Smiling Chiang Mai
Live and Teach in One of the World's Friendliest Cities
| 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, 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 USD500. 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 above Thapae Gate during Loy Krathong Festival in November.
| At the Yee Peng Ceremony, everyone releases their lit lanterns into the night sky simultaneously—it is magical.
First Things First: Getting the Teaching Job
Enroll in a 120-hour in-person TEFL course if possible while in Thailand or before you arrive. TEFL 360 is one example of a course you can take while in Chiang Mai. TransitionsAbroad.com lists other TEFL schools 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 CV of the TEFL variety 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 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.
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 USD1,900-2,000 depending upon the current currency conversion) or more.
- Private schools pay around 30,000 Baht /month or less.
- Language schools pay varies, but generally is less.
I made 30,000 Baht/month (~USD1,000) at Dara Academy, a prestigious private school. It is a good school to 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.
| 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 good 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 (like Somwang Guesthouse) at around USD8/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 USD160. 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 Chiang Mai Facebook groups (see sidebar).
| Flamenco dancing at one of the studios in the city.
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 some of the Facebook groups for up-to-date information on happenings. Chiang Mai also has an active Couchsurfing community, which will help you get in touch via their Facebook group.
Yoga: There are yoga studios with dance classes, kirtan nights, and multiple types of yoga.
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 USD1 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 the city leads you to scenes like this!
Teaching in Thailand is a wonderful way to test the TEFL waters. I highly recommend it as a way to "take the plunge."
Kimberly Lauren Bryant is a Canadian documentary photographer and writer (and former English teacher!) currently based in Kampala, Uganda. To see some of her work, please visit www.kimberlylbryant.com. You can also follow her travels at Chaos is Beautiful or see her photo diary at Cavorting in Kodachrome. When not on the move, Kimberly enjoys watching way too many movies and eating really good chocolate. And mango sticky rice!