Sunday, July 27, 2014

Day 82 // Temples of Chiang Rai

This weekend we rented a car and did the touristy thing, checking out Wat Rong Khun (the White Temple), Baan Dam (the Black House), and Doi Tung Royal Villa and Garden. 

I was SO happy we had a car. Rachael rented it for 24 hours for about 1000 baht and it made the day go so much smoother than attempting to take a bus, taxi, or any other mode of transportation. 

White Temple // Wat Rong Khun

Wat Rong Khun was created by well known Thai artist Chalermchai Kosipipat and is one of the most elaborate and unusual buddhist temples in Chiang Rai. Unfortunately it was damaged in the May earthquake, and much of the structure had pieces missing and rubble was covering the floor. Regardless of the damage, it is one of the most spectacular pieces of architecture I've had the pleasure of seeing. 

Black House // Baan Dam

Created by artist Thawan Duchanee, Baan Dam is a spectacular and dark arrangement of animal remains in 15 different houses that is quite morbid and completely entrancing.

Apparently, the Black house is Thawan Duchanee's portrayal of what hell is like. It provided a perfect antithesis to the purity and heaven like qualities of the White Temple.

Doi Tung Villa and Mae Fah Luang Gardens

Pardon my lack of photos for Doi Tung, I was tired and cranky and sweaty and only managed to take a few photos. 

Doi Tung Royal Villa was home to the current King's late mother, Princess Srinagarindra. She played an important role in fighting the opium trade that devastated the region, and the villa became a haven for the tribe people to recover. 

Mae Fah Luang Gardens

We ended the night at a friend's house for a birthday party and a jam session.

Definitely one of those weekends I never wanted to end. Thank you Thailand for constantly blowing my mind with the amazing things to see and incredible people. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Cost of Living in Thailand as a Teacher

Living in Thailand initially got me stoked on how cheap everything is, but that was when I had my American income frame of mind. Being a teacher provides us with more than enough income to live comfortably in Thailand, but you still have to be smart about superfluous spending.

So here is a break down on my expenses in the past 3 months living here (remember, this is fairly subjective and could vary depending on your priorities while here... like how buying a guitar was very important for me the first month...goodbye 3,000 baht...oof).

Exchange Rate: 30 baht = $1 US Dollar

My salary: 25,000 baht a month (paid on the last Friday of every month)

Basic Expenses
Accommodation: Free (most likely) // Monthly: Free
If you are going through the CIEE program (or OEG) you will most likely get housing taken care of. Some of the teachers I’ve met have to pay rent and utilities, but share it at a discounted price with multiple roommates. I am at a boarding school, so housing and utilities are free. 

Dining Out: roughly 100 baht a day // Monthly: 3,000 baht
Thai food is one of the things that bring me the most joy here. Seriously. The food here is so good it will make you emotional. Maybe that’s just me.

My school feeds me for every meal, so hypothetically my food expenses could be zero, but I find myself wanting to leave campus often and try new restaurants out on my own time, which equals about 100 baht a day.

A cheap Thai meal: 20-30 baht a plate (the best pad thai/som tam/mango sticky rice you’ve ever had at a restaurant where no English is to be found)

An expensive Thai Meal: 90-150 baht a plate (normally just as delicious as it’s cheaper counter part, but at a more westernized location that is more appealing to foreigners, usually because things are in English)

Average Western meals (because sometimes you just need a pizza dammit) 
          250 baht for a hamburger & fries
     60 – 80 baht for French fries
     300 baht for a personal pizza
     500+ baht for larger pizzas

Groceries: roughly 300 baht per visit // Monthly: 1,000-2,000 baht
Unfortunately I am not blessed with a kitchen, so I rely on leftover meals and snacks to satiate my appetite and occasional midnight eating binges. Some people get to cook a lot of their meals, so their expenses in this category would be much higher.

My groceries mainly entail candy for my students, dried fruits, granola bars, instant noodles, fruit, and more fruit.

Laundry: 30 baht per load // Monthly: 180 baht
Do yourself a favor and have someone do your laundry. I didn’t know hell until I washed my pile of clothing in my scary shower during the scorching heat of May, sweating through all the clothes I was wearing, then needing to wash those as well, and to top it all off the water was brown. I was washing my clothes in mud, or something worse than mud. And anything cotton (so everything I own) didn’t dry for 3 days in the humidity. #endrant

Then I met Aoy, who has one washing machine and a small market near the school, and she is my new Tuesday & occasional Thursday laundry buddy. For 20 baht you can wash a small load, and 30 baht a large load. It spins out your clothes so they are nearly dry when you take them home, and a short hanging on a drying rack will do the trick.

Motorbike: 150 a day (if rented daily) // Monthly: 2,500 baht  (if rented per month)
I could write a whole page on Motorbikes…but main point: Wear a helmet. Don’t be stupid.

