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Published: June 13th 2009
munk mai sai - alms (in the rain)
What's the "best" city in South East Asia to visit if you only have a few days? Well for me it has been Kwaing Tong ( also spelled (Chiang Tung and Keng Tong) for the following reasons: extremely friendly people (Shan), no or very few tourists so you still get a "real" experience, and great photo opportunities. Most travelers haven't heard of Chiang Tung so where is it? - Myanmar (ie Burma). I won't talk about politics or the military, just the great Shan people that I met.
Since some travelers may be reading this to learn about Chiang Tung I'll go over some quick details. UPDATED May 2010:
You now have to take a guide with you to and from Chiang tong. In addition to having to pay for a guide, you need to pay a daily tax on top of the $10 visa fee of between $10-$20 per party (not per person but it is per day so go with more than one person to save money). You also have to pay for your guides expenses - bus ticket, food, and maybe lodging (Harry trekking may give your guide a free room). the best thing if
you can do it is find a guide at the border who is from and lives in Chiang Tong (Kwainge tong). Make sure your guide knows the chiang tung area and that he knows how to speak Shan, Akha, eng, Thai Lu and not just Burmese because very few people speak Burmese in Chiang tong.
You can get a 14 "visa" at the immigration office in Tachiliek (sp), tell them you want to visit Chiang Tung and they will take you next door to the tourist office to get you set up. You will need 3 passport photos (or they can take there for 100B) and a copy of your passport (they'll copy for you if you don't have one). Your passport stays at immigration in Tacheliek (they'll give you a temporary "passport"). The visa fee is $10 US or 500B. The bus (350B) leaves at 9:00AM and I believe 11:00AM (Remember Myanmar is a half hour behind Thailand). Make sure you have Thai baht and some dollars, you can exchange some of this for Myanmar "jet". Take a tuktuk from the border to the bus station (about 40-60B). Stay at Harry's trekking in Chiang Tung. Take a
guide (who speaks Shan, akha, Eng and palaung - I used Simon,sorry Dave I couldn't find his phone number. will get back to you with it). ok, now on with why Chiang Tung is one of the top places to visit. Don't worry if this is your secret place because nobody will read my blog and discover it.
I crossed into Myanmar on Friday Morning as was told at the tourist office (next to immigration) that I could get a visa for up to Two weeks and could stay in 3 different cities. The young man who helped me spoke very good English and was very nice. He recommended that I stay at Harry's guesthouse and he also recommended a guide (who was already booked when I arrive in Chiang Tung). I took a tuktuk to the bus station and arrived about a half hour before the bus left. An employee had to take my "temporary" passport to somewhere and when he came back we left. It took a little over 5 hours to Get to Chiang Tung and when I arrived I took a tuktuk to Harry's and on the way there the drive stopped at immigration where
they kept my passport and gave me a piece of paper to use and told me not to worry. I arrived at Harry's and was greeted by Mrs. Harry (Harry passed away a few years ago). Harry's is a nice place and the rooms are nice. Mrs. Harry asked me if I wanted a guide for the next day and I said yes. The price was $30US and it included lunch, my guide, motorcycle (gas ..). I found out the guide only got $10 so if you can book it directly with him. My guides name was Simon (his nickname), he has been a guide for 8 years, speaks good English which he learned from Annie (more about her later), he also speaks Shan, Akha, Palueng and Eng which is necessary. Ok back to the story. So I rode the bike into town and checked out a few Monasterys and took a few pictures and headed back to Harry's.
Shortly after I arrived back at Harry's a few pickup trucks with about 50 women in each pulled up in front and some women got out to but some flowers. Talking about a photo opportunity dropping into your lap. Little
did I know that this would be the beginning of a "long relationship". Mrs. Harry made me a large dinner and I met with Simon to discuss our plans for the next day. He said he would show up early and we could go to the central market before heading out into the countryside to visit some minority villages. I went to bed early expecting a long day starting early in the morning.
I woke up at about 6AM and low and behold in front of Harry's was a small "Street market" and guess who was there? - yep, the women who were in the pick up trucks the night before. They were there to buy their lunches. The women, most of whom had tanaca (most women, and children and some men wear tanaka. Tanaka which made from a tree bark is used both as a "makeup and also to protect your face from the sun) on their faces would be working in the fields planting rice. I went out into the street and took some (a lot) of photos and everyone was very friendly and seemed actually happy to have their photographs taken (well not some of the
novice Monks). Unfortunately for some reason my damn lens (135L) wasn't focusing properly and a lot of the shots were soft. It looked like I was having a back focusing issue. Fortunately I changed lenses about 30 minutes after I started shooting. Simon arrived shortly before 6:30 and after I finished my breakfast (which was included with the room) we headed out for the Central market. When we arrived I realised I would be the only foreigner (Westerner) in the market and that I would stand out. Luckily it seemed most people didn't see me or ignored me (except the young novice Monks). The people were all very friendly and I got a few good shots. For some reason, I haven't mastered the art of street photography. Since it was going to be a full day I didn't want to spend too much time in the market (I could have stayed there all day) so Simon and I headed out to the countryside where we planned to visit two or three minority villages.
