You can picnic by the river and swap information and war stories with local ex-pats in the Wrong Way Cafe. It’s also got a Tesco Lotus. Darwin takes on a journey around Ubon Ratchatani, in the heart of Issan.
The Lonely Planet guidebook says......?
Ubon is the largest province in Isaan. It is bordered on the east by Laos and on the south by Cambodia. There has been significant influence by both Dvaravati and Khmer cultures. After the demise of the Khmer Empire peoples from Lao settled here and integrated into Thai society. Much of what Ubon is today is based on the Lao settlement. Ubon is now the agricultural, economic and educational center for eastern Isaan.
In general, what are the pickings like for an EFL teacher?
The need here for EFL teachers is mainly at the numerous government and private schools. There is only one major Language Center in Ubon, ECC. The two universities, Ubon Ratchathani University and Ubon Ratchathani Rajabhat University have an ongoing need for qualified EFL teachers. Several primary and secondary schools have Mini English Programs (MEP) for which they not only require teachers for English but also math, science, computer and physical fitness taught in English.
Another major employer of EFL teachers is Assumption College Ubon Ratchathani for their International Program. Beside those opportunities mentioned above YES hires EFL teachers as well as Ubon Vocational College. Many schools want or need a token EFL teacher but don’t actively advertise the positions. The salaries range from a low of 12,000 to a high of 40,000. The universities also have afternoon and weekend classes with are extra pay if you are teaching. You can also supplement your income with private tutoring of groups or individuals. I am not sure if there is an average type of EFL teacher that gets hired here. I have seen all ages, genders and nationalities.
How far from Bangkok or civilization?
Ubon Ratchathani is located about 560 miles from Bangkok. If driving take Highway 1 to Saraburi, then take Highway 2 to just passed Korat, turn onto Highway 226 which will take you all the way to Ubon. Here we have an airport, train station and bus station. There are 4 flights a day between Ubon and Bangkok, 3 by Thai Airways (which flies out of Don Muang) and 1 by Air Asia (which flies out of Survarnabhumi). Trains run all hours of the day and night with sleepers, express and standard, fares run from 300 - 1100 Baht and take 8-12 hours. No problem getting a bus to or from Ubon. You can get a VIP bus which takes 8 hours and costs 700 Baht all the way down to buses that stop everywhere and have passengers standing or sitting in the isle for a few hundred Baht.
Is there any entertainment or do you invite friends round for Scrabble?
Ubon Ratchathani is not Bangkok or Pattaya but there are still many places here for nightlife entertainment. There are numerous nightclubs, bars, pubs, discos, cafes, and karaoke with a variety of clientele and music. You should have no problem finding an establishment that suits your tastes to get out and socialize. If you prefer other types of activity there are 2 and son to be 3 movie theaters, several golf courses, tennis courts, swimming pools, fitness centers, temples, churches, and snooker or pool to enjoy during your free time.
How much to rent a house or basic apartment?
Rent is very affordable here. The rates run from 3500 or less to 10,000 Baht per month. At the low end you can rent a furnished studio apartment which usually comes with cable or satellite TV. The high end would be a very nice large furnished house. You can usually get a medium-sized furnished house for around 8000 Baht per month.
Shopping malls, department stores?
We have the usual suspects here, Tesco Lotus, Makro, Big C and rumor has it we will soon have a Carrefour as well. The latest edition is SK Shopping Mall located across from Rajabhat University, it is filled with services, boutique shops, a Major Cineplex Theater and many restaurants. Downtown there is a small Robinson’s Department Store and in the town center there are two long establish local department stores.
If you cook at home there are at least six separate farmer’s markets which sell fresh produce and meats at a very low price. Across from Big C there is a big open air market where you can purchase inexpensive clothes and other goods. Of course there is also and Index Furniture Store and several home improvement super stores. If you want Thai silk or other Thai handicrafts you can also buy them here. Finding places to go shopping in Ubon is not a problem.
Internet cafes? (snail-speed Hotmail default page or fatties playing Ragnarok?)
