Thailand is sweaty and crowded, the cockroaches are larger than you big toe, the traffic is
frightening and the pollution hovers over your hand like a dome of gray, but it’s all so
AWESOME. Thailand is more exciting than watching Yoda fight against Dark Sidius.
Everyday promises a new adventure and the friends you meet on the way are definitely
keepers for life. The food is the most flavourful food that you’ll ever taste, and the
shopping is incredible! If you’re willing to step out of your comfort boundaries, Thailand
is definitely the place to be. I guarantee you won’t regret it.
I purchased my ticket online. I found that this was the cheapest option. The website I
used was: www.flightdepot.ca. You can also purchase tickets directly from the airlines. I
found that China Airlines was the cheapest with tickets at about $1200. Depending on
when you go, you can get your ticket for a bit less. The flight from Vancouver to
Bangkok is about 18 hours long (with 1 stopover). The jetlag is killer!
Vaccinations cost me about $125 dollars. I got them done at the travel clinic downtown
on Granville St. The vaccinations you need are Hep A, Hep B, you are also
recommended to get Typhoid, Typhus, and Malaria (pills).
To get your Education Visa, visit the Thai Consulate downtown.
1. Acceptance letter from Chulalongkorn or Thammasat
2. 2 pictures (Passport size)
3. Your passport
4. 80 CAD dollars (credit card is accepted)
5. Application form
If you plan to travel to other countries while you’re in Thailand, you should consider
getting a multiple entry visa.
It takes approximately one day to get your visa. You might have to bug the International
office for a few weeks to get a copy of your acceptance letter. It’s not the International
office’s fault though. It’s because the Chulalongkorn staff are slow at handling such
matters. You’ll also have to renew your Visa at least once in Thailand because your
education visa is only valid for 90 days. The cost of renewal is 1900 baht.
Full Country Name Kingdom of Thailand
Population 62 million
Capital City Bangkok
People 75% Thai, 11% Chinese, 3.5% Malay; also Mon, Khmer, Phuan
Religion 95% Buddhism, 4% Muslim
Government constitutional monarchy
Head of State King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX)
Head of Government Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra
Major Industries: Computers, garments, integrated circuits, gems, jewellery
Just from the general profile of Thailand provided above you will find that Thailand is
very different from Canada. One thing that really stuck out while I was there was their
respect for religion. Considering that 95% of Thai’s are Buddhists, most of Thailand
shared a very uniform value system. For more general information on this awesome
country visit the Lonely Planet’s online guide:
The first thing that you will notice when getting off the plane in Bangkok is the heat. The
climate in Thailand was perhaps the most difficult thing to get used to. Yes, even more
so than the culture. It’s hot year round in Thailand, so you can forget the sweaters and
jackets at home. The only areas that I found remotely cool were in the Northern areas
(Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai etc.). As you can see April is by far the hottest month and
January and December are the coolest months. Yes, 30 degrees is cool. For convenience
I’ve attached a climate table below:
Average Daytime Temperature (oC) - Central Thailand
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
30 31 34 36 35 33 32 33 32 32 31 30
Average Rainfall (cm) - Central Thailand
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
1.0 2.5 3.5 6.0 8.0 14.5 16.5 17.5 30.0 21.0 7.0 0.5
Thailand has bank machines everywhere (well in the major cities). So you don’t have to
worry about bringing a lot of cash with you. I would suggest bringing maybe 1000 baht
with you to start (31 dollars) and get the rest of your money exchanged while in Thailand.
You get a better exchange rate at the airport than you do at home. During the time I
traveled to Thailand, 1 dollar was equal to about 31-32 baht. Credit cards are also widely
accepted in Asia. But they often charge a 2% surcharge.
Arrival and Orientation
Chulalongkorn University has an awesome buddy system in place. Upon arrival you will
have 1 – 3 “buddies” pick you up from the airport. These students are extremely friendly
and will help you set up accommodation and welcome you to their country. If you are not
as fortunate and will have no one to pick you up at the airport, the first thing to do is to
avoid all the private taxi drivers that try to recruit you at the airport gates. Get out of the
airport and look for the nearest public taxi gate. The typical cost from the airport to
Bangkok is about 300 Baht. You will most likely be staying at Evergreen Hotel, or Asia
Hotel. The cost is approximately 1000 baht per night (31CAD).
