There's no doubt that the paradise island of Koh Samui is a great place to be a tourist. But is it a great place to be an English teacher?
The Lonely Planet guidebook says......?
Despite its upmarket trend, Ko Samui still offers something for everyone. There are crowded beaches where young boys peddle coconuts and mangoes to oil-slicked, bikini-clad tourists, and jet-skis churn up whitewash on clear seas. There are isolated spots where serenity and seclusion are the name of the game and you can escape the sun in simple air-con cottages.
In general, what are the pickings like for an EFL teacher?
There are several large Thai schools on the island and between them they employ about 25-30 foreign teachers. Salaries are probably in the 25-35,000 baht a month range. Needless to say, if teachers get one of those positions, they tend to hang on to them. Hotel or resort work is a possibility and can pay up to 30,000 baht a month but positions are very rarely advertised and the best approach can simply be to knock on doors and ask for the recruitment manager. Unfortunately hotel work often comes without a work permit so you are very much an illegal alien - at least illegal in a work sense.
There are some very wealthy Thais on Koh Samui and it's not unusual to see adverts in supermarkets like Tesco Lotus or Big C placed by local Thais looking for a private language teacher. Although teaching private students might earn you 400 baht an hour, you're never really going to get enough hours to be able to jack the day job in.
How far from Bangkok or civilization?
It takes an hour to fly from Samui to Bangkok but the air-fares are quite steep when compared to other low-cost airline routes in Thailand. This is because Bangkok Airways has the monopoly on the Bangkok - Samui route and can charge more or less what they like. It's a constant source of complaint among the local Samui folk.
For those who refuse to fork out for inflated air ticket prices, getting to Bangkok amounts to something of an incredible journey. Firstly, the ferry from Samui to the mainland takes 90 minutes. Then it's an hour to the train station in Surat Thani. Then another exhausting 12 hours by train to get to the capital. We're pretty isolated down here!
What's the place like for nightlife, eating out etc?
Samui is a major tourist destination and parts of the island like Chaeweng and Lamai are literally 'party central'. There are bars and pubs everywhere you look. Chaeweng is the 'Pattaya of Koh Samui' with plenty of ladies doing favors for sailors and Lamai is a slightly scaled-down version. If you've got your beer legs and party head on and you've money to spend, night-time Samui will welcome you with open arms.
How much to rent a house or basic apartment?
You can rent a basic studio apartment for around 4,000 - 5,000 baht a month. If you want to upgrade to a one-bedroom apartment, then expect to part with at least 8,000 baht a month. Same goes for a bungalow. Your average two-storey townhouse with a couple of bathrooms and three bedrooms can fetch up to 25,000 baht a month so most house rentals are out of reach for your average chalkie.
Shopping malls, department stores?
The island isn't that large so you are never more than half an hour from a large supermarket and there are branches of Tesco Lotus, Makro and Big C. There are also plenty of boutiques and open markets but no air-conditioned shopping malls like you have in Bangkok or Chiang Mai. If it's a Louis Vuitton shoulder bag or a Cartier watch you're after, then you're out of luck where designer shops and their fancy prices are concerned.
Food shopping on Samui is expensive. You notice straight away how much cheaper foodstuffs are when you come to Bangkok. Of course, retailers have to factor in transportation costs when they are ferrying goods to an island. And as I've said already - Samui is primarily a holiday destination. Tourists don't care about a few baht here or there on basic food items.
How is mobile / internet coverage?
Fair to quite good.
Will you be stared at? and what's the likelihood of a good beating?
There are literally thousands of foreigners here. You'll just be one more to the total. Chances of a good beating? Spend too long in the bars and start acting like an idiot and you've got every chance!
Taxis, buses....or horse and cart?
Most, if not all teachers, rent or buy a motorcycle. The cost of public transportation borders on the outrageous. An air-conditioned taxi fare can be as high as 300 baht. I wouldn't pay it - but plenty of tourists will. Even motorcycle taxis and songthaews will run you 50 baht for a relatively short journey. Don't piss and moan and tell the drivers you're a local. They've heard it all before. If you won't pay it, no problem - there'll be a holidaymaker along any minute.
Main advantages of living there?
The obvious answers I suppose - Samui has a beautiful environment with clean air and scenery. If you tire of Samui, there are plenty of smaller, more unspoilt islands within easy reach. There is also a fantastic choice of international restaurants - Mexican, Italian, etc - but on a teacher's salary, these will often be a weekly or even monthly treat.
And what are the downsides?
As I'm sure you've gathered by now, it can be a damn expensive place to live. The relatively poor teacher salaries are nowhere near enough given the high cost of living. Perhaps others don't see it, but in certain areas - the touristy parts especially - there is an undeniable contempt or disdain towards the foreigner. Many Samui folk have simply become jaded from the antics of too many package holiday buffoons. We're all foreigners. Ex-pats often get tarred with the same brush.
Any local attractions?
There are plenty of glorious beaches, waterfalls, big Buddha statues and temples - all within easy reach if you have your own transportation.
Where's the best place to meet other farangs or are they best avoided?
A popular way to meet other foreign teachers is at one of the pub quiz nights and a percentage of teachers will often socialize with teaching colleagues anyway. That said, many teachers enjoy going out and about and mixing with the holidaymakers or just keeping themselves to themselves, especially if they are one half of a Thai-farang couple.