by Emma Higgins
When you first hear about Thailand, you probably picture the flowy elephant pants, Leonardo Dicaprio in “The Beach,” or dengue fever. Maybe you’ve even seen pictures of your freshman roommate’s brother’s trip to Thailand where they went to Full Moon Parties and slept in cheap beach bungalows. I get it — there’s a certain stereotype found with the word, one of cheap beer and Pad Thai. And I, like you, once pictured Thailand as a Party-Goers’ Lawless Paradise with a large amount of “Different” and “Other.” But after living here for over a year, I can’t tell you how much my perspective has changed. While I still see a good bit of elephant pants (enough’s enough, tourists), Thailand’s history and culture goes so much deeper than that.
In all honesty, I don’t totally remember when or how the idea of Thailand came into being for me. I remember seeing a family friend that had just spent time as an English teacher in Bangkok, and I remember thinking “… Huh, I could do that…“ I looked at her beautiful pictures of tropical islands and cheap beer. I decided that Thailand would be my next move after graduation. After a little (a lot of) research on travel blogs, what started out as long-shot “One Day” dream, quickly became a solid plan.
The Research Days
After days of research, I started discovering tons of reasons why Thailand seemed “right.” For starters, it was beautiful. Every picture I saw, even the crappy ones on Instagram, seemed straight off of a postcard. Secondly, Thailand is cheap. As in, delicious meals are under $2 cheap. The cost of living is pretty low. If I could finagle a job as an English teacher, I would be making more than enough to support myself and my travel lifestyle. For a broke college grad, this was reason enough. Third, every person that I cyber stalked and interrogated who had done this before, had nothing but positive things to say. Reviews ranged from the best experience of their life, to wishing they could go back. The more research I did on living in Thailand, the better living in Thailand sounded.
And after months of living here, these reasons still ring true. But, I found the truly amazing aspects of Thailand go a lot deeper. For me, the true beauty of Thailand is not in the white sandy beaches, or the sunrise mountain hikes. The best parts of Thailand are the hospitality locals show foreigners, like when your motorbike breaks down. I see it in the family-owned restaurants with plastic chairs, and their excitement when you’ve learned your favorite Thai dish’s name. It’s the palpable honor and amazement that can be felt when you walk into a Buddhist temple. The best parts of Thailand can’t be calculated in a budget. They can’t be written about on the back of a postcard. The best parts can only be witnessed once you get here. But, how the heck do I get there?
Where Do I Start?
Okay — so you’ve decided to come to Thailand, but you have no idea where to start. The most expensive part of coming to Thailand is probably booking your ticket here. If you live in the US, tickets can be pretty expensive, even booked in advance. If you live in Europe, it can be a little cheaper. And, if you live in Australia or Asia… it’s nothing. But, what I can say, is that once you’re here, the most expensive part is over. Look forward to cheap food and cheap accommodation.
The most strenuous part of coming to Thailand is deciding what it is you want to do here and following through with that. I would say that a majority of travelers that come through here are English teachers. While it’s not an easy job, it is a common one, and one that almost anyone with a Bachelor’s degree can do. You will have to complete a TEFL/TESOL/CELTA course that allows you to teach English anywhere in the world. There’s all sorts of programs, with many ranges of difficulty, including ones online that you can do from home or programs at the heart of the city where you want to be. Once you’ve achieved your certification, finding a job here is much like any other place. There are applications, interviews, and waiting for calls back.
Something Other Than Teaching
If teaching is not your thing, you’re not limited to grammar and vocabulary lessons with eight-year-olds. I’ve seen people come through Thailand with all types of careers: muay Thai fighters, students, online marketing, or hospitality. Your options are only limited to the Visa paperwork you’re willing to do. If this is something you’re interested in, though, I would highly recommend doing lots of research in your home country before coming. Thailand is very welcoming to foreigners, but you can’t stay on tourist entry forever.
How to Prepare to Go to Thailand
A lot of people ask me things like “What should I bring when I come?” or “What do you miss most?” My first response is always that Thailand has everything you have at home just with Thai words on them. And it’s true – there is very little that is strange or different about the supermarkets. All pharmacies have anything you might need. Airports and train stations in Bangkok work exactly like they do in New York City. Malls in Chiang Mai have the same stores and McDonalds that they do in London. Hospitals in Thailand are probably even better than hospitals in the western part of the world. When it comes to being prepared, you don’t have to be all that prepared.
The most difficult part about coming to Thailand is making the decision to come – and even that is not hard. There are all sorts of resources online, and not many questions Google or Pinterest can’t answer. Find someone who has lived in Thailand, and I’m sure they would be more than happy to help (or have a reason to talk about how much they loved it). Thailand has something to offer to everyone, and amazing experiences for those looking to find ones. I came here expecting a vacation lifestyle with ease, but I’m so glad that I got so much more than that.