For many of us the future still seems so uncertain. Taking a gap year to find your passion (and to travel the world in the mean while) is not such a crazy idea.
YAAAS spoke to current Thai resident, South African and world traveler, Bella du Toit. She’s been living in Thailand for almost a year now and has the low down on why Thailand is a prime destination for people looking to live elsewhere for adventure and self-exploration.
Bella is originally from the small town of Phalaborwa in Limpopo. She’s been to many brilliant countries including Canada, Italy and Ireland and now this world explorer is teaching math and drama at Saparachinee Trang secondary school in Trang city (Thailand). That’s exactly why we asked her all the detailed questions about Thailand.
So why Thailand?
Thai people are known as some of the friendliest in the world – you will experience that first hand living and working with them. Foreigners or ‘Farang’ are often admired and treated impeccably well, simply because they’re visitors to the country. Thai people are also incredibly helpful and generous, with practical things like food – and smiles.
What career opportunities are there in Thailand and how do you get them?
There is plenty of work available in Thailand for foreigners, particularly as English teachers. There are plenty of agencies who can help with this whole process – some better than others. So do your research! Make sure they find you a job that won’t require a degree halfway through! Check out the expat forums online and ask a lot of questions to make sure you get the best work placement and experience.
There are also plenty of volunteering opportunities available, mostly through non-profit organisations and agencies. Again – do your research, there are plenty of excellent web forums and websites to browse through. Thailand is easy to visit for South Africans as you don’t need a visa for entrance for 30 days or less.
Can you go there without losing all the money?
The Thai economy is not much stronger than South Africa’s. The currency is weaker than the Rand, but living here is infinitely cheaper! Accommodation and eating out in particular is very affordable and with a teacher’s salary (which, by Thai standards, is a very generous one), you can easily save more than half your salary every month.
There are places where you can save more efficiently, but few places that will offer you as much joy and adventure!
What opportunities are there for adventure?
There are simply too many to fit in! Thailand is a massive country. It has the turquoise Andaman Sea and the paradise-like islands of the South; the misty mountains and forests in the North and the bustling Metropolis of Bangkok!
You will always find something to do, be it island hopping, beach bumming, trekking, camping, exploring the Buddhist temples… Depending on where you live, you can undertake many of these adventures easily over a weekend and for a reasonable cost! There are also lively events like the Trang music festival and the Full Moon parties of Koh Phangan Island that are also popular with tourists!
Is the food edible?
Thai food is incredible. Simple as that. A month into my stay I could no longer eat anything without some chilli in it. The spices and flavours of the dishes are richer and more diverse than any Asian restaurant in South Africa could ever offer you!
There are also a wealth of exotic fruits and vegetables, strange sweet desserts and a variety of interesting beverages to go with all the rice and spice. Simply incredible!
PS. The staples of Thai food are rice, pork, chicken and seafood. No cats or dogs are harmed here.
Is the language barrier a big deal?
Depending on where you find yourself in the country, it can be more difficult to communicate. In the big tourist destinations you should be fine as most locals speak basic English, but as soon as you move out into the country side you will realise that this is no longer the case.
There is only one thing to be done – learn basic Thai! Despite being a tonal language, it is not too difficult to grasp the basics. Locals also tend to be much keener to help you out or communicate with you if you can at least greet them in their own language. Language is a barrier, but not a very high one!
Any tips on Do’s and Don’ts?
The Thai culture in one that is deeply rooted in the practice of respecting others. There are certain rituals and hierarchies that you should familiarise yourself with to make sure that you pay the due respect at all times (an example is the Wai – holding your hands together and bowing your head – which is to be given and returned according to certain social rules).
Thailand is also a Buddhist country that’s very modest (although that by no way means that they are all vegetarians – a mistake many foreigners have made!) . Make sure you don’t offend the locals by wearing short shorts or open shoulder tops near temples.
Although Thai people will hardly ever confront behaviour that goes against their cultural norms, they will feel deeply hurt and disrespected!
How safe is Thailand in comparison to South Africa?
I find it to be considerably safer – I have driven around at night alone on a small scooter and felt perfectly safe. The rate of theft and violent crime is much lower than in South Africa. Visitors should also keep in mind that Thailand is currently under military control and that any law breaking, even small offences (drunk driving, recreational drug use etc.), can have serious consequences.
In big cities like Bangkok and HatYai there are areas to best be avoided at night and it is of course always safer to travel in pairs or groups, although I have done many solo adventures without issues of any kind.
Which destinations would you recommend?
I am very fortunate to be living in a beautiful town in Southern Thailand. The islands of the coast of the Southern peninsula (made famous by films such as The Beach) are some of the most beautiful in the world. Blue oceans, white sand, and endless sunshine!
Koh Mook, Koh Phi-Phi and Koh Ngai are three of my favourites. The northern mountains and forests of Chiang Mai and the areas around it are also well worth a visit – here you find unspoiled Thailand and all the natural wonders you could hope to see! The central north is home to Thai Buddhism, and I highly recommend the towns of Nan and Phrae with their wealth of temples!
If Bella’s adventures intrigued you, and you’re interested in exploring Thailand as a gap year option, you can visit the following sites to help you make it happen:
If you want to see some FAQs about Thailand, check out these sites and forums: