Monthly Archives: January 2016

Teaching in Thailand: Mixed Level Classrooms and Classroom Behavior

Two of the most common complaints I hear from other teachers in Thailand are that the students are in classes well above their English proficiency level, to the point where their class seems “pointless”; and that the students can be very uninterested and misbehaved.

In my (limited) experience, there is some semblance of truth to both of these complaints, but I also think some of it is just stereotypical teacher statements that get repeated year after year. There is a “no fail policy” in Thailand where students are promoted to the next grade regardless of how much they know, or how they do on their exams.  The students also know that they can’t fail, which some attribute to low motivation for learning.

I have learned quite a bit about each of my 6 classes (Primary 1- Primary 6) that I teach for English and/or science at a small, alternative Thai private school.  This may or may not be the case for classrooms in Thailand in general, or for ESL classrooms in other countries, but what follows are observations from my first two semesters as a new teacher in Thailand.

Mixed Level Classes

Your class will not be one cohesive group with all of the students at the same level of English proficiency, behavior, educational needs, interest level, age, or maturity.  I’m sure most of these differences (aside from the extreme variance in English proficiency levels due to the  “no fail policy”) are fairly universal, and something teachers everywhere have to adapt to.  However, in Thailand I teach 6 different grades and in every single class I have a mix of the following:

High performers

These students sometimes have at least one parent who is a Native English Speaker (NES), but sometimes not.  Either way, the high performing students are clearly lightyears ahead of the lesson I am teaching and the rest of their class.  They either love this fact because they get to show off to the teacher (usually the younger kids), or they are very, very bored.  For example, there is no reason a 6th grader who can hold entire conversations in English about just about anything should be spending 50 minutes learning adjective opposites.

Low performers

In every single class there is at least one, but sometimes a handful of students who know (almost) no English other than the “Good morning Teacher” and “Thank you Teacher” they say at the beginning and end of class.  Or they speak English at maybe a K3 or P1 level, but they are in a P5 science class conducted entirely in English.  They can usually repeat words back to you, but the lesson is far too advanced and you know they are not comprehending most, if not any, of what you are saying.

I do not know for sure how this huge disparity in English language proficiency within one class has happened, but Jake and I have a few hypotheses. Some students may have fallen behind way back in Kindergarten, P1, or P2 and then never caught up.   Then these same students may have even forgotten what they had learned previously, since they were so lost they stopped paying attention and speaking English months, or even years ago.  Or some students may have transferred into the school at an older age without any previous English language experience, and were therefore immediately behind and never caught up.  Or we suspect a handful of our students may not even speak Thai as their first language, and potentially their families came from Laos or Myanmar, or a hill tribe, and so they may be behind even in their Thai classes, while English is maybe a third or even fourth language they are trying to learn.

With graded language, the low performers in an ESL class can do really well with simple English lessons.  However, when trying to teach science or math concepts, even when only introducing a few new words in the entire lesson, you know there is a huge chunk of vocabulary that they should probably learn way before the English words to learn electricity, or cells, or photosynthesis.

Students with special needs

I also teach a number of students with special needs, which is common in many Thai schools.  Many students with special needs will be mixed in with sometimes 40+ other students per class in the large government or wat schools, where they can sometimes get lost in the shuffle.  The small, alternative nature of our school means we have a high proportion of students with special needs  who do much better with the school’s smaller class sizes, one-on-one attention, and Thai teachers who seem to really know how to teach and interact with them.

One child with autism will occasionally flip open her book and point to a random image, and will then repeat back the English word I provide to her.  These basic vocab words are never the point of the lesson for that day, but this is a way I can still teach something to this one child during the “practice phase” of the lesson (see here), and the few times I can get her to speak, and in English nonetheless, are priceless.  By going with the flow and doing something on her level, everyone in the class is learning something.  Seeing this child point to images and hearing her tell me the words I taught her the previous week without any prompts; and then receiving a big, wet kiss on the cheek immediately after, rates highly as one of my favorite teaching moments so far this year.

The average student

Hopefully, the majority of the class falls into this third category, which is the level I aim for my lesson to be taught.

