Q & A

Are there gyms in Surat Thani?

I recently joined one here and would like to continue with it. I am guessing that the gym you joined was something similar to Gold’s Gym. Lots of machines, weights, etc. There are scaled down versions of Gold’s Gym in Surat. Perhaps 20 machines in an old building. On a general basis, Thai people don’t go to gyms. Previously, one teacher at SE visited this gym on a daily basis. He paid around 1000 baht per month in membership fees. He said it was basic but had everything that he needed. Thai people enjoy exercise. It’s usually in the form of aerobics, running, jogging, swimming, tennis or badminton.

Is Soy Milk available? How about strawberries & other fruits and vegetables that I'm used to?

The Tidamaepra is close to the Surat Thani night market.  The night market is mentioned in the guidebooks. It’s a pretty interesting place. It has all kinds of different foods, fruits and other assorted things (better to see than describe). It has soy milk galore. It has fruit and some great Pad Thai.

What kind of luggage (backpack, etc.) should I bring?

People usually bring a large backpack with them. I did. I have used it only twice. Still, if you plan on taking any longer trips, then I am sure bringing one over won’t hurt. It’s also a good way to bring things over initially. Suitcases are not very useful, except for hauling things back and forth between countries.

What sort of things are not available in Thailand that I should bring with me?

If you are planning on bringing any kind of electrical appliance, then you should get an electricity converter. Thailand runs on 220 V. Music and books (in English) are tough to come by in Surat. However you can find small libraries in cafes and different hang outs to borrow from. Phuket or Samui is the nearest reservoir of western culture. It’s about a 4 hour trip to get to either destination. They have most things.  If you have certain amenities that you simply cannot live without, then I would recommend sending over a list and I’ll check if they can be found in Surat. If you want to know whether something specific is available, just let me know.

How about malaria medication?

I didn't take it before but this would be an extended period of time so I'd like your opinion. I had a whole series of shots before I came to Thailand. It cost me a small fortune. Once I arrived in Thailand, I discovered that not only were the shots unnecessary but I could have gotten them for about 2% of the U.S. price at a Thai hospital. Malaria is not found in Surat Thani. For people that spend an extensive period of time in the jungle, such as trekking or camping, malaria
is a possibility. People usually apply a large amount of mosquito spray. There are malaria pills which you could take. But there is no malaria in Surat Thani.

Is there anywhere nearby I could practice Yoga?

Yes, there are several.

Does the school provide a visa?

We will mail you documents so that you can get a non-immigrant B work visa before you leave for Thailand. Since you will be getting the non-immigrant B visa before you leave, that cost is your responsibility. After you arrive in Thailand, we will process a one year work visa, a teacher’s license, as well as the necessary labor permits for you. We pay for all the government costs associated with the one year visa, teacher’s license, and labor permits. Non-government costs are the teacher’s responsibility. These are a health check (approximately $9 U.S.) and visa photos (approximately $13 U.S.)

How much Thai do I need to know?

You don't need to be fluent in the Thai language. A few easily learned phrases and food items are probably what you’ll need most of the time. Many people in Surat speak a little bit of English and combined with their genuine desire to help you in whatever way they can, you’ll get by just fine. Of course, speaking Thai well comes in real handy when you are traveling.

How much stuff should I buy for the students?

More than likely the students you teach at Super English will be young learners, i.e. under or around the age of 10. Our recommendation is if you see something that you think would be useful or cool with the kids, look at the price, look at how big it is (think suitcase space), think about how many times you might use it, and make your decision. Somebody will be able to use it and if there is a certain age group you want to teach (and then shop for) we will try to make that possible.

Do I need health insurance?

The quality of the medical care is good in Surat Thani. Super English, as well as the teachers’ housing, is located close to Thaksin Hospital, which is Surat’s best medical facility. It is a private hospital. Most of the doctors there speak English quite well. We have several Super English parents who work at Thaksin Hospital. SE has a very solid relationship with Thaksin Hospital as we have taught much of their staff how to speak English. Health care in Thailand is much cheaper than in the West. For example, when I had a motorcycle accident I went the ER, got bandages, pills, multiple doctors looking at me, about seven x-rays done, plus pills to take at home. The whole thing cost about US$20. Craig went to the hospital for food poisoning one time. He visited the ER first, then stayed in a shared room overnight,

got 4-5 meals, juice every hour, nurses checking on him every hour, doctor visits several times per day and pills. The bill came to about $90. Craig did have Blue Cross Insurance, which, after many months of phone calls, emails, faxes, and bills, did reimburse him for the stay. Personally, I would have just paid it myself and not have had the hassle.  As you can see, medical care is much cheaper than in the U.S. or Canada. Moreover, people don’t seem to go to the hospital that often. In six years of living here, I have only been to the hospital once (knock on wood). Some people arrive with insurance. It will usually cover a stay at the hospital. It just takes several months to clear all the bills. Blue Cross seems to be the most common insurance that people come over with. However, most people do not have insurance.  Medical care is cheap so people generally don’t seem to be worried about it. If you do wish to have insurance, it is highly advisable to get it at home and make sure it applies to Thailand.

