John Quinn

My Chiang Mai

People, places and events and all things Northern Thailand

When Phil invited me to start my own ajarn blog, I sat for a long time thinking what to write. The forum and the main site contain giga-bytes of relevant and useful information for teachers developed over many years of this website's life. What can I add? I think what I can add is love. Please don't click away yet guys, because this love is something we can all share. We can all be part of my love affair. I want to confide to you my reasons for falling head-over-heels for an old, hot, occasionally wet, sometimes dusty but never boring lover: Chiang Mai. What will follow over the following months and years will be my first-person narrative of a farang teacher's life in Chiang Mai with tales of expats, local personalities, festivals and history. It may not interest readers who have never fallen for the charms of this exotic and mystical lady, but it's my blog so mai pen rai.

I guess for my first blog I should talk about my journey to become a teacher in Chiang Mai. Way back in 1990 I backpacked from Australia back home to the UK. Travelling through the Nusa Tengra islands of Indonesia I met lots of travelers heading in the opposite direction who told me tales of wonderful and amazing Thailand. Through Singapore and Malaysia the stories continued until the day I finally arrived at the Thai border. I looked across and not only anticipated but also imagined the great experiences I was about to meet, so what a disappointment when I finally arrived. People seemed unfriendly and greedy in the south; Koh Samui was the same; Bangkok made me consider going home.

I decided to give Thailand one last shot and go trekking from a northern city called Chiangmai, or was it Chieng Mai. I wasn't really interested in the name though, as I was going there for mountain walks with hill-tribe people. However (this is a very big ‘however'), I was absolutely charmed by the people, sights, smells, food and culture of this place I now know is called Chiang Mai. It was love at first sight.

Reluctantly leaving Thailand I moved to Hong Kong and Macau. From Macau I took the night boat to China, well Guangzhou to be exact. From there I traveled by train to Beijing to catch the Trans-Siberian express to Moscow and then on to Berlin and finally home. It was an amazing adventure that changed the way I looked at life. Years passed in provincial-town England and despite a well-paid job, nice house just outside London and a beautiful(ish) girlfriend, there was something missing.

As the 90s progressed I more and more understood that the only time I had truly felt alive was when I was shoe-stringing my way through Asia in 1990. However, I was now trapped. I felt I couldn't just walk away from a pretty good job. In addition, there was my mortgage and also the woman I planned to marry to consider. Eventually one day while driving home after another 12-hour day, the internal pressure to change something exploded. The girlfriend was ditched. A flight was booked. My house was leased to a nice young couple. A Lonely Planet book for India was purchased. A year was then spent doing and seeing things in India that made Harrison Ford's adventures in The Raiders of the Lost Ark seem mundane. As the year drew to a close and thoughts of the flight home grew stronger, I started to panic. I knew a life of mortgaged marital bliss in the suburbs wasn't, and would never be, me anymore.

Like a corny plot twist in a Hollywood movie, life dealt me a couple of aces while traveling on a rickety old bus in Sri Lanka. I had sat next to two English teachers who worked in Bangkok, and their tales of teaching in the Big Mango enthralled me. I left the bus knowing that this was the path I was going to take. Anyway, cutting a long story short that included a TEFL course, an English exotic dancer, Benidorm, a few tears and a temporary job in a dry-cleaning ‘factory', I was on my way to Thailand a couple of months later with a well-deserved 120-hour TEFL certificate. I planned to head to my favorite city in Asia from my 1990 adventure. I landed at Don Muang airport at 1:47pm on October 21st 1999 and was on the Khao San road night bus to Chiang Mai a day later. Since then there has not been a single regret regarding my decision to make this break and relocate my life to Asia.

My first year in the north was spent intentionally avoiding too much work. After a year in India I was going to party and work would just get in the way. However, I had enough teaching hours from a language school job to cover living costs and finance a Honda-dream lifestyle. Through a friend I got my foot in the door at the British Council teaching centre. A 2-year full-time contract and fixed salary followed and financed a nicer apartment and a growing bank balance. The bank balance was blown when I took a 6-month holiday at the end of my contract. I managed to travel around Thailand and visit Laos, Cambodia and Burma while still keeping an apartment in Chiang Mai. It was worth the expense. I then became a Director of Studies at another school before starting my own school around 6 years ago. I am still a school owner, but my day job since 2006 has been TEFL trainer.

Over the coming months I plan to blog about living and teaching in the north with profiles of different schools and teachers (past and present), plus interviews with foreign teachers and people involved in education. Thrown in at appropriate spots will be advice and news for newbies and potential expat teachers. Chiang Mai also knows how to celebrate and the Loy Kratong and Songkran festivals are celebrated here with an enthusiasm and passion not seen anywhere else, and I won't forget to write about these as well. To be continued...



John Quinn is the course trainer at SEE TEFL in Chiang Mai


Thanks Gordon:

Yes, I think I can put it better into perspective now. I do think that I'm less sensitive to that kind of thing than some other people are. Sometimes people made similar comments about Houston where I'm from.

So.........maybe Chieng Mai is still in my options after all. I'm also looking for a place with a good salsa scene. That's primarily what I do for fun.

Being originally from Houston...I was used to a pretty good club scene there. At least...for the US. Houston had/has (probably) 4-6 places to Salsa dance during the week.

But I was blown away by the Salsa clubs in Seoul. There's about 10 of them. You can go dancing any night of the week here.

Most of the dancers are pretty good, technically, even if they are a little mechanical. But at least, for a guy, there's lots of willing beauties to choose from.

No doubt...I've got some hard choices to make by March!!

Best regards

By Art Williams, Gumi, S.Korea (7th January 2011)

To Art W.

I consider John and his wife to be friends. However, I will disagree with him and others who comment negatively on the smoke issue here in Chiang Mai.

