Safety in Thailand

Long referred to as the Land of Smiles, Thailand has had a rough past few years as public policy reforms, bombings, and most regrettably, the passing of HM the King, have taken their toll on the nation.  While these events have impacted the stability of the country, Thailand is still open for business.

Current Situation

At the foremost of many backpackers, travelers, and teachers’ minds is the situation.  Since the passing of HM, there has been a month of official mourning, and as a further sign of dedication to the King, the ruling junta has declared a year long period of national mourning.  The difference being that the month of the immediate aftermath was the time when entertainment centers were either closed or had to close early.  In public, people were also expected to wear black or white, or failing that a black ribbon available for free throughout the country.  At the current time more people seem to be wearing normal colour clothes.  As a teacher at a public school, I wear a black, grey, or white shirt with grey pants.  To be safe, you could ask people in Thailand through social media groups what they feel to be appropriate in their part of the country.

As I mentioned, the entertainment centers of Thailand; Bangkok, Pattaya, and the islands, were closed for a certain time, but are now back up and running.  The Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan is operating.  While there are less people from abroad visiting Thailand currently, it does mean that good deals can be found on accommodations as resorts do their best to compete for few customers.  You can also expect great deals on drinks as bars seek to out compete each other in a tough industry.

Lèse-majesté

You have probably heard about the strict lèse-majesté laws in Thailand that forbid people from criticizing the monarchy.  Punishments can be severe, including substantial jail time, for any comments thought to disparage the Thai royal family.  Whatever your opinion you may in that it infringes upon people’s freedom of speech, it is wise to keep it to yourself.  My best advice is to simply not talk about it, much better uses of time than being overheard and carted off to a cell and being in deep shit.

My Opinion

Having been in Bangkok the night of the bombing last August and having been worked and lived across quite a few locations in Thailand, I am not worried.  Granted, I live in Chanthaburi, which is not a big traveler destination.  I will say that I have never been a victim of violent crime in Thailand, nor have I felt unease when out in public even in small villages in Isaan where there are few, if any, foreigners.

Also, exercise the same level of caution you would when you visit anywhere abroad.  Watch your pockets in crowded places, avoid confrontations, smile, look out for each other, and keep an eye out for people behaving strangely.

Consulting with your country’s travel advisory page is another excellent way to answer any questions you may have.  Lastly, take the necessary precaution and don’t leave home without decent traveler’s insurance!

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Summer English camps in Thailand

Are you a teacher, backpacker, or digital nomad in Thailand and looking for an exciting opportunity? English camps are a great way to try teaching for the first time while also being rewarded for your time. If you are a backpacker or digital nomad thinking about teaching ESL then these English camps give you an idea of what teaching can be like  before committing to a full semester or a full year required for most ESL jobs in Thailand.  Non-native speakers can also apply for some of these jobs if their level of English is high enough and they can speak in a relatively clear accent.  Here’s the rundown on English camps in Thailand and how I fared recently trying to find a job for the holiday in October.

English camps are a part of daily life for English teachers in Thailand and are most often ran by teaching agencies and the schools themselves.  These events typically last for a day or two, or even three days.  The English camps are ran by the teachers and sometimes agency staff who come up with a theme, activities, songs, rewards, etc.  I have done a few English camps here in Thailand and similar style events in Korea and I quite enjoy them as a way to have some much needed fun outside the classroom.

As for your duties, these are quite light with teachers operating an activity station in a circuit with other teachers for one or two hours and taking part in other camp activities that incorporate learning English in a fun and entertaining way. For example, you may run a flashcard type activity for 20mins with a group of kids before the groups switch stations and a whole new batch of students stop by.  But what I didn’t realise until recently is how big and popular English camps really are in Thailand.

Schools and agencies run English camps pretty much all year round.  If you work at a public school directly you will probably do at least one English camp a semester.  However, if you work at a public school through an agency, you might be asked to work additional English camps at other schools, which can include meals, accommodations, and additional payments.  While you can find English camp job ads posted online most months, the most lucrative months are March-April and October as these are the months most public schools close for the holidays meaning lots of teachers are free to work at English camps. Wanting to earn some extra money, I looked online for English camp jobs recently.