Taxi: 40+ per ride // Monthly: depends on how often or if a taxi if your main source of transportation
If you call a taxi to pick you up, they tack on 20 baht for a call center fee. The meter will always start at 30 baht. Most of the time your driver will be awesome and just charge you the meter fee, but occasionally they like to stiff people and charge 10 baht per kilo…which can seriously add up and is always more expensive. Make sure you tell your driver meter, and if they say no…another taxi will say yes.

Tuk Tuk: only if you are desperate
While Tuk Tuks should be cheaper, they normally aren’t. Unless there are 6 of you and piling into one to get a few kilos away is more convenient. They will give you a flat fee that will probably be twice as much as a taxi ride, but they are every where and if you want to pay for the convenience, go for it.   
Phone (Data & Minutes): anywhere from 100 - 2,500 baht a month (totally subjective here)
2,500 baht may seem like a lot, and it is. This is how much I spend because I have a data plan and call home quite often. But these things have been my saving grace in connecting me with my family and my boyfriend back home. So for about 550 baht a month, I get an unlimited data plan and can use my iPhone for anything. The rest is for those long calls home, where you find yourself on the phone for over 45 minutes telling your loved ones everything that has been happening, and hearing about life back in the states. For anyone doing a long distance relationship on their journey here, being able to text (use Line or WhatsApp) and call at anytime has made things a lot easier on being 7,500 miles apart :(

On the other end of the spectrum, my roommate only uses around 100-200 baht per month on her phone since she relies on other methods of communication (like the internet or calling other people through OEG because it’s free).

Booze : roughly 1,000 baht a month
Large Beer (Leo, Chang, Singha): 80 baht
Campari and soda (elixir of life and happiness and rainbows): 120-180 baht

Because alcohol.

* I’m definitely leaving out a lot of other things you spend money on in Thailand, but this is a good rough guide to see the absolute basics (take out booze if that's not a priority...)

Miscellaneous Expenses 

Bus to Chiang Mai from Chiang Rai: 185 baht
Movie ticket: 180 baht
Thailand has some swanky movie theatres.
Thai Massage (1 hr): 200 baht
These should be required after every day of work. For everyone. Ever.
Opening a bank account: 500 baht
It is a lot easier to have a Thai bank account so you aren’t carrying around your monthly paycheck of 25,000-ish baht in your wallet, or getting charged like crazy for exchange fees from withdrawing from your home bank account.
Trip to the Hospital / 6 different prescriptions: 650 baht
A hospital visit is synonymous with seeing a doctor in Thailand. When I had my panic attacks the first weeks here, I went to the hospital and for 650 baht was given 6 prescriptions for my anxiety and sleeplessness. Needless to say, wtf that’s ridiculously excessive. I took one or two only when I really needed to, not all 6 every day. BUT, if you are in need of a doctor/hospital visit, it is quite cheap to get help.

So living in Thailand won't completely drain your bank account. However, I have been close to spending most of my paycheck each month, oops.

Any other things I left out you are interested in? Let me know! I'll update the list accordingly :)

Email me with any questions:

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Day 77 // FAQ's About Teaching Abroad (Round II)

Round 2 of more Teaching Abroad Questions! Thanks to everyone who is emailing me, it makes my heart happy this blog is being read and helping out some of you :)


Did you have to get a TEFL Certificate? 
Getting a TEFL Certificate for Thailand is (from what I understand) now optional. I decided to take the 12 week course (after paying CIEE $500 to enroll me in it) about 6 weeks before I left. I was freaking out about taking a job in a foreign country I have zero qualifications for and wanted as much experience as I could get before I left. The problem was once I left for Thailand, all my work started to dwindle. I was tardy on turning in the assignments because moving to Thailand and experiencing everything firsthand was taking priority. So I wound up not completing any of the last assignments, because at that time I had already started teaching and understood what my school needed from me. But because of that I never got TEFL certified...

So my advice is if you want that extra amount of experience to help you before you move to Thailand, I would take the TEFL course, but just make sure you finish it before you leave the country, or right around that time. It becomes too much to balance traveling and meeting new people and orientation, with homework every week (due at exactly midnight Chicago time on sunday nights).  Looking back, I wish I did not take it, just because it was FAR more intense ESL Teaching material than most of us are doing here in Thailand. The TEFL program shows how to teach grammar, critical reading, pronunciation, intonation, and other material that most of the students probably don't know yet, or they are learning from their Thai teachers. And the best way I learned to teach was from the first couple weeks of trial and error (which we all want to avoid the error part, but it's inevitable). Some of my friends completed the TEFL certification before they left and said the Practicum was the most beneficial part, which is where you shadow an ESL teacher or you practice teach for 20+ hours and write a review on it. It sounds like you would be capable of this pretty much any where and could shadow other ESL teachers to get a better feel for the classroom energy.

Did you do it through CIEE? 
I went through CIEE to set me up in a TEFL course, but it took them a while to get everything organized, so I was beginning my TEFL class with 6 weeks left until I left for Thailand (and the program is a 12+ week program). Perhaps it was my fault I didn't contact the correct people in time, but if you want to take the TEFL class through CIEE I would let them know as soon as possible so you can complete it before you leave, or at least be almost done by the time you leave.