Can you tell me more about the food?

For starters, Thai food in general is known to be the spiciest stuff on the planet. Beyond that, Southern Thai food is much spicier than anywhere else in Thailand, with perhaps the exception of Northeastern Thailand.. If you don’t like spicy food, your options will be somewhat limited. If you like spicy food then you are coming to the right place. Having said that, I don’t eat very spicy food and I do just fine. In fact, the best food I have had in Thailand has consistently been here in Surat. At most restaurants, spiciness can be altered to suit your taste. I eat mildly spicy food and have never felt limited. We have had people
show up, though, having never tried any Thai food and who did not like spicy food to begin with. These people did not get to experience the large variety of food here in Surat and missed out on a major part of the cultural experience. Surat Thani is known as the seafood center of the South. The very best seafood can be gotten here. There is also lots of chicken, pork, vegetables and tofu. There is not a lot of beef or western cuisine available. There are a few places where standard western food is served, such as burgers, pizza and sandwiches. Very few places, if any, serve quality beef in Surat.  Fortunately, we are only a few hours drive away from vestiges of western culture, like Phuket or Samui, where you can get
almost any kind of food you want. However, for Tuesday night dinner you’ll probably be eating Thai food. People who are strict vegetarians (no meat of any kind) have a tougher time than others finding variety, but people who eat fish have no problems. We have several teachers whose only meat is fish. We also have one vegetarian.  Surat has fantastic food. The city is famous among Thais for just that reason. Those who come with a willingness to try new things and with an open mind and pallet always enjoy themselves.

What’s the weather like?

Thai people like to say that there are three seasons in Thailand: hot, very hot, and rain. It should be noted that it is hot during every season. The hot season itself lasts from November to February. This is the nicest time of year in Thailand. It is hot but there is usually a light breeze. The temperature fluctuates between mid 80’s and mid 90’s Fahrenheit. These months are the peak tourist season in Thailand and the main reason for that is the excellent weather. Very hot (the name is perfect) starts around March and lasts until June. It really is very hot. Step outside and you will be sweating. Sit inside with no fan and you will be sweating. Temperatures are easily above 100 degrees F. Add to that a bit of humidity and some direct sunlight and that’s Southern Thailand for those months. Not every day is that bad but more than likely it will be the hottest weather you have ever experienced. The rainy season can start around July and last until November. During this time, heavy rains can come at any time during the
day, although they start most frequently in the late afternoon. It can rain for several minutes or hours. The norm is heavy rain for about an hour. The benefit of the rain is that it cools everything off.
If you don’t like snow, cold weather, or even a little bit of cold weather (like the Fall season), then Surat is the place for you. You will never need or want to wear a sweater, gloves, heavy jacket, or anything winter related. Things can cool down in the evenings but even then a t-shirt is sufficient.

What’s the nightlife like in Surat?

Most guide books say that Surat Thani is a sleepy little town with nothing to do except visit the night market (located in the center of town and next to Super English). These books have missed a lot. There are many places to go at night for drinking, socializing, dancing, hanging out, etc. There are many pubs, discos, coffee shops, restaurants, karaoke shops, etc. where it is easy to meet up with friends or meet new people.  Going out at night is a major activity in Thailand. Many Thai people, especially the men, go out every night. Beer, whiskey, scotch and wine coolers are reasonably priced and there are many places to go and lots to do. Upon arrival, the Super English teachers, some of whom go out quite a bit with each other and teachers from other schools, will show you around town if you

Does the house have airconditioning?

