A delightful, laid-back city in Northern Thailand that's famous for its white temple (Wat Rong Khun) A place known for its good value accommodation and great local food. Any teaching jobs?
The Lonely Planet guidebook says......?
"Chiang Mai in miniature". This best sums up things. Instead of giving you the old worn out cliches, just remember the sentence in quotations, and then go and read the Chiang Mai link again. Just as the surroundings around the Tha pae gate are the focal point of tourism in Chiang Mai, so too is the Clock Tower area in Chiang Rai.
In general, what are the pickings like for an EFL teacher?
They are quite good, but as is the general rule for the north of Thailand, the pay is maybe lower than you'd get in other areas that are not Bangkok.
How far from Bangkok or civilization?
About as far as you can get. It takes at least 12 hours by bus, but there are numerous low-cost flights serving the area.
What's the place like for nightlife, eating out etc?
There are many bars and restaurants in the guest-house area around the clock tower. However, compared to other big cities, the establishments are rather low key and uneventful. There are a lot of places serving western style fare, but the prices are quite a bit higher than for Thai food. All things considered, the bars are nothing special with usually few patrons, but the western food is quite good.
How much to rent a house or basic apartment?
You can get a standard single room with air conditioning and some furnishings for as little as 2,500 baht per month. It is even possible to get a house for this price, but with air conditioning it costs more and you would have to buy all the furnishings. A bigger place with a bedroom and kitchen would cost around 7,000 baht per month.
Shopping malls, department stores?
There is Central Plaza and Edisons, in addition to the standard franchises.
How is mobile / internet coverage?
It is as good as anywhere in Thailand, although the selection of internet rooms is quite limited
Will you be stared at? and what's the likelihood of a good beating?
There is almost no possibility of being stared at as the people are familiar with tourists. If you do get into a fight, it most likely will be with a drunken foreigner, as the Northern Thai personality is quite mild in comparison to others in the kingdom
Taxis, buses....or horse and cart?
The taxi service around the bus station is adequate and there are a few motorbike taxis serving customers. Also numerous songthaews provide service to various parts of the city and beyond. Quite a lot of folks now use the Grabcar app to get around.
Main advantages of living there?
For a place which has as many tourists as it does, there really is nothing special about the city; the attraction is the rest of the province. Although the South is more beautiful, there probably is no better province for exploring than Chiang Rai.
If temples are your thing, then you will be hard pressed to find a better one anywhere than Wat Rong Khun or the White Temple. Further, other great temples abound, in particular the recently built Blue and Black Temples.
If you get bored and want to go to another country or get a new visa , well, two options are at your disposal. First, Talichek in Burma is only about an hour or so away from the provincial capital via Maesai, the highest point in Thailand. A little farther away is Chiangkhong, which borders Lao.
If trekking is your cup of tea, there are numerous mountains to explore either on your own or by tour guides. The great thing is that, in adidtion to seeing beautiful scenery, you will be meeting various Hill tribe groups, such as the Karen or Lhasa on your journey.
And for the really adventurous, even more can be seen by getting your own means of transportation and exploring the hard to get places that a tour bus cannot get into. as the area north of Chiang Rai is dotted with many tea plantations and site.
Whatever you do, don t just stay at home and drink the weekend away, as my teaching mate did and others have. If you want to do this, then better to stay away from Chiang Rai, as the night life scene here is really quite dull.
And what are the downsides?
One of the most problematic issues in Chiang Rai (and most of the north) is the growing air pollution. February to May should be called the "burning season" rather than simply the dry season. This is when much of the stubble burning occurs, along with locals burning parts of the forest to clear land and forage for mushrooms, which can fetch a high price for many who live in relatively poorer, rural areas. Since March/April is holiday time for many teachers, it's important to realize Chiang Rai and the surrounding area often has one the highest pollution scores in the world during this time.
Also, as was said previously, the nightlife scene leaves much to be desired. There is something missing in Chiang Rai and the north as a whole. Most Asian countries are dynamic, with many things to do in the city. Having already worked in the South and Issan, I felt the same in Thailand, until coming here. Establishments seem to open earlier and close later in Chiang Rai. For instance, Central Plaza does not open until 11:00 PM on a normal day, while it would definitely be earlier in a similiar sized city in even Issan.
So while the place is great for tourism, normal life is slower paced than in other areas of the nation. Northern people do not seem to have as much fun as other Thais do. They are more serious and cleverer than those in other areas; it probably is no coincidence that the Shiniwatra dynasty hailed from nearby Chiang Mai. But being that the country is now controlled by Bangkok interests, I could feel a great sense of bitterness from the people. No matter what Prayut does, I feel that Chiang Rai people will disagree with him.
Additionally, it is not as easy to find a mate as in Issan or other areas. Northern women do not openly flaunt themselves, being very reserved and dressing quite modestly. It is laughable that so many wear clothing at swimming pools, wearing dresses masquerading as swimsuits. Heaven forbid that a women wear a bikini here. I know that Western women are stronger, but at least they dress seductively when need be. On cool days, people dress as we would do on a cold winter day, wearing wool hats and heavy coats.
Sometimes I felt as if I was living in a North Eastern Asian country such as China, and not Thailand. Those with Chinese background in Chiang Rai are not as fully assimiliated into the nation as are others with the same background who live in, say, Bangkok. This should not be surprising, since Chiang Rai was basically the last province to finally enter into the kingdom during the late 18th century.
In a sense, it is refreshing that the people act so differently here; but at the same time it is disappointing, especially if you want to experience true Thai culture. Sometimes I wanted to tell people that this is Thailand, and not China! I found that many elderly people barely spoke Thai, preferring to use the local dialect. At school, some Thai teachers spoke the Lanna dialect, even though the Thai government demands that only Thai be used in the classroom.
And speaking of the schools, too many Northern schools lack foreign native teachers. They may try to get one, but invariably ask one to come all the way from Bangkok at his/her expense for an interview, only to reject the individual in question if the administration sees something wrong.
Far too many schools are too picky in getting a teacher, believing that they can easily find someone else at the touristy areas of Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai. And even if the school likes someone, many are not willing to work for only 30,000 baht per month. Fortunately, I made more, but the end result is that too many schools end up hiring people who have yet to graduate from AFS or Thailand Teaching Corps here.
Any local attractions?
If you are only going to see one attraction, anyone in Chiang Rai will tell you that it should be the immaculate White Temple. Nothing beats it. It is quite simply stunning! It has only recently been built, so it is still in great condition. Be warned though, as throngs of Chinese tourists will descend here during the daytime, pushing their way through you and taking photos from all angles.
Also check out the stunning and sprawling Singha Park, the many waterfalls and hot springs in the area, and the small, uncrowded night market.
Where's the best place to meet other farangs or are they best avoided?
There is no one place in particular; basically the guest house area around the clock tower is best. And then once you get contacts, you can branch out elsewhere