He is correct it gets not just warm but hot here. The humidity is not close to what you experience in Bangkok and places further South. The lack of humidity is for me what makes the heat here livable.

But the smoke?...uuuuh....I don't think it is all that big a deal. Just ignore it. It is not so heavy that it punches you in the face and will not be ignored. For the most I think about it only when I am around people who comment on it.

One thing it is only fair to note here is that maybe John Q's feelings on the issue are cumulative. He's lived here notably longer than I. I've only been through this last "smoke" season and the one from 2008.

But as to John Q's foremost point he is dead on. Think carefully about visiting us here in Chiang Mai. She is a Siren. Tie yourself to the mast lest you be lost to her forever.

By Gordon O. McGinnis, Chiang Mai, Thailand (7th January 2011)

Hi Art,

It is hot here during the Thai summer (March to May) with temperatures 40C plus during the day. However, it's a dry heat and until the rains arrive in May, there's little humidity. I find it intense but not unbearable.

Unfortunately the atmosphere in the north and across Northern Laos, Burma and Southern China is pretty grotty March through to the start of the rainy season in early May. Forest fires, dust, garbage burning and field clearing are the primary causes.

Thais are becoming more aware of possible long-term health risks, and there are groups here actively working to educate Thai school children and make them more aware of their environment.

I've cut and pasted information below regarding an upcoming event:

"Muan Ngun Wandek 2554 (Joyful Children’s Day 2011)

Why organize this event?

Children will be responsible for the future of our country; therefore education to develop good character into their adulthood. In particular, they should have the love of care and respect, environmental awareness, and to know how to manage waste properly. “Chiang Mai Iam” project which has a mission to create Chiang Mai as a healthy city and it co supporters wished to co-organize a special event for children’s day 2011 to bring the children to the limelight.

Now in its second year! This event will be memorable for the children. They will be joyful, and entertained by several events that cannot be experienced elsewhere they will also discover many new things that are important for the development of their characters.


1.To entertain and organize recreational activities fir the children on Children’s Day

2.To provide a learning port which integrates delightful activities that will instill environmental awareness, especially on climate change and waste management issues for children and their parents who join this event

3.To support the children to have creative ideas and encourage them to express their dreams of their city

Expected Results

Children will be joyful, gain more experiences and learn many new ideas through a variety of play activities.

Venue: Creative Urban Solutions center: Chiang Mai Learning Center

Date and time: Saturday 8, January, 2011 from 8:00-12:00


- Urban Development Institute Foundation (Chiang Mai)

- Chiang Mai University:

Urban and Environmental Studies Section, Social Research Institute

Department of Environmental Engineering, Faculty of Engineering

- Payup University: Faculty of Music

- Rotary Club of Chiang Mai, North and West

- Lanna Dog Rescue

- Chiang Mai College of Dramatic Arts

- Holistic Environment Urban School Program (HEUSP)

- Lanna Environment Protection and Sustainable Agriculture Club


- On Stage Activities: Puppet Show, Country Music (Looktooong), B-Boy, Live music, Q-A, Talent Shows

- Activities: Saard Game, Jigsaw, Goopgup Contest, Bowling, make your own “Kranom Krok”, learn how to make a food container from banana leaves, express your ideas on Chiang Mai city and much more,

- Exhibitions: See how artificial pond dilutes water pollution, How you can value added waste and turn them to valuable items

- Sample traditional desserts, cookies, and receive presents and prizes when participating in activities

- Each child will plant and bring home a pot plant

This Joyful Children’s Day 2011 will be a low CO2 event, please bring your own water containers

We welcome everyone! please inform us in advance to prepare food and beverages

Contact: Urban Development Institute Foundation 053-326560

: Smon (086-654-6834)"

By John Quinn, Chiang Mai (2nd January 2011)

Nice story John. I have question you could probably easily answer.

How bad is the problem I've heard about the farmers in the countryside around CM 'burning off' their fields? Does it really create a breathing problem for otherwise healthy people in CM?

And is the heat in the Summer really bad? Or

I'm originally from Houston, TX., so I'm used to heat.


By Art Williams, S.Korea (til March 2011) (2nd January 2011)

Very nice! I read to the end and saw that you are a course instructor at the place I have decided to attend in the coming months. THANK YOU!

By Danielle, California, USA (22nd December 2010)

It's always refreshing to hear stories from people who took the red pill. I met you some time ago when you where helping Wacharawit Wachai Primary school sort things out during their hiring process. You and the owner interviewed me (thanks for the job by the way).

By Jonas Blume, Chiang Mai (13th December 2010)

Very nice first blog John. I'm also looking forward to more stories.

By the way, this is not a blog which merits comments on an 'apparent' shortage of jobs in Chiang Mai. If you need to tell the world that there aren't any TEFL jobs in northern Thailand, then go to the ajarn search box in the top right-hand corner and search for a 'teaching in Chiang Mai' article (there are several on the ajarn website) - and then put your comments there.

By philip, (11th December 2010)

Its always great to hear your stories John,
Makes me want to go back to CM.
Looking forward to hear more stories soon.

By Steo Barcelona, barcelona (11th December 2010)

Sounds like my lifestory! (but much much nicely told ;) ... with a few things in mine still to unfold, this is a true inspiration.
Congratulations! I will be keeping track of this :)
All the best!

By Silvia Vidal, (11th December 2010)

Wow, some amazing adventures you have had and what some wonderful tales you can tell your children too. Looking forward to reading more!

By Amber Dodge, Mae Sot, Thailand (11th December 2010)

Welcome aboard John,

am looking forward to hearing your Northern tales!!


By Tom Tuohy, Saudia Arabia (10th December 2010)

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