You can find them all here. I have ADSL at home so I no longer frequent internet cafes. Many shops are still on dial-up although it is changing due to customers demanding speed. The going rate is 10-20 Baht per hour which is cheap. What you have to watch out for is some shops cater to the young male student crowd who prefer to play loud noisy games. This might not be the best environment to check email. Many newer apartments are now offering high speed connections in the rooms which is great. If you plan to be in Ubon for the long term I would suggest getting your own connection to be safe.
Will you be stared at? and what's the likelihood of a good beating?
I have been stared at and have had the hair on my arms pulled but have never gotten a beating except in pool and snooker. In town the long time residents are used to seeing farangs so we are part of the landscape. You do still get stares, smiles and giggles from the newer residents who have moved to town from out in the country. The only farangs most of them have seen are on TV. I have always felt comfortable and had a sense of belonging here. Even when traveling or out and about alone people seem to accept me. I have found most locals to be kind, warm, helpful and courteous. It’s normal to be greeted by a warm smile. They seem appreciative when you patronize an establishment that gets few or no farang customers. The only time I have perceived any apprehension is when they worry about a language barrier.
Taxis, buses....or horse and cart?
Public transportation is everywhere. We have cheap but slow samlors (3-wheeled bicycles), motorcycle taxis, tuk tusk and songtaews (mini bus). Nine songtaew routes cover most places you will want to go in town. They charge 10 Baht per person per ride. They only run during daylight hours (6:30am to 6:30pm) so after that you must use tuk tuk, motorcycle taxi or your own transportation. Make sure you agree on a fare before your trip if you use tuk tuks or motorcycle taxis.
Main advantages of living there?
This is up country Thailand in the heart of Isaan. You will experience Thai and Isaan culture and lifestyle up close and personal. It is easy to live well here on just a teacher’s salary with a good standard of living and quality of life. People easily accept you here if you are open to Thai culture and Thai ways. For your dining pleasure there are a variety of Thai, Asian and Western restaurants here and most are quite reasonable.
Many travel opportunities are available throught Ubon and Isaan to experience and enhance your time here. Most everything you might need is available here but for those times when you need to go to Bangkok or Pattaya it is easy and convenient to get there. There is a Labor Office in town to take care of your work permit needs and Immigration Office is just 50km from town in Phibun Mangsahan district. It takes no more than an hour by car or bus to get there. They can take care of your visa extensions and 90-day check ins. If you need to get a new visa, Mukdahan/Savanakhet is only 4 hours away by bus.
And what are the downsides?
English is not yet widespread in Ubon as the locals don’t have a big need to use it in the daily lives. You can get by though if you take the time to learn some Thai or Isaan. Many locals are not aware of what is required for foreigners to live and work in Thailand so you should get up to speed on what you need to do before you come here. Even though the expat community is growing not many local businesses cater to the needs of farangs so be ready to accept living some things the Thai way. But that is probably the easiest, best and most satisfying way anyway.
Any local attractions?
There are many attractions here in Ubon Ratchathani. Mun river runs through town which offers opportunities for picnics and relaxing. Tung Sri Muang Park is a nice place to socialize and exercise in the evenings. Wat Pananachat is home of the famous Ajarn Somdeho. Not far out of town we have Pattaya Noi and Sirintorn Dam. You can visit Saphue Rapids, Tana Rapids, Soi Sawan Waterfall, Phataem Archeological sit, a natural rock garden, Khong Jiam on the Mehkong River, site of the two-colored river and the place to first see the sunrise in Thailand. On the full moon in July is the famous Ubon Ratchathani Candle Festival to celebrate Buddhist Lent.
Where's the best place to meet other farangs or are they best avoided?
The #1 expat hangout in Ubon is Wrong Way Café. It has been open for little more than a year now. It’s a good place to meet friends, catch up on news, tell some stories, get a farang food fix and see who is new in town. A smaller and quieter place is N-Joy Café. No reason to avoid either of these places that I know of. There are a lot of expats living here out in the country and they don’t have access to news that can affect their life in Thailand and these places serve as information clearing houses.
Darwin has his own website on all things Ubon Ratchathani. Well worth checking out!