size is no cause for worry, however, as many of the foreign teachers in Chiang Mai are very friendly and willing to help make your teaching experience as easy and enjoyable as possible.

More Info on Schools in Chiang Mai

Here are some starter links for good schools to contact who employ English teachers.

Thai private schools:
Dara Academy 

International schools:
Chiang Mai International School  
Panyaden

Language schools:
AUA


Doi Inthanon temple, the highest peak in northern Thailand.
At the top of Doi Inthanon, the highest peak in northern Thailand.

Life in Chiang Mai Outside of Teaching

If you’re considering teaching in Thailand, chances are you’re at least as interested in the way of life as in the work. There is great news for you! Free time will likely be a joy in this great city. Read on to find out why.

Finding a Home

One option is to rent a guesthouse room for a week (such as Somwang Guesthouse) at around US$8/night. In addition, explore apartment buildings to see what’s available. I paid 5,000 Baht/month for my 1-bedroom apartment near Thapae Gate (Veerachai Court), or about US$140. The apartment complex was very safe. I made myself a makeshift kitchen with a hotplate and blender using the money I saved on the cheap rent. Other decent apartment buildings are Cityview, across from Veerachai, and Smith Towers near the south gate. There are always rooms for rent in houses with other foreigners, too. To find these, try asking around on some of the many Chiang Mai groups that are easily found on Facebook.

Flamenco dancing at one of the studios in the city.
Flamenco dancing at one of the studios in the city.

A Happening Social Scene and Many Interesting Activities

What follows is a breakdown of just some of the many great activities around the city, and the many virtual communities, including details in the boxout at the end of the article.

The citizens of Chiang Mai are very tuned into Facebook, so check out Facebook groups for up-to-date information on happenings. Chiang Mai also has an active Couchsurfing community, as seen in their Facebook group.

Yoga: There are many great yoga studios with dance classes, kirtan nights, and multiple types of yoga available in Chiang Mai (see boxout below).

Vegetables: If you are so inclined, get together with fellow health conscious comrades at one of the many veggie restaurants such as Blue Diamond, which serves up an array of delicious health foods for cheap, teacher-salary-friendly prices.

Nightlife: Hop on over to one of many bars or music venues in the city to meet up with the party crowd and jam to local Thai bands. Wear your clubbing clothes at Monkey Club or listen to free live jazz at Northgate.

Photography: Many photographers base themselves out of Chiang Mai. There are many low-cost photography workshops available. You can also go to the Documentary Arts Asia to watch a film.

Dancers: From flamenco classes to dance meditation to zook to salsa nights, there’s something for everyone who enjoys moving their bodies to music.

Foodies: Head to Sunday market for fresh food or visit one of the many top-notch international restaurants around the city. Delicious pad Thai is always an option for around US$1 in many informal restaurants and on the street, as are mango sticky rice, papaya salad, khao soi, and a seemingly endless varieties of other dishes from which to choose.

Wats: Beautiful wats (Buddhist temples) exist around the city, and are both fascinating and peaceful places to spend some time.

Festivals: There’s always a festival happening in Chiang Mai, whether it’s Yee Peng, Loy Krathong, or hot air balloons. Seriously, parades are weekly affairs!

Day Trips: While there’s plenty to do inside the city, check out the many stunning places located just a short motorbike ride away.

Motor biking: Rent a motorbike to explore the beautiful scenery of the Samoeng Loop or scale Northern Thailand’s highest peak by riding up to the top of Doi Inthanon.

Motorbiking outside of Chiang Mai and seeing farmers
Motorbiking outside of the city leads you to scenes such as these!

Teaching in Thailand is a wonderful way to test the TEFL waters abroad. I highly recommend it as a way to "take the plunge."

More Information on Living in Chiang Mai

Yoga Studios

Some of the main yoga studios in the old city include:
Mahasiddha Yoga, located just south of the old city. Holds weekly workshops and retreats, not just on yoga but also spirituality and meditation based on the authentic tantric path.
Freedom Yoga Chiang Mai offers various styles of Yoga classes in Chiang Mai, in a Thai style Studio.
Yoga Tree
Wild Rose
Namo

Health and Dance

Check out these Facebook groups (some closed but you can apply for membership) for health and fitness:
Chiang Mai Wellness Community
Laughter Yoga
Dance Chiang Mai

Audio-Visual events and seminars happen constantly in Chiang Mai. Meet fellow enthusiasts through these Facebook groups:
Thailand-Burma video network
Documentary Arts Asia

Kimberly Lauren Bryant is a Canadian documentary photographer and writer (and former English teacher). To see some of her work, please visit www.kimberlylbryant.com.

Related Topics
Teaching English in Thailand: Articles, Jobs, Resources
Living in Thailand: Resources for Expatriates
Related Articles
Living in Chiang Mai, Thailand: Happily Adding the Months
Teaching English and Living in Thailand
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