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Traveling in Thailand in 2021

Quarantine and Finding an Apartment

Our first month back in Thailand had its share of ups and downs. When we returned to Thailand there was little to no local transmission of Covid-19 so although life wasn’t back to normal it was a lot more normal than back home in England.

We were able to apartment hunt freely, go to bars, enjoy rooftop parties and pool parties as well. Finding an apartment in a foreign country isn’t as daunting an experience as you might think. As we had 2 weeks in our quarantine hotel we had a lot of  time to research the different apartment complexes in the area we were staying. We narrowed it down to two that we liked and contacted agents through a local apartment hunting website 

They arranged a date and time for some viewings and took us to the complex we liked most. After looking at a few different rooms we settled on one and we were able to move in the next day.

Due to the massive amount of choice of apartments you have in Bangkok the prices are relatively low. Our apartment only costs around 9500 baht (£250) a month. Water bill costs are extremely low, around 150 baht (£4) and electricity is quite cheap too – around 1200 baht (£30).

Back to School During Covid

After we had our first week back at work we headed out to catch up with our friends who’d made the right decision to stay in Thailand throughout the pandemic. Bars were basically fully open and rooftop parties were able to happen – it was a far cry from being stuck in our homes for the past 7 month in England.

We had a great night at a rooftop party at the Novotel Sukhumvit 20 with our friends before returning to the same hotel the next day for a rooftop pool party on my birthday. This was definitely one of our best days/nights we have had in Thailand so far. It was like being back to normal life – pre Covid.

Traveling to Koh Chang for a Holiday

Our next week at school was a short one as there were two national holidays on the Thursday and Friday, we used the holidays to go to an island we hadn’t visited before – Koh Chang.

It is a six hour bus ride from Bangkok at the low price of 260 baht (£6) and a 30 minute ferry ride to the island but it is 100% worth it. Although the island has suffered quite a bit from the lack of tourism due to Covid it is still a beautiful place to visit. We basically had the entirety of Klong Prao beach to ourselves and this beach is one of the best beaches we have ever been to.

In normal times the island would have had a great nightlife scene too but because of there being no tourism there weren’t many bars/clubs to visit on a night. The island still had so much to do though. If you got tired of the beaches, you could go trekking to one of the many waterfalls. If that wasn’t for you, you could hire a bike and explore the island.

Klong Prao Beach

This is definitely one of the better islands to visit along this coast. It is large enough to be fun to explore but also not overly westernized with shops/supermarkets/chain restaurants everywhere. Unfortunately for us this was our last week of normality as a cluster of Covid cases were found in Samut Sakhon which has shut down a lot of the country while they try to regain control of the virus.

Hopefully with the strict measures in place it doesn’t get too out of control and life can begin returning to some sort of normality again soon. Until then, we are back to teaching online.

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Returning to Teach in Thailand During the Pandemic

Back in March, me and my girlfriend Rebecca made the difficult decision to return home during the uncertainty that was created by the beginning of the pandemic. We had only been teaching English in Thailand for 6 monthsbut we loved it. We lived in a small town in Chonburi around 45 minutes from Bangkok which was close enough to the city and a few islands we visited often. It made the decision to return home to England difficult but one we thought we had to make. However after seven months being at home we decided we had had enough of England and made the decision to return to Thailand to teach English– no matter how difficult it would be.

Where Things Get Real

After searching for jobs on various websites we contacted On the Mark Education and Mark arranged an interview and a couple of weeks later we had the jobs. We spent hours researching the ideal ASQ hotel for us (the cheapest with a balcony) and decided on The Cotai. A lot of paperwork and one Covid test later, we were finally on our way back to Thailand.

Without any doubt, the quarantine was difficult. As me and my girlfriend aren’t married, we weren’t allowed to share a room and the food wasn’t great to say the least. The days were boring but it was bearable and definitely worth being back in Thailand.

Two weeks of quarantine passed and we were finally allowed to leave our hotel and return to our lives of teaching in Thailand.

We took a taxi to another hotel we had booked for a couple of nights and hunted for the closest pizza shop we could find – quarantine had us missing the simplest things.

