Thai Language and Culture Certificate at Chiang Mai University

Information on One-Year Education Visas

Application Process (Level 1 Thai Language)

I consider travel to be the greatest form of education. Having lived in Thailand for 6 months, I applied to study Thai language on an Education Visa at Chiang Mai University starting in May 2019. In January 2019. I collected documentation from the University before commencing a period of travel in Cambodia and Vietnam. Subsequently I returned to the U.K. to submit this at the Royal Thai embassy in London. The process at the embassy was really efficient, I spent around 30 minutes there on both days. Note the opening times and application details as follows:

  • The embassy opens Monday-Friday from 9.00-12.30 and 14.00-17.00.
  • Apply for your visa between the times of 9.00 and 12.30 on your first visit.
  • Collect your passport with visa inside the next day between the times of 14.00 and 17.00.
  • Bring £50 consular fee, your documentation, a criminal record check and passport (including photocopies of these). Use the following link for a reliable and inexpensive criminal record check: https://www.gov.uk/request-copy-criminal-record

*Information accurate as of January 2020. The process has since changed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. See updated information in the post: Quarantine Hotel – the full story of returning to Thailand.

Course Cost and Structure

The cost for the visa is 35000฿ (£870) which you pay in advance or when commencing study. You can make the payment in installments, I paid half prior to leaving for the U.K. and the remainder when returning. The visa entitles you to 216 teaching hours split into two sessions per week, mine being on Tuesdays and Thursdays 4-7pm. The classes are at the Language Institute in the main University campus. Meanwhile, there are three individual mid-term breaks (1 month each) and some Buddhist holidays where you are not required to study. I continued to study independently during these periods and could optionally request extra ‘homework’.

Thai Language Course Chronology: May 2019 – May 2020

On commencement of the Thai language program there were five students, yet by September the number reduced to two. In February 2019, the other lady I studied with opted to return home to South Korea so I received personal tuition. Further, my teacher was likable and easy going, meaning studying didn’t feel unnecessarily pressured. From March until the end of the course the classes took the form of Zoom calls due to Covid-19. Certainly this was strange, though due to the patience and flexibility of my teacher there was minimal disruption to my learning. Additionally, my teacher kindly offered to continue Zoom tuition for a month after my visa expired. Below are some of the activities that we engaged in alongside classroom learning.

One Craft, One Gold Exhibition

Interesting exhibits on display in the Social Research Building.

In October there was an art and craft exhibition, named One Craft, One Gold, in the nearby Social Research Institute. During a class break, we had a look around the exhibition which showcased an array of regional artefacts and hand crafts. The experience was fascinating, increasing my knowledge on Lanna culture and both the general and northern Thai languages. In addition, Chiang Mai University has a reputation for innovation and community development. Certainly this was evident in it’s support of local exhibits, some of which I’ve included in the photos.

Preparing Yam Wunsen (ยําวุ้นเส้น)- a spicy noodle salad

Preparing ingredients for Yam Wunsen.

Food is a substantial part of Thai culture and I find this relationship really interesting. Thailand has an incredible variety of food and the availability and affordability amazes me to this day. One of these is the spicy noodle salad Yam Wunsen, which we prepared in a lesson just before Christmas. I had previously tried the dish, yet producing it was enjoyable and assisted my understanding of creating flavour with certain ingredients.

See this simple method for making Yam Wunsen and the list of ingredients we used are as follows:

  • Vermicelli (dried glass) noodles.
  • The meat/seafood can be Vietnamese sausage, pork mince, chicken or shrimp – all are tasty. The vegetarian option using egg/fried tofu or tempeh is also delicious.
  • Tomato – cut into wedges.
  • Red onion and spring onion – finely chopped.
  • Chinese or regular celery – inner stalks and leaves.
  • Cilantro or coriander – chopped.
  • Chilli – finely chopped.
  • Juice of a lime or two.
  • Brown or granulated sugar.
  • Thai fish sauce.
  • Oil for cooking.

Local Market – Kad Fai Hin (กาดฝายหิน)

Kad Fai Hin, a daily market from 4pm, is located in the main campus, a few minutes from the Language Institute. Our teacher drove us here one Thursday in the last hour of our study time. The vendors mostly sold food and drink and being able to order in the Thai language is always satisfying. Further, several stalls sold northern Thai food, some of which I had not sampled. Once we had examined the offerings we each selected dishes to share and chatted in Thai for additional practice.

