Bangkok or up-country? Which is best?

Are you a city boy or a country bumpkin?

So you're not sure whether to teach in Bangkok or out in rural Thailand? When you analyze both options under a few different headings, which one comes out on top?

Availability of teaching jobs

Go back ten years or more and this wouldn't have even been a contest. As far as any TEFLer was concerned, the streets of Bangkok were paved with gold and the only reason you contemplated teaching up-country was if you had an allergy to pollution or you were brought up on a farm. 

But these days there are teaching jobs available all over the country and the whole Thailand TEFL industry is nowhere near as 'Bangkok-centric' as it once was.

Verdict - we can't seperate them.  A point apiece. Bangkok 1 Up-country 1.

Teacher salaries

An old teaching colleague got in touch with me from Australia. He left Thailand about seven years ago after putting in a ten-year stint as an academic director at several private language schools. He couldn't believe what he was reading on the ajarn jobs page.

"Hi Phil. I haven't looked at ajarn.com for some time but salaries look like they haven't gone up since the day I left. Are teachers still actually working for 30,000 baht a month?"

Well, yes Dave they are. Some teachers are working for even less than that. However, let's not be too downbeat. There has been a slight increase in teacher pay over time but certainly not one that has kept pace with inflation. And I still think that salaries have risen more in Bangkok than they have out in the sticks. Saying that, Bangkok is becoming a lot more expensive if you start seeking out Western comforts.

Verdict - a victory for Bangkok, but only by a klong rat's whisker. Bangkok 2 Up-country 1.

Accommodation

It's always more expensive to live in a country's capital and Bangkok is no exception. The money you would pay for a Sukhumwit Road shoebox will get you a sweeping driveway, a maid's quarters, and at least four bathrooms once you move out to the rice fields. OK, that's an exaggeration but you only have to look through ajarn's cost of living section to see that deep in the Nakhon Nowheres, you get far more bricks and mortar for your rental buck.

Teacher Alec - who has worked for lengthy periods of time in both Bangkok and Petchabun - makes a good point though in the comments section below. "Yes accommodation is cheaper in the countryside but it's also far less comfortable. In Bangkok I have a roomy (but not huge) condo with reliable fiber internet, a modern kitchen, a western style bathroom, and all those other amenities that make day-to-day life at home bearable.

In the sticks you may be paying less, but you're also going to have a Thai bathroom (which was novel when I moved here, but man I've grown to hate wet bathrooms over time). You'll have spotty internet usually. You'll be outfitting your own propane stove. Etc etc. So I'll gladly accept the higher cost here in Bangkok if it means that my home actually feels like "home" instead of a long-stay apartment.

Those beautiful houses in the rice fields are certainly nice, but good luck maintaining a full house + furnishings when you're earning that 25-30k rural salary"

Verdict - despite what Alec has said, I might just give that point to up-country. Bangkok 2 Up-country 2. Get in there!

Entertainment

I don't believe we're even going here. Bangkok has its faults but when darkness falls, it's up there with the world's greatest entertainment cities. And I don't just mean the legendary naughty nightlife - the city is heaving with restaurants, cafes, bookshops, pubs, shopping malls and cinemas. The guarantee you'll almost never be bored while you've money to spend. 

For the upcountry chalkie - unless they are lucky enough to teach in a beach resort - entertainment boils down to pushing a trolley around the new Tesco Lotus on the outskirts of town or joining your teaching colleagues at Noi's bar - the only bar in town - that's of course if Noi can be arsed to open.

Verdict - Upcountry waves a small pathetic flag while Bangkok glides past wearing a pink feather boa and sequinned mankini, on a chariot pulled my two muscular slaves. Bangkok 3 Up-country 2

Getting around / transportation

"It's fun living here but you need your own motorcycle" is something you often hear from chalkies who have put down roots in the Tambon Too Fars. But for those who have shunned the 'motorsai' in favor of living to see their thirtieth birthday, there's the constant headache of how to get around a provincial Thai town.

Admittedly the pace of life in the rurals can be a little slower, a touch more genteel, but that doesn't mean I want to waste half the day on a bicycle rickshaw. You may decide on a local 'songthaew' or an overpriced tuk-tuk, you may even choose to walk, but whatever you decide, I'll give you a cheeky wave as I zip past on Bangkok's modern skytrain.

