The Ultimate Guide to Teaching English in Thailand | Free Book | Part 3

This is part 3, to see Part 1 CLICK HERE.

Choosing the Right Area

Choosing the best first place to work is crucial because it may well set the stage for whether you love or hate teaching in Thailand, and maybe whether or not you like Thailand at all.

I’d recommend first you choose a climate you’ll enjoy for a year. Forget about choosing Bangkok immediately just because you like shopping or nightlife. Bangkok is blistering hot during the days and nights, and in fact, is the hottest city in the entire world when looked at across all twenty-four hours. The night temperatures in Bangkok remain very warm most days of the year. If you sweat easily and don’t like the feeling, you might cross Bangkok off immediately. There are many places outside Bangkok you could live and travel to the capital city on the weekends for shopping to get your fix.

So, choose a climate you like first. All of Thailand is warm from April through November – but, there are varying degrees of warmth. The north near Chiang Mai is very hot during the days and tends to cool off quite a bit during the nights. There are mountains in Chiang Mai, and, despite being a big city you can live outside the city in some nice areas.

The northeast, Isaan region, is blistering hot during the summers, and pretty much remains the same right through October. The heat in Isaan is similar to being under a sunlamp. It’s devastatingly hot, though the air is usually rather dry – like a desert. You may have heard that saying, “it’s a dry heat”. That’s Isaan, but, a dry heat is still hot! It rains little in Isaan, and even if it does – it doesn’t cool the air off for long.

The winters in Isaan are very cool and you might find yourself wearing a winter jacket. No joke! I had a thick windbreaker with Durafil or something and I was still cold on the motorbike at 2 a.m. A funny sight is to see Thais wearing their winter coats even during the heat of the summer to block the sun’s rays from turning them darker. It’s safe to say that everyone owns a winter jacket in Isaan.

The southern provinces are hot from March through November also. During the rainy season (June through November) the nights and sometimes the days cool off quite a bit after the rain comes through.

Bangkok, as I said, is very hot – but, it’s also humid. I don’t sweat anywhere like in Bangkok, and I really don’t enjoy it. I’m not even overweight and still walking a couple of blocks in the heat and I’ll be dripping like I just ran across town. Bangkok cools off a little bit from December to February. This is a nice time to come to Bangkok as there is little to no rain, the skies are clear and the air is slightly cooler.

Once you choose a region of the country you think you can live in, you should choose whether you’ll live in or near a big city or in a very small city.

Initially, I went to Phuket town and Patong beach, but I was a bit overwhelmed by all the fun I could get myself into. I made a quick run up to Ubon Ratchathani, in the northeast and found what I was looking for. The people of Ubon and the northeast, in general, are exceptionally polite, simple, and well-versed in tradition and culture. I enjoyed it so much I stayed for about 20 months.

Large towns in Thailand have some nightlife, shopping, and probably you’ll find other foreigners to spend time with if that’s a consideration. Even in the far northeast in Ubon where less than 1% of all tourists to Thailand visit, I was able to find a dozen or so foreigners teaching English and they were a great group to hang out with.

Costs in regions of the country – housing, food, and nightlife costs chart

Ayuddhaya

Population Density: 100,000 residents or so.

Pollution Index: Air is almost always clean. Ayuddhaya is 60 miles from Bangkok so you won’t get that bad air.

Temperatures: Quite hot during summers and cool in the winters.

Rain: Lots of rain!

Transportation: A couple of tuk-tuks, motorbike taxis, and songthaews are the main transportation. It’s a good city to ride a motorbike of your own in.

House and Apartment Costs: Moderate. A house can be had for 5,000 to 10,000 THB.

Food Costs: Many expensive and inexpensive options. Overall I’d say Pattaya and Patong Beach prices are higher.

Jobs Available: Rajabhat University, some government schools. Some private language schools: AUA, ECC, Zenith, English Plus. Some freelance hours are easy to find once locals know you’re staying.

Salary for Teachers: Average, but improving.

Western Food Availability: An Indian restaurant and Da Ivo’s Pizza. McDonald’s, Pizza Company, and KFC are in town.

Shopping: Getting better. Robinson’s Center, Big C, Tesco, Amporn Mall’s multi-story shopping. When you tire of these you’re close enough to Bangkok for a 90-minute ride in by train, car, van, or if you dare – motorbike?

Worth Mentioning: Ayuddhaya has many old Buddhist temples to explore – over 300. Ayuddhaya was, in the 1700’s the capital of Siam – and had over 1,000,000 residents. These days it’s a laid back place to get to know about Thai culture.

