A travel journal
to Myanmar by SeenThat
Quote: Myanmar is a kind of magical place in our collective memory, maybe due to the excellent novel by Orwell, or maybe due to the postcard nature of blue and gold pagodas half-hidden in the exuberant greenery. In any case few will resist the temptation of visiting it.
The contrast between the calm Burmese backwaters’ towns and their markets crowded mainly with energetic Thais searching for bargains is another point of interest, and while walking in the noisy markets, if you are careful enough, you may spot shy hill-tribes women walking stealthily among the stalls, selling fresh, odorous fruits to the busy sellers.
You are not allowed to leave the area of the border town you are visiting in such a way and it would be really foolish to do that, the states surrounding them are out of limits for tourists. There are no obstacles to bringing back food into Thailand, you can ask a ‘take-away’ package at the shops and bring with you enough of your favourite snacks for a couple of days.
From north to south, the passes are:
Tachilek is in front of Mae Sai, the northernmost town of Thailand. By far, this is the most popular and orderly cross to Myanmar. Mainly Thais in search of cheap merchandises at the huge Tachilek market use the facilities here, but if you happen to be at Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai, it will be a very handy cross for you. From these cities, take a bus to Mae Sai, just a 1-hour trip from Chiang Rai, and from the Mae Sai bus terminal, take a 5-baht truck straight to the border, which is at the northern tip of the town. The Thai immigration office is about 1km before the bridge leading to Tachilek.
Myawaddy is in front of Mae Sot, allegedly the westernmost town of Thailand, and offers a more desolated option to be used mainly if you are touring the lower north of Thailand. It is conveniently close to Sukhothai. You must reach first the town of Tak – most buses travelling between Chiang Mai and Bangkok will leave you there or in the nearby Sukhothai. From there you have 1 hour by truck till Mae Sot, which, similar to Mae Sai, offers cheap transport to its western tip, the border with Myanmar. The Thai immigration office is just before the bridge connecting the countries, at the northern side of the road.
The Three Pagodas Pass is the closest pass to Bangkok, just further west from Kanchanaburi, but unfortunately you cannot get a visa there. From Kanchanaburi, you take another bus to Sangkhlaburi for around $2, from where is possible to cross the Three Pagodas border cross, Phra Chedi Sam Ong, to Myanmar, paying $10 to the Burmese immigration, but it is impossible to get a visa there.
Victoria Point (Kawthoung), in front of Ranong, the southernmost cross, involves a rather pricey travel in a boat between the two countries. The Thai immigration is at Saphan Pla (bridge fish) road, 500m before the port, and it is open from 8:30am to 4:30pm. A Son Tao takes some 20 minutes from the town to the pier and costs 7B. After getting an exit stamp at immigration, it is possible to get a half an hour ride by boat to Victoria Point in Burma for 300B. Once there, the Burmese will take a crispy $5 note for a fresh stamp on your passport. In Burma, it is possible to stay a few days at Kauw Thauong. At The Andaman club pier in Ranong, it is possible to get an exit stamp. Every day from 8am, there are boats to the club in Koh Son, and when coming back to the pier, an entry visa is issued. If less than 5 days are left, there's an extra 750B surcharge (looks like pure bribe, and probably the "club" is in a Thai island). The pier is some 20km north of the town.
It will be difficult but useful to buy a few Kyats (pronounced 'chats'), which is the local money in Myanmar, but I must say that usually it is difficult to get the right exchange for this devaluated kind of money.
The market here is rather small, consisting mainly of shops arranged along the street leading to the border; very few Thais can be seen shopping there. If you walk straight along this road and turn right after a few blocks, you will find yourself at a huge and appealing temple with a golden stuppa. Look up for people climbing the coconut trees. Nearby is a restaurant offering samusak, at five baths per unit, and Indian chai at the same price. Chai is a cooked tea, with plenty of milk and sugar and ordering it will provide you with an extra pot of black tea to wash your mouth after the strong-flavored chai.