Verdict - It's another big point for Bangkok. Bangkok 4 Up-country 2 

  

Making Thai friends

No foreigner has a problem making friends in Thailand but while up-country Thai folk will invite all and sundry to a restaurant and happily sit back and let the foreigner foot the bill, you might find the westernised Bangkok Thai is happy to go Dutch. Bangkok Thais refer to the practice of 'going Dutch' as 'American share'. It means 'you pay your share and I'll pay mine'. If your new Thai friend is not familiar with American share, then make sure they learn it fast. It could save you a fortune  

When it comes to making Thai enemies, keep one thing in mind - only a big city allows you to slip into the shadows. Make an enemy out in the sticks and you'll imagine he's behind you every time you pop into 7-11 for a loaf.

Verdict - difficult to split the two. Bangkok Thai friends are generally cheaper than up-country Thai friends but oh go on then - you've twisted my arm - a point each. Bangkok 5 Up-country 3.

Keeping a low profile

In Bangkok, you're just another foreigner with a large nose and a tendency to blow your top over the smallest inconvenience. But in an up-country town, stop for a brief chat with a pretty female and it will be headlines in the afternoon edition of your wife's newspaper. In fact she doesn't have to be pretty; she just has to be female. An old teacher friend of mine, Geoff, says that all the locals know him because he's often out and about with his Golden Retriever dog. Geoff probably doesn't need the Golden Retriever in order to get recognised. He just needs to be Geoff.

Verdict - whether or not you enjoy basking in the limelight as the local celebrity will depend on your character but more often than not, I want to walk the streets and remain incognito. The point goes to Bangkok. Bangkok 6 Up-country 3.  

Earning money 'on the side'

We're talking about freelance teaching and corporate work here. Whether it's the chance to sit with some bored teenager in McDonalds for an hour because her father is convinced it's a great idea - or the opportunity to clown around and entertain six of the sales staff at ABC Plastics - Bangkok has far more going for it. Bangkok Thais have got more money. Nuff said.  

Verdict - No contest. There might well be the opportunity to earn extra income at an up-country Rajabhat, but when it comes to sheer volume of freelance and corporate work, Bangkok's your man! Bangkok 7 Up-country 3  

Day trips and places to go

I'm always dubious of job ads that have 'close proximity to mountains and a nice waterfall' as part of their job description. I mean, it's not as if you're going to head off to the waterfall every afternoon between classes. See it once and that'll probably be enough. 

But I know what the employer is getting at. And I'll concede that the lure of nature is a huge selling point in favor of working in the rurals. Twenty minutes is probably all it takes to find yourself surrounded by clean air and a verdant landscape. In Bangkok, it'll take you longer than that to negotiate your way on to the main road. And then it's a four or five-hour round trip to the nearest decent beach resort. I often refer to Bangkok as a 'geographical prison'. Making plans to drive somewhere for a day out often just ain't worth the effort.

Verdict - Bangkok isn't even at the races. Bangkok 7 Up-country 4

Student attitudes

My wife said that I should include this section and come to think about it - why not indeed. What about the attitude of Thai students towards their teacher? Well, nowhere will a teacher get more respect from students than at schools out in the boonies. Out there among the rice fields, you truly are 'the ajarn'. You are the fountain of knowledge. You are the inspiration to young minds. You are an integral part of all their hopes and dreams. And you talk funny. 

I once taught a corporate class in Bangkok, and the group included one female to whom I took an instant dislike. "You foreigners" she said "you only come and work as teachers because it's the only job you can get here" 

I'd like you to know that I stayed calm. I resisted the temptation to become embroiled in a heated argument or to slowly unscrew a chair leg and batter the f***ing idiot senseless - but it does highlight a point. Your Bangkok Thai can sometimes be too streetwise, too knowledgeable. Too lacking in finesse and subtlety. They can give it you straight between the eyes and it can certainly offend. So be prepared.

