To the locals and the regulars, it's known as P-Lok. It's got plenty of cultural attractions and a reasonable cost of living. But what about TEFL vacancies?
The Lonely Planet guidebook says......?
Phitsanulok (P-lok) is a splendid and lively place in Thailand's lower north.
Cultural attractions in town include some excellent wats, a cool private folk museum, a "folk cock conservatory," and the last of Thailand's municipal house boats float on the brown Nan river. Outside of town to the west include some waterfalls, resorts, national parks, and a mediation center. A hour to the east is Sukhothai and its ancient ruins.
Overall P-lok is a nice mid-sized city with nice people, some good cultural attractions, great and cheap food, and not at all a bad place to look for a job.
In general, what are the pickings like for an EFL teacher?
During the right times (April, May, August and October) excellent. Other times, pretty good. The P-lok English market demand is like America's deficit, steady and growing. P-lok is actually a bit of an education hub.
There are several big universities here, Rajamangkala, Rajabat, and Nareusuan. There are at least 6-12 primary/high schools in town that employ foreign English teachers. Some of these schools (such as Chalermkwan High School) employ up to 6 or 7 falangs and have a fully-fledged English program.
All the professional teachers (aka, not total screw-ups) are happy with their jobs here. Recently, my friend came here for 2 months, without a TEFL or a university degree, and was able to make a decent wage with language schools and random English conferences. So, overall, if you look professional, act professional, don't point your toes at anyone, or head-butt a monk, you should easily find a decent job in no time at all.
Money-wise you can do OK here. Average is probably 30,000 a month. Some schools offer bonuses for not breaking your contract. Language schools pay around 300 an hour, and you can really make money doing that. Also private lessons for those with time and a need for money. Because P-lok is so inexpensive, you can easily save money here. I make about 35,000 a month, live comfortably, have fun at night, and still save about 20,000.
How far from Bangkok or civilization?
P-lok is civilized, uh, mostly. Exactly halfway between Chiang Mai and Bangkok on the train (7 hours) and bus (usually less than 6). Frequent service too. There is also an airport with flights to Bangkok. By bus P-lok is 6 hours from Chiang Mai, 6 from Bangkok, 6 from Khon Khan, and just one hour from Sukhothai, and 4 hours from Mae Sot.
What's the place like for nightlife, eating out etc?
What do you consider entertainment? There are: several shopping places - Big C, Tesco Lotus, Topland Plaza, Night Bazaar, etc. A movie theater in Thai at Big C, but as of October 2006 Tesco Lotus will have a soundtrack theater.
Dozens of amazing places to eat - riverboat restaurants, stationary river restaurants, the Night Bazaar's famous ‘flying vegetable,' restaurant, one ok Japanese restaurant, one good ‘international restaurant, Korean BBQ's, and several hotel buffet restaurants.
Also, there are a bunch of nightclubs (Picasso, Discovery, The Best) that pound out electronic tunes and have a ‘show.'There are more laid back bars, though usually they are empty. I think "Sanook Nuk" is the best place in town, a cool bar/restaurant which features some alright musicians (once in 3 months a Thai superstar) playing every night.
There are a seemingly endless amount of festivals -food festivals, OTOP festivals, the annual Narauean festival, the annual Wat Yai festival, etc. Also, karaoke bars galore.
How much to rent a house or basic apartment?
Money-wise, P-lok is reasonable. My friends and I pay between 3,000 and 4,000 a month for our apartments, which are pretty decent.
We live in modest condos, but if you want there are nice houses multi-story houses for more, maybe 6,000 a month. Some places offer residence to their workers, but most offer real estate advice.
Shopping malls, department stores?
For day to day living needs, there are department stores (Big C, Tesco), malls (Topland Plaza, and local joints), an ok Night Bazaar (mostly retail and food), plus many smaller local stores.
There is also a huge selection of regional crafts and products to be found in various stores and at the market at "Wat Yai" (Big Temple). So yes, almost everything you need you can find here. There is now a large Central Shopping Mall as well.
How is mobile / internet coverage?
Will you be stared at? and what's the likelihood of a good beating?
P-lok is a pretty safe town. I don't know of any foreigners having problems. Except for this one guy who was bargaining a 50 baht hooker down to 40 baht, but he won't be missed. (joke)
Depending on your school and who you are, you will probably be a minor celebrity. But don't worry about too much attention, most people here genuinely love falangs.
Taxis, buses....or horse and cart?
Not an ideal situation. Fortunately you can go most places by walking if you live near the center of town.
There are very good taxi services in Phitsanulok. Buses do, and are ok for trips to the inter-city bus station (the number 1) or Big C (the number 1).
Tuk tuks are ok, but sometimes expensive. Motorcycle drivers hang out at a few places. Tricycle bike riders can take you around, but it really isn't romantic at all.
Get a bike, moped, or car and you will be fine. It's an easy place to ride a moped.
Main advantages of living there?
It's a reasonably fun mid-sized city, with a great number of schools that want you. Great and cheap food. We actually saved a good amount of money here, 400 USD a month.
Thai people will want to be your friends. Cool wats (actually you can teach at Wat Yai - go to the monk chat center and see if they need you, ask for Ajarn Khunakorn or Phra Cree.) River events. Nice river park. It seems like a festival every month. Sukhothai, waterfalls, rice paddy villages, Chinese mountain temples, and parks make good weekend trips.
Bangkok and Chiang Mai are 6 hours away.
And what are the downsides?
Not many great English speakers, and that includes teachers. You may need to prepare all your own material, including curriculums, lesson plans, etc.
Some people aren't satisfied with their schools administrators, but most people can endure these relatively light problems. If you don't have your own wheels, getting around may be difficult. Really nothing drastic, it is easy to have a great experience living here.
Any local attractions?
Previously mentioned, but here it is again - the river, the river restaurants, amazing food market at night in town, the public river park, folk museum, Buddha casting factory, bird conservatory, many wats, Wat Yai and the famous Buddha image there, waterfalls an hour away, national park 2 hours, sukhothai 1 hour, etc
Where's the best place to meet other farangs or are they best avoided?
Not a strong suit of P-lok. At the bus station there is a great bar restaurant for Western food and company. Meet your colleagues or stop by a language school. Some falangs frequent some of the local bars, restaurants, and clubs mentioned. Learn a bit of Thai and become friends with some Thai people and you will be more than fine.