Joko MacKenna

Comparing Myanmar to Thailand

What are the differences for an English teacher?

Greetings from the Golden Land, Thailand's next door neighbor and one of the most interesting places in the world to be an NES English teacher, Myanmar. A little bit larger than Thailand, but with a few million people fewer than the LOS, Myanmar and Thailand are not only similar in many ways, but also have been connected by history and proximity for centuries.

Nowadays, the two countries are connected by not only island murder mysteries, but also investment and millions of immigrants working as either laborers or in tourism jobs requiring decent English skills (the overall English-speaking abilities in this country are superior) in the more wealthy eastern neighbor. In addition, more than a handful of NES teachers are moving west to contribute to one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

Who knows? You, an reader, may be considering such a move yourself. I've only been here eight months, and before this, I was an ajarn in Thailand. I'm at a point where I can still remember the place I left whilst also knowing enough about this new place so that I can create this list I share with you now:


1. Pay. I'll preface this by saying that there are exponentially fewer job opportunities in Myanmar than Thailand. Government schools here do not hire NES teachers. Only a couple of the big TEFL training center chains have outposts here in Myanmar, and even amongst them, they're only in the capital, Yangon. That said, the schools here pay pretty well. When I came here, I'd only had one year experience teaching in Thailand, and I increased my income by 175%. It's not that easy living here. Perhaps the good pay has to do with 'hazard pay'.

2. The paperwork process working here is a lot easier. There are no work permits required in Myanmar. It's a lot simpler, albeit you're always doing visa runs. You can't even get on a plane to Myanmar without having obtained a tourist visa or showing that you have the proper letters from your employer that they'll give you a job. With such, you can get a business VOA for $50. It's only good for ten weeks, so every 70 days, it's on a plane back to BKK, KL or Singapore for your visa run and a weekend away. If you're considering working here, your potential employer should pay for this, but there's no Ministry of Labor to deal with, no degree requirements and no suspicious looks from the immigration officials.

3. At the moment, there are more political rights in Myanmar than in Thailand. This formerly-known-as-Burma country is thought of in many circles as an oppressive, authoritarian regime. These days, things are moving towards greater freedom and democracy, even though there's still more to do. Thailand has been historically a lot more democratic, and the current regime is transitory, but at least there hasn't been a coup here since 1988.

4. Some Thai products are cheaper here than they are in Thailand. Chang Beer comes to mind, but Thailand exports tons of products to Myanmar annually. A 16oz Chang at the local mini-mart costs 800 Kyats, roughly 26 Baht.

5. This is a cheap place to be an alcoholic. Although the fine publishers here at don't want to perpetuate the stereotype of the TEFL teacher as being a heavy drinker, but English teachers have been known to put away a drink or two. Maybe it's due to the Myanmar people really enjoying an adult beverage themselves, beer and booze are readily available and ridiculously inexpensive. A pint of draft beer at the ubiqutous road-side beer stations will put your back about $.60, ie, 19 Baht. If you're into the harder stuff, a fifth of local whiskey or rum costs less than two US dollars. It's good place to drink yourself to death, if that's your thing.

6. Thai restaurants are the most common foreign cuisine eateries here, so if you really like Thai food, you can get it here everywhere. There are also lots of Chinese food joints, surprisingly few Indian joints (but more than Thailand) and the local cuisine is intriguing and delicious. Your choices of western food are more limited, but just today, things got better. There are no McDonald's, Burger Kings or Subways here, but come 2015, the first KFC will open in Myanmar.

7. Myanmar students learn English more readily than Thai students. There are a variety of reasons for this. First off, the phonemes in their native language more closely resemble English. They have a "TH" sound. They have a real "L" sound. Albeit their language is tonal, it isn't as tonal as Thai. Whereas the written language also does not use the Latin alphabet, but if there are any remnants of their English colonial history, it's a familiarity with English characters. In any case, I think that the ability for a nation as a whole to learn English somewhat depends on how different their native tongue is. Thai is about as far away from English as you can get.

8. Myanmar is a lot more tolerant of individualism than is Thailand. You can see this after five minutes in Yangon. Both young men and women have some pretty crazy hairstyles and colors and although traditional dress remains very conservative, there's a higher percentage of people here who feel free to express their creativity via their outward appearance.

9. The Myanmar language word for Thailand is "Ayudya". 250 years after the last big war between these two countries, remnants of that conflict remain.

10. Myanmar women are more beautiful. Again, I don't want to pander to the negative stereotypes of the TEFL teacher, but it's still true and worth mentioning. For that matter, my female and gay colleagues have had no complaints about the men here either. But as for the women, they tend to be more voluptuous, specifically in the area of gluteus maximus. They have butts.

A couple of my acquaintances from the teacher community in Bangkok have already come here to Myanmar. If you want an authentic SE Asian experience like Thailand was 25 years ago, Myanmar is the place.

I'll close with saying that despite all these nice differences I wrote about above, there are dozens more. Yangon's public transportation is hellish to non-existent. Traffic here is even worse than Bangkok. The roads here are crap. Despite recent advancements, internet access is spotty and usually very slow. If you don't like being stared at, this isn't the place for you. Foreigners are still a novelty here and you get treated like a celebrity wherever you go, with all the downsides that treatment entails.