Personal Thoughts: I’ve not lived here, but I have a friend that attends Rajabhat here. She really enjoys it, being from Ubon it has a little more to do than Ubon – and is closer to Bangkok. I’ve talked to many people over the years that say Ayuddhaya is great to visit and see the temples, but they’re not sure they could live there long-term.

Bangkok

Population Density: Highest in nation.

Pollution Index: Worst, or tied with Chiang Mai?

Temperatures: Hottest city on the planet when taking night time temperatures into account as well as daytime.

Rain: Frequent and severe flooding in some Bangkok districts during the rainy season.

Transportation: Many options including taxi, tuk-tuk, motorbike taxi, bus, songthaew, subway, and Skytrain. Not to mention there is, of course, an international airport.

House and Apartment Costs: Most expensive in the nation.

Food Costs: Many expensive and inexpensive options. Overall I’d say Pattaya and Patong Beach prices are higher.

Jobs Available: Every kind. There are more private language schools in Bangkok than the rest of the country. The highest concentration of jobs and teachers in the country is in Bangkok.

Salary for Teachers: Highest in nation.

Western Food Availability: Anything you want, though you may have to travel around the city a bit to get to it. Bangkok is a big place but has all the usual fast-food suspects as well as a wide variety of international cuisine options.

Shopping: Best in the country. Literally, anything you want, you can find.

Worth Mentioning: Bangkok is central to everything in Thailand, but also in Asia. Cheap flights abound.

Personal Thoughts: I can’t stand Bangkok. I think it’s the antithesis of what I thought Thailand would be like. I much prefer the countryside of Isaan to city life. If I wanted the stress of America and rude people, I’d still be there, not living in Bangkok for more of the same. That said, it’s virtually impossible to find everything I want/need to buy outside of Bangkok so I usually shop online for those items if I’m too far away to take a train in.

The pay in Bangkok for teachers is not that high to justify a long commute to work, fighting traffic, thinking about red-shirts and yellow-shirts fighting, bombs going off, fighting the throngs of Thais that live there and millions of swarming visitors. Make 50,000 Thai Baht in Isaan and I think you’ll be much better off than 100,000 Thai Baht in Bangkok. Less stressed for sure!

Chiang Mai

Population Density: Second highest in nation. Frequent traffic jams.

Pollution Index: Worst, or tied with Bangkok?

Temperatures: Summer is very hot, Winter is very cool – cold even.

Rain: Frequent and severe flooding in some areas during rainy season.

Transportation: Many options including taxi, tuk-tuk, motorbike taxi, bus, songthaew. There is an airport.

House and Apartment Costs: Ranges from expensive to moderately expensive.

Food Costs: Many expensive and inexpensive options. Overall I’d say Pattaya and Patong Beach prices are higher.

Jobs Available: Every kind. There are even some international schools in Chiang Mai. It’s been said there are more English teachers teaching in Chiang Mai without the proper paperwork, than with.

Salary for Teachers: Low considering it’s a bigger city. Overall, average.

Western Food Availability: Due to high numbers of western residents many international foods are available in the grocery stores and many international restaurants exist. Fast-food chains like McDonald’s, Burger King, Dairy Queen, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, Pizza Company, Swenson’s Ice Cream, and others.

Shopping: Best in the country. Literally, anything you want, you can find.

Worth Mentioning: Bangkok is central to everything in Thailand, but also in Asia. Cheap flights abound.

Personal Thoughts: I can’t stand Bangkok. I think it’s the antithesis of what I thought Thailand would be like. I much prefer the countryside of Isaan to city life. If I wanted the stress of America and rude people, I’d still be there. That said, it’s virtually impossible to find everything I want/need to buy outside of Bangkok so I usually shop online for those items.

The pay in Bangkok for teachers is not that high to justify a long commute to work, fighting traffic, thinking about red-shirts and yellow-shirts fighting and bombs going off, and fighting the throngs of Thais that live there and visitors swarming there. Make 50,000 THB in Isaan and I think you’re much better off than 100,000 THB in Bangkok.

Personal Thoughts: Chiang Mai

Khon Kaen

Population Density: Maybe 50,000-80,000 residents but Khon Kaen the city is a rather large place. It’s spread out. There are MANY students here for university and other schools.

Pollution Index: Little or no air pollution.

Temperatures: Summer is hot and there isn’t usually a breeze blowing. Winters are quite cool and cold from December through February, even March.

Rain: Not very often, but intense rains can fall. Sometimes 1-2 days of rain.

Transportation: Tuk-tuks, motorbike taxis and songthaews. Red buses go around the city and between cities.

House and Apartment Costs: Low. You can find a flat for 3,000 Thai Baht per month or a serviced apartment for 5,000 THB. Houses start at 5,000 THB and top out at about 10,000 THB.

Food Costs: Cheap. All of the northeast has cheap and delicious food.