Basic English camp jobs start at 1000THB ($30USD approx) a day and often include meals, accommodation, and transport.  I went to my usual spot Ajarn.com and gave Craigslist a try.  Sure enough, there were ads looking for English teachers to work at English camps in September and October.  Pay for those jobs ranged from 1000-1500THB and lasted for two or three days meaning a Friday to Sunday camp could net at least 3000THB ($85USD) which is not bad considering you would have accommodation and meals taken care of.  I thought of applying for them but then I came across the top tier English camp jobs.

Big private schools in Bangkok offer top money for English teachers during the peak months of English camps.  The jobs that I saw were offering 2000-3000THB ($60-85USD) a day for 10 day camps teaching phonics while also playing games and singing with young learners under 10.  20,000-30,000THB ($570-860USD) for a 10 day job, with a weekend in between, is not bad at all especially when the starting salary for ESL teachers in Thailand is 30,000THB a/m.

There was no way I wasn’t going to at least try for the top tier jobs.  With my past and current experience with younger learners as well as the English camps and big school events I have worked, I was able to snag two interviews in Bangkok.  After a long ass day that involved waking up at the crack of dawn for a 4hr bus ride to Bangkok, having the first interview, and then hanging around Terminal 21 in Asok for hours before the second interview, I was pleased to be offered a position at the second school before even leaving the interview.    It just shows how fast you can make an opportunity like that happen if you do a little research and line up some interviews

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V for Victory! At Victory Monument, Bangkok

I hope this post helps teachers,backpackers, or nomads who are traveling or living in Thailand and looking to try teaching and be compensated for your time and efforts.  The work is fun, the days are not that long, and a 10 day job at 30,000THB could cover a month of your stay in Thailand!  Food for thought indeed.

 

Namtok Philo National Park

Another fresh post this week about one of Thailand’s central eastern hidden gems; Namtok Philo National Park!  In Thailand last week we had a five day holiday for the Buddhist celebration of Makha Bucha.  While I spent most of my time on Koh Chang, where else, by day three I was pretty exhausted with the partying and late nights and decided to drive home from Koh Chang early.  It was also fortunate that my lovely Thai girlfriend had time off from work to join me in Chanthaburi for the last couple days of the holiday.  This post is about how to make the most of a visit Namtok Philo National Park.

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Park entrance, tickets sold on the left

What is Namtok Philo National Park?

It is a lovely national park set in Chanthaburi province containing luscious green jungle with a calming river and impressive waterfall at the end of the hike into the jungle.  There are also a few monuments built to commemorate King Rama V’s visit to the area in 1875.  But wait, what makes this place a hidden gem besides an abundance of natural beauty?  The fact that the river is positively TEEMING with fish, and that’s a word I don’t use often!

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These fish positively fill the river and they aren’t afraid of the many people who come to swim and relax in the cool jungle river

How to get there?

From Chanthaburi it is a simple 20 minute drive to Namtok Philo National Park and you should see signs the closer you get.  Just rent a bike for the day if you are in Chanthaburi and off you go!  Free parking was available so there should be no trouble looking for a spot to park.

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What to see/do?

When you get into the park you can just follow the various paths and nature trails along the river up to the waterfall.  At the river you will see an abundance of fish and Thais swimming in the river or relaxing on the riverbank with a picnic.  I really recommend bringing a bathing suit or clothes you don’t mind getting wet and going for a swim.  To really top the relaxing nature of your visit off, act like the locals and bring a picnic!  This place is perfect for an afternoon swim in the cooling waters while getting your feet nibbled on by small fish like the massages you can see in Siem Reap and other places in Southeast Asia.  Don’t forget to bring your camera!

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Food and drink?

My advice is to bring a picnic but there are also a few small restaurants and places to buy snacks and drinks inside and outside of the park.

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How much?

If you are renting a bike for the day, that might cost you 250 or 300 baht.  Full tank of gas? 100 baht.  Foreigner ticket price? 200 baht.  So right away you can see this is a very affordable and relaxing day trip and one that I highly recommend if you are visiting Chanthaburi.