Verdict - Up-country steams in with another late point on account of probably having far nicer students. Bangkok 7 Up-country 5

General cost of living

Something else you often see in job ads. "The cost of living here is very cheap so you will save money"

It's important not to confuse this statement with "there is bugger all to spend your money on here - so you will save money" 

OK, accommodation is cheaper up-country I'll grant you. Transportation? no, unless perhaps you are willing to buy or rent a motorcycle. Eating out? no. Trawling the pubs and bars? no. And you can't tell me that my carton of Tipco orange juice or my box of Nestle Cornflakes is going to cost me any less in Makro Phetburi than they are in Makro Bangkok.      

Verdict - a point each. I can't favor one over the other. Bangkok 8 Up-country 6. Bangkok just about comes out the winner but it's a close one.

Can you think of any more sections we could include?


Comments

Many things missing in these comparisons. Noise, air and water pollution? Bangkok loses here. Big cities are always more expensive because it costs money to destress and marketers are inundating you 24/7. Whereas in the sticks you can take a long ride on your motor bike or even go for a walk.

By brad, bangkok (9 months ago)

Up country really isn't less expensive, you just often get more. The only flunkies that work up country are the folks without skills, education and honestly just a fear for urbane. Even if you marry some princess from Nakon Nowhere why not come to live in the Big Smoke. Real jobs, real money (well, not really).

Then you have the cost of the motorbike and all the petty bureaucratic hassles.

So many costs are fixed anyway. You guys also get substandard and old products.

A few cities in Cambodia are more advanced than the backwaters of much of Issan and the north.

Even Chaing Mai is a backwater to anyone that really knows what's what in this century.Even

Finally, if you have some life project you are involved in, a small-scale farm, building your own home, aquaculture, etc... you are forgiven.

If you married a pumpkin who like yourself can't measure up to the stress and competition - well, good luck and just think, you only have 35 more years till you collect that pension from your govt that will be broke in half that time.

30k and living uo country, are you serious?! I'd be in China yesterday.





By Lou Mak, The Big Smoke (1 year ago)

You pretty much nailed it. The bit about student attitudes was especially relevant. I have had good students everywhere, but generally I was treated with much more respect when working in the country. I had students who were "bad" (as in not paying attention, not turning up, etc) but I was never treated badly, while in BKK I've had a few students who were just outright hostile towards me as you noted in your example.

Day trips and things were great in the country, but because there was nothing to do throughout the week you found yourself trying to get away every weekend, which wasn't feasible with the smaller salary. The lack of privacy REALLY sucks. Constantly feeling like a sideshow when out in town. There isn't a lot of extra income to be made.

I'll have to disagree about accommodation. Yes it's cheaper in the country but it's also far less comfortable. In Bangkok I have a roomy (but not huge) condo with reliable fiber internet, a modern kitchen, a western style bathroom, and all those other amenities that make day-to-day life at home bearable. In the sticks you may be paying less, but you're also going to have a Thai bathroom (which was novel when I moved here, but man I've grown to hate wet bathrooms over time). You'll have spotty internet usually. You'll be outfitting your own propane stove. Etc etc. So I'll gladly accept the higher cost here in BKK if it means that my home actually feels like "home" instead of a long-stay apartment. Those beautiful houses in the rice fields are certainly nice, but good luck maintaining a full house + furnishings when you're earning that 25-30k rural salary.

One thing that I will say, and I hope isn't offensive, is that generally it just feels much more... positive(?) in Bangkok. The slumping farming economy means there isn't a lot of surplus money flowing around the smaller towns. The middle class just doesn't exist. Which in turn means there isn't much growth. Sure a new coffee shop may open up in town, or a new row of shophouses gets built, but ultimately the places I lived felt to be more on the downturn as opposed to growing. After a while that really got to me. I felt stagnant. Alcoholism and drug use was rampant. People didn't really seem to have much optimism.

By Alec, Bangkok (1 year ago)

Good article. I go back and forth; I've done 2 years in the sticks and am now entering my second year in Bangkok. For me Bangkok salaries allow a more comfortable standard of living, more room for travel and leisure, more financial comfort, etc. I really don't like living in the city at all, but I also didn't enjoy scraping by on a small salary in the middle of nowhere. It's all give and take.