After a few minutes presenting the new material with carefully selected graded language, we move on the practice phase of the lesson (see the 3P’s lesson format I learned from SEE TEFL here).  I have made practice a much larger part of my lessons than we learned to do in the TEFL course, because the practice phase is when I can give extra help to the low-performing students, and teach something a little more advanced to the high performing students who finish their work in 2 minutes.  This results in as much one-on-one tutoring as possible.

I am fortunate in that I have very small class sizes where this is possible, and if you teach in a school with 50 kids/class it is unlikely you may even know who needs what kind of help, let alone have the time to make your way around the room at least once. But with the extremely varied English proficiency levels in all of my classes, and the small class sizes, this is the way I am able to do most of my teaching.

Our students are very uninterested in any sort of presentation up at the whiteboard, but they are very eager to practice and participate in games and activities.  And if some of the students didn’t hear a word I said during the “presentation” phase, the practice phase is a time to re-teach the lesson individually if needed.  This brings me to the next point…

Classroom Behavior

You will not have a class of children all sitting quietly at their desks, looking up at the board, taking notes, and successfully responding to modelling and drilling cues or instantly beginning the activity you introduced.

All of my teaching practices were with classes of fairly well-behaved students (others in my course were not quite as lucky), so this was the biggest change for me as a first year teacher.  It is not uncommon to have half of the class doodling in their sketch books or coloring books and claiming they don’t have books or notebooks for this class.  A third of the class will be playing some sort of game with a variety of interesting toys or objects that they find way more entertaining than notebooks and listening to the teacher.  This includes comic books, marbles, playing cards, toy robots, stuffed animals, slime, swords or bows and arrows made out of rulers and string, the list goes on and on.

In our TEFL course we learned to bring our energy above the class’ energy level, and that we need to become the most interesting thing in the room.  But it is honestly quite hard to compete with what the students are already doing when you first walk through the door.  I can put on a show and dance all I want, but kids know what they want to do, and as much as I try to trick them into learning with games and activities (I will have an entire post about the importance of games and activities soon!) and topics based on their interests, some days they are just completely checked out.

You figure out little tactics that help, and it varies from class to class.  For example, in one class I have started giving directions just one time and then I immediately start counting.  I then write the number of seconds it took for every child to do what I said, whether it was “quiet please!” or “everyone; stand, please!”, on the board.  This saves my sanity in that I only have to say it once, and the students respond more to pressure from one another to do what I said than they do to me constantly saying the same thing.  They then want to get the number I wrote on the board lower and lower every time—so following directions becomes a game.  However, I also know that this tactic would not work even the slightest bit in other classes I teach.

Another class responds well to a “game o’meter” (copyright Jacob Geller 2015 :-)) drawn on the board, that starts off class full.  If they are misbehaving during the (already limited) presentation, I will erase part of the meter so the “game levels” begin to drop.  The students in one class really, really want to play the game (which is actually the learning activity for the lesson anyway…but they don’t need to know that ;-)) so this class responds really well to this tactic.

Another tactic I stole from Jake is to assign points in the game for various behaviors.  This has worked tremendously well for one very competitive, usually very rowdy class in particular.  If the team answers the question correctly they get one point, but if everyone on the team was sitting—bonus 5 points!  If no one spoke Thai and they only discussed the answer in English—another bonus 5 points! If everyone on the team was quiet (other than discussing the answer)—more bonus 5 points!  This tactic had almost magical child-behaving powers, and made a normally very loud class all sit quietly in their seats and speak English throughout an entire 50 minute class.  This works for them because they are very competitive and love team review games.  In another class this wouldn’t work at all because for that other class the points don’t really matter, and whoever wins or loses this game doesn’t matter, and they would rather just play with their slime and robots.

So you find what works for each individual class. 

You also learn which battles to fight, and which to let go.  If it will take 10 minutes and all of your energy and attention to convince one child to give up a toy, or to sit in their seat—it’s not worth the time or the effort and it will affect everyone else’s learning for 1/5 of the lesson.

Sometimes kids sitting on the floor are actually the most engaged students in the room.  They are actually looking up at me, the teacher; answering questions; and getting excited to show me what they know.  So why waste time trying to get them to go back to their seat where they will be less engaged, and pay less attention?  To have some semblance of a typical Western classroom where all of the students sit at their desks?  It’s a battle not worth fighting, at least for me, in certain classes.  In other classes though, if I let that slide, then that child, and everyone around him, would be completely disengaged for the entire lesson—then it becomes a battle worth fighting.