Any insight into deciding which country to travel to? 
I have always been drawn to Thailand, ever since my brother traveled here 8 years ago through the same CIEE program and taught in Chiang Mai. His stories of the culture and the people have stayed with me ever since. From my understanding, it is a popular teaching destination because of the more relaxed culture and kind students. My friends taught in Korea and said teaching was more like a military regime, they taught for 7 hours a day with one break…and HAD to follow a ton of curriculum, continuing on even if the students didn't understand. Here we have sufficient down time during the day and I teach for a total of 16 hours a week. I can also plan my lesson plans to my liking, so that is another bonus.

Are you actually making enough money that you will be in good standing when you come back to the States? 
So before I left for Thailand I made sure to have about $4000 saved up as backup for my return. Teaching here gets me about 25,000 baht a month (roughly $778), which is more than enough to live comfortably. If you go through CIEE you should also get housing taken care most of your paycheck is for traveling, buying lots of beautiful things around the country, and eating all of your feelings, be them happy or sad.

All the food please.

I am doing a really good job of spending almost all of my paycheck each month on miscellaneous things around the city and traveling. I'm definitely thinking by the time I get back to America I will be dipping into my savings. I also plan to travel for a couple weeks in October with my boyfriend around Thailand and that will not be cheap. I am lucky to have a place to move into when I get back, but I am not banking on making a profit working here…if anything I will probably break even with my paychecks or have a couple extra thousand baht a month to put aside for when I travel. Living in Thailand is by no means expensive…but our American mindset sees something for 30 baht and we want to buy EVERYTHING because thats only $1!! But it's hard to shift your mindset to realizing you are only making 778$ a month…and not an American salary. Oof.

Is there opportunity to renew the contract?
From my understanding, there will always be an opportunity to renew your contract. My second day at work I was asked to stay an extra semester, and they didn't even know how I would be as a teacher. Native English teachers are in high demand in Thailand, and most schools are looking to keep the same teacher on for as long as possible. It helps the students a lot too to not have a new teacher every 6 months, but rather the same one they become close with for a year or so. Another position that schools look for are Native English speakers to teach different subjects, like Social Studies or Science. The native English speaker at my school who teaches Biology in English to the older students also makes a little bit more every month. So if you want to stay for another semester or two, it is very easy to do so, and the schools would love it.

Was the application/interview process hard? 
CIEE Teach in Thailand only had an application process that I completed through the website. I had to answer questions about where I wanted to be placed, upload my resume and two professional recommendations, and write a personal statement. I think the personal statement was the most challenging part, just because I was desperately trying to avoid the cliche "I want to teach abroad so I can give back to a culture that in turn will give so much to me"… which I think is what I wrote anyway… Regardless, it wasn't as drastically important as I made it out to be, they just want to make sure you are literate and have some recommendations backing up your skills. There was no "interview" per se, I was just assigned to school, showed up on a Sunday and started teaching on Tuesday.


If anyone has more questions, send them my way!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Day 70 // Joining the Pai Circus

For our long weekend we cherished a magical 4 days in Pai (pronounced more like "bye" than "pie"). My dear friend Emma found a circus school and has been living there for the past few weeks, so we had to check it out. 

Fair warning to anyone planning on going to Pai, the bus ride from Chiang Mai is absolute hell. I do not say that lightly. Over 1000 turns and twists winding up the mountain, you are lucky if you can take even a brief nap. Also you are very lucky if no one pukes in the bus (we had 2 out of the 10 people in our bus vomit...with an hour to go in the ride). I found myself becoming exceedingly irritated that I couldn't just sit still, I had to be thrown from side to side every couple seconds...for nearly 3 hours. Soo best of luck to everyone.

Like this...for 3 hours.

The best way I can describe Pai is like Vegas for hippies, except you kind of want to stay in the utopian paradise forever instead of desperately trying to leave after 3 days like the real Vegas...but both are good at taking a lot of your money. You will get more than your fair share of colorful knicknacks, tea that is renamed "healing potion", large portioned western food, those printed market pants every white person in Thailand must own, body paint, drink specials, open mics (which I got to sing at!), and of course, the circus.

We spent the days wandering around the markets, eating far too much fruit and noodles, and scouring Muslim shops for things we don't need. We found a waterfall that left me absolutely speechless. At the circus we played with fire and hula hoops, relaxed and doodled, jammed on the guitar and sang songs together. 

The people I met in the short days I was in Pai were some of the most radiant humans I've met in a while, thank you for a magical weekend. 

I hope to return to Pai and photograph more and spend time with these incredible people. If anyone is interested in joining the circus, check out their Facebook page for more information. I also forgot to mention they just finished building a pool that over looks all of the city...yes a real pool and it IS as magical as it sounds.