Mae Sot and the border to Myanmar
The barbed wire sharpened my awareness to the impending border line which separated Thailand from its neighbouring country Myanmar. Although much disputed, the river marks the actual separation, leaving a rough patch of terrain between the river and wire known to the locals as “no man’s land.” I was kind of hoping to see Steve McQueen enthusiasts going for the jump over the wire, but my action packed thoughts were soon brought down to a surprising reality, as big, wooden boats passed freely between the countries, a mere hundred metres from the official border posts, illegal, yet totally transparent to everyone around. Toiletries; beverages; food; they were all being unloaded, and shipped over to Myanmar in similar fashion, a real eye opener to the daily activities at the border of Mae Sot. I can’t even begin to imagine what happened at night, but I certainly weren’t sticking around to find out.
Hanging around with Wendeth was cool; she had lived there long enough to know good places to eat where I spent a lot of time soaking up her knowledge on the situation at the border regarding refugees and the ongoing conflict across Myanmar. She introduced me to a few of her friends who were helping out in some way or another. Mae Sot is a great place to go if you’re interested in volunteering with Burmese people, or the various ethnic minorities in the area.
Shortly after I’d arrived I was lucky to get the opportunity to visit some of the local private schools with an organisation called Imagine Thailand. They provide the schools with water filters giving them easier access to clean water, and Wendeth and I had been invited to join them on a maintenance visit. The schools were in the middle of no-where, so the kids were really surprised to see us when we turned up. We had lots of laughs and giggles as we showed them some games, and took interest in their day. In return, we got to eat some corn on the cob, and a chance to take some great pictures.
When we weren’t attending salsa classes, or kicking ass at badminton, we were venturing out on the motorbike to climb waterfalls with her daughter whose adventurous spirit will likely lead her on a backpacking journey of her own one day. I wonder where in the world I’ll be by then.
Most evenings we would all meet in a restaurant for a meal which would usually – OK, always – lead to some after dinner drinks. One such evening after all the alcohol had disappeared from our glasses, somebody (me) came up with the ingenious idea to cycle to Seven Eleven to buy some Magnum ice creams – I always crave chocolate late at night, and my mouth watered at the thought of a Magnum Almond. Anyway, Vicky told us that a group of dogs had been harassing her on her way home, which unfortunately passed by the shop. So, being the only man in the group, I armed myself with an empty plastic bottle. We thought it’d be a good idea if we sang all the way to portray confidence, so we did that until we reached the shop, pumping out the likes of “We will survive”. It seemed to have worked as when we arrived there were no dogs in sight.
I decided to dress appropriately for shopping so I slipped on Elizabeth’s new pink bra over my t-shirt. Rather unsurprisingly, no-one blinked an eye; I’m going in naked next time to see how that fares up. Thailand is one of the few countries in the world that is totally accepting of gender changes and differences in sexuality, I’ve no idea why. It’s nice to see people being who they really are instead of hiding away from discrimination.
As we sat outside indulging on our chocolate delights, a group of viscous looking dogs appeared from around the corner. Seriously, I was absolutely shitting myself. We all sat there frozen solid for what seemed like an eternity then they just turned and disappeared. Only when they’d left did I realise that I was still wearing the pink bra. My theory is that they thought I was a ladyboy and got scared – ladyboys will kick your ass if you get on the wrong side of them. I’ve felt the wrath of one already, but that’s a story I’ll leave till another day.
My journey continued south of Mae Sot to the small town of Um Pang. Now normally I don’t like to go back on myself if I’m heading north but I’d been told the five hour trip was the most scenic route in Thailand, and was definitely worthwhile, even considering the multitude of people throwing up left, right, and center from motion sickness.
I popped a tablet for motion sickness, and jumped in the back of the songthaew where I was welcomed by a few tense faces, they knew what was coming! I fired up some progressive house on my MP3 player. “That should take a nice wedge out of the journey,” I thought, as I stuck my head out into the fresh morning air. I love songthaews!
Until next time guys,
Peace and love, Jonathan x
Backpackers Tips and Advice
I stayed in Ban Pruk Sa which was 200 baht per night. It was a really nice place to chill out, and the Burmese staff were nice too. You also have four other options for accommodation in the immediate area if you decide to stay somewhere else.
There is a Burmese eating place called Lucky where you can have a delicious breakfast consisting of fresh flatbreads with various choices of curries, accompanied by sweet chickpeas and Burmese tea. Get there before 8am if you want to have breakfast because it get’s really busy. You can also get rotis too, yummy!
You can hire a bike from Ban Thai which has a good reputation, and take it to one of the waterfalls, in or out of the National Park. The waterfalls are about forty minutes on the way to Um Pang.