One student with special needs will roam around the room, building various objects, but I know he will listen and respond if I call on him throughout the lesson.  So even if he is not modeling and drilling like the other students; or looking at me, or the board; I can ask him questions throughout the class and he still learns as well as everyone else who is sitting at their desks and looking at the board.  Again, another battle not worth fighting, because he is still learning, as is everyone else.

You will get to know your class and how they all interact in order to figure out what is worth fighting, and what is worth letting slide and just moving on.

Teaching in Thailand is definitely much more difficult than a TEFL course advertisement with a picture of a 20-something relaxing in a hammock on the beach may lead you to believe (I’ve seen a number of those on Facebook, and they make me laugh). But the students (at least the ones I teach!) are incredibly sweet, wonderful little people.  More to come on teaching in a Thai school, and my students in general, very soon.

How does this compare to your experience?  Do you have any tips for me or other teachers who struggle with mixed level classes or behavior issues? Leave a comment below!

Penang, Malaysia: Monkey Beach

I knew next to nothing about Penang, Malaysia before Jake and I were told by EFL (the language school that handles our visa and work permit, and the same school where we took our TEFL course) that we would go there to get our Thai visa.

We found out that our paperwork was ready just 3 days before our visa expired, so we very quickly planned a trip to leave Thailand 2 days later.  The last minute planning and surprise destination resulted in a great mini-vacation, and we ended up really enjoying our time in Penang.

penang map
Penang is a state on the northwest coast of peninsular Malaysia
Penang, Malaysia

Other bloggers have covered travel, accommodation, and things to do in Penang pretty extensively, but the next few posts are some long overdue highlights from our 3 day visit over Thanksgiving 2015.

Motorbike ride along the coast and Monkey Beach

Monkey Beach is a small beach in Penang National Park in the North-West corner of Penang Island.

We took a very scenic 30 minute motorbike ride from our hotel the Kimberley House, along the coast, to the entrance to Penang National Park.

From the entrance you can either do an hour and a half long hike, or take a boat to get to Monkey Beach.  If we had had more time and worn better footwear,  we would have wanted to explore more of the National Park; but we arrived in the mid-afternoon wearing sandals, so we decided to take a boat over to the beach.  There are a number of small stands at the entrance offering tours and boat rides.  I can’t remember how much we paid, but I believe the boat ride to Monkey Beach is usually about 50RM (~$11USD).

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walking out to the boat
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Boat ride to Monkey Beach: enjoying the ocean for the first time since moving to SE Asia 3 months before

The beach itself is small and relaxing with very clear, beautiful water.   Since Malaysia is a majority Muslim country (61% of the population in Malaysia overall, and 45% of the population in Penang are Muslim), we felt a little uncomfortable spending too much time in our bathing suits.  From what I’ve read, if you go to a hotel pool or touristy beach where there are lots of foreigners, bikinis are the norm.  In general, bikinis and bathing suits are fine at the beaches in Penang, but when we visited Monkey Beach the only other visitors were Malay who swam fully covered from head to toe.

I did wear my bathing suit to go swimming and the water was very warm and surprisingly easy to float in.  However, I spent the majority of my time on the beach, in a t-shirt and long shorts, and felt completely comfortable.

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Monkey Beach is named for the crab-eating macaque that live there.  Within a few minutes of our arrival the macaque emerged from the trees to roam the sand and try to eat our food.  

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Despite their name, the macaque do not eat crabs and instead eat mostly fruits, seeds, and a variety of plants and animals.  They are amazing to see up close, but after some time spent monkey-viewing I felt like I couldn’t relax on the beach too much, or else the macaque would steal our stuff!  

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Many macaque, especially those that live in places like Monkey Beach, are not afraid of humans at all. They steal food both from garbage cans and directly from people.  One study found that 14% of the macaque’s diet came from food provided by humans.  I was a little afraid of some of them, and did surrender Jake’s backpack to a sneaky macaque at one point, but Jake had no problem getting it back.