Flower, Candle and Incense Arrangement

Arranging candles, incense sticks and flowers to place inside the cone shaped banana leaf we made.

When people visit temples, particularly during festivals, placing flowers, candles and incense inside banana leaf is important in merit making. Buddhists consider this a way of overcoming selfishness and calming the mind in preparation for practicing virtue. I had participated in the offering at Wat Thep Phithak in Korat Province, though the materials were ready made. Meanwhile, you contribute 20 baht towards the materials which is another ‘offering’. I find acknowledgment of the Buddha profound and insightful, contributing meditation in tranquil temples.

Thai Language reflections and additional mentions

I recommend the Level 1 course as it provides opportunity to learn about Thai language and customs, in addition to a visa. Likewise, integrating yourself in the language increases the respect you earn from natives as well as being beneficial personally. The variety of activities I mention supplemented my knowledge of Thai culture and traditions. Finally, I involved myself with Chiang Mai University promotional videos. The first was filmed at the Language Institute, along with other students, for the website. My teacher also requested I create a video, in English, discussing my feelings about online tuition. I filmed this from the resort I stayed at in Chiang Dao, with the backdrop of Doi Chiang Dao.

Vientiane, Laos – visiting a South East Asian neighbour

A ‘visa run’ to Laos’ Capital, Vientiane

I keenly anticipated a trip to Vientiane, Laos to apply for another Thai visa. Fortunately, I am able to work remotely due to the flexibility of teaching online. I’ve wanted to explore certain places in Laos given that I live in neighbouring Thailand. In addition I have learnt that Lao culture is fairly similar to Thai culture. On this occasion I only visited Vientiane but there were plenty of interesting sights.

Walking past the Patuxay Monument.

Route from Chiang Mai

I took the slightly cheaper option of the night bus from Chiang Mai to Nong Khai. Nong Khai is on the Eastern Thai border with Laos. The ‘Friendship Bridge’ over the Mekong River separates the countries. I booked the bus in advance by translating the Green Bus website, I recommend doing this to ensure a seat. Although the journey was 13 hours, the ticket included a snack bag with Thai tea, biscuits, crisps and pastries. I pre-booked a seat which happened to be one of few that reclined into a bed. This might seem a small perk but the comfort was much appreciated.

Laos flags flying along the Mekong riverfront.

Crossing the Friendship Bridge was one of the most fascinating experiences I’ve had in South East Asia. Travelling over the vast Mekong River was pretty memorable. Once clearing immigration on the Thai side, a bus takes you over the bridge. I arrived in Laos to a plethora of tuk tuk, taxi and minivan drivers. I took a Taxi with some Czech tourists into Vientiane and got out near the Thai Embassy.

VISA NOTE: At the Embassy there were many others applying for visas so arrive as early as you can.

Experiences in Vientiane

Laos vs Vietnam Suzuki Cup football match.

In the afternoon I worked at a cafe as the weather was extremely humid for walking. My initial evening plan was to sample Laotian food along the riverfront. However, at my hostel, I chatted with Joseph who was travelling through South East Asia on a 3 month tour. He asked if I would like to join him for a football match at the National Stadium. Immediately keen, we discussed transport options and decided to take a taxi 15km to the stadium. On arrival there was a cocophony of noise from fans, the majority from opponents Vietnam. Tickets were available from Laotian and Vietnamese fans outside the ground, yet our Lao and Vietnamese language was limited. Luckily, we found a couple of guys that spoke enough English to understand and we purchased two tickets.

The Lao Presidential Palace.

The next morning, I visited some stunning temples and walked along riverside before collecting my Visa. At the embassy. a couple asked my advice regarding transport to the Bridge. They were also collecting Thai tourist visas. I offered to travel back to Nong Khai with them as they were taking the night bus to Chiang Mai. Overall, the Laos trip was an amazing experience and I plan to visit Vientiane again in the near future. By then, I hope to speak Thai more fluently, useful in Laos due to the similar dialect of the languages.

That Luang Tai Temple.

