Some would say that this small town is in the perfect location - halfway between Bangkok and Pattaya. There are also plenty of teaching jobs on offer if you can go without your Western food fix.
The Lonely Planet guidebook says......?
That there’s a decent daytrip to be had there. That’s the only article they have on it, so allow me to give a bit more of an overview:
Chachoengsao is a small city which barely qualifies as such. It’s between Bangkok and Pattaya and easier to live in than either. It sits beside a river and is surrounded by fields and towns of the province which shares its name.
To give you an in-depth understanding of its geography:
Imagine a square, or draw one on a piece of paper. The four sides are four sections of road. Almost the entirety of Chachoengsao worth seeing is within or immediately outside these four roads. The top left corner is where the hospital and bus station are. The bottom left corner is where Robinsons is. The train station is halfway down the top section, the White Temple is halfway down the bottom section. Big C 1 and 2 are halfway down the left and right section respectively, the right hand section is also where most of the best restaurants are. Meesuk and JK Living apartments are in the middle of the square.
The only things outside the square are Macro, following the left section 5 minutes North, Rooftop bar is two minutes east, following the top section road. And then there’s old town, which is immediately north of the right hand section. Old town has most of the city’s doctors and dentists, but unless your (government) school is located there there’s no other reason to go.
Sorry if that’s a bit of an info dump but it will all become clear as you read on.
In general, what are the pickings like for an EFL teacher?
Given the size of the city, pretty good. There are of course a lot of government schools servicing students that come from all over the province (it's a big province). These pay in the 30-35K range, as do the agencies that service them. The agencies here provide for schools as far away as Rayong!
There are several private schools, but most fall into the same salary range or just a bit higher. The two exceptions are Saint Joseph and Intertots Trilingual School (ITS). These schools employ directly, and pay salaries comparable or better than Bangkok private schools. They do require a teaching degree or the equivalent though.
Outside of the city there are a few schools in the towns that employ native speakers. They generally work through agencies and normally have little success - Chachoengsao province is really the sticks!
How far from Bangkok or civilization?
One of the best things about Chachoengsao is its location. It's between Bangkok and Pattaya. By bike or van, it's 90 minutes to Bang Na and just over two hours to central Pattaya.
The bus station in Chachoengsao is well run and timely, and will probably take you where you need to go (especially eastward bound) with a choice of bus or van. Anywhere far afield and you can go to Mo Chit bus station or Don Mueng airport, both about 2 hours away.
There's also a train that goes regularly to Hua Lamphong station (the main Bangkok train hub) for less than 20 baht! The ride though is uncomfortable, you generally don't get to sit and it takes about 3 hours.
What's the place like for nightlife, eating out etc?
There is a good selection of Thai food to be had, fresh grilled fish, the best chicken cashew nuts I've had in Thailand, and a small amount of good Japanese food and sushi. But, and here's my single greatest gripe about Chachoengsao, there's no good Western food to be found here - unless you count fast food crap like KFC and Pizza Company. There are a few imitation restaurants but avoid them like the plague.
As for nightlife, anyone who knows better should feel free to update this (I was working 6 day weeks since I got here, and am not much in this scene anyway). From what I've observed and absorbed from those who've been here longer than I, there are quite a lot of bars. Most are sit down and drink whiskey soda types, and they have the annoying habit of playing music so loud you can't even talk. Rooftop bar over the main bridge is probably the best place to drink since they're much mellower and the view is just amazing.
There is one nightclub called The Dome. This can get packed, but I've heard rumours that it's a shadier bunch of Thais that go there; they bring weapons.
If you're looking for a crazy fun time though, Pattaya is not far and good for a weekend.
How much to rent a house or basic apartment?
A house: 7-10K per month for 3-4 bedrooms, furnished. There are plenty on the market, especially in the area south of Robinsons.