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My favorite was the infant macaque latched onto his mother’s stomach.

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At low tide the beach was covered in sand dollars and some of the fastest moving snails I’ve ever seen.

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Jake learned that sand dollars are a thing for the very first time (how has he never heard of a sand dollar?!).

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Monkey Beach is a great place to relax and read a book in a hammock or on one of the lounge chairs (find a spot away from the monkeys!), see some macaque up close, and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

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Have you visited Monkey Beach in Penang? Would you like to?
More about Penang coming soon!

National Children’s Day 2016

National Children’s Day is a day to celebrate children, recognize their importance in Thai society, and most importantly, to have lots and lots of fun!

National Children’s Day is held every year on the second Saturday in January.  Although not technically a national holiday, the day is celebrated throughout Thailand.  Businesses put on events with games and activities (magic shows, contests, workshops, parades, etc.); and many zoos, museums, and other attractions offer free admission to children.

Many government offices, which are usually not open to the public, are open on Children’s Day for children and their family to visit.  Children can take a guided tour of the Government House (office of the Prime Minister and other cabinet ministers–similar to visiting the White House in the US), and this year the Government House lawn was turned into a dinosaur theme park.  The Royal Thai Air Force puts on an air show and allows children to explore the aircrafts up close.

One temple in Nonthaburi even installed a number of large replica characters from comic books, movies, and literature.

There is clearly a lot going on to celebrate being a child in Thailand.

Every year the Prime Minister  announces a motto for Children’s Day. This year’s motto was:

เด็กดี หมั่นเพียร เรียนรู้ สู่อนาคต

“Good children are diligent and crave for learning, for a bright future.”

Since Children’s Day falls on a Saturday, our school celebrated by having a big party on Friday afternoon.

The P5 students organized the games, and the P6 students were in charge of the gift swap.  Every student and teacher brought in a wrapped gift (worth at least 50 baht,or ~$1.50) that could be for anyone at the party (students aged 1-12, teachers, or parents).  Jake and I settled on some really beautiful, decorative notebooks since a notebook is age appropriate for just about anyone, and our students are drawing every chance they get.

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The P6 students numbered every gift and made a  chandelier with hanging paper hearts.  At some point during the party everyone picked a heart, and the number inside determined which gift we received.

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Gift swap

One of the P3 students traded her original gift for my notebook, and ran over to show me how excited she was.  Jake got a Mickey Mouse pencil case, and I got some sort of Thai educational computer game–both were clearly intended for Thai children.

The most interesting part of this party though, were the games.  There were games planned for every single grade, from nursery 1 (1-2 year old babies) all the way up to P6 (11-12 year olds), and every single one was extremely entertaining.

Nursery 1 had what I am calling “baby races”.  One to two year olds “raced” across the yard–guided mostly by the older students and teachers.

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Lining up the babies…

Inevitably this results in one child racing towards the finish line; a few children taking a few careful steps forward and then either freezing in fear, or backing up slowly; and the rest running off in every possible direction other than towards the finish line.

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baby race chaos

Nursery 2’s game (2-3 year olds) involved picking up various balloons and putting them in colorful, plastic bins–essentially cleaning up.  They also needed quite a bit of help.

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Kindergarten 1 (K1) had an actual eating contest.   The 3-4 year olds stuffed their faces to see who could finish their snack bar the fastest.  This was hilarious, and it took the foreign teachers a few minutes to figure out exactly what was going on.

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The next Takeru Kobayashi and Joey Chestnut

K2 and K3 students (4-5 year olds and 5-6 year olds respectively) played musical chairs.

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This round of musical chairs was very successful in that their was only one crying incident, and the tears stopped immediately once she received her prize.

Prathom 1 (also called Primary 1, P1, or 1st grade) raced across the yard to scoop up water from a bin, carry it back to the start, and see which team could fill up their water bottle the fastest.

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The P2 students (2nd grade) each wrapped a balloon around their ankle and tried to pop each other’s balloon with their feet.  The last one with their balloon still intact wins!

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The 2nd graders who play football (soccer) every day after school were the best at this game

P3 and P4 had some sort of flour-blowing race.  The students lined up (girls first, then boys), raced across the yard, and then competed to see who could blow all of the flour off of a paper plate the fastest.  This results in a huge cloud of flour, and flour all over the face and hair of everyone participating.

