lyAaaah Thailand… The land of smiles. Isn’t it?
To some degree, yes. But lately, one can debate on that. Now I’m not here to bad mouth Thailand, or am I? No, I mean no harm. I will say it again, I’m not Willy Wonka. I won’t sugar coat things. I will speak about my experience but it’s solely my opinions, and if you agree, then let me know. If you don’t, that’s also cool. Sometimes it’s good to speak about the ‘negative’ experiences in order for someone else to have a positive one.
I naively went to Thailand with a big heart and bigger eyes ready to see the world. I did whatever it would take to get to there to teaching children. My friends who had moved to Thailand seemed to be doing well there. I bought ‘the dream’. It didn’t take me very long to see the other side of Thailand. 6 months to be exact. And the things that people don’t usually mention, for whatever reason.
Call me a baby, sensitive or whatever but each to their own and I decided I didn’t see a point in living there if I wasn’t happy and healthy. As much as I love the place, and being in a bikini on the beach, I personally think it’s the kind of destination for a holiday and not to immigrate to. But each to their own, of course, there are people who love it there and could stay for a lifetime.
- Tourism is what Thailand survives on. 35-36 million tourists visit monthly and on average, tourists can spend 4000 baht per day! You do the math. 4000 baht is not a lot to anyone earning in a strong currency, but it is approximately half the of rent for a local living in a nice condo. My point is, the tourism industry has boosted so much, that the Thai usually quote you based on your ethnicity. For example, if it costs 50 baht for a local to take a tuk-tuk, they’ll charge 200 baht for a tourist. Tourist knows nonetheless unless he/she has done the homework or you’re a local. Another example is that they have foreigner prices at the zoo. I paid 40 baht more because I’m a foreigner, even if I was a ‘local’.
- If you’re living there, be prepared to do visa-runs every 60 days to a surrounding border if you’re on a tourist visa, mainly Laos and Cambodia, and the costs involved. Or you can pay to extend your visa another month. You can keep costs lower by going via the long bus route or finding cheap flights but sometimes time is limited as you only have a weekend. A visa costs 1900 baht (2016 price) to renew each time. You can go on an Educational Visa for roughly 18 000 baht for the year but a requirement is that you have to learn Thai. If you have a degree, you can go onto a Non-B Immigrant Visa. Either way, be prepared to bear the costs.
- Choose your employment agency wisely. Most agencies are just in it for the money per employee/teacher that is hired so do your research on reputable and registered companies who have a strong admin team. They can apply for your teacher’s license and non-b visa on your behalf. Make sure the agency communicates with you and is supporting your role in the workplace.
- Teaching is not all that its meant out to be. I was told if you have a degree, you earn more. Not necessarily. If you have a degree AND experience, you earn more. Teaching is not for the faint hearted here.
- Teaching in Thailand is more about playing games, having fun and a bit of clowning around. You’re basically a glorified babysitter. I say this but it’s not always this case in all schools. It is supposed to be learning with fun but isn’t always like that. It does depend on what age group you teach. I taught 3 and 4 year olds at a prestigious private school and wiped bums, cleaned up spilt milk, changed their clothes and all while I wrote exams for them. At times it felt like I was teaching a brick wall because their attention span is 30 min max and that’s in-between physical activities, lunch, music and whatever social and cultural events.
- You are a face for the school. Sadly, for some schools, it’s all about the money. The parents need to see what they’re paying for and English has to be part of schools as it is a business language and good for tourism = more money for the country.
- The obsession with looking perfectly white in the beauty industry is another level here! Plastic surgery is affordable and there are skin-whitening ingredients in ALL products, even for males. Some believe, the darker, the poorer/uglier.
- Obviously, you have to consider their religion and culture in public otherwise you are deemed highly disrespectful. I fully understood and respected this but it was a bit challenging in the beginning as my school didn’t stop to think that maybe I also had my own culture and beliefs. I guess that’s why a lot of the older generation don’t like foreigners in the country. I can fully understand and respect that to a degree, but don’t force me to do something that I don’t want to do or that I don’t believe in.
