I once heard Khon Kaen described as Thailand's most livable city. But would an English teacher survive there?
The Lonely Planet guidebook says......?
The Rough Guide says that Khon Kaen is "geographically at the virtual center of Issan". The city is a center for education and health care in the northeast. The province however has one of the lowest per capita incomes in the country. There is a large number of students living in and around the city due to the presence of Khon Kaen University, Northeastern University, Rajamongol Technical College, The College of Asian Scholars and many smaller technical schools.
In general, what are the pickings like for an EFL teacher?
There is a growing demand for qualified teachers at the language schools, public schools, and private schools. Combined, there are over forty institutions that employ ESL teachers. Locals hold English language education in high regard and spend a lot of their income on education for their kids.
Salaries are lower than in Bangkok. The range is generally between 25,000 at the low end and about 40,000 at the high end with the average for an experienced teacher at about 33,000. Sometimes housing is included in the package and sometimes a housing allowance of 3000 to 5000 is included above the salary.
There is a constant demand for private instruction and I decline at least 4 offers for each one that I accept. If you are well presented and offer a good program, you can get by on your own. I did so for 2 years. The ideal candidate for this area is usually one who is mature, professional looking, and able to adapt to the Isaan lifestyle. Although by no means a requirement, being married to a Thai is viewed as being able to make a commitment and having some understanding of Thai culture.
A. Hudson - Can't name any schools and I'm not going to name mine for job security but I can say there are some language schools and many government and public schools around where jobs can be had.
Andy - Three places that recruit teachers are Khon Kaen International School, Khon Kaen University and New York Language School.
Andy H - Khon Kaen international school is an OK place to work. There are plenty of private schools but I don't know their names and plenty of government schools that have positions as well.
How far from Bangkok or civilization?
Khon Kaen is located about 450 miles from Bangkok on Highway number 2, about midway between Korat and Nong Khai. There are two bus terminals which are both served by Moi Chit in Bangkok. Khon Kaen boasts a brand new municipal airport and a number of daily flights between Bangkok and the city.
A VIP bus from Bangkok costs about 260 baht and the one way airfare on Thai Airlines is 1605 baht. The flight is about 40 minutes long and the VIP bus takes about 5 1/2 hours with a brief stop in Korat. Also, there is a an overnight bus that takes you directly to Suvarnabhumi Airport, as well as four buses daily that are direct to Vientiane, Laos
What's the place like for nightlife, eating out etc?
Entertainment can be a little thin for singles looking to mingle with an ex-pat community. There are not that many of us here and many of us are married and home with UBC after classes.
There are plenty of bars and karaoke places. The 3 major discos are jumping every night. It's a great and safe environment for an east meets west experience. There are 3 major hotels downtown: the five star Pullman, the Charoen Thani Princess and the Kosa each with four stars. All of the hotels have the appropriate amenities.
The Pullman is a favorite because of its nightly western style buffet and its fitness club. There are also many lesser known but comfortable and more affordable hotels within walking distance of most destinations such as The Glacier, The Orchid and The Mai Tai Guesthouse. Recently, a couple of new bars opened up down at Kaen Nakhon Lake. The Chocolate Bar & Steven & Scott's Bar offer a nice atmosphere with a good view of the lake.
A. Hudson - the Kosa area of Khon Kaen has the most nightlife for foreigners but there are also several Thai bars like Taiwandeng that have live music and are actually more fun and authentic then the Western joints.
Andy - It is easy to find Western food and a few Western bars
Andy H - There are plenty of places to eat out (both Thai and Western food). There is also a handful of Western-owned bars that cater to the expat community.
How much to rent a house or basic apartment?
It is very common for schools and co-workers to assist with finding housing. One-room, furnished, air-con apartments are available starting around 4,500 per month. Unfurnished 3-bedroom townhouses also can be found starting about 4,500 per month. There are also more luxurious digs available at 8,000 - 25,000.
A. Hudson - plenty available and your range is going to be from 3,000 to 5,000 a month.
Andy - Renting an apartment costs between 3,000 to 5,000 baht.
Andy H - You can rent a very cheap place for 3,000 baht a month or you can get a very nice place for 6,000 to 8,000 baht per month. There are plenty of new condos going up.
Shopping malls, department stores?
Central Plaza is the main shopping mall in town, although there are also smaller facilities named Fairy Plaza and Tuk-Com. For day to day living needs, there is a Makro, A Home Pro, an Index, a Big C, and a Tesco - plus many smaller local stores.
There is also a huge selection of regional crafts and products at much lower prices than you will see on Sukhumvit. There are silk vendors all over the downtown area. In plentiful supply are the locally made traditional and Mutmee silks and cottons, silver jewelry, wood carvings, etc.
Many villages in the province produce their own signature goods such as silk handbags, clay jewelry etc. The local wet market in the center of the city is one of the biggest in Thailand. They have a tremendous selection of meats and vegetables and operate 24 hours per day. A Villa Market just opened in Udon Thani, and there will be a Villa Market in Khon Kaen by the end of 2013.