It Was a Smooth Start After All

The school had given us a few days to get settled and find a place to live before we had to begin our orientation. Luckily there are more apartment complexes in Bangkok than anything else so we were spoilt for choice. It didn’t take us long to settle on a place and we were moving in the next evening.

Things that are usually so boring back home like furniture shopping and food shopping are pretty much just as boring here too! It’s easy to get almost everything you want/need in the many malls/department stores/markets and most people speak English especially here in Bangkok. You won’t likely be missing any comforts of home because you can get a lot of that here too.

Teach English in Thailand

We headed into school on the Thursday morning with quite a bit of excitement, I had been unemployed in the UK for the past 7 months and Rebecca had been teaching online. We began our two day orientation and met our students before we made it to the weekend.

Our first weekend with very little Covid restrictions was amazing. Simple things like being able to play pool with strangers and celebrate goals being scored in bars were things we missed so much but never even realised.

We had all sorts of ideas lined up for the weekends to come including pool parties, island trips and catching up with our friends but for now it is Sunday night and we are prepping for our long awaited return to teaching English in Thailand.

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Grocery Shopping in China

In America, if you want to eat, you need to 1) cook something yourself (unless you have a particularly generous partner); 2) go to a restaurant; 3) drive through a fast food place, or 4) arrange for delivery, which may, depending on where you live, be restricted to pizza, and what passes for Chinese food in the US. But in the Middle Kingdom, things are a little different. Grocery shopping in China definitely gives you a whole new different experience.

Grocery Shops in China

It is no secret that China is the home to many kinds of delicious foods. I have been teaching English in China for about 3 months, Some expats find the local restaurants so inexpensive and the foods so tasty that they rarely go shopping for groceries themselves. My Chinese colleagues often act surprised that I cook for myself and bring my own lunch and/or dinner every day. However, eventually you will need to go to the supermarket for something (shampoo, soap, deodorant, etc.) or develop a desire to make your food in your own way. Depending on where you live, there may be more than one way to accomplish this.

Walmart in China

If you live in a fairly large city, there may be a Wal-Mart. Wal-Marts in China are still Chinese. They won’t magically have all the foods or items you remember from home. But they are still Wal-Marts, and have a huge selection of food, baked goods (this may be the only place you find that has Western-style bread), snacks, and miscellaneous, such as housewares, all in one place when you go grocery shopping in China.

There will also be a Chinese supermarket somewhere in your city. These tend to be on the bottom floors of shopping centers, so if you don’t know where a supermarket is, it’s a good bet to seek out the closest shopping center and take a trip downstairs. You may have to leave your bags, except for a purse, at a front desk, or lock them in a front locker, so be sure you keep your form of payment with you. If you get set up to use WeChat or AliPay, no problem – just make sure you have your phone. But if you’re paying with cash, as you certainly will be for awhile after you get here, as your bank account will take a little time to get set up, don’t forget about keeping some cash on you until you have a full cart at the check-out. You may be asked if you want a bag. China is on a mission to reduce plastic bags when you go grocery shopping, so you bring your own and go ahead and take the shopping bag. I like to reuse mine as trash can liners. But the supermarkets will charge you a small amount if you don’t bring your own bag.

Shopping with Courage

Grocery Shopping in China

Going grocery shopping in China offers will vary, but in general they’ll have the usual food, drinks, and snacks. It will also have an area where you can buy bulk rice and beans, and maybe a few other things such as rock sugar, candy, little snack cakes, dried mushrooms, and dried fruit. There will be some dairy, but it will be expensive and there will not be an extensive collection. You can find Coke, Coke Zero, Pepsi, and, of course, teas. There will also more than likely be a deli section where you can get steamed bread (mantou), steamed buns (baozi), baked Chinese bread (bing), and other ready-to-eat foods such as noodles and dumplings. The supermarket close to where I live even has small pizzas and sushi!