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Lining up. The P4 boys are very competitive.
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Flour-blowing in action
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Who finished?

P5 students MC’ed the event and helped organize and set up all of the games throughout the party–so I guess that’s why they didn’t have their own game.

Finally, P6 competed in limbo, where the girls were way better than the boys.

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Every student received a gift after playing the game, plus their gift swap gift, and then additional gifts were given out throughout the party as well.  So every child left with their arms overflowing in presents.

Everyone seemed to have a wonderful time, myself included.

How did you celebrate National Children’s Day?  If you’re not in Thailand, does your country have a similar holiday?  Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Christmas in NY, New Years in Bangkok

With my re-entry permit freshly stamped in my passport, I flew to New York on 12/23 in order to spend Christmas Eve with my mom’s side of the family, and Christmas day with my dad’s side, just like I have in years past.  It was wonderful to see my parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends after being out of the country for the last 4 months.

Lunch with my mom and sister
The Santomauro’s on Christmas Day!

After a relaxing 6 days in New York, I flew to Bangkok where I met Jake for New Years Eve.

New York to Shanghai, 7 hour layover, then Shanghai to Bangkok for a 27 hour trip. Better than the 3 flights and 36 hours it took me to get from Chiang Mai to New Jersey on the way there!

We spent the night at the Grand Swiss Hotel in Sukhumvit, a popular Bangkok district known for shopping, restaurants, and nightlife.  The guesthouses we usually stay in in Thailand have all been very cute, clean, and have everything we could need; but the Grand Swiss is pretty luxurious by comparison which was really nice for New Years Eve.

After getting ready for our night out in the city, we started off at 180° Lounge on the top floor of our hotel.  The 180° Lounge has a little roof-top bar where we sat overlooking the city.

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180° views of Bangkok

After enjoying the view and our buy one-get one 50% off cocktails, we decided to hit the streets of Bangkok.

Bangkok had a number of things going on for New Years Eve.  We decided to avoid the crowds at CentralWorld (similar to Times Square in New York City where there were thousands of people, live bands and DJs, a beer garden, fireworks, etc.) and instead go to one of the many rooftop bars Bangkok is known for.

We wandered the streets for a bit and quickly found the countdown party at Aloft Bangkok‘s Splash pool bar.  For a set price of 899 baht ($25) we get entrance to a rooftop pool party with unlimited food and drinks until 1am.  This is extremely cheap by US standards (especially for all you can eat and drink on New Years Eve!), but pretty pricey for our typical budget here in Thailand.  We normally spend about $1-2 per meal or drink, maybe $7 per day at most if we eat western food.  However, we decided it was worth it and bought two tickets.

A “pool party” was a bit of an overstatement.  There was a pool, but no one was in it.  This party had much more of a chill, lounge atmosphere with bean bag chairs scattered all over the roof.   We arrived about 30 minutes after the party had started so all of the prime bean bag real estate was already claimed, but this actually worked out better for us as it kept us moving around and mingling after each trip to the barbeque or the bar.

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DJ Zaar about to start the party

The best part of the party was the excellent people watching.  The relaxed atmosphere, mixed with an all you can eat and drink rooftop bar, drew a very interesting crowd.  We witnessed groups of Thai 20-somethings, very drunk foreigners, families complete with pre-school aged children (including a little girl in a princess costume who I think had more fun twirling around the roof than anyone else at the party), bored foreigners falling asleep in the beanbag chairs, and 60+ year old couples, all at the same party.

Jake and I had a great time commentating on the crowd, eating an endless supply of kebabs from the barbecue, and drinking bottomless  cocktails, wine, and champagne by the pool.
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Our one-night stay in Bangkok was a nice way to end a year where we moved across the world, and started entirely new careers.  I am definitely looking forward to seeing what this next year in Thailand has to offer.  We have lots of exciting plans underway,so follow my blog to get all of the updates :-).

Happy New Year!

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How to get a Re-Entry Permit in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Just four days before Christmas, Jake and I came up with a plan where I would fly to New York to spend Christmas with my family, while he would go off on a motorbike adventure down to and around Bangkok.  I bought my plane tickets on Sunday, and on Monday morning I went to get my re-entry permit.