The housing does not have aircon. No central a/c in Thailand, unless you’re in a big, fancy hotel. A/C has to be installed in single units in individual rooms. That means each unit will use up a lot of electricity, greatly increasing electricity bills. Right now we have two teachers who are living in a rented apartment with a/c. They never turn it on because it uses up so much power (and money). Everyone uses fans. These are standing fans which you can point right at you. People only complain
about the heat when they are working at Thida. The teachers' office and your classroom at SE are airconditioned but no such luxuries at outside schools. There are ceiling fans there but those vary in effectiveness. Since your classes will be early in the morning, it won't be too hot. In terms of fans in people's bedrooms and houses, they say that with the fan they are sometimes too cold at night. It's certainly not uncomfortable. The only time of year when it is unbearably hot is in April. Even with a fan
pointing right at you it's brutal. Luckily, that's when Thailand celebrates it's new year with a 3-4 day intense water fight.  Nothing like that to cool you down.

Is it easy to exercise?

There are several places in town that have tae kwon do classes. Our former teacher, Ira, who was a black belt in tae kwon do, took some classes and enjoyed it greatly. You can also do Muay Thai, which is quite fun, I think. I will show you the beginning steps and we'll take it from there. It's totally fine for girls and an excellent form of self-defense. Very effective. You'll be living less than a 5 minute walk from the stadium where they have nightly aerobics classes, a running path, a track, basketball courts,
tennis courts, etc. It's very communal. Thai people are extremely welcoming and you just basically show up and people will come over and hang out with you. Teachers also sometimes get together after work to play badminton. There is no lack of exercise. However much you do is totally up to you. Running around with the kids should also count, I think. They're a pretty energetic bunch, as are we, the teachers. Ira used to sprint around the classroom for the entire hour. That was something.

I am worried about clothes. How dressy is it?

First, don’t worry too much. Nobody expects you to show up with the perfect clothes. Summer business casual is the best way to describe it. The main thing is to look nice and presentable. Not grungy. My usual attire is a polo shirt, dress pants, socks and dress shoes. Ladies don't have to wear socks or closed toe shoes. As long as you look nice and presentable, you'll be fine. There are lots of clothes available in Thailand. Don't worry too much about the clothes.

What’s the best airline for getting to Surat?

In terms of getting down here, it can be a bit tricky. They don't like to make things easy for some reason. There are three airlines: Air Asia, 1-2 Go and Thai Airways. Air Asia is the cheapest (the earlier you book, the cheaper the ticket), but they charge the most for extra luggage. You're only allowed 15 kilos total (which is absolutely ridiculous). Last time I flew via Air Asia to Bangkok I was with my wife on our way to the States. We had four empty suitcases. It cost me over 3000 Baht. I was fuming. On the plus side, Air Asia is the only airline that flies from the new airport to Surat. The new airport is the international airport, which is where you'll be arriving. Both 1 2 Go and Thai Airways fly from the old airport, the domestic airport, sort of, which is clear on the other side of town. There is supposedly a shuttle between the two airports, but nobody has yet been able to find it. It's a mystery.

1 2 Go costs around 1700 Baht and their weight allowance is reasonable. Last is Thai Airways, nearly double the price of 1 2 Go and has the highest weight allowance, I think. They keep changing their minds. The best thing would be to either check it online or give them a call. Again, both 1 2 Go and Thai Airways fly from the old airport so you would have to get yourself there, which isn't any harder than loading up into a taxi and going. Most teachers have done this and I think they paid around 300-
400 Baht.

All of these airlines are safe. If you have a lot of stuff with you, I recommend Thai Airways, just because they give you the highest allowance. If it's not too much, then I would say 1 2 Go, because they are significantly cheaper. If you have next to nothing, then I would say Air Asia. They are the cheapest and most convenient, but if you have a lot of stuff, or heavy bags, then they'll really get you. I have flown with these airlines and they are all fine. The flight takes about 1 hour and is scenic.

You have previously mentioned that the teacher is responsible for the content of the lesson, however can you describe the typical breakdown of a lesson - i.e. how much time would you recommend is spent reading, writing, conversing etc? How long does each lesson go for?

Generally, I recommend the following to SE teachers: 30-40 minutes conversation (this includes reviewing/practicing an old target and introducing/practicing a new target), 10-15 minutes writing of the new target, and the remaining time with the textbook, possibly a worksheet from the textbook. Of course, this is not always the way a class will go. Often the conversation will either be shorter or longer and the writing is the same.  Teachers at SE have the flexibility of structuring the hour in the way that suits them best. The outline I gave above is what worked well for me.

How much money would you recommend I need to bring to set myself up comfortably?

