A couple of years ago, tired of teaching English in Bangkok, I looked at moving further north, to Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second most popular tourist destination and home to thousands of English (EFL) teachers. Thinking teaching in Chiang Mai would be more pleasurable than Bangkok, (Chiang Mai is beautiful and much quieter), I did enough research to realize, for me, it wasn’t the best choice. For others though, craving a peaceful and pretty place to teach, Chiang Mai is still a viable option. Just make sure you’re aware of all the pros and cons of teaching there, before you accept a teaching position.
Pros of Teaching English in Chiang Mai, Thailand
1) Chiang Mai is Beautiful, More Relaxed and Quieter than Bangkok – One of the biggest pros for getting a job teaching English in Chiang Mai is how much more beautiful, quieter and more relaxed than Bangkok it is. As life moves so much slower in here than Bangkok it really can be a lovely place to teach.
2) Chiang Mai Has More Authentic Thai Culture – While much of Bangkok is obsessed with being as modern and ‘western’ as possible, Chiang Mai, although still well developed, clings on to more of a traditional Thai way of life. Of course, there are the usual massive malls and Western, Japanese and Korean restaurants, movie theaters and nightclubs.
But, in Chiang Mai, because it’s so deep into Thailand, just a few minutes away from the city and you’re surrounded by ancient temples, rice fields and around people who, if they’ve traveled at all, the furthest they’ve ever ended up is Bangkok.
3) Chiang Mai is Wonderful For Shopping, Dining and Markets – If you love to shop, enjoy traditional Thai markets selling every Thai handicraft imaginable, adore trendy cafes and coffee houses, and like to have the choice of many styles of cuisine, you’ll find everything in Chiang Mai.
Of course, Bangkok has much more but, because it’s such an enormous city, it’s more spread out and more difficult to get to. Chiang Mai is compact and easy to travel from place to place so, when I visit, I just seem to be able to see more of everything so much faster.
4) Chiang Mai Has a Milder Climate than Bangkok – While Chiang Mai gets just as hot as Bangkok some parts of the year, overall it has a milder climate and, in winter, actually goes cold. In Bangkok, where the three seasons are hot, hotter and hottest, moving to Chiang Mai to teach can be a blessing if you hate the heat. Teaching in heat, particularly, can be very trying so teaching in a climate that does become cooler can be a blessing.
5) Chiang Mai Has a Wonderful Outdoor Lifestyle – If you love trekking, hiking, white water rafting, mountain biking, or any number of other activities, Chiang Mai, surrounded by mountains and jungle is the place to do it from. On weekends or on breaks from school, you’ll have so many choices of beautiful places in nature to commune with, bicycle through, paddle or even elephant ride through, you won’t know where to start.
5) Teaching in Chiang Mai is Less Stressful than Bangkok – Because you’re out in the provinces, the whole lifestyle of Chiang Mai is more relaxed than Bangkok. What that means is, even in a typical English teaching job, the attitude of the students and school administration is often also more relaxed. More laid-back, less stress. Students are often politer too.
Cons of Teaching English in Chiang Mai, Thailand
1) Teaching Salaries are Low – When it comes to teaching English in Chiang Mai, there are negatives and some of them are pretty darn big ones. Teaching salaries, for instance, are extremely low in Chiang Mai, up to 40% or more less than Bangkok. This is due to it being a smaller city but also because so many western English teachers want to live there, the schools offer low salaries as they know they can always find someone.
Where an average teaching salary in Bangkok is between 38,000 to 50,000 baht a month ($1,265-$1,670), in Chiang Mai average salaries are only 22,0000 to 29,000 baht a month ($733-$970), a huge difference in buying power.
Also, remember this. While you might be able to live on such a low salary in Chiang Mai as long as you budget or get a second job, you’re pretty much trapped the rest of your life in Thailand as there’s no possibility of holidays to Japan, Korea or Australia or even home to your own country on that kind of income.
2) Chiang Mai isn’t Cheaper than Bangkok – Another huge con about teaching in Chiang Mai is the cost of living. While some expats who live in Chiang Mai insist on saying its cheaper than Bangkok, it’s not. While some things in Chiang Mai might be slightly cheaper than Bangkok, overall the average price of things is the same but salaries are lower.
An apartment or house around the same size as one you’d find in Bangkok will be similar rent, food is the same, electricity the usual rates, entertainment is basically the same.
Yes, you might find some food cheaper at local food markets or street side food stalls, but if you want to eat at McDonalds, a nicer Thai restaurant than a stall by the side of a busy road, or at a Japanese place, see a movie or enjoy a couple of beers, you’ll pay just the same as you would in Bangkok. From a salary 40% less.
3) Availability of English Teaching Vacancies Less than in Bangkok – Pretty much a no-brainer, Chiang Mai has less than a million inhabitants, Bangkok has almost 10 million . That means there are far more language schools, universities, high schools, primary schools and corporations in Bangkok than Chiang Mai. Thus, more teaching jobs available.
4) Getting a Work Permit Can be Difficult – Whereas in most teaching jobs in Bangkok, the school or university will get you a work permit, in Chiang Mai they often won’t. Applying for a work permit can be a hassle and, with the time and money it costs, at a Chiang Mai school where the budget is often a lot less than in Thailand’s capital city, they just won’t bother.
5) Working Two Jobs is Common – Most English teachers I know in Chiang Mai work two jobs. One full-time job in a primary, high or language school and a second job on evenings or weekends teaching private students or at another language school. Why? They simply cannot afford to live well on the $900 a month salary their full-time job pays.
In Bangkok, on the other hand, with a full-time salary hovering around the $1,500 on up level, that extra $600 a month makes an enormous difference to the quality of your life and the ability to save so, for many English teachers in Bangkok, they work a second job because they want to and not always because they actually have to in order to survive.
5) You Have to Fly to Bangkok to be Able to Leave the Country – While living in Bangkok, you can just go to Suvarnabhumi Airport and get a flight to just about any world destination, in Chiang Mai you’re flight options are limited for other than a handful of neighboring Asian countries, which can leave you feeling a little trapped.
In fact, for most countries, you’ll have to take a flight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok and then a second flight out of Thailand from there. Not only does this mean more time spent flying, but adds at least a couple of hundred dollars onto your trip. Try paying for that on a salary of $900 a month.
Overall, while I think Chiang Mai is an incredible city – beautiful, relaxing, full of fascinating ancient Thai culture and chock-full of so many interesting things to do, I only recommend someone with an already established income (a pension, retirement savings, investment income etc) teach there.
Chiang Mai is a wonderful place to retire to and I’ll likely do that one day. But as a place to create a solid career as an English teacher and be paid well enough to do it, that’s rarely going to happen in Chiang Mai. Compared to Bangkok, the opportunities and the income simply don’t exist.
Job Board for Teaching Jobs in Chiang Mai (Just use the filter to find only ‘Chiang Mai Jobs’ – you’ll see there are very few compared to the many for Bangkok)
Photo – One of Chiang Mai’s many beautiful Buddha statues – copyright christine zenino, Creative Commons License