Published: July 11th 2012July 10th 2012
So that's it for Myanmar! Just a short one hour flight from Heho near Kalaw to Tachileik, and I was at the Thai border of Mae Sai. Of course Myanmar presented some last minute memories, as I met two interesting Americans on the pick-up ride (lined completely with plastic egg crates!) from Kalaw to Heho airport. Scott was a white guy from New Jersey and fresh out of college, preparing for Grad school in Taiwan (!) studying wildlife conservation, in Mandarin I must add! Great to see a fresh grad not heading towards the *evil* banking/ consulting track! He'd already been to several places in Southeast Asia before, and seemed to speak with genuine passion about the conservation cause. Oh, and by the way, he also spoke French and Japanese! You know, just your usual quadrilingual twenty-something year old!
And Lisa was a teacher from Baltimore on her summer vacation, and a big Obama supporter! She'd also travelled in Southeast Asia several times before many years ago, and mentioned an important period in her life sometime back, when she took a year off from work intending to travel, but ended up spending much time at home instead with her mom who
suddenly fell ill, and eventually passed away. After that, she and her dad decided to go on a trip to Vietnam, to spend more time together. Thought-provoking stuff...
And of course the border crossing itself threw up just a minor complication or two. At Heho airport they asked to see the border crossing permit which I'd paid USD50 for, and which the MT&T office in Yangon of course hadn't given me, so we had to contact them to try to send it over by fax, which fortunately eventually went through!And when I arrived in Tachileik, I was asked to tip the airport baggage handler, so I took out some Myanmar Kyat, and the guy said, "Thai Baht is better"! The mandatory guide who was assigned to accompany me to the border (for USD15) later explained that in Tachileik, Thai Baht was essentially the legal tender in the border town. I'd always thought it said a lot about a country when the currency preferred by the people was that of another's...
Upon crossing into Thailand at Mae Sai I was presented with a pleasant surprise. I'd originally expected a standard 15-day visa granted to most foreigners entering Thailand overland,
Tachileik from the Back Seat of the Guide's Car
I couldn't help but think I had to take these photos furtively, since I had to be "escorted" out of the country by land. There was a very real sense of cloak & dagger skulduggery about the whole thing!
and was wondering how to do the visa runs to extend my stay. Turned out this wouldn't be necessary, as they gave me a 90-day visa thanks to my APEC Business Travel card that I had from TWO jobs ago! So I could now explore Thailand at leisure without having to worry and factor in troublesome visa runs at the borders.
Then on the bus ride from Mae Sai to Chiang Rai, I noticed the guy sitting next to me had a "Temporary Passport" from Myanmar, but his cell phone had Chinese characters on the display. I was curious, so I tried speaking to him in Mandarin. Turned out he was from Yunnan in Southern China, and that he and his sister were headed to Bangkok for work. They spoke Mandarin, Thai and Burmese! That didn't quite fully explain the temporary passports from Myanmar, but I surmised they might have been from an ethnic minority that were somehow discriminated against. I observed also at the security checkpoints along the way the police were always particularly interested in the contents of their bags. I didn't want to probe too much, but when I told him I was from Singapore, he
was quite inquisitive about the working and living conditions, as well as the average salaries and living standard there.So I guess it's true after all that sometimes the days that you don't do any conventional "sight-seeing", are the days when you actually end up seeing more...
Anyway, before long I'd arrived in the northern Thai city of Chiang Rai. My original plan was to explore the northern region of Thailand before heading south to Bangkok, hence the attempted complicated overland border crossing at Tachileik. However it turned out that my grandmother, who's normally in Malaysia, was going to be in Bangkok these few days, so I decided to head there straight first, and return to Northern Thailand again later. So for now, it was going to be just a quick overnight transit at the Jamaican Reggae Bar/ Guesthouse (!) I stumbled upon in Chiang Rai, before a flight out to Bangkok the next afternoon, where I'll be taking a "break" of sorts for a week or so. Stay tuned!
There are more photos below