Jobs Available: Many teaching jobs. There are more than 5 universities and numerous language and government schools. There are openings every year, and teachers don’t stay all that long on average.

Salary for Teachers: Average to decent.

Western Food Availability: Not much. No McDonald’s. There is a Pizza Company, Swenson’s Ice Cream, Dairy Queen, and a KFC.

Shopping: The usual Tesco Lotus, and Big C and Makro are here.

Worth Mentioning: The people in Khon Kaen are lovely, as in all of Isaan from my experience. Khon Kaen has a couple of clubs and caters to the university students. There is also a nursing school and the students are keen to learn English in private lessons.

Personal Thoughts: Khon Kaen people are wonderful. The city leaves a lot to be desired and I’m not sure I could stay here for more than a year, even as much as I like Isaan. Ubon, to me, was 100% better. I just have a better feeling in Ubon.

Hat Yai

I was going to do a profile for Hat Yai and then I thought better of it. Foreigners have, so far, been safe in Thailand’s deep south, but that could change at any time. If you’re coming to Thailand to teach we would not recommend going south of Trang to do so. You’ll probably be fine, but in good conscience, we can’t recommend anywhere in the too-far south!

Hua Hin

Population Density: Really not bad. The beach area is crowded, but Hua Hin is sort of like a favored respite from Bangkok for those working there. Most people you’ll see are tourists.

Pollution Index: Little or no air pollution.

Temperatures: Summer is hot but the breeze is usually blowing. Winters are mild and cool from December through February.

Rain: Frequent but usually quick and heavy downpours during the rainy season. Some flooding.

Transportation: Tuk-tuks, motorbike taxis and songthaews. There are some taxis that make the trip from Bangkok.

House and Apartment Costs: This is a vacation spot and there isn’t much in the way of resident housing. Count on 7,000 – 10,000 THB for serviced apartments. Or, you might be able to swing a guesthouse long-term if you prefer, there are many of those.

Food Costs: Moderate. Not cheap and not expensive. Count on 35-40 baht chicken noodle soup (Gwit Diao).

Jobs Available: Few teaching jobs. Hua Hin is a very small place! To the south is Prachuap Khiri Khan – another idyllic coastal beach town that is more Thai – and they might have 1-2 English teaching positions in total as well.

Salary for Teachers: Average.

Western Food Availability: Due to high numbers of western visitors many international restaurants exist. There are not, however, fast-food chains like McDonald’s and the like. There is a Pizza Company, Swenson’s Ice Cream, Black Canyon Coffee, Starbucks, and a Subway.

Shopping: There are some small malls like Market Village Mall or Hua Hin Mall. The usual Tesco Lotus, and Big C and Makro are here as well.

Worth Mentioning: Hua Hin might be a good place to retire to, but for teaching – the pickings are slim. It is possible to set up some private classes to teach those that want to learn English to speak with tourists to help their businesses. Bangkok is 3 hours north by van or bus.

Personal Thoughts: Hua Hin is too small for me, and I’d bore quickly. All the cities along this stretch of Thailand bordering the west side of the Gulf of Thailand are small and fun for a day or so, not to live.

Krabi

Population Density: Many people live in Krabi province, but everyone is spread out, giving the illusion that there are few residents. More Muslim residents than Buddhist means more Muslim food.

Pollution Index: No pollution.

Temperatures: Summer is hot, but not overly so. Not as hot and humid as Patong Beach for instance. Winter is mild – not cool, and not very warm… just sunny with cool breezes. Nice.

Rain: Frequent heavy downpours during the rainy season – especially October – Mid December. Some years worse than others. Little flooding, in contrast to Bangkok and Northern Thailand during heavy rain.

Transportation: Many motorbike taxis and songthaews. Few regular taxis and some private taxis. Vans are used to go longer distances within Krabi town and the beaches, or to neighboring small cities.

House and Apartment Costs: Ranges from moderate to expensive. Not as expensive as Patong Beach, but more than Surat Thani, Korat, etc.

Food Costs: Again, not as expensive as Patong Beach or Phuket, but more expensive than most other places outside of Bangkok, Chiang Mai, or Pattaya.

Jobs Available: Few teaching jobs. No universities. Couple government schools and one international school near Noppharat Thara beach. An ideal location, but few places to teach and the residents are not very keen on private classes. Krabi is a prosperous area and they’re not all that concerned about learning English.

Salary for Teachers: Low considering it’s a little more expensive than most areas.

Western Food Availability: Due to high numbers of western residents many international foods are available in the grocery stores and many international restaurants exist in Ao Nang beach area. Fast-food chains like McDonald’s, Burger King, Dairy Queen, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Company, Swenson’s Ice Cream, Black Canyon Coffee, Starbucks, Subway, and others exist.