Hope you enjoyed reading and that this post inspires you to add another stop on your Thai travels, take care and stay tuned for future posts!

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The girlfriend and I

 

Roadtrip to Cambodia

I’m back!  Due to a combination of factors; a change of school, no wifi, a touch of laziness, and frankly nothing happening, I have been tardy in posting.  So it gives me pleasure to write about my latest adventure; a border run to Cambodia!

As you may have read before in my previous post about my visa run to Laos, you can see and do a lot as well as meet some great people to make your time worthwhile.  The difference in this trip, to the Baan Pakkad-Phsar Prum border crossing, is that it was not the destination that was the highlight of the trip but the journey itself!

I mentioned to a co-worker that I needed to go to Cambodia to get my visa stamped for another 30 days on arrival back in Thailand and he suggested I take my motorbike.  I think he was half joking but I took him seriously, did some research, asked a friend to join me, and that weekend off we went!

My friend and I, another Canadian, met up for breakfast and did some last minute fact finding before we set off.  As our luck would have it, it started to rain heavily.  The rain was so heavy that I could barely see in front of me from all the rain distorting my vision that I put my sunglasses on.  This helped me somewhat and ultimately helped persuade me to stick to the mission and not head back.

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What really made the drive more enjoyable, after the rain had lightened to a drizzle, was the beautiful scenery; luscious green landscapes for miles around, mountains off in the distance, the occasional waterfall, and the bemused looks of soldiers at occasional checkpoints to see a farang that far out in the countryside driving a motorbike.

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For those who are interested in driving motorbikes on long distance journeys, as opposed to just jetting about in town or on an island, I found no problems on my small bike and I just followed what other Thais on their bikes were doing; stick to the side of the road and you should have no problems!  Occasionally this is not possible and you will have to mix it up with cars but if you just drive responsibly and move out the way for oncoming cars, it shouldn’t be an issue.

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At the Thai side of the border, Baan Pakkad, things were very simple.  We just went to the immigration building, got our passport stamped, had them inspected again at the checkpoint, and walked over to Phsar Prum in Cambodia!  After walking a couple hundred meters through the ‘no man’s land’ we went to the Cambodian immigration building and filled out some forms to get our Cambodian visa which cost 1500 baht but could be cheaper if you pay in USD, which is the de facto currency in Cambodia.  They asked for a picture for the visa but we didn’t have any and it was not a problem.

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Now, because we were only in Cambodia for the afternoon we didn’t write how long we expected to stay in Cambodia.  When the immigration official asked how long we intended to stay we were vague and said a day, this turned out to be important for when we went to leave.  They said ok, and then handed back our passports with the green Cambodian visa attached.

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Immediately after walking down the main road to have a look for somewhere to eat we had guys on motorbikes asking if we needed a ride and if we wanted to go to Battambang.  We politely declined their offers and kept on walking.  The main attraction of Phsar Prum seems to be casinos.  I had not known it before going there but there were at least four casinos in this small town.  My feeling is that because gambling is illegal in Thailand, wealthy Thais come to the Phsar Prum to gamble.  We went inside one of the casinos to have a look and inside we were surprised to see how busy it was.  Inside were mostly middle aged men smoking while playing slot machines, blackjack, poker, and roulette.  My friend inquired as to whether he could play with just 1000 baht and they said yes but what I figured was going to happen would be that he would have to buy in to certain games and that ultimately if he won big, he might not walk out of there with money as we were just two foreigners in a country famous for scams and corruption.  He wisely decided against playing and we left to find a spot to eat lunch and enjoy a beer before crossing the border back to Thailand.

At the Cambodian immigration building we were thinking about what they were going to say considering we had just come to Cambodia a couple hours ago and now we were leaving but figured they must be used to it as to my knowledge quite a few foreigners were doing the same as us; dipping into Cambodia to return to Thailand to get the 30 days on arrival visa*.  To my mild surprise the official said that we had to stay the night because the Cambodian visa was for a minimum of one day.  I said that we had to get back to Thailand that day because we had urgent business.  Then he said, ‘ok, 300 baht’.  I honestly laughed because this was totally something I was half expecting to happen.  After a brief discussion we agreed to pay and then the official promptly stamped our passport and off we went back to Thailand.  I suppose we could have argued with them and asked to see their superior but I felt it just wasn’t worth the hassle.

