The First Month: My TEFL Course & Guesthouse

Back home in South Africa, I'd already decided months before that I would do my TEFL course in Thailand. My plan was to stay in a guesthouse while I did the course and explore the city, and then get a job immediately afterwards. And that's exactly what I did.

Myself and all my lovely course mates.

I have met and heard of countless people who had done their TEFL course online, and then arrived fresh off the plane in the country they wanted to teach in. In my opinion (and the opinion of many others in the real and virtual world) this is not the way to go. I had never set foot in a classroom as an authority figure and mentor before, and here I was at the naive age of 22 standing in front of 30 unruly teenagers. I believe that having my instructors there to guide me was invaluable, and the feedback received from them afterwards set me on my way to becoming what I hope is now a fairly awesome ESL teacher. On top of that, I had instant friends from all over the world, with all sorts of stories to tell, who were all doing the course with me. It made for many nights out socialising and stressing over teaching practices and grammar tests. Being a bit of an awkward person with a penchant for chatting up stray dogs, I doubt I would have made many foreign human friends within that first month of being abroad.

If you're interested, I did my course through SEE TEFL, which I've learnt is one of the most reputable courses in Chiang Mai. It cost me US $1000 at the time, and I chose to find my own (incredibly cheap) accommodation. I would recommend doing the same, as I had friends from the course stay in the accommodation you can book through the course, and we ended up nicknaming it "The Prison". I'm sure a few reviews online actually confirm that sentiment.

Check out the rest of my photos and some useful links below:

Spoiled with breakfasts at Eagle House.
Eagle House, where I stayed very cheaply for a whole month.
The soi (little road) where Eagle House is.
Another shot of Eagle House, where I sat and worked on my laptop over muesli and smoothies every day.
A nice enough place I stayed initially called Dutch Delicious, but I met a few too many creepy old men here for my liking.
An area of bars popular with foreigners in Chiang Mai.

A confession/warning scribbled on a bar wall.
Another poetic bit of advice, probably from a drunken falang.
Very dirty bathroom walls.

Recommended TEFL Courses and Cheap Guesthouses:

SEE Tefl - a really nice bunch who offer a lot of support, whether you find a job through them afterwards or not.
Green Tefl - I've heard good things about this course, and they seem to be the most similar to SEE Tefl, ie: offering job support, teaching experience in real schools, etc. The only difference I could find is that they don't offer you basic Thai lessons which SEE Tefl does.
- Uni Tefl - Another course I've heard good things about. The only downside for me is that it costs $1500, which seems a bit steep compared to some others.
Eagle House - a cheap and friendly guesthouse - also one of the oldest in Chiang Mai. Even if you don't stay here, you should stop by for some Western comforts - muesli, fresh yoghurt, and sammiches!
Julie Guesthouse - another cheap and friendly guesthouse that might be good for a longer stay, like Eagle House above.


  1. Bathroom walls in general have weird scribbles on them which might be worth sharing, perhaps with a bit of censorship though. I cannot even understand what's written on the back of the toilet doors where I work!

  2. I stayed at Eagle House myself, so cheap and quiet. But the owner is a bit rude unfortunately!

  3. I will be traveling to Chiang Mai in April with pretty much the same hopes that you had, and of all the reviews/blogs I've read - and I feel like I've read them all - your blog has been the most helpful and informative. Which means you have lucked out and now get to be barraged by all the questions that have been plaguing me since I started planning this out months ago.

    If you did it all over again, knowing everything you know now:

    1) Would you choose SEE, Uni, or Green? (and don't immediately think SEE bc of the friends you made)
    2) What would you have done in advance as far as visa preparation? Would you have just entered into the country, gotten the regular 30 day visa, and trusted that the Tefl school would have you sorted out with a non-immigrant B in time? Or would you have applied in advance for the 60-day tourist visa? Or would you have gone with one of the tefl schools that divvies out 1yr edu visas?
    3) Where would you have stayed for your first week/month? And after that, where would you have looked for a furnished, 1-bed, long-term stay apartment?

    Sorry just a few more.

    How hard will it be, for a clean-cut single American white male with BA (with a decent work ethic), to get a full-time teaching job with contract, work permit, visa, etc... in Chiang Mai?
    How hard has it been for you to keep up with your visas? From your post outlining your monthly work schedule it seems like you have quite a few part-time gigs now, and nothing full-time. Is it still easy to get/renew your non-imm B visa with just a part-time job?

    Sorry for unloading this on you I just am really dreading the thought of having to do a border run every 14 days bc I can't get a visa sorted. Assuming I enjoy it there, (which I'm pretty sure I will) I would like to stay there and teach for at least a few years, so I'm really curious as to how hard that is, holding onto work permits and visas for a multi year period.

    Can't say enough how much I've enjoyed reading your blogs/articles, keep writing, I'm envious.

    1. Hey Michael,

      All right, here they are! Sorry I took a few days to get back to you. I haven't had time to upload a new blog post, let alone write you a worthy answer to your questions!

      1. I do immediately think of SEE Tefl although I've had my own ups and downs with them, because they help you secure a work permit and it makes a big difference having them do all the paperwork and everything else for you (which is all in Thai and really really tedious and hard to understand for us simple foreigners). Find out if the others offer that along with a guaranteed job placement, and I'd say you're good to go. Of course, the job placement is almost just a cushion to fall back on, because as you've probably learned online it's better to go your own way and find your own job without the greedy guidance of an agency! Whoops... hope I won't get into trouble for that one...