By Alec, Bangkok (1 year ago)

A very unfair and biased comparison, obviously written by someone who has never worked outside of GTM. In my opinion, apart from the entertainment category, the provinces win hands down

By Del, Thailand (4 years ago)

Having worked in a rural town for 5 months and now moved to Bangkok to find new work, I would conclude that there are upsides and downsides to both. However, I have to argue the point on transportation.

Getting around in Bangkok is painful, if you grew up in London or New York or some other major metropolis you could probably work it out. For the rest of us it involves looking up bus and train routes on the internet, working out where the nearest station is to where you are and where you want to be. Then taking a taxi to both of these locations. Basically, unless you live directly under the sky train, and all the places you want to go to (including your school) are en route, this will be what you have to do everytime one of your friends wants to go somewhere new.

The author has a good grasp on the other points, in my opinion. But honestly, how can you not want to have your own motorcycle out in the sticks? The traffic is practically nonexistant (provided you're not living in another major city, but that sort of goes without saying) and it is just so much fun to ride! You can rent for 500-1000 baht per month, depending on the quality of your vehicle and where you live. Also a lot of the time there simply isn't any public transport going, besides the bus going to Bangkok. So it's a bit foolish not to take the motorbike.

As to the worry of safety, I just say this: Defensive driving. And wear a helmet.

In other news, I reckon Brian has landed himself a pretty sweet deal. One of the best I've heard of, since he has barely any expenses. In his position I'd probably save 20K plus, but then I wouldn't take the apartment in Bangkok.

By Alan, Bangkok (6 years ago)

I've been living and teaching out in the sticks for over 2 years now, and I love it! This idea you have of the Thais in countryside wanting you to pay for everything is ridiculous, usually I'm not even given the chance to reach for my wallet.
I spent six months living in Bangkok, moving to the sticks was the best thing I ever did. Don't get me wrong the night life isn't as crazy as Bangkok, but I know enough people round town to have a good night out.
It also helped improve my Thai, and gave me a better understanding of Thai culture. As for transport, I walked everywhere for a year before buying my beautiful Fino.
I'll be honest I'm not very good with money, sometimes I'm without money for long periods of time. But I've made some really good Thai friends, which treat me the same as family, I know I'll never go with out food or free internet.

Working in the country rules!

By Craig, Amphur Donsak, Surat Thani (6 years ago)

your hard earned baht does go further here because the temptations of BKK and Pattaya are just not here. I visited my friend last weekend in Pattaya and blew 10k in two days that same 10k would last me a good three weeks here

By keith, chaiyaphum (6 years ago)

I have a completely different view to most here. Maybe I just don't spend money like the rest of you guys.

I am on 30,000 in a small town an hour from the "Big Nak Saw". My house, which I share with one other costs me 2000 a month including bills. I have been given a free motorcycle by a teacher at school and all of the other farang (four) in town have been afforded the same). We eat for free at school, and it is VERY common for Thai teachers to invite us over for dinner, or out to dinner, or karaoke where we are never allowed to pay.

On my 30,000k I can afford a nice apartment in BKK (9000), where I go every weekend, and can be fairly free spending.

During the week I spend maybe 30B a day on dinner, and thats about it.

We also have a free gym, and a swimming pool is being completed, which will also be free.

Next year I will be employed directly by the school and will see a 100% increase in pay (for a much larger job developing a bilingual program).

I have no horror stories about the school, they are freakin awesome.

Oh and, I also work so few hours (about 20)I am able to run my own business online, and teach privately.

I can save about 10,000 a month.

What I don't do, is drink during the week, not for financial reasons, but to try and stay fit and health, I also don't eat Farang food from Seven (our only modern option). We also don't have cable, but am able to download movies at school for free.

If Thai teachers can live well on MUCH less money then so can we, it's just up to you what you want. If it's Farang snacks and Cable TV then you'll have to pay for it.

By Brian, Nakhon Sawan Province (7 years ago)

I have been teaching in Ubon for 4 years now. After slowly going broke I am ready to pack it up and go home.