It depends on your lifestyle. I recommend bringing as much as you can. You can always deposit whatever you don't use in a bank and use it for traveling at a later time. I need very few western amenities to get by, however all my suits are dry clean only - would this be a problem? You do not need to wear a suit to teach. The heat might kill you if you do. Business casual clothes are preferable. Professional but relaxed. Collared short sleeve shirts. Slacks. Socks. Dress shoes.

I read that Muslims took over the airport in Surat. Is that true?

In terms of Muslims in Surat Thani, there are very very few. Maybe a few thousand out of the total city
population which is several hundred thousand. They have never held up the airport. The airport was shut down for one day recently due to political problems, but they also shut down the airports in Bangkok, Phuket, Krabi, Chiang Mai, etc. Basically all over the country. None of that had anything to do with Muslims. There have never been ANY problems with Muslims in Surat. Like I said, there are a few but they are very peaceful and are part of the city, meaning they do not try to isolate themselves or cause any problems. They are fully integrated. We have employed two Muslim ladies in the past as school staff. Them being Muslim was never a problem or an issue. They were wonderful people.

I can understand some people's hesitation about Surat. It's labeled as being in the Southern part of Thailand, and that's where the problems with Islamic militancy are. However, Surat is far away from all that. The nearest place you could find any of those tensions are about a 5 hour drive south from here. Yes, Surat is part of the south, but it is far away from the deep south. The south and the deep south are two very different places and are very much exclusive of each other. Like two different worlds. And you would never feel or experience the other world unless you specifically went there.

Surat is an extremely safe city. The only crime here is petty theft and only then when the theft is made extremely easy, like leaving your front door open and your wallet downstairs while you run upstairs. People roam around at all hours of the day and often party until 4 or 5 a.m. Out of the 20 plus teachers who have taught with SE, none have ever reported any open or direct hostilities from Muslims or any other local. Everyone has a great time.

Ultimately, Surat is like a safe bubble. Very little of things outside Surat filter in, unless you search for them specifically, like online news and such. When the coup happened in Bangkok a few years ago, it didn't affect Surat at all. People went about like it was a regular day. It is the city of friendly people. No problems (ever) with any Muslims here. I've taught a few and found them to be perfectly wonderful people. No biases or prejudices.

We are planning on traveling down to Surat Thani by train. Can we just buy tickets when we get there or
should they be reserved ahead of time? Reserve tickets if you like. Sometimes the train can be booked up. It can be a crap shoot. If you don't like surprises (at least in the first few days) book ahead. You can risk it but I won't promise anything.

Do you recommend that I pick up additional books to use in the classroom?

The usual advice I give about picking up additional resources is get it if you think you'll use it a lot. If it's a book of activities or ideas, then you might find it useful several times throughout the year. Don't buy more than one or two books. Keep in mind luggage space as well. Make sure you have room to pack your clothes, dress shoes, etc.

How do we get paid? Will we have an account that it goes into or will it be in cash?

Good question. You get paid on the 1st of every month. You can't open a bank account in Thailand until you have a work permit, which we will get for you when you are here but takes some time to process. While your work permit is being processed you will be paid in cash. After you receive your work permit, we will take you to the bank and help you open an account. From then, your salary will be direct deposited on the 1st of every month.

Do you think I would do well in Surat, even though I don't have any international experience?

My main concern is that you haven't been to any Asian countries, especially Thailand, or lived outside of the U.S. Generally, people without those experiences go through a more difficult or intense level of culture shock. It is very different over here and some people can't handle it. Not having those experiences certainly doesn't disqualify you from getting a position, but it's important that we talk about this before we proceed. The most important thing is that you feel very confident that you can handle the differences and overcome whatever culture shock you may experience.

Most people come and love nearly everything about Surat. It's not like everyone has a tough time. Most don't. They have a great time and they stay for at least one year. For those who didn't like it, they gave the following reasons:

1. "It isn't western enough or doesn't have enough western amenities." These people can and should only teach in Bangkok. Better yet, it would be ideal for them to stay in their own country and not feel deprived.
2. "There isn't enough culture." These people stayed in their room the whole time and didn't interact or meet any Thai people. There is A LOT of culture in Surat. There are things going on all the time. But it's often up to you to go out and find them. Or at least leave your house to go with people who will take you to the events.
3. "It's too loud". Thai people are loud. There are street dogs and motorcycles and people making noise most of the day. It's part of life in Thailand and Thai people are just used to being noisy. They are not doing it to make anyone mad. Everyone eventually gets used to it.

Those are the most common comments from people who are experiencing culture shock in Surat. In the past two years, we've had 3 teachers (out of 21) who left early because of the reasons mentioned above.