Mission of Burma

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Before moving on to parts Laotian, allow me to expand a bit on our trip (almost) to Burma.

About 2 hours drive (~50km) north of Chiang Rai you’ll find what is known as the Golden Triangle. Named for the being the intersection of Thailand, Burma and Laos and probably for the large amounts of profit made in the areas by heroin traffickers over the last century or so.

Having a weekend off from our brick-making duties, we decided to pop up and see what it was all about. The plan was to pop on Friday afternoon, check into our hotel, see the Friday night market, then get up early Saturday, pop over the border in the morning and tootle about on motorcycles in the afternoon, perhaps popping over to see the nearby Chinese town or some cavey/buddha-ish type stuff.

Pretty much none of this happened.

Before even reaching Chiang Rai from the foundation, we realised we’d forgotten our passports. Not wanting to miss the bus we scratched the idea of entering Burma, figuring we’d just admire it from afar (spoiler: it turned out to neither be that admirable or that far).

Next hitch was finding the hotel. Trusting Google maps to see me straight, I leapt off our tuk-tuk within spitting distance of the pulsing blue dot that indicated it was. In theory. In fact our hotel was about 2km further down the road* (fortunately Mae Sai is almost literally a single road). A soggy hour and some terse conversations about my reliance on technology later, we found the Piaporn hill hotel (not to be confused with the Piaporn Hotel, or the Piaporn Inn, both within a 100m radius), dumped our bags and headed out into the rainy dark to discover that they’d cancelled the night market on account of the weather. So scratch that.

We settled for grabbing something to eat from a roadside stall, hunting for one with a recognisable dish or at least a picture, eventually zeroing in on a place that looked to be making Khao Soy. We did our best Khao Soy impression, reached some kind of agreement with the cook and went to sit down. Not entirely sure that we’d made our order clear, we were at least confident that whatever arrived would be a welcome change from our previous week’s diet of rice and stir-fried vegetables. I think you can see where this is going. It was tasty all the same. 

The next morning saw a continuation of the rain theme, and an accompanying reluctance to head out on motor bikes. Instead we took a stroll through the markets, resplendent with the latest and greatest in Chinese knock-offs, fresh from over the border. We did actually manage to find a passable Khao Soy.

Eventually we wound up at the border itself (probably 200m from our hotel as the crow flies, about 2km via the labyrinthine markets). Given the Burmese junta’s reputation for being a secretive dictatorship, ruling over a closed country with an iron fist, I was expecting something along the lines of barbed wire and guns and stern looking men in uniform scowling at orderly rows of prospective visitors. The actual scene is a lot more informal. You stroll up to one gate, pay your money, get your stamp and walk about 30m across the Mae Sai river. At the other end – another payment, another stamp and you’re in. Granted you aren’t supposed to leave that town, Tachileik, and by all accounts it’s more or less exactly the same as the Thai side (but more so) but you are in Burma. When you’re done having fake Johnny Walker and fake Marlboro’s and fake Nike pitched at you, you turn around and reverse the process, with the customs agents on the Thai side theoretically scrutinising your luggage. The picture is less of a tightly controlled border than of a market with a river down the middle, people streaming across each way for most of the day. About mid way along the bridge you’ll see children leaping into the swift Mae Sai, seemingly letting the current decide which country they’d hop out on. From the restaurant where we ate lunch I could’ve pelted several river facing burmese houses with eggs (should I have felt so inclined) and I throw in the style anachronistically known as ‘like a girl’.

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So yeah, Burma! You can go there if you want. There’s probably not much reason to.

On the bus back to Chiang Rai we crossed several police check-points tasked with stopping the flow of illegal goods and workers into Thailand. This was accomplished by hopping on the bus, poking the nearest bag with a disinterested toe a few times, scanning the collected faces to make sure nobody looked too illegal, grunting and disembarking.

In unrelated news, Thailand is awash with illegal Burmese workers and goods.

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*As an aside I have since had the folks at Google correct this and I demand recognition from you my readers for this selfless act, as nobody else will ever know.

 
 
3 Comments. Leave a comment or send a Trackback.
  1. #1 • The Mystro said on August 14 2012:
     

    Ive read all this and its so good. I love the suffering and the 3am dog vs pig wars, you used the term ‘faction’, good wrestling. Why are using gps maps in the golden triangle? I’m certain Sarah would’ve given you a good berating for that. You know nothing pleases me like your suffering and ‘meditative’ brickwork and the digging and no sleep and your geeky running monitor, all just great BS. The squabbles over the rice paddy rock is gold. Sorry for commenting on the web, I know how you dont like me doing that. Eat more rice, bleed, sweat, itch, shit yaself thats real living… ya missing fucking nothing in Wellis, inspiring, keep it up, im proud of ya. and yes Sarah has to write one too, especially if im the only person reading this …. ?

  2. #2 • admin said on August 16 2012:
     

    Your rants are always welcome in my corner of the internet.

  3. #3 • Leon said on August 26 2012:
     

    Loved watching the people wade across the river (must have ooops accidently forgotten those pesky passports I’m sure they had) when I was there a few years back, ah, and the gun fire at night (twice), oh, and the little trek I attempted on the Burma side till I was politely told that it was not in my best interest to go any further up what I assumed was just a country road to a hilltop. One wag of a finger from an old, toothless woman who probably could have beaten the shit out of me was enough.

    good work Ben

 

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