Teacher Diaries / Thailand / Vietnam

My Experiences Teaching English in Thailand & Vietnam – Kelsey’s story

Ntobeko Ntombela

Ntobeko Ntombela

January 22, 2019

This week we caught up with Kelsey, who has recently finished teaching English in Thailand and is now teaching English in Vietnam. Below she describes in her own words, the pros and cons of teaching English in these two fascinating countries. 

Kelsey - Ninh Binh Day trip from Hanoi.

Awesome day trip to Ninh Binh.

Over the past year, I have been lucky enough to teach English in two different countries. I started my journey in Bangkok, Thailand and have settled (for now) in Hanoi, Vietnam. Both of these experiences have been life changing and I wouldn’t change them for the world. Yet, they have been vastly different from each other; let me explain why.

Teaching in Thailand

Kelsey - Kanchanari Thailand

My teaching experience in these two countries has been very different from each other mainly because, in Thailand, I was teaching at a traditional school and in Vietnam, I am teaching at an after-school English center. This is from my personal experience, therefore it may differ for others.

In Bangkok, I taught in a lower-income area in comparison to some of my friends. The children’s English proficiency was very low and their behavior was very poor. In saying that, while the teaching experience was difficult, it was worthwhile as seeing even the slightest improvement was an achievement in itself. There are a number of children that crept into my heart and just haven’t left!

Kelsey - Teaching English abroad -

Hanoi is blessed with many cafés like this.

In Thailand, my day started at 7:30 am and ended at 3:30 pm, with 5 hours of teaching in between that. We were given English textbooks from which we had to make fun and engaging lesson plans. However, these textbooks were too advanced for their level of English, which made lesson planning rather tough.

As Thai teachers are generally very stringent in their teaching, when it came to game time, the children almost lost their minds with excitement! Unlike friends of mine also teaching in Bangkok, my school only had 3 English teachers, which was quite isolating as it made making friends difficult. Luckily, I had spent a month doing my TESOL course in Thailand and made lifelong connections, which were only strengthened through our Bangkok (and beyond) adventures.

Bangkok - Kelsey teaching abroad

A stunning white temple in the middle of Bangkok.

My favorite part of my 7 months in Thailand was the cultural experience. By teaching in a traditional school, I was forced to embrace the culture shock and adapt to my new and vastly foreign environment, which lead to immense personal growth. The Thai teachers made an extra effort to include us in their bi-weekly aerobics workouts and even taught us how to play Badminton, which really helped the assimilation.

Pro’s: Amazing cultural experience, immense personal growth, free weekends to travel

Con’s: Poor behavior, lesson planning based on difficult material, longer working hours

Fancy teaching English in Thailand?

Why not make the land of smiles your home by Teaching English in Thailand? Thailand is already one of the most visited countries on the planet and for good reason too. It’s beautiful islands, rich cultural history and inviting people, make this country an extraordinary teach abroad destination. Generous salaries of 25 000 to 40 000 Bahts and low cost of living means that for most, saving for future travels is relatively easy! Not only that, 2 and a half months of school holidays means you can enjoy a long break in between your semesters.

All set to make Thailand your new home? We’ll send you more info!

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Teaching in Vietnam

Kelsey Holmes - Hanoi day trip

Day trip from Hanoi.

In Vietnam, I am teaching in an after-school English center, which means teaching in the evening/night and on weekends. Even though I work on weekends, I still get two days off during the week but they are not consecutive. Classes start at 5:30 pm and end at 8:45 pm, which includes two 90 minutes classes, with a maximum of 16 children. As most of these children come from wealthier backgrounds, their English proficiency is high compared to my children in Thailand.

Although this doesn’t prevent poor behavior, it does make it easier to address as there is a stronger mutual understanding. Additionally, each class has a Vietnamese class manager that can help with addressing any poor behavior and translation.

Kelsey Holmes - trip from Hanoi - Ninh Binh

A breathtaking view from the top of Ninh Binh.

At my center, all lessons and teaching material is provided and taught from an interactive smart board. All we have to do is print the material, prepare some fun speaking activities and teach the given material. There are 11 foreign teachers at my center and even more at other centers across Hanoi and Vietnam, which has made making English-speaking friends much easier. However, it has also made being trapped in the Western bubble much easier too, which isn’t the reason I moved to Asia. Sometimes, you can’t help but be drawn toward your comfort zone.

With fewer and stranger working hours comes an odd routine or no routine at all. Many teachers who work in the evenings find themselves either bored or unproductive during the day with the thought of work looming in the background. I, for one, have struggled with this. However, it’s the perfect opportunity to explore the city, start that passion project you’ve always wanted to do, learn a new skill or get another day job.

Pro’s: Easier to make new friends, little preparation needed, small classes, less working hours, travel affordability, while you can’t travel on the weekend, there are plenty other opportunities to do so.

Con’s: Less of cultural experience through teaching, no free weekends to travel, easily sucked into the expat bubble, less routine

Teach abroad destination idea: Vietnam!

It’s no secret that Vietnam is a fascinating country to explore and one of the best ways to see it is by teaching English in Vietnam. Already a major travel destination, it’s no surprise Vietnam’s become our fastest growing a program. It’s the ideal location for those looking for a beautiful setting to live in while benefiting from high salaries as well as extremely low cost of living. Check out our video below on what it’s like to live and teach English in Vietnam.

Ready to make Vietnam your base for your future travels? We’ll send you more info!

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Both Bangkok and Hanoi are bustling cities with lots of traffic, people and noise. Yet, they are filled with culture, history, and color. I don’t think I have a preference as each has their pro’s and cons.

Bangkok

Bangkok city scapes - Kelsey teaching English Abroad

The beauty of Bangkok.

Bangkok is a city filled with cultural contrasts. The old town is home to a number of magnificent temples, the biggest wholesale flower market in Thailand and locals paying their respects to Buddhist shrines. Yet, a few kilometers away, you’ll find Soi Cowboy in the more modern district, where you can witness an erotic show.

However, Thailand has maintained the roots of its culture through hundreds of years as it has never been colonized, which is rare in today’s world. Additionally, Thailand has a booming food scene. Although it was difficult being a vegetarian, I tried and loved so many different foods that I would have never had the opportunity (or desire) to try back home. Thailand definitely taught me to be adventurous with food.

Hanoi

Hanoi City - Kelsey teaching English abroad -

The gorgeous greens of Hanoi.

Hanoi, on the other hand, has a strong French influence due to colonization and the war. The crumbling French mansions have been overtaken by locals who have set up their homes and shops within them. Hanoi is infamous for the number of motorbikes on its roads and their contribution to the everlasting air pollution that seems to continuously engulf the city. Although this is true, there is barely ever standstill traffic.

Additionally, getting a bike for yourself is an easy process. However, driving within their manic traffic (by western standards) is another story. As I mentioned earlier, Hanoi has a big expat community that is mostly centered around teaching. This makes making fellow expat friends much easier and tends to keep the homesickness at bay. The Vietnamese know how to cook but as in Thailand, be ready to try some strange ingredients.

Cost of Living

Phu Quoc - Vietnam

Phu Quoc island looking vibrant as usual.

In comparison to most of our home countries, South-East Asia is cheap. However, living in a major city will always be more expensive than the smaller cities, which was certainly the case with Bangkok. Yet, Hanoi has been surprisingly cheap. This is amplified by the fact that my salary has increased significantly.

Bangkok has a more established public transport system but both cities have Grab which is the equivalent of Uber. Grab has a car and motorbike option, which is more easily accessible in Hanoi due to motorbikes being the main form of transport. Overall, Grab is cheaper in Hanoi than in Bangkok but their public transport makes up for it.

Floating Village in Thailand.

A beautiful floating village in Thailand.

Coffee is a staple item on the menu in Hanoi and rightly so. I’ve never had tastier and more unique coffee than I have here. Bangkok also has a strong cafe and coffee scene too with cafe hopping being a full-blown activity. No jokes, type in #cafehoppingbkk into Instagram and see for yourself. The average coffee costs around 40 000 VND (approximately $2 and £1.5) in Hanoi, while in Bangkok it is around 80 Baht (approximately $2.5 and £2). Obviously, these prices depend on where you go and what you order exactly.

From my personal experience, accommodation in Vietnam is much better than that in Thailand. In Bangkok, I had a single room at my apartment without a kitchen, which took some serious adjustment. In Hanoi, I am living in a two bedroom modern apartment with a kitchen, living room and private bedrooms. Although it is more expensive, my salary increase and quality of accommodation make up for it.

As teachers are paid more in Vietnam than in Thailand, I have found it much easier to save here for future travels and financial security. 

Travel Opportunities

Kelsey exploring the finer things Thailand has to offer.

In Thailand, there are many public holidays that provide teachers with long weekends, which I spent traveling to different regions with friends. I traveled to the lush North of Chiang Mai, to the islands in the South, to the waterfalls in the West and to the quaint town of Chanthaburi in the East. I loved my travels around Thailand but getting additional leave was another story. From my experience, there are fewer day trip opportunities from Bangkok than there are from Hanoi.

However, in Hanoi, it’s been much easier. The company I work for has centers all over Hanoi that employs a large number of teachers. Every center follows the same operation plan meaning that teachers can pick up extra teaching shifts at different centers for extra money on their off days.

Kelsey Blogpost - Rice terraces of Vietnam.

The famous rice terraces of Vietnam.

This also means that if you want to go away, you can find people to cover your shifts and be on your way to a new destination for a few days. However, the days you are allowed to find cover for are limited to a certain number. There are lots of day trip opportunities around Hanoi which makes not having two consecutive days off not so bad.

Teaching English in both Thailand and Vietnam have been wonderful experiences, each with their up’s and downs. If you don’t have the opportunity to teach in both, I urge you to at least travel to both.

Kelsey is an English teacher in Vietnam. Hailing from South Africa, having already had the privellage of teaching in Thailand, she is now allowing herself to grow and expiereince the beauty that is Vietnam. Follow her stories (and incredible photos) of self-discovery and adventure, on her blog: Growing and Glowing Abroad.

All set to teach and travel abroad? We’ll send you more info!

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