During the week before school starts you should get your uniforms bought. You’ll notice
that Thai people are small. When I say small I don’t mean hobbit short, but rather Ally
McBeal small. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t find a fitting uniform, you can get them
custom made for less than 300 baht (10 bucks!). That’s right custom made clothing for
10 bucks. What a deal!. You’ll also need to get your photograph taken (in uniform) for
your student id.
During the second week of school we had an exchange welcome orientation at Asia
Hotel. We were a group of 30 exchange students and the orientation made it easy to get
to know everybody a little bit better. During the orientation we were asked to introduce
ourselves and answer random questions that the emcee had prepared for us. In general
the Thai students are extremely friendly. They’re constantly willing to help you out and
are very eager to become your friends. It’s great!
There are several accommodation choices in Thailand. Here’s the link to one of the
better search engines: http://www.click4apartment.com/Bangkok/.
If you don’t mind sharing a place with three other people, I would recommend staying at
Evergreen Apartments. This is a special discount that is offered to Chulalongkorn
students. This is perhaps the sweetest deal, each student pays only 10,000 baht per month
(add utilities), but this includes a really nice gym, swimming pool, sauna, weekly yoga
lessons, massage parlor, restaurant, room service and cleaning service. That’s right,
you’ll never have to make your room or wash your dishes while you’re there. You even
get nice fresh towels everyday and satellite television. Evergreen is also conveniently
located to several shopping centres, the skytrain station and the University. The
additional benefits of staying at Evergreen include being closer to the other exchange
students. About 80% of the exchange students stayed at Evergreen and became really
close as a result.
I initially stayed at Boss Towers, but after staying at Evergreen I liked it a lot more.
Cost of Living
Item Price (in Baht)
Airfare 1200 (return)
Meal 20 – 100 baht
Bus Air con – 10 B, Fan 8 B, No A/C – 5 B
Taxi Start at 35 B and then 5 B for every KM
Sky Train 10 – 40 B per trip
MTR 10 – 20 B per trip
Rent 10,000 B per month
Utilities 3000 B per month
Text Books 400 – 1000 B per book
Uniform 200 – 300 B per uniform
Shirt 200 B +
Pants 200 B +
Everything in Thailand is relatively cheap compared to Canada. The Canadian dollar
stretches very far here. But as the saying goes “you get what you pay for”. Quality is not
necessarily the same, so avoid over spending. In addition, sizes are smaller and
everything will shrink about 1 to 2 sizes.
Communication methods in Thailand are very affordable and similar to Canada. Most
students however communicate through text messages rather than email. You can get a
cell phone at any mall for relatively cheap. You’ll need a Thai Sim card, which is really
affordable to get. Since you will only be in Thailand for a few months, I would
recommend getting the pay as you go plan. Phone refill cards can conveniently be
purchased at any 7-11outlet.
Social and Extra-Curricular Activities
It’s very affordable to do things in Thailand. For example, the exchange students often
arranged weekend trips to nearby cities and towns. We did things such as rafting,
elephant riding, hiking, camping etc. If you plan on staying in Bangkok most of the time,
there’s the typical clubbing. If you’re interested in playing sports, Chulalongkorn has a
gym and sports day that you can participate in. The gym often has free time set aside for
students. Just bring your ball and friends and play. I found the best way to get involved
in social activities is to befriend the locals.
School in Thailand is very similar to school in Canada. Each class is worth an average of
3 credits. The only major difference for exchange students is the system is “pass or fail”.
The university is pretty strict in terms of attendance. Students that miss more than 20%
of classes are not allowed to take the final exam, which may result in failure. During the
semester I went to school all my professors were from either Canada or the United States.