- Some Thai’s gossip more than any bunch of teenage girls I’ve ever met. Only difference is, they will ask you about things to your face and then talk behind your back.
- The amount of dirt in the streets…and don’t get me started on the smells. Their drainage is a big problem.
- Which leads me to the water pollution. The fish are obviously all dead in the canals and you can see some floating. You can’t drink tap water.
- This also means no toilet paper when you go. Use the ‘bum gun’.
- Because it’s so humid, congested and mainly commercial, the air pollution is quite bad. If you have a weak immune system like myself.. and asthma… and allergies, it’s not pleasant. I didn’t even think about this before I moved.
- The change of season flu when it’s humid though! The kids were sick at school, making the teachers sick. At one stage there was bird flu, hand, foot and mouth disease…I couldn’t keep up. Maybe I’m a hypochondriac but I feared for my life at one stage and went to the hospital twice with numerous antibiotics.
- I lost about 11 kilos due to rice and noodles, chilli on everything and a lot of walking in the humidity! Not a bad thing, but when people are not recognising your stick-thin self, especially with dark sunken eyes, it’s a problem.
- I was chronically sick with bronchitis, had 3 courses of antibiotics and had to wear a mask. I accepted it and didn’t want to make my students or anyone else sick, but it made me feel so uncomfortable in public. Teaching with it on wasn’t fun either.
- Oh, the staring! Thai’s are not shy to stare!
- If you’re white and male… The world is your oyster there. You are deemed rich even if you cannot afford 2 min noodles. Some (not all) Thai women come to the city from poorer villages and meet a foreigner, gets married or falls pregnant, she is looked after and he gets a Thai green card so it’s a win-win situation. This is not the case for all but is popular in Thailand.
- The language barrier. I laugh because the Thai laugh at the way we speak or at least are trying to pronounce and learn their language but their English is poor? The irony.
- The racism. Let’s be real here. They call white foreigners, ‘farang’. I was told that this is a guava in Thai because their guava fruit is white on the inside. At first it was funny and I nodded it off to show I knew what they saying but I cannot begin to tell you how much it irritated me hearing it every.single. day. You think they racist to white people? They won’t go near a black person on the train! Witnessed with my own eyes more than once. They are so scared of Africans. I thought South Africa was bad but unfortunately racism is everywhere.
- South African? But you’re not black…which is a question I was often asked.
- Don’t ride the elephants on the day trips. If they have a seat on their backs and a chain around their foot, avoid!! I didn’t realise how badly they are treated, from such a young age. Most of them die from exhaustion and a bad back from carrying tourists day in and out. Read more here and rather go visit a conservation centre.
Call me old-fashioned, negative, over dramatic,*insert adjective here* but I want to live in a world where myself, animals and a 4-year-old knows love, kindness and respect. My heart broke as my eyes were opened to the reality of the world and I couldn’t be what authoritative figures wanted me to be. I had to let my school look for a better teacher than me for those kids. One who wasn’t sick all the time too. Those kids are super smart and I hope they continue to outsmart their parents and teachers in their future. Heck, when I was 4 I was still learning how to fart properly.
I wanted to be respected as an adult and not only a student of life.
I wanted to learn more about their culture and environment, instead I was affected by it. Physically, mentally and emotionally.
I couldn’t keep quiet anymore. I had to get out for my own well-being. Those that understood and supported me on my decisions, I can’t thank you enough.
So if you ever thinking of moving to Thailand, by all means…DO it. It will be the best times of your life, I mean that. Ironically, I made some of my best memories there and I’m grateful I got to experience the good and bad side. It made me realise it will be like that wherever you go in the world, it’s up to you to way up the pros vs cons.
Before you go, make sure you have a sufficient amount of money, rent an affordable apartment, Airbnb, or a hostel, depending on your length of stay. Learn basic Thai and teach English at a language centre to older students or adults, if you do want to teach. By all means, sip on coconut cocktails on the beach if you want to, but remember to pay half the price they quote 😉
As the saying goes, TIT! This Is Thailand!,