Is Phuket a place that promises so much for an English teacher and yet delivers so little? Eric Haeg takes a break from his jet-ski and tells us if it’s a case of hotel work or nothing.
The Lonely Planet guidebook says......?
In Lonely Planet’s first edition of its Encounter series, Adam Skolnick writes,
Waking up with Phuket is glorious. Especially if you head to an out-of-the-way beach early enough to see the fishing boats return home. When the sun is just high enough to dance on the glassy Andaman Sea.
He goes on to write more gushy goo but it won’t help paint an accurate picture of Phuket. What the book does get right are statements such as the following:
It’s the 17 west-coast beaches that lure 5.3 million tourists here annually.
The cultural heart is Old Phuket…a treasure trove of mansions and shop houses, creaky teak shrines and local markets that unfurl alongside funky art galleries, hip restaurants, cafes and chic fashion boutiques. When the sun drops Phuket’s wild side emerges. Think seedy go-go bars, stylish lounges, live rock and roll, and slick nightclubs hosting international DJs.
In general, what are the pickings like for an EFL teacher?
For those with a degree and a TEFL/TESOL certificate, jobs are there to be found. As the island is routinely flooded with those looking for teaching work, Thai government schools can afford to be picky so competition is high. Salaries typically begin at 30,000 baht/month but better positions paying 40-45k do pop up from time-to-time.
For those without a degree, you can almost forget about working in primary, secondary or university sectors. Language schools are your best bet here as they routinely gobble up contracts from hotels—the other source of employment for teacher applicants without degrees. The pay is low but language schools are always looking for hard-working teachers who’ve been marginalized by the MoE’s degree requirement. Unfortunately, don’t expect to make anything more than 300 baht/hour.
These language schools also nab quite a few contracts from Phuket’s government schools. If employed this way, the language school will farm out teachers to various school campuses. Travel time will be significant but teachers aren’t required to stay on campus all day - then again, pay will be terrible as the language school will no doubt be skimming wages off the top of what the schools are paying them to find teachers.
Phuket’s International schools are also a source of employment but usually reserved for qualified teachers with significant experience in Western centers of education. If you don’t fall into both of these categories, don’t expect many call-backs. British International School, Phuket International Academy, Head Start International School and Kajonkietsuksa’s newest venture into international schooling are all on a British curriculum, while Quality Schools International is the only such school operating on an American curriculum.
If you’re looking to do some private tutoring, it’s certainly possible but don’t expect to earn a living wage. These jobs are typically best for teachers who make contacts through their full-time jobs and don’t have to advertise the fact that they’re looking to (illegally) supplement their income.
The best time to look for work in proper schools is March-April and again in Sept-Oct. If looking to work for a language school or private company, any time of the year is fine but know that high season (Nov-Feb) isn’t great as hotels will be busy serving customers - leaving no time to be learning English.
How far from Bangkok or civilization?
Unlike other provinces, Phuket is often all the civilization one needs. But every once and a while you’ve got to pack your bags and see what other provinces have to offer.
It’s 900km to Bangkok or roughly 12 hours away by bus and 85 mins by air. Krabi is about 3 hours away by car or 4 hours by bus. Surratthani, the gateway to Koh Samui and Koh Phang-Ngan is about 5 hours away. Khao Lak is an easy journey over Sarasin Bridge and only 1.5 hours away by car.
Thanks to Air Asia, direct flights are now available to Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Udon Ratchathani, Ubon Ratchathani and many international destinations such as Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Bail.
Is there any entertainment or do you invite friends round for Scrabble?
Phuket has no shortage of entertainment.
Patong is famous for its Bangla Road and only one trip there will justify its reputation - good and bad. From great Western food to world-class DJs, Patong will rock you all night long. Just keep a low profile and never forget that you’re the visitor. Do so and a barman or tuk-tuk driver and a dozen of their friends will happily remind you.
Phuket Town has a healthy mix of options but don’t expect any clubs with famous DJs. Yaowarrat Rd (near the fresh market end) houses a dozen quaint Thai venues and there are numerous karaoke bars to choose from. For those looking for some Western friends, Roxy Bar on Phang-Nga Rd. is by far the most popular venue. Second to that is O’Malley’s Pub over on Montrii Rd.
Southern Phuket (Chalong, Naiharn and Rawai) is also a great source of entertainment. Most patrons here fall into three categories; divers, Muay Thai boxers-in-training or retired expats. Bars tend to be a bit more chilled out down here but Laguna bar keeps its doors open past the wee hours of the morning.
Karon, Kata, Surin, Kamala, Bang Tao, you name the beach, there’s a good chance of finding an open bar or restaurant.
How much to rent a house or basic apartment?
