Joko MacKenna

Getting along with your neighbors

How's the modern day relationship between Thailand and Myanmar?

Two nations. Neighbors. They share so many similarities. From their size and shape: both have clover shaped mainlands with long, southern panhandles; to religion: perhaps the two most Buddhist nations on the planet. Myanmar and Thailand mirror each other in numerous ways.

Despite these similarities, there has been a divide between the two nations that's been one of the biggest chasms in ASEAN.


Given their shared past, their mistrust of one another can be understood. Throughout history, Burmese armies have marched into Siam and wreaked havoc, culminating in the late 18th Century when the Bamar sacked Ayutthaya, ending a Thai dynasty that had lasted 500 years.

Millions of Thais visit the ruins of their former capital every year and remember. Some of them carry a grudge. At the same time, the modern word for "Thailand" in the Burmese language is "ayudya".

In Myanmar, there's some resentment and jealousy over Thailand's economic success over the last 20 years. Back in the 50's, Burma was more prosperous than Thailand. At that time, it wouldn't have seemed likely that Thailand's GDP per capita would be five times that of Myanmar a couple generations later.

Myanmar is Asia's second poorest nation; Thailand is on the verge of being considered a developed country.

Good relations

On the other hand, Myanmar-Thailand relations have never been better. Hundreds of thousands of Thais come to Myanmar every year as tourists, specifically to visit the numerous Buddhist holy sites in the Golden Land.

Unlike their other neighbors of Cambodia and Laos, over which many Thais feel an attitude of superiority, there's a level of respect for Myanmar. From my observations, Thai people have come to recognize that their western neighbor, albeit a historical enemy, is an equal, particular since their levels of democracy have flipped dramatically in the past couple years.

'Migrant workers'

The Myanmar view of Thailand is that of a role model. Myanmar longs for the relative prosperity that Thailand has achieved in the last 20 years. A couple of million Myanmar are in Thailand today, migrant workers doing everything from manual labor to selling T-shirts on Khaosan Road.

Although not the same in numbers, with the arrival of the AEC, professional Thais can come without restriction to Myanmar and bring their expertise to Asia's fastest growing economy. They're needed too.


All in all, the relationship between Thailand and Myanmar is very complicated. In trying to understand it, one can't help but think of comparisons with other pairs of neighboring countries. Japan and Korea? No, their connection has been much more one sided. The USA and Canada? No, they speak the same language.

Seems to me that Thailand and Myanmar are a lot like the UK and France. Centuries of conflict, with eventually, due to economics, one side achieving ascendency. Modern realities have drawn these countries back together. For 125 years, England and France have been true equals and allies. There really isn't any animosity nor prejudice between the peoples of the two lands, which is quite a change from past centuries.

Thailand and Myanmar's relationship is becoming the same way. Lets hope this trend continues as the whole world is better off when neighbors get along.

I also have a YouTube page with lots more stuff about the teaching lifestyle in Myanmar


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