Try Something Local

Local market in China

Finally, you will want to eventually shop at an outside market, if only for the experience. These are frequently set up in alleys or side streets. What you can buy depends on the area, but they always include stands or small shops that sell fruit (apples, bananas, oranges, pears. In Sichuan, I also often find kiwi and dragonfruit), vegetables (pretty extensive selection generally, but good luck finding avocadoes), tofu (extra firm and smoked – fresh!), and, if you’re into that, meat. Be forewarned that the meat is not going to be bloodless and packaged in plastic, though. Enough said about that. No one in the small markets has charged me for plastic bags, but if you are going to buy much, you might want to bring a tote bag to put all your purchases in since you’re going to be carrying around a lot of small bags from the different stalls.

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“Weird” is Just a Matter of Perspective

A Matter of Perspective

Thailand is country that is full of many weird and strange things, but it’s good to remember that “weird” and “strange” are a matter of perspective. These things may seem different to you, and may make you think “What in the world? That’s something you don’t see every day!” However, these things are completely normal to Thai people. I can’t even count how many times something has turned my head, made me take a second glance, and made my jaw drop, but that’s the fun of it. These weird things are part of the culture shock- some are exciting and entertaining, while others can make your stomach turn. I got a chance to experience it while teaching English in Thailand.

Surprisingly Delicious
deep fried frogs in Thailand

One of the most enjoyable and interesting things that you will not only see in Thailand but eat as well, is the food. This is the case in most foreign and exotic places you travel to, but for me Thailand and all of South East Asia has definitely taken the cake. Since I’ve been here I have seen all types of insects that you can eat, from grasshoppers to scorpions, with stingers, pincers and all. On a daily basis, I walk by markets where they sell live toads, eels, and even turtles, all for the purpose of consumption. The driver for the school I work at offered me some of his deep fried frogs for a snack at lunch, which to my surprise was very delicious. However, there are still many things here that I haven’t gotten around to trying. Next on my list… rat?

It’s Not Always Easy

Though many things in Thailand are exciting and unique, not everything has been easy to look at. This is partially due to my personal background and morals, which I understand are not the same across the world. It can be difficult sometimes to see something you don’t ethically agree with on a personal level, but have to understand the different cultural norms. One day we were riding in the back of a tuk-tuk when I looked to my left, and to my disbelief I saw around twenty-five live chickens tied down to the back of a moped. It took me by surprise that they weren’t in at least a cage of some sorts, but tied down in a heaping pile of feathers. As I looked in aw, taking out my phone to try and capture this bizarre moment, I realized that everyone around me was staring as if I was the strange one!

Weird food in Thailand

Sometimes I forget that “weird” is a matter of perspective, that here in Thailand I am the one who stands out as strange and different. That is the beauty of the world we live in! It is full of so many diverse and unique cultures and no matter how far you travel, I guarantee you will find unique and beautiful things (Thailand will not disappoint!)

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Finding an Apartment in Hong Kong

Moving to a new country can be as stressful as it can be exciting and one of the main stress factors includes finding your ideal home away from home. For many expats who move to Hong Kong, their home is the place to escape the overwhelming amount of people bumping and dodging them on the streets. However, you soon learn that any hopes of having your own, spacious, ideal located haven can be dashed if your budget is not high enough. Read on for tips on preparing yourself ahead of your move to Hong Kong with regards to your accommodation.

Securing Accommodation before You Arrive

It is always best to secure some sort of temporary accommodation before you arrive in Hong Kong to make your transition easy. The best option here is to look out on websites for shared, short term (month to month perhaps?) accommodation. If it’s your first time in Hong Kong, my advice is to find a shared short term place so that you get to:

  • Meet people and don’t feel terribly lonely, they can also be helpful in sharing their experience and helping you out.
  • Familiarize yourself with the transportation, route to work, different areas.
  • It gives you time to search and view apartments before settling for one.
  • If you decide to get your own lease then they will request proof of employment, bank details etc. so it gives you time to get your admin in order

There are many websites to secure accommodation and try to only pay when you arrive in Hong Kong. Some useful sites: geoexpat.com, easyroommate.com etc.