Single rooms with private bath, balcony, air-con, hot water, cable TV and Internet provided will run right around 6,000 baht/month. Attached houses and small detached houses with gardens run anywhere from 8,000 to 12,000 baht/month. These prices are for average locations and should be inflated as you move closer to Phuket’s west coast. Good deals are rarely advertised so it’s best to start in a basic apartment and look for better accommodation as you get more acquainted with Thailand’s largest island.
Shopping malls, department stores?
Central Festival in Phuket Town and Jung Cylon in Patong house the most Western products. Phuket also has a Big C and Tesco Lotus in Phuket Town. Plus, there are numerous mini-marts now such as Tesco Express and Tops Daily. You can also find Ocean Mall in Phuket Town but it seems to get more and more run down with each passing year.
Internet cafes? (snail-speed Hotmail default page or fatties playing Ragnarok?)
Internet cafes…are you serious? Get a laptop Caveman. With all the restaurants, bars and other venues providing wi-fi, why go to an internet café? Plus, reliable internet services piped into your house or apartment are available for less than 1,000 baht/month if your landlord doesn’t already provide it.
Will you be stared at? and what's the likelihood of a good beating?
Stared at? Absolutely not.
Beaten? Well, unfortunately that can happen here. Phuket’s “Tuk-tuk Mafia” seems to have control of the island and if anyone doesn’t wish to believe that, bear in mind that in 2011 Cape Panwa’s tribe of drivers managed to blockade an entire US Navy flotilla from entering the island until they used local drivers’ services.
Just steer clear of the tuk-tuk drivers and refrain from spouting off at the mouth in nightclubs and you’ll be okay. Then again, you could say the same for almost any province in the Kingdom.
Taxis, buses....or horse and cart?
Renting or owning a car or bike are your best options and you’ll need a work permit to take out a loan as well as for obtaining a driver’s license. Bike rentals start at about 3,000 baht/month and basic four-wheeled vehicles start at 10,000 baht/month.
As mentioned above, tuk-tuks are not a great option and even Phuket’s Thais think the rates are exurbanite. Some buses and trucks (songthaews) can ferry people from here to there but with individual schedules being what they are, this mode of transport isn’t ideal.
Best advice for someone on a budget: get a reliable bike and a good helmet; then find a place to live close to the school you’re working in. Roads can be dangerous here and the wet season will put a real damper on your mornings if you’ve got a long journey.
Main advantages of living there?
Phuket is the perfect acclimation point for entry into Thailand. You can find yourself in the middle of a small village with only locals or you can be in a restaurant where you won’t hear Thai being spoken. From Central Festival and its Burger King to Super Cheap Mall and kitsch Thai bling, Phuket is what you make of it. Even the beaches have variety: you can people watch on Patong’s filthy shores or you can find seclusion on Raiyan’s pristine seaside.
And what are the downsides?
Prices on Phuket are high. Commonly seen as a gauge by which to measure cost of living, Phuket’s minimum wage now exceeds Bangkok’s. Still, living on 30k a month is doable so long as you don’t have a family to support or you’re not at your local bar more often than you’re at home. Find a wage paying 35k or more and now you’re living very comfortably.
Traffic is also terrible. If it’s not gridlock in Phuket’s urban areas, it’s untrained drivers driving at unrestrained speeds on the open roads. Keep your head on a swivel and your eyes peeled or you might find yourself able to assess the standard of care in one of Phuket’s resort-style hospitals.
And in a case of too much of a good thing, Phuket has plenty of options for spending your salary. From cable water skiing and scuba diving to fine dining and comedy clubs. You’ll being living hand-to-mouth if you’re not responsible with your cash.
Any local attractions?
Plenty. Big Buddha is complete and it affords you one of Phuket’s best views. Khao Rang in Phuket Town is a nice place for respite as is neighboring Koh Yao Noi. Teachers routinely make their own attractions on whichever beach suits their fancy and Cape Panwa is surprisingly chill.
Where's the best place to meet other farangs or are they best avoided?
As they say in Thailand, “Up to you”. However, one thing is for sure: It’s not about where to meet other Westerners, it’s more about choosing which ones you ought to be hanging out with. You’ll have plenty of choices as well as opportunities to meet people, so finding friends on Phuket is no problem at all.
Social clubs abound so you’re not limited to meeting piss heads and booze hounds. Phuket’s expats come from all social classes, countries and circumstances. If variety is the spice of life, Phuket’s life is very spicy indeed.
Eric Haeg first came to Phuket in 2004 and has been working there as a teacher trainer for International TEFL Teacher Training since 2007. He writes a monthly education column for the Phuket Gazette and routinely helps teachers find work on the island. For more information on Phuket’s teaching scene. Eric welcomes your questions by e-mail.