A. Hudson - As mentioned in the previous post, there are three main shopping malls with Central being the biggest. You could spend.all day there if you wanted, there is food, movie cinema, shopping, more food, and some decent coffee including a Starbucks
Andy H - Khon Kaen has two busy night markets. One on the main highway across from central plaza and the other in town next to Fairy Plaza.
How is mobile / internet coverage?
There are a growing number of wi-fi spots around town. 3G+ by TrueMove works well all over town.
Will you be stared at? and what's the likelihood of a good beating?
You will be stared at around the city a little bit and 5 to 10 kilometers outside town the locals might want to touch the hair on your arms (if you resemble a monkey like I do). But mainly you will be smiled at and treated with courtesy, awe and delight wherever you go. The people here are truly happy and honored to have you teach in their city. For most of us, there is really no chance of being beaten up but I guess for some it's guaranteed wherever they go. There are 10 hospitals in the city.
A. Hudson - not in the city center, there are actually quite a few pensioners and expats living in Khon Kaen. As far as a beating, I'm sure if you do something really foolish you could find yourself on the wrong side of a beating but you really have got to be foolish.
Andy H - No. You won't be stared at unless you are in a large group with other farangs and are acting like you don't know where you are or what you are doing.
Taxis, buses....or horse and cart?
Local baht buses (Songtaews) cost 9 baht and run from very early in the morning until about 8:30 in the evening. After that, the tuk tuks are very reasonable. I live about 7 km from school and it takes me 15 to 20 minutes in the morning on the bus. The same ride in a tuk tuk is 50 - 60 baht. There are also metered taxis which start at 30 baht.
A.Hudson - Before I got my bike I was paying 9 baht for the public bus or songtaw to take me from one end of town to the other. The tuk tuk drivers will charge you more than they should but they will get you to where you need to go. Best advice is spend the money and get a used bike.
Andy - There are no horses but plenty of songthaews that travel from one end of town to the other and plenty of tuk tuks.
Andy H - I take the songthaew all over town from my house to the bus station and to central plaza for just 8 baht.
Main advantages of living there?
The main attraction in living here is quality of life. It's much more relaxed than Bangkok. It's very inexpensive to live here. It's easy to establish good relationships with the locals. It's very easy to get around. Just about anything that you can buy in Bangkok, you can get here. People are extremely polite and friendly. You are a big fish in a small pond. Bangkok is a 40 minute plane ride. Most of the tourists are Thai. You will learn to speak some Thai or Lao. It's very dry during the dry season and very nice and cool in the evenings during the cool season. I can get to Don Muang or Suvanabhumi from my house in Khon Kaen faster than many of you who live in Bangkok. Lots of soundtrack rental shops and it's nice to have two movie theaters in town that show movies with English audio.
A. Hudson - I found KK very liveable and convenient compared to Korat or Chaiyaphum where I lived previously. The cost of living is cheap and the people are friendly.
Andy - It's a very liveable city that is cheap and has relatively nice weather with the exception of March until June
Andy H - Cheap living and a good lifestyle are the two main advantages of living in Khon Kaen. You also don't get the riff raff like you get in Bangkok or Chonburi and the cost of living is much cheaper.
And what are the downsides?
The downside is that very few people speak English (upside?). Income is unlimited but salaries are small. You have to work hard. There is nowhere to hide. Everyone knows you and what you are doing, so be good and do it right. Nothing works some of the time and some things work none of the time but nothing works all of the time. Get tired of it and Bangkok is a 40-minute plane ride away.
As of 2013, one BIG downside is congestion. Khon Kaen has been rapidly expanding for over the last years and the infrastructure already is overmatched. This situation continues to get worse.
A. Hudson - It can get unbearably hot in March, April and May.
Any local attractions?
The city has a fairly interesting museum and there are some dinosaur sites nearby. The closest thing to a public park is Beung Kaen Nakorn, a 3km circumference lake with dozens of restaurants, sing song places and karaoke bars around it. Some grass and lots of joggers and aerobics activity every night.
Food is very cheap and plentiful all over the city, 24 hours a day. You can't go 100m without running into 3 or 4 food stalls - all day and all night. People here love to snack and the food is very hot. Pizza Company, McDonald's, several KFCs, Pizza Hut, Sizzler, Starbucks and Swensen's are here for the gastronomically challenged.
There are several golf courses in the area, [as well as a local golf group](http://khonkaengolf.com). The only tour company in Khon Kaen [have been providing Isaan tours](http://kketp.com) for 4 years now.
Andy - The Ubalrattanna damn is 45 minutes away and there are some golf courses and nice landscapes not often frequented by farangs.
Where's the best place to meet other farangs or are they best avoided?
Many of the teachers here know each other and socialize in small groups. Whether you're a teacher or not, many of the previously mentioned bars and groups provide a social outlet. Actually, most foreigners here are pretty decent folk. Of course, there are a few exceptions! Other options include the long-standing Number 1 Bar & Sevens Corner Bar.
Andy - There are a few expat bars in the center of town where you can find expat locals.
Andy H - There are a few good farang hangouts and a few bad ones which you'll want to avoid but obviously I won't name. I guess it comes down to personal choice though.