Is Surat Thani just a place to pass through on the way to somewhere else, like Koh Samui for example? Or is it TEFL teacher Heaven?
The Lonely Planet guidebook says......?
It basically says that there isn't much to do in Surat Thani, though the last one I read is grossly outdated.
In general, what are the pickings like for an EFL teacher?
There are over a hundred foreign teachers working in and around Surat Town. Most schools have some kind of English program and therefore each employs several farang teachers.
Most contracts at schools are through agencies which offer 30,000 – 35,000 baht a month for what are often 10-month contracts. I believe all the pay per hour jobs no longer exist.
As far as I know the fairly newish international school offers around 45,000 a month depending on experience.
How far from Bangkok or civilization?
Suratthani is the hub of the south. This means that it's quite easy to get just about anywhere. Bangkok is 700 km from Suratthani. There is a train station and an airport nearby.
The trains, which tend to be of the overnight type, take about 10 hours plus the standard 3-hour initial wait at the station. Buses a bit less but is it worth risking your life? You can easily fly in less than an hour very cheaply.
What's the place like for nightlife, eating out etc?
Surat is full of great little bars always with beer promotions and live music however, as with most businesses in Thailand they open and close very quickly therefore recommending any places in particular would be difficult. There are a handful of swankier establishments serving imported western beverages for western prices.
There are at least 3 nightclubs in the town which stay open till 2/3am, these are "traditional" Thai nightclubs as you can bring in your own spirits, have table service rather than having a western style dance floor and they alternate between a house band and a DJ that plays modern house music.
Surat has no shortage of markets and restaurants, seafood is very popular and readily available due to its proximity to the sea.
All types of Thai food can be found except possibly Northern cuisine. One food to try here is the Pad Thai Chaiya served at the night market which a different take on a dish I'm normally not too fussed about.
If you like western food there is a Pizza Company, two KFC's, a Sizzler, a McDonalds and a Starbucks furthermore many restaurants serve Thai-western food and there are at least two farang run restaurants serving authentic western food.
There are plenty of sports facilities; many gyms, swimming pools, several 3G football pitches, muay thai gyms and Koh Lampoo. Koh Lampoo is an island in the Tapee River connected by a bridge on which you can jog, play badminton, volleyball and football in a very nice green and natural environment.
The Asia Books store closed down a long time ago so there aren't any places to buy western books. The movie theater at Central always has the most recent/popular movie showings in English.
How much to rent a house or basic apartment?
A typical mansion apartment will cost about 3,000 baht per month, a bit more if you want air-conditioning.
A two-bedroom, two-bathroom townhouse runs up from 5,000 baht (unfurnished). A single dwelling home is generally about 5,000 baht up.
Recently more modern condos have been built, the kind you see in Bangkok complete with swimming pools and gyms - these start from around 8,000 per month
Shopping malls, department stores?
A number of years ago, Central was completed with the usual shops, restaurants and a cinema; it is located just outside of the city centre.
Sahathai department store has also relocated but is still in the city centre. The city also has the typical Makro, Lotus and Big C, all a bit on the outskirts rather than in the centre of town.
How is mobile / internet coverage?
Will you be stared at? and what's the likelihood of a good beating?
Not really, just the occasional “Hey You” or “Man U, Man U” shout. Outside of the city in amongst the plantations is a little more backwards so the stares are more common and intense.
The likelihood of a good beating... hmmm... well, it has happened. This is directly going to be based on your own behaviour. I've heard of a few of the visiting males having some problems, usually from being exceedingly intoxicated and blatantly offending the locals with obnoxious behavior. It's always been well deserved.
Taxis, buses....or horse and cart?
Songtaews, tuk tuks, motorcycle taxis, and even samlors. Additionally there are free buses out to Big C and Lotus on the major routes.
Most people own motorcycles. Many also have bicycles as there are some nice areas to bike in and around the city.
In recent times, taxis have started running and are increasing in number
Main advantages of living there?
It is a Thai town and feels like one, only in the very centre of town near the bus terminal will you get treated like a tourist with the tuk-tuk drivers trying to pull a fast one on you. Apart from that most of the locals are very accommodating.
Surat is the perfect size, not too big not too small as you can drive across it within 15 minutes so everything is accessible but not so that everyone knows your personal business.
Surat is close to some of Thailand’s most beautiful places and it is well linked to them by mini buses, buses, trains and planes. You can finish work on a Friday and within an hour be on a beach or in the rainforest.
Surat may be developing rapidly but the average meal is still 30-50฿ and rent is cheap too. If you go out for drinks locals seem happy to see you and will offer you their Hong Thong but it’s not over the top like I have experienced in places a little less used to seeing westerners.
The pace of life is much slower than Bangkok, and the city is easily navigated. The food is absolutely amazing and very reasonable. Seafood is abundant. Just outside the city is ‘Pak Nam', which has some of the best seafood around, and is famous for giant oysters.
For affordable, excellent Southern Thai food Kroua Jaow Men, out near Big C, has some of the best around. Lucky Restaurant is also a city landmark and is still run by the original owner. Northeastern food restaurants are booming these days, as well as Korean barbeque restaurants.
For lunch, try Kaow Praram, something I have yet to find made in the same style anywhere else in Thailand. There are two restaurants, one downtown and one near the main high school, owned by brothers.
And what are the downsides?
Most of the “teachers” are young and want to party, this may be due to the close proximity of the islands that initially attracts young people or it could be the same nationwide?
The locals' level of English is very low so learning Thai is a must unless you isolate yourself in a farang world.
The salaries are low and there is no real room to increase your salary above 40,000 per month.
The traffic is getting worse and certainly has done in the years that I lived there. The driving here even by Thai standards is bad at best.
The rainy season gets quite depressing although it’s generally only a couple of months of intense rainfall.
Any local attractions?
Boat tours along the Tapee river in the evening to see the fireflies and the monkey training college where monkeys are trained to pick coconuts for the local farmers.
Outside of the city are many waterfalls and hot springs.
Chaiya is a relaxing town with beaches and Suan Mok which is a popular temple retreat for meditation.
An hour away are two of Thailands hidden gems: Khanom and Khao Sok. Khanom is 8 kms of golden beach that’s not really been affected by tourism yet and Khao Sok is an evergreen rainforest with floating raftshouses on the Rachaprapa Lake.
Within 3-4 hours of travelling are Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Krabi
Where's the best place to meet other farangs or are they best avoided?
Surat is well connected with a Facebook group with certain members helping out newer ones.
There is a football team that trains once a week and competes in tournaments, a group of people play rugby together and gyms also seem to be a good place to meet foreigners.
There are also many, many farang at the ferry pier where the night boats depart. Generally, these are tourists heading for the islands but many teachers meet up here on a Friday evening.