The people here are not used to see tourists; few of them speak any English at all and very obviously they are much poorer than those in Tachilek. Despite that the general attitude is friendly. The locals' women and children's main business apparently consists of moving on their backs merchandise to and from Thailand.
Tricycles along the main road offer cheap tours.
Tachilek is a small border town in the border between Myanmar and Thailand. It is located within the Shan State, one of the seven states making the Union of Myanmar. Along the bridge there is a doubtful sign in English and Burmese claiming that Burma fights the drugs' menace, while at the traffic circle, a hundred meters after the bridge, there is another sign proclaiming that you're in the Golden Triangle city. If not the exact truth, at least the beautiful, circularly shaped Burmese letters decorate the place.
Tachilek's main feature is the big market located across the bridge over the Sai river, at the eastern side, which attracts hordes of Thai citizens crossing the border in a day trip for shopping, as the goods here are significantly cheaper than in Thailand. Cigarettes, alcoholic drinks, textiles, music disks and simple electric and electronic appliances rule; but casual shops selling fur of endangered species can be seen. Unlike Thailand, the cars drive at the right side, but since they were bought there, the driver sits at the sidewalk side of the car.
Along the main road, you will find touts selling tours to the surroundings; but the main temple at the top of the hill is easily reached by foot, offering a different angle of the area from the one seen from the Scorpion Temple on the Thai side.
Most women and some men use a special makeup, made from the grounded bark of a special tree, of a creamy color, which they put usually over their cheeks. The design and the area covered differ from person to person, but usually covers most of the cheeks with a pattern of parallel horizontal lines. Most men wear the traditional ankles reaching Burmese dress, with a big knot at its front.
Na Lay Indian Restaurant, just right from the traffic circle offers a passable roti for twenty Bahts and chai for ten, which is more than twice the regular price here, but the staff speaks English and is friendly.
The endless begging children in the market disappear from time to time to give way to "new" children dressed like monks, with long purple robs, and carrying the usual food bowls, which collect coins on the top of the bowl instead of rice.
The Na Lay Indian Restaurant is a basic snacks' restaurant placed in a humble-sized room behind an Indian sweets-selling window. The place serves as an encounter place for locals searching for a chat and a variation from the ruling Thai food in the area.
To reach it, if you are entering from Thailand, continue straight with the bridge road till the traffic circle and then turn right into the main river-parallel street in Tachilek and you will see Na Lay at your right side after a few tens of meters.
The restaurant owner, dressed in a local men's skirt, will welcome you at the entrance, and besides a seat at a basic table and the menu, he will offer an opportunity for a small conversation with the locals since he speaks some basic English. He is a Burmese of Indian ancestry, and you can appreciate his past in the menu, which is mainly Indian-vegetarian.
The roti is not as good as the ones served in the Indian subcontinent, but it is accompanied with a tasty hot potatoes salad and a separate dish of chili, all for 20 Thai bahts, about half a dollar, which means it is quite an expensive dish for this side of the border.
Another interesting option is the Indian sweets, which are offered in a wide spectrum of varieties for 2 or 3 bahts each. They are incredibly sweet and should be eaten with care; there exists a takeaway option for them.
The best drink to help you swallow all the sugar is the chai, a drink made of cooked black tea with sugar that is enriched with condensed milk that, since it is denser than the tea, forms a thick, whiter separated layer at the glass bottom. The condensed milk comes from Thailand, meaning it is a mixture of milk, palm oil, and sugar, with quite a different taste from the one used elsewhere. The final result is an extra-sweet liquid that feels more as a diabetes test than a cup of tea, but the sacrifice is well worth the experience.
While at your sugar-rush peak, at the exit, you can pay in Thai bahts and use the opportunity to buy from him a few Myanmar-Kyats banknotes as souvenirs since elsewhere they are hard or expensive to get.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on June 11, 2005
Tel Aviv, Israel