On the way to the villages we ran across the women planting rice at several locations. Again, they were happy to have their pictures taken
and some even said thank you! I was invited to plant rice but I had to pass (this time). One of the groups asked if I could make a movie for them and I said no but I could put the photos on a DVD and they could look at them that way and they were happy and I left the DVD with Simon. I am going to try to make a "movie" with the photos and give it to them. After leaving the rice fields and driving to the villages we ran across several novice Monks on bicycles and went through a small village on the way to an Akha village. Along the way we stopped at a small school where the students were having recess. The students ranged from 5 years old to about 13 years old. At first the kids were a bit shy but after a while they relaxed and acted like kids and hammed it up for the camera. I asked the teacher if they would like me to take a class photo and she said sure. I just had it printed and will be giving it to her when I go back in a
few days. After leaving the school Simon and I drove to an Akha village and parked the motorcycle and started walking uphill to an Eng village.
When we arrived in the Eng village we were greeted by a few women who had a few handmade items for sale. They were not pushy at all and just sat and smiled. Simon went inside to make lunch and before I could take any pictures the women had left. We had lunch and then headed back down the hill and started to drive back to town. We stopped at a temple for a few minutes where some of the students from the school we had visited were playing and then we headed into the next village to grab something to drink. leaving the village we stopped a few times to take some photos and then headed back to Harry's trekking guesthouse where Simon and I planned to meet the next day which was a full moon day which has significance in the Buddhist religion. Wow, All this writing and photos and I've only covered one day!
The next morning started off by photographing the women buying their lunches and getting into
their trucks to head out to the fields for another day of rice planting. After which, Simon and I headed into town where we ran into a "huge" parade that was just starting. I thought the parade was for the full moon celebration but Simon told me it was to honor four Monks who had just graduated from college. Sure enough, the four Monks were the guests of honor and were driven around in a truck while four men carried their diplomas for everyone to see. There must have been more than 200 people in the parade (see photos).
The parade ended at a temple (referred to as a monastery in Myanmar) where there another celebration was to take place but only after eating! Several people came up to offer Simon and I food and it was there that I met Annie. Annie is a sweet 73 year old woman who speaks perfect English and was (and still is) a local English teacher. She was Simon's teacher when he was studying English. She had lunch with Simon and I and she loves to chat. She invited me to visit her home and have tea but unfortunately Simon and I
had many things to do but I will stop by when I go back. After lunch there was a big ceremony inside the monastery where the four Monks were honored. Simon and I stayed for a few minutes and then headed over to a Shan meditation center where locals gave "gifts" to the Shan Monks.
We left the mediation center and headed for another temple which had a sculpture that Simon's dad had made (his dad is a sculptor) after which we drove through the countryside to a palaung village where we spoke with some locals and novice Monks (I'm trying to keep this short). Next we drove back (in the rain) to town where I met Tomo from Japan Who had just arrived at Harry's. Tomo and I walked into town to get some food and while on the way there we stopped at a temple where one of the novices invited us in to take some pictures and "chat". We went into town and Tomo wanted to get some "traditional" Burmese food. A man (65 years old) came up to us and asked what we were looking for and he said sure I'll show you (which usually
is a set up for something else) so he took us to a few local places (that's all there are, no tourist restaurants which I don't go to anyway). He spoke good English and it turned out he was a tour guide. We stopped in front of a little stand and got some food and another man (about 55) came over and started talking. He invited us into his house for tea and a chat before Tomo and I headed back to Harry's.
The next day I caught the 8AM bus to go back to tachelick / Thailand. On the way out of town we stopped at an immigration checkpoint (one of many) but before we arrived there I saw the "perfect" picture opportunity not once, but twice so I'll try to capture it when I go back. Wow this has been a long blog by my standards. For those of you still reading I am in Bangkok as I write this and will be picking up my camera from the Canon repair center (where I have been 3 times now!) and then I will be taking the train back to Chiang Mai (Northern Thailand) tonight and then a
bus to the Myanmar border and then a bus the following day back to Chiang Tung. I'm planning on staying about 7 days and then I'll head back to Chiang Mai for a day and then head to China via Laos. After China I will most likely be heading to the USA which will mark the end of my travels (probably for a very long time - one reason being that the dollar is becoming worth less, I have already seen a 10% drop in the value and more is on the way).
Well the travelblog website was down so I wasn't able to send this out yesterday. I am back in Chiang Mai and heading to the bus station to go to Mai and before I forget - I am bald! I got a hair cut yesterday and it ended up where my hair is about 1/8 inch long! no worries, it will grow back.
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