What turns you on...beach or city? If you want to have a beach, go to some place like Phuket where you can go to a different beach every night, just to walk around and enjoy the atmosphere. I also worked in places like Singapore, Bangkok, and Ho Chi Minh where you can walk around every night to the throbbing pulse of city life. You can eat dinner on the street, where they practically pay you to eat their food, to wandering around city streets teeming with street activity which includes watching a volleyball or kicking game under the lights, dancing at the Olympic Stadium every night in Phnom Penh, the nightclubs of district one in Ho Chi Minh or the massage parlours of Bangkok...or do you just prefer rural life which you can find all over south east Asia which is undoubtedly a different experience.
If you choose a rural existence, you will have to learn the language. I did learn the alphabet in Thai but that was about it. Because of the six tones, it was impossible for me to say anything that resembled anything Thais could understand. At least in Vietnam they use the Roman alphabet, but in my experience, make no effort to try to understand anything you are saying, even in District One, which is full of tourists. They speak more English in Yangon, Myanmar than Vietnam. Of course, if you want to just speak English, go to work in Singapore or the Philippines, although you might not recognize the English they are speaking in either country. The Singaporean janitor used to ask me every night whether he wanted me to have him "off the lights" in my office and you certainly have to get used to the Filipino accent, especially in the south.
Hey, pretty nice choices to make, right?
How about how you feel about your work? Clearly, if you want to feel good about helping other people, I would choose Myanmar, especially now under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi. I was here when she was still under house arrest and they had the rule of the generals and the country was clearly repressed in every way, from talking about politics on the street or even travelling where you wanted, which would be out of the question.
The other country where you can really do some good, especially if you are a bit older, is Cambodia. Most of the older intellectuals like teachers were all killed by the Khmer Rouge, so the leadership of the country now is around 40 years old. They really need and are looking for people who are older and have the experience of people who might be their grandparent's age.
If you teach somewhere like Singapore, I often feel you might have well have stayed home, since they have such a modern amenities and well equipped schools. Do they really need foreign teachers?
I felt the food in Myanmar had a very Indian flavour to it and you could go to any corner restaurant and eat with your fingers with plenty of towels provided to wipe yourself clean. I never quite got used to that . if you fancy a Western meal with a knife and fork you can always go to a western hotel for a meal. Of course, you can do the same thing in Phnom Penh but you can always get good and wholesome food down by the river. When I was in China, by the way, if I could not figure out how to eat with chop sticks I would have starved to death because I did not see a knife or fork anywhere.
The best food, in my opinion, where there is the best value for money and good taste, is Thailand. They have a unique taste because they mix the four flavours westerners are not used to. No matter where you are in Thailand, you can always have a good meal, although don't expect to be served in the order you might expect in the west. If the soup is made last, it will be served last, and the fish is served whole. The first time I went to a restaurant and asked the waiter t take the fish back and fillet it, I saw all of the chefs laughing at me. They had never heard of anything so silly. You can also get any kind of food you desire in cities like Chiang Mai or Bangkok which have so much variety.
You do have some personal questions to ask yourself about what kind of experience you are looking for and whatever the answer to that, you can certainly find it in south east Asia. I invite you to write in with your experiences and I will post them here if you do. Again, thanks for reading my blog and I do hope it is useful to you.