No matter what Thai visa you have, once you leave the country (without first getting a re-entry permit) you forfeit your visa, regardless of how much time you have left.  I have a non-immigrant B visa valid until the end of February (and will be extended for a year once my work permit is processed).  If I had left the country without first getting a re-entry permit,  my non-Immigrant B visa would have ended.  If I had then arrived back in Thailand without a valid visa, I would have received a 30 day visa exempt stamp, since citizens of G7 countries get 30 days entry to Thailand without a visa.  However, I wouldn’t have been allowed to legally work with the 30 day visa-exempt tourist stamp, and I would have had only 30 days to stay in Thailand!

Luckily, this doesn’t mean that you can never leave the country without forfeiting your visa.   You simply need to get a re-entry permit before leaving.

To get a re-entry permit in Chiang Mai, go to Immigration at Promenada Mall.

Address: 192-193 Moo 2, Tumbon Tasala, Amphur Muang Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai 50000. Immigration is located on the Ground floor in Building A.

Phone: 053-142788

The office is open Monday-Friday, excluding Thai holidays, from 8:30am-4:30pm. However, if you are arriving in the morning, arrive as early as possible and bring something to do while you wait, just in case.

Before opening hours, four lines are set up with long rows of chairs outside of the office—the first line is for extending your visa for an additional 30 days, the next two lines are for 90 day check-ins for various visa types (retirement, medical, non-immigrant, etc.), and the fourth line is for re-entry permits. There is also a cute little coffee shop where you can grab some breakfast and a coffee.

The 90 day check-ins were already lined up all the way down the walkway when I arrived at 7am.  Luckily for me since I was supposed to be proctoring exams at school all morning, there was just one family in front of me in the re-entry permit line.

There is a small office next door to the main Immigration office that opens at 8am to do photocopies and passport photos.  The nice man in front of me saved my spot in line so I could go make my copies at 8am without losing my place.   At about 8:05 the doors to the photo/copy office opened, and people began to rush in forming two lines.  I already had an extra passport photo, but I made a copy of my passport pages (front page and visa page) for 5 baht.

I was able to get everything together before 8:30am, but it’s probably better to come prepared with everything you need.

To get a re-entry permit you need the following:
  1. A completed re-entry permit application (completed in blue or black ink)
  2. Your passport and a valid visa 
  3. Photocopy of the front page and visa page of your passport
  4. One 4cm x 6cm passport photo
  5. 1000 baht (cash only) for a single re-entry, or 3800 baht for multiple re-entry.

Note: If you will leave the country 4 times or more during your current visa, then it pays to get a multiple re-entry permit. Otherwise, get a single re-entry permit each time you will leave.  However, you should also account for the time and money you spend going back and forth to Immigration before every trip with a single re-entry permit.  I will likely leave and re-enter Thailand 2-3 times during my current visa, so I went with the single re-entry permit for now.

Right on time at 8:30, a few Immigration Officers (IO) set up just outside of the main doors in order to begin giving out numbers to those lined up and waiting.  When it was my turn at the table, the IO quickly reviewed my application, checked my passport, asked me to add my phone number to the bottom of the application and sign each page, and then handed me the number 5 and told me to go inside.  The inside of the Immigration office looks like a DMV, or any other typical government office.  I took a seat and waited for my number to be called.

Just like the four lines outside, there are four desks inside of the office that correspond to each of the 4 visa processes they do at this location.  The re-entry permit desk started calling numbers at about 9am, and within a few minutes my number was called.  The IO reviewed my paperwork, asked for the 1000 baht re-entry permit fee, stamped the permit into my passport, and handed me a receipt.  I was on my way by about 9:10am.

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Inside of the Immigration office at Promenada Mall

Please note that with anything visa related, experiences vary tremendously from day-to-day.  In forums, Facebook groups, and blogs you will hear how easy certain visa processes are on one day, and how terrible it goes another day.  It very much depends on the day, in addition to what you are trying to do (for example, if you are doing a 90-day check-in or a visa extension, rather than the less common re-entry permit).  If you are going in the morning when it tends to be very busy, it is probably better to be there as early as possible.

