What's going on in one of Thailand's fastest growing cities? The city where I think most teachers would love to work if only the salaries were better.
The Lonely Planet guidebook says......?
The Rough Guide positively describes Chiang Mai as... "Despite becoming a fixture on the package-tourist itinerary, Thailand's second city manages to preserve a little of the atmosphere of an overgrown village and a laid back traveller vibe, especially in the traditional old quarter. Chiang Mai is a fun and historic city, packed with culture and bustling markets, but its real charm lies in its staggering range of tours, treks, courses and activities available. The choices are endless: elephant riding, hill-tribe homestays, waterfalls, massage, cooking, hot-air ballooning, mountain biking, rock climbing, bungy jumping, river cruises, unlimited shopping, and national parks on its doorstep. On top of that there are fabulous temples, delicious food, unparalleled night markets, and an energetic nightlife. It's impossible to get bored here."
In general, what are the pickings like for an EFL teacher?
In general, the job openings for an EFL teacher are less numerous and less remunerative than in Bangkok, because there are so many farang here who teach part time or are willing to work for little money in exchange for the chance to live in Chiang Mai. Teachers vary from fresh faced TEFL course graduates, to pensioners looking to supplement their income, or perhaps obtain that ever sought after visa. As a result, Chiang Mai really is an employer's market, and this is reflected in the wages.
In general salaries seem to range between 20,000 and 30,000 a month, though jobs at the top end of the scale are increasingly scarce and highly sought after. Higher salaries can be found at the international schools, but these will usually require a teaching degree or equivalent. Due to the level of competition, it is difficult to obtain a full time job without a degree and usually a TEFL certificate. Some language schools are willing to hire, regardless of qualifications, and pay ranges from 200-300 an hour.
Despite the relatively low wages, and the level of competition, Chiang Mai boasts 24 private schools, 25 government schools, 5 universities, 6 vocational colleges, 7 international schools and 24 language schools. There is always work to be found, and if you arrive with the right attitude, smart attire and more than a bit of patience, you can and will find that teaching job. Hit the pavement with your CV, and get visiting the schools as many jobs aren't advertised.
Joanna - Pretty good, but there's a lot of competition. You need to give yourself a couple of weeks to find a job, but if you're persistent you will find something. If you take a TEFL course here, the better courses place people in schools very quickly.
Richard - Jobs seem to be plentiful, but the pay is lower than most other places in Thailand. Some big name schools are: Dara Academy, Prince Royals, Montfort, Chiang Mai University, Varee
How far from Bangkok or civilization?
Many would argue that Chiang Mai is in fact, far more civilized than Bangkok, and at the very least it has all the amenities you could ever need. You can fly to Bangkok in just over an hour, with prices ranging from 1,300- 2,000 baht (departures almost hourly). Supposedly ‘VIP' busses leave every evening from various locations and cost as little as 300 baht for the 11 hour trip, bookings can be made at any agent around the city.
Roughly six trains depart a day from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, both day and sleeper trains. This can be a great way to see the countryside and gain a ‘real' Thai experience. The train takes between 12-14 hours depending on the service and costs range from 600 baht for first class seated to 1,300 for a first class sleeper. [Details can be found at the Thai train travel website](http://www.railway.co.th).
What's the place like for nightlife, eating out etc?
There are two big shopping centres both showing western films, three bowling alleys, various night markets every day of the week and numerous festivals and events happening around the city. Check out the Chiang Mai News website (http://www.chiangmainews.com) or City Life magazine for events. Due to the tourist industry there is always a lot going on in Chiang Mai, with bars and restaurants to cater for every taste.
Joanna - eating out in Chiang Mai is great. There are so many markets and bars that sell cheap food! Nightlife is also good. However, police is quite strict when it comes to closing bars at midnight. There are some that stay open until early morning, but this is a top secret information. Once you meet some other expats there they will fill you in on where to go.
Richard - There are dozens (dare I say hundreds) of bars and numerous night clubs. Western food is easy to find, although priced about double or triple what a Thai dish costs.
How much to rent a house or basic apartment?
A basic guest house will cost you around 1,000 baht per week and can be a good option while you are finding your feet in the city. Condo apartments range from the basic to the kitted out Western styles and cost between 4,000 - 9,000 baht a month. Houses can also be rented quite cheaply, a little further out of the centre, and cost roughly the same as apartments, though you will get far more space for you money (and usually far fewer Western facilities).
There is no shortage of suitable accommodation in Chiang Mai to suit all tastes and budgets, usually requiring either one or two months rent as a deposit plus first months rent up front. Some apartments are advertised online, but the best deals to be had are by word of mouth so get talking to other teachers living in the area.
Joanna - A basic option is 3,000 Baht. I paid 4,000 baht plus bills. The rooms are clean, air conditioned and have bathrooms and balconies. There are plenty of options to choose from.
Richard - Plenty of rooms, condos, houses available for all budgets. I pay 4,500 baht/month, and another 1,000 or so for electric, water, wifi, and cable. All said and done, I pay about 5.500/month for my studio room, bathroom, balcony apartment.
Shopping malls, department stores?
There are two big shopping centres in Chiang Mai, at the North West corner of the old moat (Central Kad Suan Kaew) and the upmarket Airport Plaza. Tesco-Lotus (two locations, near the above shopping centres), Tops, Carrefour, Big C, and a great Chinese-owned supermarket with Euro-American food brands. Most items can also be bought at the local markets. A good guide to shopping, dining and entertainment is Nancy Chandlers Map (and guide) of Chiang Mai, that can be purchased at most book/tourist shops for around 100 baht and gives an updated and comprehensive list of where to get what.