By Ron, Ubonratchathani (7 years ago)

The author has clearly spent a lot more time in the capital than he has outside of it.
A reasonably large furnished house with a serviced swimming pool can be had for around 10,000 baht a month where I am and the cost of living is also noticeably lower. A trip to Bangkok is always expensive for me and I've never been overly impressed with friends apartments there and certainly not what they have to pay for them. Some of the best English speakers in the country are also up here. And the air is always nice and fresh!

By Bob Mackenzie, Isaan (7 years ago)

Some good comments there Aitch. If you remember back to our Berlitz days, I don't think we moaned so much about the actual figure of 30,000 baht a month, but more the number of hours we had to work in order to get it. I think nowadays, teachers generally work a lot less harder in terms of hours to make 30,000, That said - 30,000 baht is still 30,000 baht. It's not enough to live on ANYWHERE in Thailand. It's merely an existence.

By philip, (7 years ago)

I haven't taught English for a long now, but I do have some experience on living and working in Thailand, both as a struggling English tutor residing in a shoebox, and as an expat living the high life.

I was pretty crap at the teaching malarkey to be honest, so whatever they paid me was probably too much anyway! I also got sick and tired of putting on the invisible clown's outfit that I felt had to be worn as part of the expected 'Farang' entertainment package. I was quite good at entertaining a giggling group of Thais though, which is perhaps why I managed to BS my way into so many classrooms.

COST OF LIVING?

There have been a plethora of 100% price increases over the years, and although mostly on smallish items, it is the accumulation of them all that gives these tiny changes a big bearing on the overall cost of living. For example:

The 5 Baht bag of fruit is now 10 Baht
The 5 Baht motorbike taxies are also now 10 Baht

Not sure about the buses as I've not used them for years, but the non-air jobs used to be 3.5 Baht and the big blue air con ones started at 7 Baht or less if memory serves me right. The Micro busses were 20 Baht fixed rate, but have no idea what they are now, or whether they're even still in service.

There are many more such price hikes on small items, but you get the picture.

I think the average 5,000 Baht studios along middle Sukhumvit are perhaps 6,500 to 7,000 Baht/Mo nowadays. Electricity controlled by apartment buildings used to be 4 to 5 baht a unit, and the standard rip-off rate is now 8 Baht/unit. So there's another 60-100% increase on your revenue depending on where you live.

Taxies fares have changed little though, if at all, and Bangkok is still one of the, if not 'the' cheapest taxi capital in the world.

Eating out has gone up and so has supermarket shopping. That 500 Baht basket of life's essentials will probably look more like 800 Baht today, nationwide.

Accommodation up-country can be a huge saving, but then again if your salary is reduced by 40% compared to the Big Bangers, then it's all relative.

The comments and comparisons could go on and on, but if English teachers were bitching about their 30,000 Baht salaries 15 years ago when everything was so much cheaper, then god only knows how they can possibly enjoy a comfortable and sustainable standard of living today, if indeed the average wage is really around the 30,000 THB/Mo mark.

Aitch

By Aitch, http:www.datesallowed.com/ (7 years ago)

How ironic. Phil's experience with the stupid female Thai student, who made the comment "teaching is all foreigners can do" actually happened to me a while ago. In my case it was a real smart-arse male Thai student who said pretty much the same as Phil's did.

I just reeled off a whole long list of jobs that foreigners are allowed to do here (which is more than you would think). They are:

IT coders, programmers, web designers etc.
Writing and editing for newspapers and magazines
Radio DJs
Nightclub DJs
Musicians
Chefs and cooks
Lawyers
Pilots
Investment experts

Also of course, running your own business is possible for foreigners. I rubbed a little more salt in the wound by mentioning that it's the low-paid, lo-so jobs that foreigners are not permitted to do (does he really think we want to earn 200 Baht a day drving a bus?) You should have seen this guy losing face in front of the rest of the class, it was a classic moment. I don't often see Thais blush, but his face went the colour of a beetroot.

By Paul, Bangkok (7 years ago)

Thanks for your comments PJ but there are several points I would challenge.

"Moving to Bangkok I was spending 20,000 on a 2 bed 76sqm condo - I did question my sanity"

I don't think there's a need to spend that kind of money on rent in Bangkok. There's plenty of decent stuff in the 10-15,000 bracket if you do a bit of legwork.