In my experience, by 7am the lines for 90 day check-ins were already extremely long, and they give out only a limited number of appointment spots each day. Sometimes people have to come back to Immigration a few days in a row if they don’t get there early enough and all of the numbers are given out to those ahead of them in line.  Other times, people arrive in the middle of the afternoon and walk in and out without a problem.

Re-entry permits never seem to take more than a few hours, but it’s better to be safe than to mess with your visa!

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Enjoy your international flight!

When you arrive back in Thailand after your trip, you will complete an arrival card as you normally do.  When the arrival card asks for your visa number, be sure to put in your re-entry permit number, not the original visa number.  You can now enter Thailand using the same visa!

Chiang Mai International Half Marathon 2015

On Sunday, 12/20/15 I ran the Chiang Mai International Half Marathon.

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After moving to Thailand in late August, I ran only once or twice during my four week TEFL course and the beginning of my job hunt, so I decided to sign up for a race with just 7 weeks to train as a way to start running again.

In typical fashion, I trained reasonably well (meaning I did all of my long runs, and maybe 2 shorter runs during the week) for the first few weeks.  Then, I went to Penang to get my non-immigrant B visa and didn’t run that entire week, including skipping my long run.  Following Penang, I got sick and was coughing and wheezing which made it hard to breathe normally, so running was off the table.  I did two final long runs (one 9.5 mile run, another for 9 miles) and no other shorter runs or workouts at all, and that was it.  So in short, I had no business trying to run well on race day.

However, this was my first international race and it was in my new neighborhood, so I was pretty excited for the experience.

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Chiang Mai Marathon Expo at Tha Pae Gate

The race had an extremely early start time because of the Thailand heat, even in winter.  The marathon started at 4am and the half marathon (which I was running) started at 5.  My plan was to leave my apartment by 3:45am.

Jake is amazing and woke up in the middle of the night to drive me to the start. The whole drive he discussed how crazy running a race in the middle of the night is…which is probably true.

Half Marathon 12-20-15
4am drop-off

There were no signs at the start to line up by pace, so I started near the back since I was planning on running very slowly.

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Lining up at the crack of dawn

After a leisurely run around the moat to start, I was feeling really relaxed (later on when looking at my splits I was running slower than a 10 minute/mile pace) so at mile 8 I started to pick up my pace–I ran about 9:20/mile for the rest of the race which felt a lot better.  The only problem was my left IT band started aching at about mile 10.  My IT band hasn’t bothered me since this same problem happened at mile 23 of the NYC Marathon in 2013…essentially it acts up when I run a distance more than I should be, given my (lack of) training.  The pain got worse as I continued running, but I kept going at the same pace and finished with my second worse half marathon finish time ever.  However, I ran the whole way (my only real goal for this race), ran very significant negative splits, and finished feeling pretty motivated that I can train to  run well here in Thailand following this race.

My only issue with this race was the lack of mile markers and clocks on the course.  There were no clocks on the course at all, and there were distance markers put out in kilometers, but not consistently.  As an American, I just couldn’t convert kilometers to miles fast enough in my head to see if my GPS watch was accurate (turns out, it was).

Also, it was completely dark until I got to about mile 9.  That was a little strange, and there was one stretch of road where I had to really watch my footing because there were few lights—but it reminded me of the night leg running Reach the Beach New Hampshire  and Ragnar Cape Cod relays with my friends in the states, which I loved.

Otherwise, the course was well marked in that it was easy to follow and I always knew where to go.  Knowing the city probably helped, and the route was a good one.  The half marathon course went around the moat, the Old City, and down Route 121.  The marathon course does the same, but goes further out and back on Route 121 so that runners also run in and around the Royal Flora Ratchaphruek gardens which are very beautiful.

The race swag was also top notch.  I received a nice medal, flashing running lights (again, most, if not all of the race is run while it’s still completely dark out), and a nice running tank—although I was surprised it was a tank and not a short sleeved running shirt considering Thais don’t really show their shoulders, but I guess runners have a culture of their own.

Now that it’s 2016 I’m considering actually training well and running a marathon or half marathon in Phuket in June…but we’ll see :-).