The adventure and beautiful chaos of teaching abroad in Thailand starts the moment you get off the plane. Your first job as a teacher will be to learn the basics of surviving your experience. So know your ABCs and be ready to get started!
After arriving in Thailand's New Bangkok International Airport (BKK) and collecting your luggage, you'll invariably be greeted with a long line of smiling faces on your way out of the terminal. Beware of the individuals with huge smiles holding various placards promoting their respective limousine transportation services. Unless you'd rather pay a premium to get to the hotel or demand a sleek limousine for all transportation, it's best to avoid engaging these people in conversation. Do some homework beforehand and find out roughly how much it should cost to travel from the airport to your hotel. The hotel itself can provide this information. Armed with this knowledge, walk right past the smiling faces as though you know where you're going and head straight out of the terminal to the waiting taxis. Expect the initial quote to be about four times the reasonable rate, but don't be intimidated. If they won't relent, try another taxi driver who will be located only steps away.
BAHT: Know Your Numbers
Guide books typically have a small section of useful phrases in Thai. While the common phrases are useful: hello, goodbye, please, thank you, and where’s the bathroom; nothing will serve you better than numbers. Bargaining works best if you can say the price in Thai. You don't need to know a lot. For example, "see roy baht" means four hundred baht, the local currency, and that alone is enough to gain some "street cred" when barked out over the astronomical offers. One USD is currently equivalent to around 30 THB (Thai Baht).
Also, have the address of your destination written on paper to ease any potential communication hurdles. Once on your way, don't be alarmed that the taxi driver doesn't turn on his meter; this is normal and he'll charge the flat rate agreed upon. Many visitors stick to the pricier and more well established restaurants and malls in the touristy areas and miss out on a great deal of the local experience. Or worse, they simply pick up a burger from Burger King, which in Thailand, is actually more expensive than the far tastier and healthier local options. If you're willing to be a bit more adventurous, hit up some of the many street vendors. Here, you'll find everything from a hearty meal, to tasty desserts, to a vast array of locally grown tropical fruit such as mangosteen, longan, lychee, and dragonfruit. If you're unfamiliar with a fruit and are unsure of how to open and eat it, don't be afraid to ask; the vendors are more than happy to show you what to do. Here is another time when efforts to learn numbers in Thai will pay off. One caveat to partaking of the local street food is that the vendors speak little to no English. While you can get by with pointing and gestures, perhaps showing a handful of change and letting them point at the coins, it can be a frustrating experience on both sides. Transactions become much smoother if you can ask the price ("tow rai?") and understand the numerical response.
COASTLINE: Thailand’s Beaches From North To South
It’s no secret that Thailand is known for its many beaches with pristine white sands and clear blue waters. The more popular (meaning crowded) destinations are Ko Samui and Ko Phangan, but the lesser known islands to Westerners are just as gorgeous and far more secluded. If you want to steer away from the party scene and have a more private experience, check out Ko Samet. In fact, this is where the locals go for their vacations since it’s relatively close to Bangkok. No matter which island you decide to visit, be prepared for everything to cost a bit more as most supplies must be transported from the mainland. In general, the more north you go on Ko Samet, the more happening it is; that is, the more restaurants, touristy shops, and party scenes will be found. On the other hand, the further south you go, the more peaceful and secluded it becomes. To strike a balance between accessibility and tranquility, stay in the beaches in the middle.
After several days of rest and relaxation, head down to Ko Tao (the Turtle Island), known for its many SCUBA diving resorts, which are mostly run by Australian or British expats. Ko Tao is probably the cheapest place on earth to get a SCUBA certification. Be prepared to invest four full days of classroom lectures, basic training in the pool, several actual diving sessions, and a written exam in order to obtain a basic Open Water license. You can stop there or continue immediately with one of several options for more advanced diving certifications. Be sure to schedule a few extra days if you want to enjoy Ko Tao at a more relaxing pace. Due to the large expat population on the island, many restaurants provide a large variety of western food. One that particularly stands out is Thaita Italian Restaurant, which is near the ferry dock at Ban Mae Haad. You’ll find that the most common mode of transportation on Ko Tao is moped. But, as a word of advice, the road conditions are less than ideal. To avoid getting injured during your vacation, hire a driver to get from one beach to another.
Thailand is your destination when looking for an unforgettable teaching abroad experience. It has something for everyone and strikes a great balance between adventure and pure relaxation.