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Back on the Thai border we had no such problems besides a funny look knowing we had just left and came back, clearly just for the purpose of getting the 30 days as our visas were about to expire.  And with that, we were back on our bikes with a sense of relief and accomplishment with the rain having stopped.  With the rain having stopped and there being less traffic, we were able to cut the drive down to about an hour and a half.  All in all it was a productive day and a new experience for me; a road trip on my own bike in Southeast Asia.  The first of many I hope!

Stay tuned for more posts and thanks for your continued support! J

 

*I should also state that 30 days on arrival by land is for G7 countries and was only relatively recently changed from 15 days.

Overcoming feelings of isolation and alienation abroad

We all come to a time when we’ve been traveling, backpacking, or teaching abroad long enough to feel the ache for the familiar or the strain of having left family, friends, and relationships behind back home or just other places on our journey.  It is during these times you must make the effort overcome feelings of isolation and alienation.

I experienced these feelings on more than one occasion back in Korea after a long Friday night/Saturday morning partying downtown.  I’d wake up feeling hungover as hell in a tiny shoe box of an apartment with nightfall having already descended. I’d ask myself if this was the best I could do to make my weekends count and I always knew the answer was no but still ended up having more weekends like that because it was what my friends did.  Gradually I broke out of that cycle and found that a quiet night in after a hectic week of work was often what I needed to re-charge my batteries.

Now in Trat, Thailand, my problem is living in a town that I don’t know much about, there is a distinct lack of information online, there isn’t much of an expat community, the language is even tougher to learn, I’m still discovering what foods to eat, and while I have another foreign teacher at my school, we’re not close.  To compound this my two closest friends from my last school in Chok Chai chose to head home and end their time in Thailand.  For the past two weekends I’ve been in Koh Chang on Lonely Beach which helps me forget my current feelings of transition but obviously going there every weekend is not the answer.

Am I becoming disillusioned with a life of backpacking and teaching abroad? Far from it.  I’m writing this to show that for people who are just starting out this kind of lifestyle, or having been doing it for years, that the feeling of homesickness, isolation, and alienation, affects everyone time to time.  What matters is how you tackle it!  So here are some of the things I’ll be doing to settle in more and make the most of my time in Trat, these are also things any traveler or teacher abroad can do to beat the blues.

  • Keep busy: take language lessons, start a blog, plan your next move, get a start on making teaching materials for next week, etc
  • Familiarize yourself: go walks or take bike rides around the local area to discover what your surroundings have to offer, you may be surprised!
  • Contact family and friends: Message them, call them, Skype them, do what ever it is you need to do to keep in touch with your close ones to let them know they’re in your thoughts no matter how far away you are.
  • Get fit: Physical fitness plays a big role in keeping mentally fit.  Go for long walks, jogs, or runs, buy a bike and find some trails to explore, get a gym membership, join an expat sports league, in short; get active!
  • Start dating: apps like Tinder are a great way to meet new people, whether they are fellow expats or locals, whether your intention is to look for a friend or something more.  Putting yourself out there is a surefire way to fight back feelings of loneliness and can lead to an exciting new social life!
  • Relax:  backpacking or teaching abroad have their stressful times so it really is essential to once in awhile take time to simply…..relax.  Read books, have a Netflix binge, go to a beach and just look out into the horizon and contemplate the mysteries of life, just not too seriously!   It is ok to have the occasional lazy weekend; they’re healthy for your mind and your bank account, not to mention Game of Thrones starts up again next month, never a bad time to start from the beginning to refresh yourself 😉

So that’s what has been on my mind of late transiting to a new school and town as a teacher abroad.  Having put these words to type has made me feel better already and I’ll be taking my own advice, starting with some simple relaxation and reading.  I should also add in just over 2 weeks my vacation will kick off in Chiang Mai for the ultimate frisbee tournament before Songkran, so still lots to look forward to even while not much is going on at school at the moment.  I hope this post finds you in a good place in life as I am now, thanks for reading and take care 🙂