What's the potential for an English teacher living up in Mae Sot on the Thai - Myanmar border?
The Lonely Planet guidebook says......?
Mae Sot is a Burmese-Chinese-Karen-Thai trading outpost that has become a small but simmering tourist destination. (That was before the red-shirts took over).
Black-market trade between Myanmar and Thailand is the primary source of local revenue. It has also become the most important jade and gem centre along the border, with most of the trade controlled by Chinese and Indian immigrants from Myanmar. Border skirmishes send thousands of refugees -and the occasional mortar rocket (???!!!) across the Thai-Myanmar border - elements that add to the area's perceived instability.
Maesot has an active nightlife, especially over the weekends. (True). There's a market about 100m from the bridge that legally sells Burmese goods. What it does not say is that under the bridge you can get everything else. Viagra, cigarettes and whiskey by day and much more at night. Cheap too. What it also doesn't say is that this is almost the only shopping you can do in Maesot.
In general, what are the pickings like for an EFL teacher?
The pickings for an English teacher are really slim. There is an oversupply of wannabe teachers in Maesot. Most of them are volunteers working for NGOs. They often stay a couple of months and get food and accommodation.
A salary of over 10,000 baht is considered a luxury. There is plenty of opportunity for private teaching though, but the going rate is a mere 200 baht an hour. You are lucky if you can get more than that. On the upside, there is a big demand for skilled and qualified teachers (real teachers).
While some of the NGO's and other professions stick around, it is not usually the case with teachers.
How far from Bangkok or civilization?
Approximately 420 kilometers from Bangkok. The overnight bus will have you here by five or six in the morning.
Mae Sot is roughly halfway between Bangkok and the commercial capital, Rangoon, (Yangon) but I'm told that the bus to Yangon takes around 8-10 hours from Mae Sot.
What's the place like for nightlife, eating out etc?
We do have TV and KFC, we have TWO cinemas but no MacDonald's. Generally, the food is quite good and very reasonable. We have Indian, Chinese, Thai, Burmese and a couple of places serving Western food.
A large number of volunteers has created a healthy and affordable nightlife in this small town. Places like The Pond, Kungs, Reggae Bar and My Maesod rock till the early hours of the morning and are usually packed on weekends. There is also a nightclub and about half a dozen karaoke bars, mostly frequented by Burmese beauties.
A 500 baht day pass into Burma will get you to a few cheap and nasty places across the border. There are usually five to ten girls hanging around with hardly any customers in sight.
How much to rent a house or basic apartment?
More than you would expect to pay in a tranquil backwater town. The big number of NGO's and other wannabe do-gooders push the prices up. On average it is about 3,000 baht for a one bed apartment (room). A house will cost you about 6,000 baht and top-end will set you back over 10,000 baht.
Shopping malls, department stores?
There is a Tesco, Tesco Express , Robinson life style, Makro, Megahome Hayak and many shopping malls and department stores now.
How is mobile / internet coverage?
Very good. Most apartments have ADSL and most restaurants have wifi.
Will you be stared at? and what's the likelihood of a good beating?
Yes you will be stared at. The locals are very friendly and teachers are truly respected. The big bonus is that we don't get ripped off like in Bangkok and the boys in brown don't pull us over. Apart from the volunteers, we don't see many tourists.
A beating? No. The Thais take their frustrations out on the Burmese and they leave us alone.
Taxis, buses....or horse and cart?
No taxis of course, but plenty of motorcycle taxis and an ancient version of the Tuk-Tuk. Locals use samlor and songteaw, while westerners mostly use bicycles or motorcycles.
Main advantages of living there?
Many. You don't get ripped off, the beer is cheap and there are plenty of farangs around (so you always have someone to talk to) You can go camping and hiking at the weekend and coffee-tasting in the hills.
And what are the downsides?
Everybody knows what you do, where you at and who you are with.
Any local attractions?
The Burmese women. They are so attractive. Honestly, I don't know of any. Mae Sot is surrounded by mountains so you can always see beautiful and stunning nature.
Where's the best place to meet other farangs or are they best avoided?
The best places to meet would undoubtedly be The Reggae bar and The Pond. Reggae bar has a live band that plays excellent music.
Where to avoid: I'd say the bridge on the border after dark, unless you need to buy some stuff to impress your new-found lover.