Hi, I enjoyed your post on teaching. I’ve been In Puerto Rico for the last two years and weathered hurricane Maria in the process. I recently applied and was accepted for an English teacher position in Lashio, Myanmar.
I have always craved our world and if I see much more of it before I die then I’m a happy man! I get into Yangon on the 23rd October. I’m psyched. I love all people and Asia a place that I never thought I would get to visit, let alone work and live there. Do tell me what you know of the north country please. I’m told by the school that creativity and fun in the class will go a long way in my teaching endeavors. I hope so! Please copy my email. I’d like to stay in touch during my stay. Thanks, David.

By David, Philly area. (20th October 2018)

I teach in Cambodia Burma is very similar to here both countries have amazing temples sights etc still much better than Thailand better people with much less tourists and way friendlier people

The novelty of Thailand wore off years ago when mass tourism historic corruption police brutality, fake xenophobic people who only want your money and scores of high profile murders of foreigners became common place, I wouldn't go back there, the bottom line is Thailand is way past it's sell by date.

By Dew HCF, Pnohm Penh (5th June 2018)

Having spent 2 years working at an international school in Yangon, education is at a developing stage and democracy has a long way to go. If you want to spend all your time in bars drinking cheap booze and ignoring the massive poverty and broken down infrastructure around you, this is the place for you. The government does not check credentials or criminal record backgrounds of teacher - a number of whom come with fake qualifications. Rents are very high and some schools stick teachers in a totally dump. Power cuts are still frequent and the rainy season is long. It is kind of the dumping ground for teachers who can't get well-paying jobs in Thailand. Beware of money grabbing owners who are related to military thugs and can get very nasty. Thailand has more freedom than Myanmar.

By Lydia, Thailand (5th July 2017)

Seriously, you think the fact that a KFC is going up is a good thing? These garbage fast food chains from the west ruin the authenticity and the cultural experience! If KFC is so great why not just stay in the West! Pretty soon, because of people like you, who love it when a KFC or McDonalds pops up and ruins the local culture, the whole world will be one westernized, homogenized, corporate ad-infested sess pool where you can't find anywhere on the planet that hasn't been trampled on and ruined by the west!

By Adam, China (8th January 2017)

Hi, how can get a job in yangoon. I'm a Filipino and I want to work in yangoon.

By nick villaruz, philippines (19th February 2016)

Hi, What's the best way to get a job in Yangon? Just fly there or apply online? I want to move there in October. Thanks Liz

By Elizabeth , Vietnam (27th July 2015)

Those of ya whining about the alcohol comment Joko made, get over it. It was obviously in jest. He's giving a breakdown of some things he's seeing there, and YES! I've heard teachers talk about the cost of having a night out when comparing cities and different countries.

Anyone reading this blog is probably responsible enough to make their own decisions on drinking...or are we now a bunch of children?

Thanks for the share Joke, as someone who's looking at different places in the region it's good to hear some of what it's like there =0

By Aaron, Bangkok (26th October 2014)

I taught at the British Council, Yangon for 6 months in 2006. Loved it, got 20 USD/hour = 800 baht back then. Motivated, polite students and the odd government spy in the classroom who made students shut up (just by looking at them) about sensitive topics like democracy. I hope that's changed. Best deal for food is Indian. Friday happy hour in the Strand Hotel, beer 1$. I was one of a handful of non-native speakers at the BC, nice change. Still look back with nostalgia to my stay there.

By Jan Schauseil, Chiang Mai (22nd October 2014)

Chris has a point I am certainly not puritanical but becoming or being an alcoholic is not something to take lightly as it has destroyed millions of lives. Fine if you like cheap alcohol but saying it is cheap place to become an alcoholic is a whole another matter and I feel was said in poor taste.

By Thomas, Bangkok (18th October 2014)

I took Joko's comments about alcohol as informative with some humor sprinkled in. Lighten up Chris Keith. Many if not most expats have a few drinks a couple times a week. No need to be all puritanical.

I enjoyed the comments about Myanmar women. And all the other tidbits.

One of the best blog posts I've read on this site. Well done, Joko.

By UrbanMan, Near an aircon (16th October 2014)

Not appropriate to post on a teaching website the lure of becoming an alcoholic afterwards. Looks strange, but here's hoping that most of the irritation by NES Teachers caused in Thailand wont later be felt in the western ASEAN neighbor as well. And it looks kind of opportunistic that after working in one country, moving to another supposedly "growing economy" is the option when tired of the other one. Teaching is a vocation, not realizing this is a threat to the effect of real education itself.

By Chris Keith, Bangkok (15th October 2014)

Some good points, but I think the thing you have missed is that with the influx of all the recent NGO's and 'Western' companies of all description the rent in Myanmar has been pushed through the roof, at least in Yangon. 1000USD a month is something you should expect to pay for a standard place minus pool, services, reliable electricity etc etc. This far outweighs any salary difference. My advice is go and earn 35,000 living in Baan Nok (rural Thailand) and it'll feel like you have got a 40% pay rise as things such as rent and transport will save you a huge chunk of change. No McDonalds, but if you were willing to move to Myanmar..... Baan Nok might be a good compramise???

By James, Colombo (15th October 2014)

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