Joanna - Chiang Mai is great for shopping. There are a couple of malls. At the Central Festival you will find H&M, Uni Qulo and other high street brands. Maya Mall has some more expensive shops. Central Airport mall is good for more expensive Thai brands. Besides that you will find plenty cheap clothing at markets and at street stalls.
Richard - Markets and malls everywhere. Some popular malls are Central Airport Plaza, Central Festival, and the new Maya Mall. Also Big C's and Tesco's everywhere.
How is mobile / internet coverage?
Excellent as you would expect. Many western bars and cafés also have free Wi-Fi for customers at a reasonable speed.
Will you be stared at? and what's the likelihood of a good beating?
No chance. Tourists are a dime a dozen in Chiang Mai. No beatings unless you do something stupid and deserving.
Joanna - You won't be stared at. Chiang Mai is full of expats and tourists. It is also very safe. A good beating might come from other foreigners at night clubs, but if you know how to stay out of trouble you'll be fine.
Richard - Depending on the neighborhood, there will be many foreigners around, or none. I rarely get stared at, and have never feared that a good beating was coming my way.
Taxis, buses....or horse and cart?
Countless tuk-tuks and songteows. If the songteow's going your way on his fixed route, jump aboard for 20 baht, otherwise negotiate with the songteow (50 baht is the absolute limit unless you're going way out beyond the superhighway). Tuk-tuks start at around 30 baht and depend on distance, number of people and the time of day or night. Generally prices will rise after dark and it's advised to decide on a price with the driver before jumping on board
Joanna - There are songhaews, which are very cheap, but not so quick if there's traffic. The best way to get around is by a scooter. Traffic in Chiang Mai is not that bad and lots of expats drive there.
Richard - I ride a motorbike and it really is the best and only way to get around Chiang Mai. Tuk-tuks are a rip-off, songthaews are around (but who can learn their schedules?) Learning how to navigate and get a sense of direction was quite easy considering the old city moat is a square and can provide a perfect frame of reference for learning the roads here.
Main advantages of living there?
It's not as hectic as Bangkok while maintaining all the facilities and entertainment you would expect from a big city. The cost of living is also cheaper than Bangkok or the major tourist areas such as Phuket. The temperature is cooler than Bangkok or the coast, with the cool season lasting from November-February. While flooding can happen in Chiang Mai, it is never as serious as in other parts of the country and for the most part business continues as normal.
Chiang Mai is a great place to see the festivals of Loy Krathong and Songkran, it has amazingly beautiful temples and a host of outdoor activities on its doorstep. The food is also good and the people are friendly.
Joanna - Advantages: cheap accommodation and food, great atmosphere, good expat community.
Richard - Cost of living is low (but so are salaries), food is awesome, northern Thai culture differs from the rest of Thailand making Chiang Mai relatively unique.
And what are the downsides?
The comparatively low wages for an EFL teacher are a big downside. In high season the number of tourists can become a bit much, and for those who have to do a visa run, the nearest consulate is in Vientiane, a 12-14 hour mini-bus ride away. If beaches are your thing, forget Chiang Mai, it's about as far away from a beach as you can get.
Joanna - Downsides: pollution during March and April, distance from the ocean and flight tickets to other countries are more expensive than from Bangkok.
Richard - Low pay and after two years the initial small city charm is backfiring and becoming restrictive, ie it's getting to be quite boring. How many times can you go to the same restaurants, bars, clubs, hangouts, markets before it starts to feel too routine and lack excitement?
Any local attractions?
The big one is Doi Suthep temple, situated on a mountain side overlooking Chiang Mai with breath-taking views. Countless other temples, markets and outdoor activities....too many to mention. Chiang Mai is on the tourist trail for a reason, it has a lot to offer as far as attractions go.
Joanna - Plenty: Mae Cham, San Kampeang Hot Springs, Chiang Dao Cave, cherry blossoms past Doi Suthep mountain, Tung Tao Lake, the canyon, Samoeng Loop, Mae Hong Song Loop, plenty of things to see, especially if you drive a scooter.
Where's the best place to meet other farangs or are they best avoided?
There are probably twenty places within walking distance of Tha Pae Gate, and you'll see farang everywhere - mostly tourists, and a fair number of expatriates. Loi Kroh road contains a long strip of bars (mostly hostess) and in my opinion best avoided. Another area that attracts westerners is Ratwithi Road in the old square, with a number of chilled out bars including the UN Irish Pub, where you'll meet more than a few teachers. A number of upmarket bars are also concentrated along the east side of the river. The night markets sport a curious mix of Thais, tourists and expats looking for bargains and great street food.
If you want a night out without being surrounded by Western faces, head to the Nimmanhaemin area near Chiang Mai University, where Chiang Mai's trendy student population hang out; great bars, restaurants and shopping. A little pricier than other areas, but you might bump into a Thai celebrity!
Joanna - I had lots of great friends there. Try a small bar called The Weatherspoon's, where a lot of teachers hang out, Small House is a good option. Avoid Zoe in Yellow if you don't want to meet backpackers.
Richard - I avoid them. Chiang Mai is a popular stop on the backpacker/flashpacker circuit, so-called "digital nomads," and retirees. I try to avoid these crowds.