Shopping: Pretty good. Makro, Tesco, Big C, and a small outlet mall have most everything you’d want. If not, Central Mall in Phuket town is a couple of hours away by car or van.

Worth Mentioning: Krabi is probably the ideal place to live in Thailand for many people. Problem is there are very few teaching opportunities there.

Personal Thoughts: Krabi is really ideal. There are many things to do and see. Locals are not friendly, nor rude – but don’t give any foreigners a second glance. I like that, but it’s not as nice as in Isaan where they fawn over you! Overall a bit expensive for my cheap self.

Nakhon Si Thammarat

Population Density: Over 100,000 residents.

Pollution Index: Air can get stale in some places during rush hours, but overall the air quality is not usually bad. If you stay on the outskirts of town you’re likely to never notice the air is bad.

Temperatures: Quite hot during summers and cool enough in the winter that you can open the windows at night and sleep without the air conditioning.

Rain: Lots of rain during the rainy season, but not as much as Koh Samui, Phuket, Krabi, or Trang.

Transportation: A couple of tuk-tuks, many motorbike taxis and songthaews, which are the main way to get around if you don’t have your own motorbike. The city consists of just 2 main streets that have most of the traffic and though I’ve driven there safely it might be a little harrowing for novice motorbikers.

House and Apartment Costs: Cheap. On par with Surat Thani. Cheaper than Krabi. About the same as Trang. A house can be had for 5,000 to 7,000 THB.

Food Costs: Average.

Jobs Available: Few foreigners want to stay in Nakhon, so the teachers are always in demand. It’s very easy to find a job in Nakhon. There are many government schools in the area, including a couple of universities and because of the large population of school-aged kids, a large number of private language schools.

Salary for Teachers: Average.

Western Food Availability: Pizza company, Swenson’s ice cream, KFC, Dairy Queen.

Shopping: There are two Tesco’s, a Makro, a Big C, and a large Ocean Plaza shopping center which contains the Robinson’s. Nakhon is a little isolated from any other great shopping places so you might feel cramped.

Worth Mentioning: Nakhon has many waterfalls, caves, beaches and national parks to visit. I know people that have lived there for some years and are very happy. They’re not teaching though!

Personal Thoughts: I’ve visited Nakhon a few times and I’m not particularly fond of it. Maybe I haven’t seen the great parts yet? I’ve seen the town and traffic is too much for my liking. Having everything important on the same two streets in town has something to do with this. There are some amazing Buddhist temples here and the people are nice enough. Jobs are plentiful. It’s easy to get to Koh Samui, Krabi, Trang, and Surat Thani from Nakhon… it might make a nice jumping-off point to reach other destinations on weekends.

Pattaya

Population Density: 104,000 residents in 2007? That’s the official statistic, but I’m guessing there are many more.

Pollution Index: Air can get bad sometimes as a result of winds carrying Bangkok and Chonburi pollution over Pattaya. Pattaya itself doesn’t have all that much traffic, though if the wind isn’t blowing, you’ll recognize the traffic fumes. Chonburi next to Pattaya is a massive area of factories spewing all kinds of emissions into the air. You’ll breathe it sometimes living in Pattaya, but usually, there is a breeze going.

Temperatures: Pattaya is right next to Bangkok, so, same temperatures moderated by the ocean and more wind than Bangkok gets. In the summer it is very hot. In the winter – it cools off a bit during the end of December, January, and into February.

Rain: Lots of rain during the rainy season, and it floods immediately.

Transportation: Tuk-tuks, motorbike taxis, songthaews, and many regular metered taxis. There are many accidents in Pattaya, motorbike driving is not recommended unless you drive one in your home country.

House and Apartment Costs: Not too bad. There are plenty of cheaper places to stay, but they tend to be dives. A house will cost 10,000 THB and more. Serviced apartments are in the 8,000 – 15,000 THB range for those on a teacher’s salary.

Food Costs: Expensive, but if you know where to get street stall food you can eat almost as cheap as the Thais. There is some double pricing here.

Jobs Available: There are many universities and language schools, but there are a whole lot of foreigners that look at Pattaya as their home away from home. Once someone bags a job they usually (try) to keep it as long as possible.

Salary for Teachers: Average to good. Some language schools pay well.

Western Food Availability: Everything Bangkok and Phuket have. I had some amazing pizza on 3rd road there once. Just a little dive, but god – it was made by the Italian owner and it was something special.

Shopping: Two Tesco Lotus stores, Big C, Ocean Plaza Center with Robinson’s, Central Mall, Makro, CarreFour, Mikes Mall, Royal Garden,.