      2. I arrived with a tourist visa because I couldn't get a non-immigrant B ahead of time in South Africa. That means I had to do an extra visa run compared to if I had managed to get the non B at home. But all in all, the visa runs are not too much of a hassle - to be fair they're just a part of the travelling experience, and you can have quite a fun trip, maybe explore a bit too. If you can, get a non B at home as it does speed up the process of getting a work permit, which is the ultimate goal to be able to live and work here for a long period of time. Tefl schools don't give education visas - those are for students on study abroad programs or learning Thai at one of the many language schools. As you plan to work here, education visas don't apply.

      3. In the beginning, stay somewhere that looks comfy and not too upmarket to you. This is your time to have a base to explore the city from and also enjoy yourself before you have to get a proper place and settle into working. So have fun with it - but obviously be wise with your money. There are plenty of cheap places in the city and simple, Thai-style guesthouses without any frills would do fine for my taste. I stayed at Eagle House for over a month just because it was really cheap for me, and two people from my Tefl course copied me maybe two weeks in because their accommodation was overpriced and unfriendly. But I do encourage you to find a place that looks good for you online which you can call "home" for that beginning stint.

      To answer your last question, I'll say that you are almost guaranteed a job given what you've described of yourself. Even if you were sort of a rubbish person, I doubt that would affect your chances. While you might have read otherwise ("Chiang Mai is getting overcrowded, the job market is saturated with under-qualified native speakers, etc.") don't believe it. It's sad to say but you will probably come across Philippino teachers who are better English speakers and more qualified than many foreigners who fit the part. You actually sound like a good guy with the drive to teach, so I have no doubts that you will land the sort of job you want, legally, with all your boxes ticked (besides a weirdo co-worker or two).

      Your work permit can be renewed if you want to stay longer. Don't burn down the school and they will probably be scrambling to renew your contract when it's up. Keep up your ties with your Tefl school as a back-up as they will always take you on, even in a part-time capacity (which means you can find your own private students too, while fulfilling your part-time contract with them). There are always options, especially in a growing city like Chiang Mai.

      I hope you enjoy it here and thank you so much for your kind words. They really mean a lot to me! And feel free to send any more questions my way :)

  4. Thanks for all the info Adrian. I'll be flying to Chiang Mai in a week. My Tefl course starts on April 1st, which gives me a couple weeks to explore. I'm gonna stay at Eagle House, and I've already got a lot of daytime activities/trips planned. But I had one more question about the nightlife/barlife.
    Where would you go for drinks/fun at night, if you were new in town and staying at Eagle House?
    I like bars with music (especially live), good drink specials, and a good, nice farang crowd (not just old cranky expats), ... just so I can have someone to talk to.

  5. Questions for both Adrian and Michael (plus an answer)

    Adrian, where did you hear good things about green tefl? I couldn't tell how many teachers they have actually trained. I only found that they provide a 1 year ed visa, which actually could be helpful if planning to work part-time - from what I can tell, part-time employers don't really set up work permits, so they would not be able to extend the non-imm B visa that SEE tefl sets up for you. Can you confirm this? But of course the quality of the course is important, and I wondered if you had heard from someone who actually did it?

    Michael - which course have you decided on, and how are things going so far communicating with them?

    As for where you can go out, Eagle House is just a minute walk from the backpacker night zone. Just down the street is a group of bars with dancing and live music, where there is a mix of travelers and locals - squishing into the dancefloor at Zoe in Yellow is always a funny and fun experience.

    Thanks all.

    1. Hi Amy,

      For your question regarding visas, I worked part-time teaching private lessons and doing the odd substitute job as well as English camps around the country, and SEE Tefl provided my work permit. They were my part-time employer, and my work permit corroborated that. When it was time for my permit to expire or be extended, they chose not to extend it because I now work for another employer, and its now their responsibility. So, part-time employers CAN and DO set up work permits, and SEE Tefl will provide you with that if you choose that route with them. You would have to personally investigate what other teaching agencies would do.

      Yes, the quality of the course is important. I personally did the SEE Tefl course, which is why I recommend it. It was tough, but worth it. I cannot personally vouch for other courses, but I do trust what my trusted friends say about them - hence, I have heard good things about Green Tefl and UniTefl.

      PS: I don't recommend Zoe in Yellow (aka The Square of Despair) as a good place to experience the nightlife - Chiang Mai has a lot more to offer. Find out where the young Thais go - think Nimman, JJ Market, Huay Kaew, CM Business Park etc. Zoes is good for drunk-people-watching and overpriced buckets, which is fun now and then, but not if you leave CM thinking that's what it's all about. Just... no! Haha. ;)

  6. Hi Adrian! Your blog has been a big help to me. I'm heading to Thailand next year to get my TEFL certificate with SEE TEFL; I can't decide between the 4 week program versus the 5 month paid internship. Is there a way I can contact you other than this platform? Thanks!

    1. I'm struggling with the same decision. Have you made your decision yet? The internship sounds really useful, but I'm concerned that the 2-week course won't be as extensive as the 4-weeks (How could it be??)