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!

Advertisements

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

VDay pic.jpg
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.

 

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 🙂

Int’l Layovers: The Right and the Wrong Way

No doubt that if you travel lots you have had a layover, whether it be domestic or international, short or long, you probably want to make the most of your time there.  Making the best of your time may only be finding a comfortable place to re-charge your laptop and phone while grabbing some z’s, or it might be exploring the increasingly luxurious confines of the big international departure zones.  For those with even more time and flexibility, you might even be able to leave the airport and explore your local surroundings.  This post is for those people who have had long layovers or will in the future. This post is about how to do it the right way and the wrong way.

The WRONG way

On my trip to Cambodia for the Christmas holiday I found myself with a 14+ hour layover on Christmas Day in Guangzhou, China.  I had never been to China but I had read about the new permits at major Chinese destinations like Beijing, Shanghai, and as it happens, Guangzhou, that allow you to stay in the country for 7hrs.  So it was plain to me that I was going to explore the city of Guangzhou.

Right from the get go my planning was flawed.

  1. I booked a hotel in advance (good) but I did not realise it was a chain (bad) and when it came to arriving in Guangzhou my taxi driver had no clue where it was even with a Chinese address.  He proceeded to drive me around like he knew where he was going, driving up the meter, before handing me off to another taxi who equally had no idea.  When I finally got to the hotel they told me that, yes, I had a reservation, but at another hotel of the same chain….no problem! They’d switch it they said. Except they double charged me after my no show at the other hotel I had just spoken to on the phone to clear up the misunderstanding.  They refused to refund me the cost for the other room. TIP: Buy a local sim card always to clear up be able to make local calls and let your hotel know in advance you are coming, they may have an airport shuttle.
  2. I did not get any Chinese yuan before I got there so I had to get it at the airport where it is debatable as to whether you get a favorable exchange rate. TIP: Get your money in advance, it might take some time out of your day but you’ll be thankful once you grab your bag from the baggage carousel and walk right out with money in your pocket.
  3. I had underestimated how big Guangzhou really was and so rather than being near the city center I was on the outskirts, far away from the things I wanted to do.  Rather than get screwed by another taxi or get lost on a bus I decided to stay near my hotel. TIP: Get a basic idea of how large the city is, how long it takes to get to your hotel, how far apart things are, save Google map route images!
  4. After giving up going out into the center of the city having spent quite a bit on taxi fares I decided to go take a walk around the block.  As it happened there was a night market which was interesting to see. But where I went I wrong was not being adventurous when it came to eating.  I saw many small food carts and restaurants but nothing caught my eye…shamefully my Christmas dinner consisted of a crappy and cold KFC meal. TIP: Don’t be afraid to eat local!  Eating fast food abroad regularly, but especially on a layover, is an opportunity lost!
grey.jpg
Grey uninspiring view from my hotel room
Chinnightmarket.jpg
Guangzhou night market

 

petmarket

Depressing; pets for sale in tiny cages….

The RIGHT way

Having been teaching or traveling in Asia since February 2014 I was finally headed home back to Canada after backpacking in Thailand and Laos as well as a month in Abu Dhabi to visit my father.  I had booked the cheapest flight I could find from Abu Dhabi to Toronto months in advance and a couple times I had received emails informing me that the itinerary had changed but I had scarcely looked at them because it was months away and I was busy doing my CELTA and backpacking.  It was perhaps a week before my flight to Toronto when I thought I’d take a look at the itinerary and it turned out that I would have a layover of around 9hrs  in Rome.  Immediately I set to work to make this layover work, the RIGHT way.

  1.  First I researched if it was indeed possible to enter Italy without a visa while waiting for a connecting flight.  It was; I hold a Canadian passport so there was no issues here.  Even though I arrived the day after the Paris bombings I was stamped through immigration with the official barely bating an eyelid. TIP: Always check ahead to see if you can even leave the airport; your nationality or the host nation may not allow you to leave the airport, you may need a visa.
  2. I knew this time that it’d be a good idea to get some euros ahead of time.  Luckily my dad had some euros leftover from his work trips so I got some from him and I was able to find an ATM to withdraw money using my visa card. TIP: If you can’t get money ahead of time it is always a good idea to bring a credit/debit card that you can use internationally to withdraw money and equally a good idea to tell your bank ahead of time in case they notice the activity and deny you access to your funds.
  3. Next I looked up transportation from the airport into the city center and the best means to get around it. I found the amazingly helpful website The Rome Toolkit which helped me immensely.  Seriously, if you are planning a trip to Rome, consult this website as it has just about everything you need to know about transportation, hotels, and the sites. I found that there is an express train from the Fiumicino Rome called the Leonardo Express train and it would only take 30 minutes from the airport to Rome Termini, the main train station in Rome.  I also found that Rome has a subway system that was cheap, easy to use, and with stops located within walking distance of a lot of the tourist attractions. Sorted! Tip:  Always allocate the time to and from the airport to the city in your layover equation.  Also, it might be an idea to get a day pass when using a city’s subway system if you know you will be using it a lot. I underestimated how much I was going to use it and
  4. Then the tough part; deciding what to see and do!  Luckily Rome is not nearly so sprawling as Guangzhou and most of the sites I was researching were at the heart of the city and within walking distance of the subway as mentioned prior.   I narrowed my list of things to see and do to: the Vatican, Trevi Fountain, and of course, the Colosseum.  I specifically chose these sites because they were close to the subway stations and I knew by limiting my self to just a few special places I could more fully appreciate them than having to ‘oooh’ and ‘ahhh’, snap a few pics, then run off to the next one and repeat.  TIP:  Get ruthless!  Dig deep and think about what you really want to do in the limited amount of time you have.  Ask yourself, what would I truly regret not seeing if I never came here again?
  5. Food.  This time I did not make the same mistake of missing out on the local specialties, though I did go for the most predictable; pizza and gelato.  I had looked up the best places to eat pizza and gelato but what in what is a running trend in how to do a layover the RIGHT way, I comprised and ate pizza and gelato at a place just next to the Trevi Fountain (which I should say had just re-opened to the public after a multi-million euro renovation and looked spotless in its ageless beauty).  Luckily, the pizza place I had gone to was actually also one of the most highly rated places for gelato.  I’m not sure of the name, but it was directly to the left of the fountain and inside you are still able to see the fountain.  TIP: Don’t be afraid to splurge money on food if you only have short layover; it beats the hell out of eating McDonalds at the airport!

I hope you’ve found this post helpful in your efforts to make the most of your layovers, learning from the things I did right and wrong.  Have you had similar experiences of great layovers or layovers gone awry? What other tips can you give me and other travelers.  Let me know in the comments!