Golden Triangle and Mae Sai

Trip Start Jan 11, 2006
Trip End Jan 31, 2006

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Flag of Myanmar  ,
Saturday, January 28, 2006

Had a long 16 hr travel day today. Went to Laos for 6 hours this morning, Myanmar (Burma) for 6 hours this afternoon stopped for 30 minutes and visited A Thai Hill Tribe on the way home. Started the day at 6 AM with the Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet at the intersection of 2 rivers. (It's named the Golden Triangle becasue of the money made in this area at the height of opium production which had it's centers here and in the Middle East.) It wasn't as much time as I planned, but after loosing a day sick, and still not feeling all that great, I just decided to go for it. It wasn't near enough time, but I'm glad I did it even for a taste.
I went by boat to visit a Burmese hill tribe, the Pa Dong, commonly known for wearing the copper rings that stretch their necks (or really lower their shoulders). They were by far the most calm and polite people I've met here, which is saying a lot. Like everywhere else I've gone in SE Asia, they have something to sell. Got to make a living. The difference with them is they don't ask, they don't follow, they don't harass. They have the goods that they make (all their own traditional crafts, not Chinese imports or things made specially for tourists) hanging up in a corner of their porch... if you see something you like and want to buy, they'll tell you a price, a good one not an overinflated one expecting bargaining. Otherwise, they'll just sit and talk to you if they can, or smile and let you watch them as they work. Two spoke a very little English, enough for a brief conversation, and for me to buy a couple peices of woven cloth from them. They very happily allowed me to take some great pictures of them.
I also stopped by a Burmese/Thai border town Mae Sai which was mostly just a market, but was interesting. I took a couple pictures there of the steps up to a temple and the Buddha at the bottom. This is the town where many Western Tourisits in N. Thailand go to for visa runs. When their visa expires, they pay 200 B and cross into Myanmar on a day pass, stay for an hour, then re-enter Thailand and buy another visa. It's a little game that everyone plays and has for a long time. I met several people in Chiang Mai who had been staying in Thailand for 10 months and more by doing this.
Myanmar (previously Burma) is now run by the army (Socialist), and they are much more selective in allowing visas then the average countries. They welcome tourists, but in contrast to many countries that just wave Americans through with a glance $5 and a stamp, they want to know your itinerary, will actually double check what you say, even confirming your hotel reservations, etc. As a result, visa and customers lines here tend to take quite a bit longer than other countries (of course it all depends on where you cross).
Myanmar and Thailand governments are a bit at odds recently, with the curious but unsurprising exception of the apparent collaberation on a casino on the Myanmar side of the Golden Triangle (it's illegal in Thailand). Many Thai go across there to gamble, taking a boat across to it's dock, going inside to gamble, then back to the boat and home.
Then it was on to Lao......
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