Worth Mentioning: Pattaya has the most outrageous nightlife and the entire place is geared toward getting guys (and even some ladies) laid. There’s really no reason to live there with your family. The atmosphere is a bit scary. I’ve never felt like I fit in there. You may fit right in.

Personal Thoughts: I’ve been in Pattaya a total of about 14 days over the years. I don’t enjoy it a tenth as much as I do Patong Beach nightlife. The crime is high and the Thai people are there to make money from the tourists, not to be friendly. There are more jackassed tourists in Pattaya than in the entire country at any point in time. Pattaya is not representative of Thailand as a whole – at all.

Phuket

Population Density: Some sources say Phuket has about 250,000 residents. I’m going to guess – more. Phuket town and Patong Beach hold a lot of residents and visitors. Patong is one of the most popular places in Thailand. Probably second only to Bangkok and Pattaya. Traffic can be fierce and tempers sometimes run hot. There are often motorbike accidents. Be careful if you ride a motorbike here.

Pollution Index: Phuket Town has some bad days for pollution when the wind isn’t blowing. Patong Beach – I’d say, even with traffic there is no problem because there is almost always some kind of breeze.

Temperatures: Summer is very hot – you’ll sweat for the first couple of years in Phuket. Winters are cooler at night, but not as cool as Krabi, Nakhon si Thammarat or Surat Thani. You’ll probably need air conditioning for the daytime.

Rain: Frequent heavy downpours during the rainy season – especially October – Mid December. Some years worse than others. Some bad flooding during especially wet years.

Transportation: Many motorbike taxis, regular taxis, songthaews, orange local buses. Vans and VIP buses are used to go longer distances. There are daily and nightly buses to Bangkok. Phuket is not on the train line, so it’s a bit difficult to take a train from Bangkok because you must jump on a van in Surat Thani. There are many accidents on Phuket – motorbike drivers beware.

House and Apartment Costs: Expensive. A friend in Patong Beach rented out the top floor of a house for 17,000 THB per month. Sure it had a kitchen, 3 bedrooms and even a dining room – but still. It was HOT and he needed the air frequently. Phuket Town is less expensive and there are some serviced apartments available for 7,000 – 10,000 THB.

Food Costs: Expensive. Of course, you can go looking for the cheap options the Thai students eat at – but, if you’re looking for any convenience at all – everything in Patong Beach is expensive. Phuket Town is cheaper, but still moderately expensive.

Jobs Available: Many teaching jobs are available. There is a large Rajabhat in Phuket Town as well as Prince Songkla, and other smaller, two-year universities and tech schools. There is one exceptionally large English teaching program in Phuket Town called Kajonkietsuksa which employs over 30 foreign teachers of English each year. Maybe half return so there are 15 vacancies you can compete for. There are two respected international schools on the island, Dulwich and QSI. Both pay nice wages for very qualified English teachers.

Salary for Teachers: Average to good. In 2007 I was offered 37,000 THB to teach at a government high school – with a master’s degree and 2 years of teaching English in Thailand. Private classes are in demand so you can make more money there if you wish.

Western Food Availability: Nearly anything available in Bangkok or Pattaya is available here. Many Italian places, German, Dutch, Swedish, all sorts of international food is available. All the fast-food chains like McDonald’s, Burger King, Dairy Queen, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Company, Swenson’s Ice Cream, Black Canyon Coffee, Starbucks, Subway, and others exist.

Shopping: Central Mall in Phuket Town has many stores and virtually anything you may need. Tesco, Big C, and Makro are in Phuket Town as well.

Worth Mentioning: Easy to get to many other places from Phuket. Pretty expensive place to live. Many, many things to do in and around Phuket. There are some really beautiful beaches in Phuket.

Personal Thoughts: Patong is my favorite place for nightlife. I don’t like Bangkok – too many people. Pattaya is too sleaze-ball. Patong Beach is a nice atmosphere and I prefer it. I love that living in Phuket makes it easy to take a ferry to Krabi, Phi Phi, Trang, or Koh Lanta. Buses and planes go to Bangkok daily. I would live here if I had the extra money. Why is the extra money necessary? The nightlife here is mandatory to some degree!

Ubon Ratchathani

Population Density: Ubon probably has 100,000 people in and close to the city.

Pollution Index: The air is stale and not moving much of the time, but there is little real traffic or industry right in town so the air is usually good quality.

Temperatures: Summer is the hottest time of the year, and maybe the hottest in the country in Ubon. Winter is very cool from November to February.

Rain: Ubon gets quick storms and occasionally will rain for an entire day or even two, but usually the storms are moving through pretty fast. It’s frequently in need of rain.

Transportation: A couple of tuk-tuks at Tesco, Big C, Robinson, and downtown by the park. More motorbike taxis and songthaews but not always when you need one if you’re away from the shopping areas. There are many technical students here so they all ride songthaews. There is an airport with daily flights to Bangkok.

