KOH TAO: Xenophobia, and an Angry Fat Burmese Woman

“You walk alone, you watch out. I send someone. Someone will come for you! Stupid girl!”

Stunned, you drop the iPhone 5 charger onto the floor and back out of the shop. The Burmese manager of your apartment had tried to give it to you in exchange for the memory cards, earphones, and other miscellaneous items that had been stolen from your room. When you hadn’t accepted it, she had thrown it into your face and shoved you, playground style. You don’t even have an iPhone 5.

“Be careful alone, nah!” She calls out again as you leave. You can hear her continue to rage in Burmese to another woman in her shop, and you try to decide whether this overweight harpy with Thanaka face-paint half sweated off is a legitimate threat to you.

Probably not. She’s angry because you’re a rich falang and have no idea what it’s like being a Burmese migrant worker in Thailand, knowing all the time that you are disposable and that the locals hate you. The loss of those small, material objects are nothing to you- a young person who is affluent enough to fly halfway across the world to visit temples and go diving.

There is a long-standing hatred for the Burmese that burns low and discreetly, stemming from historical animosity over invasions in the 18th century and consistently negative media portrayals of Myanmar and its people. You recounted your experience to both Thai friends and the police, and both had the same instant reaction: well of course, she was Burmese. The police officer even promised to try and get her deported without any evidence that she had actually committed the crime.

Most bottom-of-the-rung positions (kitchen staff, cleaners, maids, receptionists) are filled by the Burmese. They’re cheap, speak relatively good English, and have little to no rights in Thailand- the perfect unskilled labourer. If you follow the local news, you’ll start seeing that the perpetrators and suspects are disproportionately Burmese, and the subtle contempt with which ordinary Thais regard them is unnerving.

You saw the fat Burmese woman again several times. So far, no-one has come along to hurt you.

If you’re curious, you can read a more in-depth explanation of Thai-Burmese relations by clicking here.


  1. A wonderfully described, and very informative, little slice of life. I had no idea about the Burmese in Thailand. Ahhh, it’s the same the whole world over I suppose. Every society seems to create slaves and scapegoats at the bottom. Sad. No wonder she’s angry – fear can do that.

    • Even more relevant now that the trial of the two Burmese men accused of the murder of the two British backpackers is still ongoing. It’s not acceptable to believe a Thai person could commit any crime, let alone a violent double murder.

      The floods in Burma were hardly covered on the Thai news too. I only found out by checking BBC.

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