Finding an Apartment

There are many platforms to search for apartments to rent in Hong Kong such as online sites. A useful tip is to join Facebook groups as agents post available rentals here and usually provide all the important details including pictures. It is also easy to engage with them and set up appointments to view. There is always a demand for apartments in Hong Kong so if you like a place, there will be pressure secure it immediately. Once you decide on your ideal location and budget, you start the research process. Try to schedule a few viewings with an agent. They often have more places than the one advertised. Always check what their requirement is and if you can afford it. The norm is 2 months deposit, 1 months’ rent and in some cases, they will also request an agency fee which may be half of the rental amount. There are places that are month to month, only request 1 months deposit and no agency fee. Try to look for the best option for you. 

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What Happens after You Find a Place You Like?

Once you find a place you like, you will be required to provide paperwork which includes copies of your passport, Hong Kong ID card, and proof of employment, bank details and your deposit and rental amount. It really is quite easy to secure the apartment once you find it. Make sure to ask questions about the utility bill amounts for water and electricity, Wi-Fi and so on. Always negotiate the initial price they give you because in most cases, they do lower the rent amount. I have not heard of any unpleasant experiences with rent or deposits in Hong Kong and people are generally fair here so all should go as well as possible!

If having a spacious place on Hong Kong Island is very important to you, do not despair because it can be achieved with sharing and being prepared to pay extra for it. And as mentioned prior, if you don’t mind the commute, you can secure beautiful spacious homes on other islands. Apartments generally have a modern finish, a western toilet system and separate showers and toilets, which were a few key deciding factors for me but you have to look out for them and not just settle. Once you find out what your deciding factors are, finding your ideal place in Hong Kong will be possible. Good luck!

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How to Prepare For Life In China After Landing a TEFL Job

Did you just land your first TEFL job in China? Congratulations, you’re in for a wild ride. Your career just might take off. Your social life may explode. And your wanderlust may finally be satisfied. That was my experience at least.

The list of benefits that surrounds your new job is perhaps longer than The Great Wall. But, moving to China takes some getting used to.
In fact, life in China is something you may want to prepare yourself for.

So, while you’re getting your visa sorted out, and trying to decide how to condense your life into a single suitcase, here are a few others things to think about.

Google and Facebook Don’t Work in China

That’s right my friends. Both Gmail and Facebook won’t work while you’re living in China. You won’t have to rely on snail mail to talk to your mom though.

Before moving to China, make sure to get a VPN (Virtual Private Network.) You can pay for a year’s subscription (it’s very affordable) and use it to get on any website you want. It works by tricking your computer or phone, making it look like you’re using the internet from a country outside of China. I used one called Nordvpn, but there are quite a few to choose from.

You’ll Actually Need to Learn Some Mandarin

If you’ve traveled before, you know that it’s relatively easy to get around relying on only English. In China, not so much.

They speak their local language (as to be expected) and don’t stray away from it too often. Street signs, packaging, and restaurant menus will typically not have any English.

So, you’ll actually need to study up on some Mandarin. I ate stuffed buns for every meal during my first three days in China. I could point to them at the stall near my apartment and didn’t have to worry about speaking.

Learning how to say a few dishes is really helpful if you want a diverse diet. Also, it will help you avoid eating pig brain soup (honestly, it was an entire brain…in my soup) and other dishes that may make you cringe.

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You’ll Need to Practice Your Balance For The Squat Toilets

Squat toilets are not a thing of the past in China. In fact, you’ll find them even in the nicest clubs and restaurants.

While your apartment will usually have a western toilet, out in public, you’ll need to squat. Bend your knees and get low to the ground. The toilets even have two spots for your feet.

It may take a few tries, but you’ll figure it out. And, you may just learn to love them. I know that I did. Not having to sit on a public toilet seat seemed pretty great to me.

You Seriously Have to Learn to Use Chopsticks

At home, I ate sushi all of the time. So, I learned how to use chopsticks pretty well before moving to China.

In fact, I thought it was pretty obvious that chopstick skills were a necessity before agreeing to take the job.

However, I found that a few of my co-workers had never used chopsticks before. And, some of them admitted to thinking that the restaurants in China provided forks (just in case.)

Let’s just say that these coworkers of mine struggled. A lot. One of them couldn’t eat much during group meals, and ended up buying a little baby spoon to help him out. He carried that thing with him everywhere he went.

Learn how to use chopsticks; it’s worth it.

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