House and Apartment Costs: Very cheap all over Isaan (northeast Thailand).

Food Costs: Very inexpensive. One of the cheapest places for food in the country.

Jobs Available: Government schools, private prep school (Benjamahah), University of Ubon Ratchathani is 15km away, Rajabhat University, Polytechnic. Couple private schools (ECC), no international school.

Salary for Teachers: Average. Few teachers choose to live in Ubon so schools are usually in need.

Western Food Availability: Very little. There are two Italian restaurants now, one Pakistani, one Japanese. Dairy Queen, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Company, Swenson’s Ice Cream is about it.

Shopping: Difficult to find western type items. You’ll probably visit Bangkok by train every now and then for shopping.

Worth Mentioning: The people in Ubon are exceptionally friendly and interested in getting to know foreign visitors. Residents have good feelings about foreigners because Americans and others visited Ubon for rest and relaxation during the Vietnam War. “The Rock” club on Chayangkun Road is quite good and the biggest, best in town. Don’t miss it.

Personal Thoughts: Ubon and Sisaket are my favorite cities in Thailand. The people are the reason for that. There is little in the way of tourist attractions, but always something simple to do. There are waterfalls and visits to Laos and Cambodia for day trips. Some amazing Buddhist temples exist in the countryside toward the border with Cambodia.

House or Apartment?

Once you’ve figured out the city you want to live in and you have a job lined up you’ll probably need a house or apartment. Your Thai coworkers can be very helpful in your search. Let them help if they’re game.

Apartments vs. Houses

Apartments are less private, neighbors know your business – they see when you come in, and go out. Maybe, more importantly, they see who you bring in and out.

Believe it or not, spending more money on a house can be the smarter decision. Apartments tend to be just as expensive as houses for a few reasons…

Water

Living in an apartment you’ll probably be charged a flat fee for public water utility that you use for your toilet, shower, and sinks. Maybe the fee will be 300 baht per person per month. If you go over that apartment owners can charge whatever they want.

In Surat Thani I paid a flat 300 baht fee for 6 months of living in an apartment. When I moved out the owner charged me another 1,800 THB because she said I went over the maximum water use. I protested that she should have charged me more each month so I knew what was happening. She said, the water guy only goes in to read the meter once when tenants move in – once when they move out. So – I had to pay it. It never happened again though, because from that point on I lived in a house and paid my own water bill which has never been more than 120 THB even for two people.

If you live in a house, it’s easy to get cheap drinking water. This filtered water comes in large 20-liter plastic jugs. We buy ours for 12 baht (about $.30 USD. There are water trucks that come around and we swap our empty water jug for a full one for 12 THB. In a house it’s easy to know when the water truck is coming – it’s right outside your door and beeps once or twice on the soi to let everyone know water is available. In an apartment, you’ll miss the truck many times when you need it. If you’re lucky your apartment will offer the service for you, but I’ve not seen that much. If you live on higher floors you’re not going to want to be carrying a 50-pound water jug up the stairs.

Live in an apartment and you’ll likely be buying bottled Singha or Nestle water from the hotel’s reception area or from a 7-11. These 1.5-liter plastic bottles run about 10 baht each. You’ll use 20 in a week, easily. You will spend 200 THB a week instead of 12. Doesn’t sound like much I know, but if you’re money-conscious you’ll save over $20 USD per month with the big bottles of water. In a year that’s $240 and enough for an iPod Touch.

Electricity

Electricity can be either a major expense, or a trivial one, depending on whether you live in a house or an apartment. If you’re in an apartment the owner will probably charge you between 5 and 7 THB per ‘unit’ of electricity. This is a huge markup from what the electricity actually costs and this is one way the apartment owner makes a lot more money from tenants. Living in a one-room studio apartment during the hot season in Ubon Ratchathani – one of the cheapest places in the country I paid 3,500 THB for the apartment rental and another 3,000 THB ($100 USD) for electricity for running the air conditioner – at night primarily. It was impossible to sleep without it as the concrete walls gave off all the heat it soaked up from the relentless sun during the day.

Live in a house and the house owner will usually let you pay your own electric bill which the electric company delivers monthly in a small plastic box somewhere in the front of your house. Your bill, even with air conditioner use, probably won’t be much over 1,000 THB per month ($32 USD) unless it’s summer or unless you have a large house or affinity for cold air.

Your electric and water bills can be paid at the closest 7-11 convenience store and you need not speak Thai, just hand it over with the cash.

If you have an apartment you can usually have it cleaned once a month for 300 THB. Sometimes the apartment has cleaning included in the rent and a maid will come in daily to clean up and take your linens.

