One wonders what Surin would do without its annual elephant festival. It sounds like a place that puts the L into laid-back. But it does have foreign teachers and plenty of expat retirees apparently.
The Lonely Planet guidebook says......?
Well, I found out I would be working in Surin whilst changing over in Helsinki airport. I did a Google search to see what I could find and I got next to nothing really. You'll find some info about the elephant festival and a Thai silk village. The internet certainly leaves a lot to the imagination.
In general, what are the pickings like for an EFL teacher?
Well there are only 3 schools I know of that hire foreign teachers, all in the city area.
An agency has the monopoly on the biggest hirer, Anubarn Surin. Those teachers are typically recruited through an ‘internship' program together with an online TEFL company. There have been times over my one year when we have needed an extra hand or two, so people are drafted in. The school itself has quite a large foreign contingent of around 20 teachers.
Next door is one of a few local high schools, Sirindhorn, Prasatwittayakarn School, and they have roughly 6-10 positions or so. Both schools have an EP program, and I believe all the positions are 30k+ p/m.
Extra tutoring work is available providing you talk to the right people.
How far from Bangkok or civilization?
Bangkok is a good 6-hour Nakhon Chai Air bus ride away, and it once took me and some friends 11 hours on a non-NCA bus to get to Pattaya.
The closest airport is Buriram, which certainly has flights to Bangkok. It's only a 3-4 hour drive away from Siem Reap in northern Cambodia.
What's the place like for nightlife, eating out etc?
The nightlife is quite centralised to one main strip. There are bars that run up and down the street, with a large club and late night club smash bang in the middle of it.
For those who aren't into the club scene, there are some funky reggae bars with a mixture of farang and Thais, which will often have live music on the weekends. Don't expect much from the live acts.
Plenty of bars show live football too, more often than not in Thai.
As is the case with most places, I Imagine, there are bars and restaurants scattered all around the area. There are a few all-you-can eat BBQ places about, one really nice place for just B140. As is the case with all these places, drinks and other items are relatively expensive.
There are a number of night markets around Surin city, all with cheap stuff and places to eat.
There was a free gym in the city which was fairly old and dirty, which has since closed down for refurb. Not sure if it has reopened yet as I am no longer living there, but there are other facilities about town, as well as good facilities to play smaller sided games of football.
How much to rent a house or basic apartment?
I am unaware of houses being regularly rented out by farangs, nor did I ever look into the possibility. Me and the other teachers in the area typically stayed in a number of studio apartment blocks in a central part of town.
The quality of these places can vary, but they are certainly suitable for living. Average rent is around 4-5k, sometimes more at certain establishments if you want a TV in your room, etc.
Shopping malls, department stores?
There is a mall in the city which has electronics and clothes shops, a KFC and also a mid-sized Tesco Lotus and Big C.
Further out, about a 10 minute ride, there's a newly built Robinsons mall which has all your modern mall features, including a Major Cineplex with sometimes English speaking films.
Big C, Tesco Lotus and Makro all are in the city too.
How is mobile / internet coverage?
Yes, there is internet and plenty of wi-fi hot spots around town.
Will you be stared at? and what's the likelihood of a good beating?
It has zero tourism whatsoever, so the vast majority of westerners in town are the teachers or the retirees who have taken refuge in this quiet friendly city.
Saying that, come November of every year, when the Elephant festival is on for two weeks, you will see an influx of foreigners.
To answer the question properly, I would say it is likely you will be glanced at, especially if you're a young attractive male/female, but nothing that would intimidate you.
The likelihood of getting a beating would be a direct correlation with ones behaviour whilst intoxicated at the large nightclub previously mentioned. There are a lot of girls in there, the vast majority of whom will stare, gawk and chatter amongst themselves if you are an attractive male passing by.
Thailand doesn't have the same kind of safety that you may be used to back home. People can get angry when drunk, and there aren't really repercussions for the large amount of young angry drunk males about town.
On the whole, if you aren't a d**k on a night out, then you have nothing to worry about.
Taxis, buses....or horse and cart?
The main bus station is pretty well serviced. You can get to most places in Thailand from there (even Phuket if you're willing to waste 19 hours).
In terms of getting about town when needs be, there are tuk tuks available from the bus station. Taxis of the car and motorbike variety aren't really existent round here.
Main advantages of living there?
This is the real Thailand. The people are friendly, the food is good, there are beautiful parks around the city, and the nightlife is there if you want it.
It has cheap beer and accommodation, and a number of older foreigners live here, so I imagine it's quite comfortable to retire to.
And what are the downsides?
Knowing the salaries more central areas pay, I would have to mention that. The pay is fairly comfortable, but if you are wanting to save say half of your salary a month, then you would have to watch your spend closely on nights out, as a thousand baht can just disappear.
It's nowhere near a beach, which is never ideal. Things can become quite repetitive and tedious after a while due to a lack of nothing really happening out of the day to day norm of deepest Isaan.
Any local attractions?
The elephant festival in November time is a sight to behold. My school was part of the parade celebrations one Friday morning, and walking between 10 foot elephants who could quite easily squash or maim you truly is fascinating.
There are a few nice lakes and parks around the area to relax and exercise at. If you are into your football, you can easily watch Surin City FC at the local stadium. Quite frankly, I would not pay a single baht over the B50 they charge to watch, but it's a good laugh with your friends.
If you want better quality viewing, then Buriram United (reigning champions of the top division) will go some way to providing that for you. It's an hour train journey to Buriram, from which you can get a B10 songtaew to the stadium. Easier than that, you can arrange for a minibus to take a bunch of you from a pick up point of your choice, to the stadium. They will wait for the return journey too.
Where's the best place to meet other farangs or are they best avoided?
The only real likelihood of anyone going there is for retirement or teaching purposes. As a teacher, you'll find a good sized contingent in the schools.
You'll have no problem spotting the old guys sat in corners all day long drinking their Chang beers.
There is a decent farang-owned bar called ‘The Beach' opposite the nightclub. On a Friday and Saturday night, you will see these two groups mingling.