If you’re thinking of teaching English in Thailand, the 15 provinces that make up northern Thailand offer a wide range of unique opportunities.
Many parts of this region are looking for qualified teachers and it’s filled with unique characteristics. The climate and cuisine are milder than other regions of the Kingdom; the mountainous landscape offers a beautiful contrast to southern Thailand’s famous beaches. And best of all, the region is home to some of Thailand’s most gentle and welcoming residents.
Let’s take a look at some of the regions defining characteristics, and why they’re a great option for teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL).
TEFL Jobs Galore
Chiang Mai is the northern hub of education, but surrounding provinces also offer hundreds of teaching opportunities.
Urban areas that most teachers have never heard of, much less pronounce (ex: Phitsanulok, Uttaradit, Lamphun), have populations well over 100,000. This means there are plenty of schools, universities and language centers who are thankful to see the more adventurous teachers who want to get off the beaten path.
Of course Chiang Mai is firmly on the beaten path, and most teachers settle there. That’s because there are over 50 primary and secondary schools, over a dozen universities and colleges, and the number of international schools, as well as language centers seems to grow every month.
Just remember that the highest-paying schools for teaching English in Thailand, typically require onsite TEFL course training and certification.
It’s Pretty Cool Up Here
If you don’t like things too hot and sticky, northern Thailand may be your only option. It still gets hot, but nowhere else in Thailand sees lower temperatures. Northern Thailand has three distinct seasons: cool (November to February) hot (March to May) and wet (June to October).
During the cool season, the evening temp routinely get as low as 59°F (15°C), with some evenings and higher elevations seeing much colder temps. Highs range from 75-85° (23-29°C). Hot season dials up the heat, and it’s not uncommon to see highs well into the 90s (34-36°C).
The rainy season brings cooler temperatures starting around June, but later the farther north you go. An average rainy season day will see showers in the morning and/or evening, with overcast skies much of the day. That being said, there are sunny patches, or heavy thunderstorms that can last from 5-7 days.
If you don’t know it already, riding elephants and watching elephant shows aren’t the most animal friendly activities. Instead, there are now over 50 elephant sanctuaries in Chiang Mai & other Northern Thai region where you can come and support elephant conservation.
Activities in these sanctuaries include; bathing and feeding the elephants; jungle walks and foraging for their food; educational seminars; and of course, taking pictures with these majestic mammals. It’s also possible to volunteer in the sanctuaries, something many longer-term teachers choose to do in their free time.
Educate and Caffeinate
Teaching and coffee go hand-in-hand; so do coffee and northern Thailand.
Starting in the mid-70s, Thailand promoted coffee bean production as a substitute crop for opium and other illicit substances. Over 40 years later, northern Thailand has become famous for its coffee plantations. More importantly for teachers, its plethora of coffee shops.
While large chains like Starbucks and The Coffee Club are found in larger cities, independent shops are on nearly every street in any urban area. If paying 50-90 baht for a cup of fresh coffee isn’t your thing, whole beans can be found readily and at dirt cheap prices.
Teach and Travel
Those new to teaching English in Thailand often need to leave to apply for their visas. Convenient options for those teaching in the north are Vientiane or Nong Khai. They can also use the trip to explore neighboring cities. Such as Yangon or Phenom Penh while they wait for their visa to get processed. Luckily, road, rail, and air travel is never too far away.
Chiang Mai’s international airport (CNX) allows residents easy access to a wide variety of domestic and international destinations. Air Asia alone operates over 60 international flights and more than a dozen domestic flight from Chiang Mai. Chiang Rai also has an int’l airport, though it services fewer destinations. If these options are too far away, a road or rail journey down to Bangkok will get you anywhere you want to go.
Northern Thai Cuisine
If you think Thai cuisine is limited to phad Thai, green curry and nothing but extremely spicy dishes, think again. Northern Thailand food is heavily influenced by its northern neighbors and is characterized by less spicy options that are packed full of pork, vegetables and aromatic herbs. You’re also more likely to find sticky rice with most northern dishes.
Many of northern Thailand’s curries lack coconut milk and best example of this might be (pork belly with ginger and garlic). You can also find a variety of unique, northern pork sausages on most menus. Sai oo-ah is packed full of herbs and complemented with spicy dipping sauces.
Ask any foreign teacher which dish is most famous in the north and they’ll tell you it’s khao soi. Traditionally eaten in the morning, this curry is mild and typically served with one large chicken drumstick.
By Eric Haeg
Eric Haeg is the Course Director of TEFL Campus, a TEFL/TESOL training and certification provider with locations in Chiang Mai and Phuket, Thailand. He’s been helping TEFL course trainees and graduates find jobs since 2007. For more information on teaching English in Thailand, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org