Because of its military past, Udon Thani has always had a sizeable Western expat community. But what's it like for a teacher seeking work?
The Lonely Planet guidebook says......?
Udon Thani has one foot on the highway and the other off the beaten track. The city boomed on the back of the Vietnam War as the site of one of the largest US air bases, and it subsequently became the region's primary transport hub and commercial centre. Today you have to dig deep behind its prosperous concrete veneer to find any flashes of its past. Udon sees relatively few foreign travellers, its main selling point being the abundance of Western foods and facilities preventing Isan's largest expat community from getting too homesick.
In general, what are the pickings like for an EFL teacher?
Since there are no real English programs, the only demand is for teachers who would normally teach English in a non-EP situation in Bangkok.
Don Bosco School has 3000 students and about 8 Western teachers. They have 450 students in K1-2-3 and one NES teacher. For M4-5-6 they had one part-time Australian who teaches only 8 hours /week.
All the schools (except one international school) appear to have limited financial resources. Many do not have even white boards or video projectors and screens for showing videos or PowerPoint. Salaries vary from 20K to 32K/month
Work permits appear to be "too expensive" for most schools to issue. I knew of a young man who taught English at a school for 4 years without a work permit and was eventually deported, since he had neither the proper visa either.
The international school pays as much as 100K/month, but teachers must have experience teaching in their native country. This school has only been open a few years and presently goes only to P5.
How far from Bangkok or civilization?
Udon Thani is 600 kilometers north of Bangkok and 50 kilometers south of the Mekong River (Nong Khai Friendship Bridge; border with Laos). There is access via train and air.
What's the place like for nightlife, eating out etc?
There is more entertainment here than anywhere in North East Thailand: indoor and outdoor clubs with live bands abound.
Bar girls no longer have to leave Issan to find a job here. Even at lunch time, there are bar girls for the picking. There are at least three large areas with bar after bar: all with girls and most with pool tables.
The Central Mall has a large movie theater, bowling and even an ice skating rink.
There are three very nice lakes with jogging trails around them. There are numerous workout gyms and two different tennis court locations. There are two golf courses close by and another one 45K north, near Nong Khai.
There is a farang golf group who regularly meet and play at least 2 times/week.
Leon - Udonthani has a center with all kinds of Western food and it has enough places where you can hang out and socialize. Only the majority of the foreigners are older than 50.
How much to rent a house or basic apartment?
We designed and built our own house for under two million baht. If you build, you should be here to watch over the workers; who will tend to build whatever they are familiar with, regardless of your plans!
Apartments rent for around 5K/month, but normally do not have a kitchen. New apartment buildings are everywhere. Plus, Lumpini has just completed a 12-story condo very close to the entertainment area.
Houses here can be very unique: in that there are housing developments very similar to USA; not the townhouse developments such as you see in the Bangkok area.
Rent can run from 8 to 15K/month for a house. My wife dabbles in real estate and can assist anyone. (She lived in the UK for 3 years)
Shopping malls, department stores?
We have a Central Department Store. Plus there are three Tesco's, a Big C and Tops in the mall. There are six large home improvement stores, indicative of the expansion here.
There are also local markets with fresh produce.
Leon - Lotus; Central Plaza; Big C; Villa Market; Tops; 7-11 all the big names are here.
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?
Absolutely not. Thais have been used to foreigners up here for donkey's years. Chances of a good beating? Get drunk and act like an idiot and there's every chance.
Leon - Foreigners are part of the city. There are plenty of us here. I won't be stared at, unless I act crazy.
Taxis, buses....or horse and cart?
One reason the air is so fresh here is the lack of taxis and local buses. One must have their own motorcycle or car. The tuk tuk's are amazingly slow, cruising at 20KPH.
Main advantages of living there?
As I mentioned above, one can build their own home up here. A ¼ rai (20x20M) lot can be as cheap as 300K. You can have your house built for a couple of million baht. Again, your wife must own the land and you as her legal spouse have only rights to half the house.
The air and food are very fresh. There are an inordinate amount of older (50+) retired or semi-retired Western men here with very young wives/girlfriends. This is a retired man's very comfortable place.
Leon - Udonthani has everything the same as Bangkok; but just in a smaller proportion. I still have the feeling that I am having a holiday (and I work 5 days a week). I enjoy my life here
And what are the downsides?
The pay for teachers - regardless of how much education, how many qualifications or Thai experience one has - is terrible. Unless you're at the international school that is.
Leon - There are not so many young foreigners here. That could be a downside for some.
Any local attractions?
The border to Laos is less than one hour away. Vientiane has undergone a radical change over the past 6 years. One feels it is trying to attract the 'backpacker' crowd.
The area near the river is trying to present the image of "Paris in Asia" but there is not much in the way of natural attractions.
Where's the best place to meet other farangs or are they best avoided?
There are hundreds of bars! There are probably more bars with bands/staff here than in Bangkok. There is also a refreshingly limited quantity of ladyboys and other irritating characters that you associate with nightlife in other large areas.
There are seven hospitals all full of nurses who would like to meet a 'farang with a good heart'. I have a 40 year old colleague whose girlfriend just finished college here.