I only took three courses because there wasn’t a great choice selection (in part because I
went during my fourth year). A lot of the other students on the exchange took 4 or 5
courses and still had a lot of time to travel. The workload and curriculum varies
significantly depending on the professor and course. For example, I took Business
Strategy in Thailand and that course had enough course work to keep me busy. As you
probably already know, all courses are taught in English. If you’re interested in doing a
language class you can take Spanish or Japanese. Each class has about three hours worth
of lecture time and no tutorial. You’re supposed to spend at least 3 hours a week reading
the text book. The thing I really enjoyed about my classes is that the professors (well 2
of them) had a wealth of knowledge on doing business in Asia. It was great to hear their
stories and learn from their experiences.
Chulalongkorn is a bit disorganized in terms of registering for classes. What I suggest is
during your first week of class, attend all the classes that you are interested in. Collect
the course syllabi and then decide on the courses you want to take the following week.
The University staff is pretty flexible in terms of letting you choose the courses you want.
They’ll even let you take classes that you don’t have the prerequisites for.
The semester is a bit longer than the average SFU semester. The semester went from
January 4 – April 26, and then 2 weeks of final exams. I believe in total there are 16
weeks of instruction.
It’s hard to pick just one favourite experience especially when I had so many great new
experiences. I guess my most favourite activity in Thailand was traveling. With so much
free time there were many opportunities to travel around the country. Each region is
known for different things so to be able to experience these regional activities was always
exciting. For example, Chiang Mai is known for its eco tourism so I did white water
rafting, jungle trekking and elephant riding. While at Koh Chang I sat on the back of a
motorcycle and did some island sight seeing. At Koh Pha Ngan I went to the notorious
Full Moon party and did snorkeling. I can’t stress it enough, there is such a wide range of
activities to do.
My worst experience unfortunately happened during my last week in Thailand. After
moving out of my luxurious apartment into a nearby hotel my wallet got stolen out of my
room. The kicker is that both my roommate and I were sleeping in the room while it
happened. I was really upset at how complacent I was and totally forget about watching
out for myself. So it’s important to not let your guard down, because once you do you
give others the opportunity to take advantage of you. Following the incident I had to deal
with the typical filing of the police report and canceling my credit card. I was very
fortunate to have friends who were very supportive and willing to help me out.
The most important lesson that I learned while in Thailand is to have contingency plans
in case of emergencies. Despite the fact that you’re in Thailand for an adventure it’s
important to be prepared for when your adventure turns into a misadventure. Have phone
numbers ready at all times. Split up your cash so you do not lose it all at once (like I
did). Have emergency numbers with you, for example your Thai friends’ numbers, the
police station and so forth. Although I was not entirely prepared for what had happened
to me, I was prepared enough that I was able to remain calm during the entire ordeal. It’s
also important to not let negative events to taint the rest of your experience.
I would divide challenges into two main areas (1) challenges while in Thailand and (2)
challenges upon returning home. The challenges while in Thailand included
communication barriers. Although many people spoke English, it was still difficult to get
your message across. One big problem that I kept on running into was that the Thai’s
were never honest in terms of telling you whether they understood what you were saying
or not. They often said they understood what you were saying, but in fact did not. This
caused for many miscommunication errors. I found this most frustrating especially in
group work. Other challenges faced included the typical “missing home” syndrome. But
this was easily cured with a telephone home. The second area of challenges that I faced
occurred upon returning home. I was surprised at how long it took me to adjust to being
back at home. Be prepared to face reverse culture shock. It’s an indescribable feeling –
and I cannot even pinpoint the source of my feelings – but it exists. I think these “weird”
feelings are the result of people not understanding where you have come from and the
new experiences that you have felt.
I would have decided to stay in Thailand longer. When I left, I felt there was still so
much left to do and I really wanted to stay longer but I couldn’t. If you plan to return
early just so you can graduate on time, I say stay in Thailand. It’s worth it.
Words of Wisdom
Come to Thailand with an open mind – allow your mind to be stretched and you will be
able to experience more. Seize opportunities that come your way. For example, as an
exchange student I was surprised to see how many internship opportunities were
available. Take risks. Do things that you would normally not do. I know this is corny,
but what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.
I think one of the best parts about this trip is the fact that you are not only given the
opportunity to learn about Thai culture, but you are also exposed to the other cultures of
the world. Seize these opportunities to build your network of global contacts. Most
importantly, be safe and take care of yourself! Have a back up plan… always!