Monkey Abroad

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Pua, Nan

Pua Nan Thailand

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Pua Nan is a small town located in far north Thailand. This little community in the mountainous region rarely receives foreign visitors. The outsiders that do venture here receive both a warm embrace and curious stares.

Pua is a peaceful place. At night, there’s a din of croaking reptiles and howling monkeys. In the morning, you’re woken up by roosters. Mere days after our arrival, most of the town can identify my cohort and me as the new “farang” (foreign) english teachers of Pua School. I’m here with James, 36-years-old, and Ann, 30. Both from California. As the baby of the group, and Pua’s only Texan native, I’ll do my best to show this rural community some southern hospitality.

While it’s important to be polite to the locals in a traditional Thai community like Pua, it’s even more important to be aware of cultural differences. What one person perceives as regular behavior in their native western culture could be misconstrued as an insulting gesture here.

For example, the head of one’s body is sacred – you can’t touch another person’s head, especially a child. Feet are dirty – you can’t point your feet toward anybody (this makes sitting with your legs propped up an impossibility). Foreigners shouldn’t mention the king or the royal family at all. The slightest comment could make conversation very awkward and, if taken the wrong way, could land you in prison. And during conversation, for politeness, you should end every sentence with the word “kah if you’re a woman and “khrap” if you’re a man. Just, because.

Pua Nan

Pua Nan is a peaceful town surrounded by a gorgeous mountain range.

How one perceives you in Thailand is based on “face” value. Most everyone in this small Thai community is extraordinarily friendly, but if you slip up and make a cultural mistake, you could easily “lose face.” Maintaining a positive reputation following a minor Thai faux pas is called “saving face.” Maintaining face is essential, especially in a small town like Pua, where it doesn’t take more than a week for the entire community to know your name and origin.

Pua, Nan

Three Thais ride on a motorbike. It’s common to see 3, 4, sometimes even 5 people on a bike at once.

Pua School

Pua School, where I’ll be teaching english.

Upon introducing yourself to a native, the first questions you might be asked: are you single? how old are you? how much money do you make? why aren’t you married? By American standards, Thais are nosy. Because of the hierarchical social structure of Thailand, people just want to learn their place in relation to everybody around them. And they don’t just talk this way to foreigners, but to each other as well. Here, if somebody is even a year older than you, they inherently deserve more respect.

My second night in Pua, Nan. 9pm, restless, I go for a walk. I don’t make it more than 50 meters from my home when I’m confronted by a local family. “Sawat dee ka!” (hello!), they say. Sitting on the front steps of the family-run knick-knacks shop, they’re enjoying a traditional communal-style Thai meal. I’m invited to join them as they clear a space for me to sit. First off, it’s impolite to refuse such an offer. Second, I love eating. It’s a win-win. I sit, dine, sip brandy. They’re eager to practice English and I’m eager to learn Thai. They’re as curious as I am. We exchange questions about each other’s cultures and languages. “Welcome to Thailand,” I’m told countless times. Just another night in Pua Nan.

Author: Kevin Cook

I want to inspire you to pursue your own dream of traveling and/or living overseas!

10 Comments

  1. Very interesting, kevin. Love following your journey.

  2. That last paragraph is awesome. I doubt I’ll ever have that happen here in Bangkok, and if it did, I’d have to wonder ‘what do these people want from me?’

  3. Hi Kevin, Just wanted to say how much I have enjoyed reading your well written Blog on Thailand. (Except for a few common grammatical errors.) I found the visa & TESOL information very useful & maybe you could elaborate a little more on how difficult it is to actually find a teaching contract & also the incidence of schools not honoring the contracts. Thank you, Glen

    • Thanks Glen! (If only I had an editor to report to before publishing each of my articles!).
      Teaching in Thailand was a simple process for me since I signed up with a TESOL training company/placement company. They held my hand through the entire process of finding a school, dealing with visas, work permits, contracts. Technically I’m not under contract with my school. I’m under contract with my placement company. I haven’t seen any contract incidents first hand so I can’t be much help there.
      From what I understand, it’s fairly easy to land in Thailand on a tourist visa, find a job, then convert your visa to a working visa (non-immigrant “B” visa). Technically this is illegal, but it’s damn near impossible to get caught.
      My suggestion is to sign up with a reliable TEFL/TESOL company that’ll train you on-site. It’ll prepare you for teaching Thai kids, plus there’ll be job-placement veterans to assist you along the way.
      Hope this helps! Email me if you have any more specific questions.
      Kevin

  4. Hi Kevin. I’ve been informed there are Western restaurants within Pua Nan? Can you confirm this? If yes, can you please tell me what they are? I ask, as I have a nut allergy… I can eat certain Thai foods, but have to be careful…so do hope to have the Western food alternative there on occasion.

  5. Greetings, Kevin! I just randomly found your blog and will soon begin to read your experiences. I’d love to teach in Thailand and I’m really interested in Nan Province. Though Bangkok is where are the lights are, I’d like to experience the “real” Thai experience.

    Do you know if they have any gyms/fitness clubs there? I may go nuts without hitting the weight room four/five times a week. 🙂

    • You will certainly get the “real” Thai experience in Nan! I’m like you – I need to have a gym nearby at all times. Unfortunately, Pua didn’t have any gyms, so I made due with what I had. I did pullups and handstand pushups every day.

      Fortunately, the Nan province does have gyms. Nan city has a gym equipped with everything you’d need: Squat racks, bench presses, dumbbells, etc. Nan city is one hour south of Pua.

      Hope this helps.

  6. Just saw that you are a Texas native and abroad in China..found your you tube videos. I’m from Texas as well! Hello!

  7. Hello Kevin,
    Are you still there? I was offered a teaching job there 10 minutes ago,from an agency in BKK.

Let me know what you think

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