Cost to clean a house? We clean our own so I’m not sure, but you can count on it being slightly more than 300 THB.

Another factor you might want to consider is whether you’re eating in or dining out. If you’re teaching you’ll likely eat either school food for free or find a lunch spot with the other foreign teachers. If you’re home in a house you’ll probably have a makeshift kitchen. If you’re handy you can make instant soups or something else quick to eat. If you’re lucky your Thai spouse or friend cooks – and you can have amazing Thai food daily. I’ve found that it’s a little more expensive to eat at home. Yes, seriously. The reason is that I insist on buying good quality ingredients when we cook at home. When we eat out at a restaurant it usually only costs us 30 – 100 THB each depending on how many items we get.

Privacy

Renting a house gives you a bit more privacy. If you don’t crave it at first, give it a year and see what you think. Thais are nosy. At least we see it that way. They are well into your business and aren’t shy at all about staring, asking you questions they have no business asking, and just, in general, trying to find out everything about you.

When I first arrived I was appalled at the assault on my privacy. Then I got over it for a year or so. Then I craved privacy again. I’m still in the privacy craving mode. At some point, you’ll probably want the same for yourself.

Special classes

When you have an apartment you aren’t likely to get many students that will come into your one-room studio apartment and sit on your bed for lessons. If you have a house you can set aside one room with air conditioning to be your classroom. If you have an apartment it will cost you as much money as a house just for the simple reason that you’ll have to rent out office space somewhere if you want to teach special classes. If you have a house, the owner may even allow you to put a sign in the front to let people know you teach English there too. Possibly not. Technically it’s illegal, but we’ll get into that more later.

Housing Types

Thailand has many townhouses that come up for rent. These are two-story structures connected in rows of 4 to 10 units usually. Walls are concrete and deaden the sound of neighbors quite a bit, but if you have neighbors that like to crank up the television or music you’ll be craving a house with no abutting neighbors rather quickly.

Standalone houses – those that don’t share a wall with a neighbor are more expensive, but I’ve found, well worth the cost – if you can afford it. Thai homes are usually large, being three and four bedrooms with multiple bathrooms. Reason being, they’re built for large Thai families.

You might be surprised to find marble floors and granite countertops in the kitchen. Don’t run yet. Ask the price. It might be affordable. Cheap even! I rented a massive four-bedroom home in Surat Thani with marble, hardwood, and tile floors and marble kitchen and restroom countertops for 7,000 THB per month. That’s about $230 USD. This house had a new air conditioner in each of the bedrooms. The master bedroom had an exotic half-outside shower that was like showering in the wild. Great fun! The bathrooms all had granite counters and marble floors. There was first class (as far as Thailand goes) IKEA brand furniture in every room, two new sleeper couches, big porch and yard next to a rubber plantation. It was amazing as far as I was concerned. In America, I’d have paid over $1,000 per month for it – regardless of location.

How much can you rent a furnished house for?

Outside of Bangkok, Patong Beach, Koh Samui, or Krabi, and other higher cost of living areas, the average price in 2009 seems to be about 5,000 THB. This does not include electricity or water. Both of these utilities probably won’t cost you more than another 500 – 2,000 THB per month unless you’re really cranking the air conditioner non-stop.

On Koh Samui, I’ve looked at houses for 12,000 THB that were quite acceptable. In Krabi, the price is 9,000 to 12,000 THB on average. In Patong, the price is higher – you can rent the top floor of a house for 15,000 THB and a whole house for 20 – 25,000 THB or so.

Housing Contracts

Most landlords would like you to sign a one-year or 6-month lease. The higher-priced regions are more rigid with this requirement it appears. If the apartment or house is furnished, expect to pay a deposit against damages. Thais usually like to rent to a foreigner because we take care of things better than Thais do. I have had 3 landlords tell me that. I have to agree. I am cautious about lending anything to a Thai person. It often ends up broken with no offer of repayment. Why? It was fate that it broke. Karma happened. You’re out of luck, not me. Lend with caution…

The Search

For every place I’ve found to live in Thailand except one that was provided for me as part of a teaching package, I found it myself by riding the motorbike around every road in the city I was looking in.

In the popular areas – the islands and even some of the nicer cities there appears to be a serious housing shortage at the moment. Everyone is staying put in the house they’re in, and many are moving from rural areas to the cities to find work. In Surat Thani, the place I once stayed, I drove around for eight hours over the course of two days and found just three acceptable houses for rent. I looked at thousands.

Usually, there is no substitute for driving around by yourself and doing the footwork. Your Thai co-workers, as well-meaning as they are, don’t have the slightest idea what you would like in a house and yet sometimes they’ll be able to find one for you. Let them try by all means.

