My Rural Placement in Tak, Thailand
By Andrew Cassidy, Greenheart Travel Teacher in Thailand
Tak is a small, conservative town in central Thailand. The city’s “downtown” area could either be designated the market along the Ping River, or the shops that line the side of the highway. Bangkok and Chiang Mai, two of the biggest cities in Thailand, are connected by an approximately 12 hour highway drive. Tak is just about at the halfway point which ensures that people making the journey between north and south Thailand will pass through Tak. People are also familiar with Tak for its celebration of the Loi Krathong festival held each November. All over the country people will release flying lanterns and float flaming coconut shells into rivers as celebrations during this festival. Since Tak sits right on the Ping River, which passes through the town wide and relatively easy flowing, the Loi Krathong festival is a large draw to Tak. The festival spans a week in Tak and this is the time of year to see the biggest crowds shuffling between the markets and live performances.
For the majority of the year Tak is a sleepy town. People wake up early for work, go out to lunch, get off work in the afternoon, and then go to the market or play sports in the evening. Badminton and tennis are very popular for the older population, while students and younger people favor football (soccer) and basketball. Families stick together for dinner and trips to the market. In general, Tak is a very family oriented town. When you sit down to eat, a mother may take your order, while her husband prepares the food, and then their daughter serves you. Family run businesses are the norm. Working Monday through Friday can be an enjoyable for those who appreciate small town routine. Food shops will remember you and your favorite dish. Shop workers that you pass to and from your way to work will recognize you and give a wave each time you pass. It is easy to develop favorites because of this trend. You will have your favorite noodle shop, your favorite pad-thai place, your favorite afternoon market, and so on. If you consistently seek out new restaurants and new hangout spots, Tak is not the ideal location.
A main complaint for Tak is the lack of nightlife. It is understandable that the city goes to sleep at 9pm on the weekdays. What is unfortunate is the lack of change on the weekends. There is a night plaza on the side of the highway with a few bars, but don’t expect much more than sharing beers on a folding table in a parking lot. The night plaza is a place to catch up with friends after a week of work, not necessarily a place to go out and meet people. However, there is one club in Tak with a steady weekend crowd. The Marina club, located inside the Viang Tak hotel, is the most popular nighttime destination for young Tak residents.This is where young people go to drink whiskey and let loose on the weekends. The music alternates between a live band and a DJ. The typical playlist is 5 indistinguishable Thai pop songs followed by an American song from three years ago, repeated over the course of the night. As a farang (foreigner) you stand out in the Marina club, but in a good way. The young people of Tak tend to be curious but also excited that a foreigner is at their club, so they will approach you to dance or talk. The latter is very hard to accomplish from the blaring Thai pop songs as well as the language barrier. Playing charades to communicate is difficult to do in a dark, loud nightclub so dancing tends to dominate the interaction. As a teacher you have to be careful going to the Marina club. If you get too drunk and stumble your way home some one is likely to see you on the road. Word travels fast in a small town and you don’t want to earn the reputation as the drinking and partying teacher. The best bet is to travel on the weekends if you seek adventure and nightlife.
If you choose to stay in Tak on the weekends, or find weekdays with plenty of free time, then getting outside is the thing to do. Since Tak is in a valley surrounded by mountains the air can get extremely hot and still during the middle of the day. Riding a bike to see the surrounding countryside is a great way to get some exercise and see beautiful sights, but be careful of dehydration and heat exhaustion. Riding a bike shortly after sunrise or before sunset is easier on the body, plus it provides great views of the sun rising or falling behind distant mountains and rice paddies. Tak is far from the pollution of Bangkok and the tourist traps of the islands, so genuinely beautiful views of the mountains are plenty.
Overall, Tak is a very friendly and embracing town. As a teacher in Tak you are quickly welcomed into the community and are well respected. The school faculty and student population will always be nearby to chat whenever you are out and about. Tak best serves those who are looking for a quiet, slower paced town outside of the concrete jungle.