Living In The Land Of Smiles

on June 18, 2015

The kindness and positive attitude of Thai people is something that you will hopefully adopt in your own life after spending some time in Thailand. Thai people are known to be kind and helpful towards those in their inner circle but this extends so much further than that. Many people teaching and travelling in Thailand have told stories about how the locals have been generous, kind and helpful toward foreigners. Travelling with a scared foreigner to a destination to ensure they get there safely, offering to show you around an unfamiliar area or pulling a blanket over you when you fall asleep on a train ride are only some of the kind acts of locals. Of course it goes without saying that these exchanges of kindness are mutual, one cannot expect a local person to be kind if they are greeted with a scowl and a rude attitude.

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new friends 1

“The land of smiles” is the official nickname for Thailand and for good reason. Locals will welcome you into their space with a smile and kind nod of the head. This will immediately put your fears of being rejected by local society at ease.

new friends 2

Getting cultural

Buddhist temple in Thailand

The Thai culture is really unique and it can at times be difficult adjusting to. In Thailand the main religion practised is Buddhism. There are many temples in Thailand and many images and statues of Buddha. The people that live in Thailand have a very strong attachment with their religion.

The royal family and Buddha are two very important figures in the Thai cultural. These figures are given the utmost respect and are adored by the Thai people. Those that come to Thailand should make a conscious effort to maintain respect for the Thai culture and religion. It will serve you well in the long run, as the locals will respect you and your efforts to be part of something that is so important to them.

Local children in Thailand


Having a better understanding and respect of the Thai culture will also make working in a school much easier. You will be able to build stronger relationships with your students and your fellow co-workers. There are many cases where fellow Thai teachers have invited foreign teachers to have dinner at their house with their family, and when students have seen their teachers at a restaurant, their family often insists that they join their tables.

Experiences like these are humbling and make one feel accepted into a community. By diving head first into the Thai culture and learning more about the social customs and traditions of the local people, you will begin to really call Thailand home. You will also not be viewed as merely a tourist, but the locals will recognise you as an important member of their society.

You will start to make good friends with some Thai people, and will find yourself having a network of friends that expands further than other western travellers and teachers.

Year 2558 and the Buddhist calender

It is currently the year 2558 in Thailand. No, there is not a porthole into the future. The year is so different in Thailand because the Thai’s do not follow the Christian calendar as most Western countries do. The Thai year follows the Buddhist calendar. It is truly amazing how something so small like the date of the year can be vastly different in another culture. Although many things in the Thai culture are vastly different from Western cultures – for example, the Thai New Year is not celebrated on the 1st of January.

Songkran – Thai new year

Songkran festival in Thailand

Although the Thai’s do celebrate the Western new year and the Chinese New Year, the Thai New Year is a very special occasion. The Thai New Year is called “Songkran” and is celebrated over 1 to 4 days in the second week of April.  During this period the streets are closed to traffic and everyone will arm themselves with water guns, buckets and hoses. It is a water festival, where people of all ages are sprayed with water in the streets.

This tradition finds its roots in the belief that by spraying people with water, it cleanses them and washes away all bad behaviour from the previous year making them pure for the start of the New Year. Everyone wears floral shirts and bright vibrant colours. This is a joyous occasion that is much anticipated by every person in Thailand. In schools there is often a ceremony before the holiday kicks off, where students line up and wash the hands of the teachers.

This is symbolic for asking the teachers forgiveness for being a badly behaved student. This festival is a wonderful way to experience the Thai culture at its best. It is not only fun, but by being part of it you will start to feel evermore at home in Thailand.

Chiang Mai

Sunrise in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Every town and city celebrates Songkran. However, there is one city that is a particular hot spot of excitement and festivities during this time of year – Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand and is located in the North West of Thailand. Many people travel from all parts of Thailand to Chiang Mai to celebrate Songkran. Transport and accommodation becomes scarce, as people flock to the city.

The festivities happen in an area called the “Old City”. This area is surrounded by a moat of water and is  filled with many large stages with DJ’s and pop up street bars. There are many other bars located on the main road and down small alley ways. Many people travel to Chiang Mai making it a great space to meet up with friends and to have a week of celebrations and fun before returning to school.  It really is the perfect way to end off the holidays before heading back to work.

300 Stairs temple in Chiang Mai

However, water fights and parties are not the only things Chiang Mai has to offer. There is an exquisite temple that is located on the hill and overlooks the entire city. It is known for the 300 steps that lead up to the temple. Although the walk up is exhausting, the view and bright buildings that greet you at the top make the journey well-worth it.


Adventures in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is known for more than just Songkran and visiting for a mere 1 week, it will make it impossible to partake in all the different activities on offer in this picturesque city.

You will want to go back to do and see more. Chiang Mai has a variety of outdoor adventures, such as zip-lining, white water rafting and taking a week-long jungle trek where you will live in a bamboo hut and meet and interact with the local hill tribes that reside on the outskirts of the city.

white water rafting in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Zip-lining is an amazing experience – if you ever dreamed of flying through a lush tropical jungle, this is your opportunity to make this dream a reality. There really is nothing like soaring through the air over tree tops and the occasional elephant (if you’re lucky). White water rafting also creates a whole new kind of thrill, however, it is recommended to go white water rafting during the rainy monsoon season to ensure the water level is high enough to really get the full-throttle thrilling experience. There are also elephant sanctuaries for rescued and retired elephants. People can come feed these majestic beauties and bathe them in the river.

Back to school, back to reality

After the school holiday and all the travelling, you will be excited to settle down into a routine, have a flat to call home, and start at your school. After spending so much time travelling through Thailand you will be better acquainted with the Thai culture, making the culture shock far less intense when you leave your friends and settle into your town or city and begin your life as an English teacher in Thailand.

You will be excited to finally meet your students. Back to reality will never feel so good. You will finally begin the adventure that you came to Thailand for. You will have a greater knowledge of the culture and the people and will be ready to be part of something bigger than yourself. You will be ready to be part of the lives of the children that will look up to you as a role model in their life. The moment you walk into your school you will be walking into that role and you will feel an overwhelming feeling of pride rush over you.

You will feel proud of yourself and the fact that you are here to make a difference. No you not going to change the world, but you will change the world of at least one student you teach – and the more students you inspire and teach English to, the more opportunity you will be providing them with and, in essence, allowing many poor students opportunities to break out of poverty and enter industries in Thailand which require English language competency.

Teacher's day in Thailand

You will soon realise that Thailand is so much more than a tourist destination, it is a beautiful place filled with real and beautiful people that want to interact with you and share their culture with you.

You will want to spend more time here getting to know Thai people and become a part of their culture and society. Life as an English teacher in Thailand for the past 3 months has been such a rewarding and enriching experience and I have no plans on leaving any time soon!

Interested in Teaching English in Thailand? We’ll send you more info!


Or learn more about our Teach English in Thailand program


You might also want to read:

About Lindsay Biffen

Lindsay is a former TravelBud client from Durban, South Africa, who is now teaching English in Thailand and loving every minute of it. When not teaching her beloved students at school and travelling around the Land of Smiles with fellow English teachers, Lindsay puts pen to paper and shares the incredible moments she has experienced so far in Thailand.
Filed under  Teacher Diaries • Thailand 


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