Moving in Expenses

If you don’t have these items already inside your new home, you’re going to want them. Here is a brief rundown of costs of various items you may need (outside Bangkok).

While I’m listing costs I’ll also talk about vehicles you may want to rent or purchase. Many foreign teachers get along without having any sort of personal transportation at all. They take tuk-tuks, taxis, motorbike taxis, or walking.

Riding a motorbike in Thailand at first seems like a no- brainer. Who can’t ride a moped? Well, there’s a lot more to it than it first appears. I recommend that you ride with Thais or a very competent foreigner a couple of hundred times as a passenger on a motorbike first before you attempt it yourself.

I’ve logged about 100,000 kilometers on three different motorbikes over the years. Do I feel like an expert? No, not at all. Are there still times I almost get into an accident? Yes.

Accidents in Thailand are pretty horrible. I’ve seen numerous dead motorbike drivers and automobile drivers laying in the street and it isn’t a nice scene. I’ve also seen a disproportionate number of foreigners crash their motorbikes. My friend crashed his motorbike at 2:00 a.m. and needed multiple brain surgeries to pick parts of his skull out of his brain.

Think twice and three times before you drive a motorbike in Thailand. It can be done, and it’s fun once you know what to expect.

A Word about Thai houses, and Apartments…

The construction standards that were followed when your house in your home country was built are nowhere to be found in Thailand. They have their own set of standards. Sometimes they are followed and sometimes they are not. As I write this I’m staring at the side of my neighbor’s house that has cement applied to the top one-third of the outside wall, and it stops where the top of the fence starts – where nobody can see that the builders didn’t bother to finish applying the cement over the bricks on the bottom half of the house. This is not an anomaly, it’s the norm.

Two particular areas must be mentioned:

Water

Plumbing, roofing, anything at all that has to do with keeping water where it belongs is not always put together very well. Why contractors try to skimp on these things is a real mystery. These are things that affect the Thai home dweller immediately if they go wrong.

Roof leaks. If you see one in the house or apartment you’re about to move into – don’t move in. Seriously. Sometimes what looks like a simple roof leak is really the roof leaking in nine different spots and coming through the ceiling in only the lowest spot. The entire thing can be hosed during the next couple of rain showers.

Electricity – a lurking danger

I couldn’t have counted all the open electrical boxes and bare live wires I’ve seen (and sometimes touched!) in Thailand. Why plastic caps and electrical tape isn’t applied to the end of live wires here – I’ll never know, and never stop questioning. It is ridiculously dangerous, and yet it occurs often.

Be very careful around electricity here. When water and electricity combine, it’s quite deadly – as you already know. If you see water coming out of a wall or pooling on the floor after coming out of a wall be careful about touching it. The water might well be running through the electric box first and will give you a nice jolt – or, kill you. Never blindly reach around a wall to feel for a light switch. That’s been my undoing twice. The electricity here is 220 volts, not 110 like in the USA. Be careful, be careful…

Your Neighbors

Coming from your home country you’ll probably be accustomed to neighbors respecting others’ rights by keeping stereos, cars, motorbikes, and television volume turned down enough so you can think in your own house. Some neighbors are not like that in Thailand.

Thai culture is, at times, very noisy. You might never have guessed that before because it’s likely your only real interactions with Thais in your home country came at the incredible Thai restaurants they’re known for. In the restaurant you’ll have some quiet music and low lighting… your waitress will be the essence of politeness and very quiet, demure.

One of the first shocks you’ll receive in Thailand is to your eardrums. If you have ADD/ADHD – like I do, you’ll find it a bit hard to get over. There are trucks that scream advertising up and down the streets at 200 decibels. They pull up to the front of your house creeping very slowly… you’re ready for them because you heard them one kilometer away and the screams of the advertisements have been getting increasingly louder and louder, until right in the front of your house when you couldn’t hear your skull crack if someone hit you with a hammer.

Thai televisions blare loudly. The music on our small street (soi) starts next door at 7 a.m. when the boys who drive the beer delivery truck wake up. It’s Isaan music, which I love, so I’ve said nothing. It also wakes the entire neighborhood up on time to get to work – so, I imagine that’s why nobody has yet complained. It is retaliatory and wrong, but I can’t help blasting some early morning music on Saturdays and Sundays after they’ve come in at 4 a.m. from a night of hard-drinking.

Firecrackers and bigger explosives. Thais have this thing about firecrackers. There are so many different special days across Thailand in which firecrackers are lit. You’re better to expect it daily and not be upset when it scares the daylights out of you. Every night at 6 p.m. at the temples and the city spirit houses a large number of firecrackers are lit. Get used to it, it isn’t going away.

Go to The Ultimate Guide to Teaching English in Thailand | Part 4 >