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.
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.
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!
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
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?