"Nothing beats chugging to the local market on your honda dream and feeling the sting of chilli pinch your eyes as you drive past street vendors"

Yes, but as I hinted at in the article, not everyone wants to risk their life on a motorcycle. I certainly wouldn't. It matters not one jot how careful a rider you are because Thailand has a staggering number of idiots on the roads.

"taking taxis is such a nightmare in the Bkk"

People keep telling me this. They must live in different cities. OK, you get the occasional nightmare journey if there has been a heavy rain and flooding or perhaps a bad road accident causing gridlock, but by and large I find taking taxis in Bangkok a breeze.

"I certainly found that drinking and eating out in Bkk was hugely more expensive than in Nakhon pathom"

Well, if you're going to hit the clubs, then yes, you could easily do 2-3,000 baht but for most people a night out is a few beers and a meal. Enjoy those things in COMPARABLE surroundings (both in Bangkok and up-country) and there is little difference in the price.

"In Bkk I earned more and saved more as a consequence. Maybe up to 20,000 a month but I blew it on big nights and expensive holidays"

You can't blame expensive holidays as a reason for Bangkok costing more. I would still take the same holidays abroad regardless of where I lived. And I think for many people, having a swanky 20,000 baht apaprtment would decrease the need to go out in the evening surely.

By philip, (7 years ago)

Interesting article for sure. I lived in both places and often thought about the comparison.

I lived 4 years in the Big Mango and 4 years in Nakhon Pathom. I agree with most of the things in the comparison but want to say I think that the savings you make on accommodation (unless you are happy to live in a shoe box) can make such a huge difference to both your quality of life and savings that living upcountry has many merits to it.

In Nakhon Pathom I lived in the most expensive house I found which cost me a princely 7,000B a month. That gave me 3 bedrooms and a couple of rai of land with a small orchard. Moving to Bangkok I was spending 20,000 on a 2 bed 76sqm condo - I did question my sanity. Ok it had pools and sauna etc but I couldn't pick my own bananas! In real terms I was spending 20% of my salary in Nakhon Pathom whilst about 35% in Bangkok. As you can tell I don't mind spending money on accommodation but I think that if you are calling Thailand 'home' then you should live somewhere that is a home.

The thing that I'm not in agreement with is transport. Skytrain may be quick, but it is expensive in comparison to songthaews and taking taxis is such a nightmare in the Bkk traffic, for me 'upcountry' transport wins hands down. Nothing beats chugging to the loacal market on your honda dream and feeling the sting of chilli pinch your eyes as you drive past street vendors. Travelling in Bkk is more of a punishment than pleasure. I hated getting round the city.

For sure the respect that you get and the dedication of the students who seem happy to have a farang to teach them is a real boon compared to working with rich kids in the city who have no real say in the matter that they are learning English. That said if you are nursing a 'hangover' from the night before you do have nowhere to hide at the supermarket, whilst in Bkk you're just another face in the crowd which can be a blessing.

Thai friends for me are as genuine in either place so I cant really make a comparison, at least in my experience.

Finally, entertainment. A night in Bkk and I could easily spend 2-3,000 if having some food and then beers and onto a club. I had to put effort into spending 500B upcountry and that was after fresh food to die for. I certainly found that drinking and eating out in Bkk was hugely more expensive than in Nakhon pathom.

Conclusion: In Bkk I earned more and saved more as a consequence. Maybe up to 20,000 a month (but I blew it on big nights and expensive holidays as well, the old addage of the more you earn the more you spend is certainly true for me). Upcountry I could save 7-10,000 at a real push. However I guess that my point is that when I was earning 30,000ish in the sticks I felt it provided me with the same life that I needed to earn 60,000 in Bkk to have.

End of the day I think it is very subjective on whether you would enjoy upcountry life but I still hold onto that fact that living in 'Muang Thai jing jing' - the REAL Thailand - is a wonderful way to live, big city life is similar world over. I've just quit my management job in London and will be moving to Mae Sot to work for an NGO as a volunteer so I guess actions speak louder than words. My personal verdict..... upcountry wins

By PJ, UK but coming back... (7 years ago)

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