For apartments, there are all types and almost all prices. Most of the foreigner teachers in Chachoengsao (including those working for agencies and government schools) stay at either Meesuk or JK Living. Meesuk is 5K for a standard room, 7K for a deluxe partitioned room. JK Living is 6K for a standard room and 8K for a VIP suite.
JK also tends to whack you more on utilities, due to the larger room sizes, but is more modern and more popular among the foreigners.
Shopping malls, department stores?
There are two Big C malls known, creatively, as Big C 1 and Big C 2. There's a Macro about 5 minutes north of the city. And there is a Robinsons with a Tops market with higher quality goods. But, as Stalin taught us, some Tops markets are more equal than others. This is a less equal one. Fortunately there's a more equal one 40 minutes away in Chonburi Central Festival. Also, again you're not too far from Bangkok and Pattaya.
The Robinsons store does show one English movie every other week, but generally only if it's a big deal internationally and then only for a week or two before they're back to all Thai. But if you keep an eye on what's showing, you can see most major releases without travelling further afield. Otherwise there's Mega Bangna and Pattaya Central.
There is a big market every Thursday near to the White Temple, and a smaller one every Thursday near Big C 2.
How is mobile / internet coverage?
Will you be stared at? and what's the likelihood of a good beating?
In the city, people will notice you in the same way that people in Bangkok would. Outside the city in the towns, you get a lot more of the 'staring at you while pretending they're not' vibe. As for beatings, I haven't heard of anything. I think it's far more likely you'll run into trouble in Pattaya.
Taxis, buses....or horse and cart?
There are motorcycle taxis, which are okay for short distances, songthaews, which are hard to catch, and tuktuks, who follow the time-honoured tradition of charging absurd rates especially to foreigners. You might see the odd meter taxi, but only because someone took it from Bangkok or Pattaya.
Basically this is another spot that requires you driving your own vehicle or renting.
Main advantages of living there?
You get most of the advantages of living in a city without having to deal with the smell, traffic and crowds of Bangkok. And the police leave you alone, unlike Pattaya where if you've got a white face they'll make a beeline. You're very close to both of these places should you want/need to go. I've driven to both several times on my bike, though the trip down Bang Na highway is a bit hair-raising.
While there are a few bad sections of road, especially on the interchange going to and from Macro, generally the roads are good. And while there is a bit of traffic on the Robinsons highway, especially on Saturdays, it never comes close to Bangkok levels. The area around the city, while not North Thailand levels of beautiful, is still lush and green and pleasant to drive through and isn't as dominated by rice fields as the mid-lands.
It's cheaper to live here than in Bangkok or Pattaya, rooms are comfortable and cheaper, food is very good quality as long as you're prepared to eat Thai style, people are friendly and due to the geography tend to speak more and better English than most Thais.
Frankly, it's a great place to stay.
And what are the downsides?
No good Western food. Sigh. And having only one cinema sometimes showing an English movie is stifling. There's also not too much to do in Chachoengsao itself, so if you've only got one day for relaxation you'll get bored.
That's it really. Every other downside is very situational, like having no meter taxis might suck if you're determined not to ride a motorcycle.
Any local attractions?
There's the White Temple, Wat Saman Rattanaram, which can be a mild annoyance since every weekend hundreds of Thais come from Bangkok off the cheap train and clog up the road. Fortunately once you are aware this happens you can just make your way around the area.
Some people go boating down the river, and on the riverside there's a nicely paved area that's good for evening walks. There's also a nice and well maintained park.
No other major attractions that I'm aware of.
Where's the best place to meet other farangs or are they best avoided?
I'm really not the best person to be answering this question, due to my aforementioned 6-day weeks. A few chat sites I visited recommended Oil's, but after going there about 8 times and meeting exactly one foreigner I gave up. I think that the old residents who used to frequent there all moved on, and I heard a rumour that the restaurant is going to close soon.
As to the new bunch of farangs, the government school teachers seem to be a rotating lot who haven't settled on a favourite place, and the private school teachers are rather busy. The place I met the most foreigners was waiting for the elevator at my apartment block.