The Friendship Bridge – crossing the Thai-Myanmar border

Receiving a Visa extension at the Friendship Bridge

I journeyed from Chiang Mai to the Thailand-Myanmar border for a Thai Visa extension in May 2018. This constituted an 8 hour-round trip, nevertheless, this was worthwhile as the experiences were so interesting. On departure from the bus station, I met a Burmese woman and Thai man travelling on my route. The bus weaved north through Chiang Rai province, encompassed by vast areas of dense rainforest. Reaching Mae Sai, I needed to take a Songthaew the few kilometres to the border. My new companions and I then had time to explore the sublime Wat Phra That Doi Wao. Afterwards we had lunch at a restaurant right on the river that divides the countries. We then crossed the adjacent ‘Friendship Bridge’ and entered Tachileik.

Making friendships at the Mae Sai-Tachileik land crossing.

Visa Details, Myanmar and Thailand

While waiting for approval on your Visa extension, non ASEAN citizens are Visa exempt for the local parameter of Tachileik. Though, the condition is made clear that you must return to Thailand by the end of the day. Completing this border run provides 30 additional days in Thailand, a convenient and cheap option if located in Chiang Mai. At the time of writing you can only do two of these per calendar year and they cost 500 baht.

Tachileik from Wat Phra That Doi Wao. The views from the temple were splendid.

Tachileik experiences and return to Chiang Mai

I took a Tuk Tuk ride from the bridge into Tachileik with the Burmese woman and Thai man. We visited her family home where I was invited to try Burmese dishes. Sadly I’d already had a Thai-Burmese lunch so politely declined. Later, a family member scooted me to the bridge so I could catch my return bus. A word of warning, Burmese time is 30 minutes behind Thai time so bear this in mind. I arrived back in Chiang Mai at 9pm – with planning the process is achievable in a day. In addition to the Visa, I viewed the trip as a chance to sample Burmese life, albeit briefly.

Kuala Lumpur – the culturally diverse Malaysian Capital

An insight into Malaysia’s largest city

I travelled to Kuala Lumpur in July 2018, for my first Visa Run, thinking the trip would be a little tedious. With hindsight I was wrong to assume this and thoroughly enjoyed another new country. Landing at 10pm I sensed immediate excitement, the opposite feeling upon leaving Chiang Mai. KL airport is about a 50 minute bus trip from the city, something to consider when choosing flights. Also see: my subsequent Visa Run to Vientiane, Laos.

Photographed by Chinese tourists in front of the Petronas Towers, the tallest twin towers in the world.

Visa Details, Royal Thai Embassy

Check if pre booking an appointment is necessary and if there are public holidays affecting opening. Also, consider that application and collection times may differ. When I visited the process was: apply in the morning and collect in the afternoon on date requested. Leave yourself enough time in Kuala Lumpur for your visa to be processed. The above information is correct as of January 2020.

Bukit Bintang

I booked into a hostel for the first two nights in the central Bukit Bintang. The Embassy, Petronas Towers, cafes, restaurants and night markets were within walking distance. Yet I recommend taking the metro to the Embassy as the heat in July was intense. Comically speaking, I was overcharged when purchasing a SIM card with 12GB of data on my first day. The deal seemed reasonable, however I hadn’t accurately grasped the Ringgit-Baht conversion.

Sri Mahamariamman Hindu Temple, Chinatown.

Chinatown Quarter, Central Kuala Lumpur

I moved hostels for the remaining nights and booked a small room. Although low cost, the hostel had atmosphere and a great roof terrace. Furthermore, the terrace contained comfy seating and hammocks and offered views of KL. After eating locally I spent evenings meeting new people including friendly locals who frequented the hostel. The World Cup was almost at conclusion so I watched matches with others. Overall, Chinatown was really interesting, comprising diverse food, culture and temples. Nearby places I visited included the central market and square, KL Eco Tower and the Botanical Gardens.

Final Days and Overall Thoughts on Kuala Lumpur

My final day was spent visiting the Batu Caves, 12km north of KL (I took Grab Taxi there and back). To reach the caves, there are about 300 steps before which lies a commanding statue of Lord Murugan. The Batu Caves are home to one of the most popular Tamil shrines outside India, dedicated to Lord Murugan. Inside one of the main caves there are ornate Hindu shrines as well as other cave temples. On the way down I met many Macaque Monkeys darting the steps and railings, quite a sight.

Lord Murugan Golden Statue, Batu Caves.

Before flying back to Chiang Mai, I visited the Sri Mahamariamman, Guan Di and Sin Sze Si Ya Chinese temples. The visit to Kuala Lumpur exceeded my expectations as regards sites of interest, food and culture. I feel that Kuala Lumpur would be a very livable and affordable city to work remotely.