Published: March 24th 2011March 23rd 2011
On our way to Mae Taeng
We look like "condoms," Tate said. I wouldn't disagree. But they did keep us from getting completely soaked in the rain.
"Did you talk with Baw Saw Nyunt over there?" ( I forget Baw Saw Nyunt's real name but this is my best attempt to simulate a Burmese name)
"Huh? Who is that?," I answered.
He pointed to the empty table outside the administrative office where I was now sitting and facing Mr. Tak, who was the person, originally from Myanmar, in charge of guest services where we were staying.
"He can take you across the border. He is General Baw Saw Nynunt," He said with a respectful tone.
"I thought it was closed," I said affirmatively.
"He is a general in the Karenni army so there is no problem. But you need a good reason for him to take you there," Mr. Tak replied. "Many westerners and NGOs are interested in human right violations there," he added.
"I have a friend who is a photographer, film maker and writer," I told him. "I also like to write stories," I added.
"What is your interest in Burma? With the right story he might take you across the border," he instructed me.
Apparently, I just missed the general. Such was my luck on this visit. I missed the general and only briefly
Sukothai is serene in the morning
The mornings (and evenings) in Sukothai are peaceful and quiet. I was the only one in the park at 6:30am and got in free as a result.
got to see the author, filmmaker and photographer, Timothy Syrota or "Tim", who we had come to see. I had come with my friend Tate, also a writer, photographer and filmmaker, and his friend Justin to try and interview Tim about his work with Burmese boxers on the border. Tim has just released an award winning documentary film called "Burmese Dreaming" that I am hoping to see soon. Tate and Tim have a shared interest in following the lives of several Burmese boxers they have both captured on film. Tate had been following the plight of Burmese boxers in his documentary film project about boxing in Thailand but could not speak Burmese and wanted to get some insight from Tim who has been photographing, filming and writing about Burma since the late 1990s. Tim was quite busy when we arrived and I had to get back to Chiang Mai to work on an article I was researching. (Tate told me he got the interview after I left and that it went very well.) I had met Tim before under similar time constraints and there was only enough time to shake hands, smile and exchange a few anecdotes. He gave me
some leads on learning Burmese language which I have thought about taking up for some time now.
"Are you looking for a teaching job?" She wondered aloud. Tate and I had come to ask Lusy (yes Lucy with an "s") about the rooms at her guesthouse.
"What would I be teaching?" I asked. I had already told her I had a degree in Southeast Asian Studies.
"Social studies but especially math and history," she responded.
"When will the job start?" I prodded her.
"In May. We are looking for a native English speaker 'like you'. Most of our teachers our from the Philippines. They are good teachers but not native speakers! It is good pay.....30,000 baht per month. I can arrange an interview for you."
"I am staying in Chiang Mai now," I said.
"The director will be here on Wednesday,"she said.
"I will be leaving before that," I responded.
"We have difficulty finding teachers that are 'native speakers' here," she continued to implore me..............(and so the conversation went until we exchanged phone numbers and expressed non-committal interest in her offers)
A week earlier our journey had started in Chiang Mai with romantic hopes of journeying by motorbike
to Pai and through Mae Hong Son Province. Mae Hong Son has some of the most beautiful vistas and many local villages that I would love to experience. Pai is a tourist town along the way that is known for its stunning limestone cliffs and proximity to many local "hill tribe" villages as well as stunning natural scenery. Rain stopped us only an hour or so from Chiang Mai and after an evening at a hotel in Mae Taeng, a small town known for agriculture and homestays, we headed back to Chiang Mai for a day. We took a bus the following day to Sukhothai because Justin, Tate's friend from Colorado, had never seen it. After a night there we continued on in a sardine packed bus to Mae Sot. Tate, who had gotten sick in the rain, seemed to sport the character of a refugee. Ironically, many refugees from Burma live along the borders of Tak province. Mae Sot is the capital city of Tak province and the main land bridge from Thailand into Burma even though it is often closed due to "ethnic insurgencies" on the other side of the border. Although I didn't get a chance to
My favorite scene in Sukothai
I guess telephones are forbidden in the old city of Sukothai. Even they need to be part of nature. Or maybe like the city itself, this is what happens to old technologies(like people)...they are left behind
visit the refugee camps, the town itself is very sleepy and sprawling. There are a lot of Burmese there and it feels much like the average Thai provincial town with some "American" touches. A motorbike for getting around and exploring the vast but visually stunning valley were a must. We all rented one and went out with Tate as he tried to capture some scenes of the natural landscape for his documentary.
Tate's wanderings, and mine, had brought me, and especially him, into a number of situations like this. The possibilities for stories and connections in Mae Sot were much like other places we visited. But there is something different about Mae Sot. Many refugees of various ethnic groups make uncertain homes along these borders, perhaps desiring to return someday and perhaps not. The less settled nature of many residents here along with the vast mountains surrounding the valley,stretching deep into both Thai and Burmese territory, give Mae Sot a frontieresque feeling that many other provinces in Thailand no longer have. Travel in these parts, though quite easy, is not as user friendly for international tourists as other areas just yet. One local bus station I used to return
The perfect picture I didn't get
about half a dozen dogs were fast asleep in front of this shrine about 2 seconds before this photo was snapped. It was one of my favorite visuals during the trip.
to Chiang Mai lacked a formal ticket booth and most of the travelers were Thai. That being said, there are a lot, and I mean a lot of non-Thais in Mae Sot, both white and dark skinned alike. It is said international aid is a big part of sustaining many people in this town. Outside of the various smuggling and trafficking operations that cross these borders, I am sure that is true. But I doubt that will be its future. Featuring one of the world largest waterfalls Tee Law Suu and other natural marvels, tourism will undoubtedly grow here. If the Burmese government ever decides to really open up its economy, it just might boom here. But these are foolish suspicions of mine. Aside from all this, the biggest attraction here is the people. Because so many people here are essentially "stateless" or not Thai-citizens, there is an element of cultural diversity here that is easy to experience. Burmese culture(s) are quite evident here as our those of "farang" (white foreigners), Thais, "hill tribes" and a number of other ethnic groups. It is yet another part of Thailand that has a new face I haven't really seen before.
There are more photos below