New Year in Burma

Trip Start Jan 08, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sat 29th. Finish packing, say goodbye to my family for a month and ride my bike to Hualompong train station. The ride takes about an hour. I worked out a route last night and I am pleasantly surprised that I can remember the way and get myself to the station without any hassles. I haven't ridden into this main part of Bangkok before and I expect this part of my trip to be the most adventurous of the next few days, but it is pretty easy.
Park the bike, put bags in storage, go to Siam Square and meet with a couple of Canadian teachers who plan to bring some students to Mirror Foundation. Good.
Back to the train station and get my motorcycle loaded on. Cost 740 Baht. 2.5 hours before train departs. Back to Siam Square.
I am hot and sweaty and it will be an uncomfortable night and day tomorrow if I don't wash. I have a cunning plan. An oil massage costs 500 Baht and includes a shower prior to and after the massage. Not only do I get to wash but the small lady that massages me is really strong and the massage is excellent. Back to the train station.
Eat, get bags and onto train. The only ticket I could get about a week ago was a 1st class ticket. I struggle up the narrow corridor and manage to get to my room to find I am sharing it with a monk. He is talking on his mobile phone and he tells his friend he is sharing with a farang.

Oh, before I forget: Kanchana's aunt rang and told Kanchana what Khun Yai (Kanchana's mum) had told her. She is convinced that soon I will kill Kanchana and take the house and everything we own. But she is also convinced that soon the Thai government will force all foreigners to leave, and I'll have to go. Hmmm, seems her insanity has progressed further than we knew.

Sunday 30th. Woke up. Had breakfast. Chatted to the monk a little. He is from Si Saket province and has been a monk for 6 years. He can speak Khmer, Isaan Thai, Thai, Suoy and Pali as he is from the Suoy (not sure if spelling is correct) ethnic group. Both of us meditated a bit. Train arrived at 0830. Got motorbike and rode out of town. Easy.

Through Bangkok and Chiang Mai I rode at around 50 - 60 km/hr. Once on the highway I started going at about 60 - 80 and even got up to about 95 km /hr on some down hill stretches, but mainly I was not in a hurry and wanted to enjoy the scenery and the ride. it is a little under 200km from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai and this is the first time I have done such a long ride. Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are separated by a mountain range and so there is some nice riding along the way.

The trip so far has been good. It feels like the first time in quite a while that I have had some time to myself and done something a bit adventurous and different. I am enjoying it and think I need to make sure I do this sort of thing every now and then.

After about an hour I stopped at a cafe to go to the toilet, rest myself, particularly my bum and to let the engine cool down. The cafe was really nice. In a nice setting in the mountains beside a stream. Hmmm, I am liking this. I have included some photos, also the cafe had a website:

I stopped a couple more times along the way, but I have already forgotten where. One was at about the half way point and the fuel gauge was showing half, so I filled it up for 80 Baht. I arrived in Chiang Rai with more than half showing. So it isn't an expensive machine.

Oh, also along the way was plenty of smiling people that said hello and waved.

I took the turn off passed towards Khun Kon waterfall as it is supposedly shorter but also has little traffic and is more scenic. Here for the last part of my trip, I slowed down again and enjoyed seeing the rural Thai scenery and lifestyle. Seems peaceful, relaxed, slow and happy.

The trip took about 4 hours. I was getting tired by the end of it and was starting to get a sore bum and sore back. If I do any more motorcycle touring in the future, and I'd like to, I reckon planning to ride 4 - 5 hours a day is enough and gives time to explore wherever you end up. What I was wearing was good to. Jeans, shirt, the British Para jacket that Grant gave me (thanks), sunglasses and helmet with visor, and runners. Not too hot nor too cold and no problems with eyes or anything. Happy.

I got to our new house, looked around the neighbourhood a bit while waiting for the real estate agent. The area seems very nice, the lady in the general store near the house looked quite grumpy, but the motorcycle repairman a bit further on was very friendly. Seems to be a mix of some very expensive houses and some small cheap ones, and some small shops and small apartments. All mixed. The real estate lady came and gave me the keys and chatted for a while - I really wanted to go have a shower but she wanted to chat. The house is a mess, and things won't be finished and cleaned up until the 3rd, but it is good enough. I am quite worried about the floor boards and the other wooden bits - I think termites have already done quite a lot of damage and although she has replaced some of the floor boards I think there is more problems. Oh well.

Eventually I got to have a shower and then I went into Big C and brought a kettle, a pillow and a thin mattress and came back. Hmmm, Big C on a weekend is as bad as Chiang Rai gets. Actually that and the Night Bazaar during tourist high season and Wat Rong Khun on a holiday. I like Chiang Rai as the people are nice and polite and friendly - the place seems quite calm. But those places at those times. People are rushed, busy, rude, just thinking of themselves. Happy to get out of there and get home. I hope that isn't Chiang Rai's future in another 10 years time when there is more people and more money and more shops. :-(

The neighbours across the road came to say hello and I visited their house and they mine. They have a son who is now living in Lampang.

Then I went into town to have dinner and now writing this. The plan tomorrow is to go to Burma and get my visa renewed and depending on how I am feeling I will stay there and explore a bit and sleep there and come back in the morning and go to work at Mirror on the 1st (but a bit late - ie. not first thing in the morning).

Monday 31st December 2550 / 2007. I did some work in the morning which included getting a stupid email from Aye. I can't even remember what it said, but I remember it frustrated me. Mostly working at Mirror is good, but I don't really enjoy working with Khun Aye and at times she makes me want to quit. Anyway, I then went into town to the travel agent that was supposed to be booking the accommodation and transport in Laos for the group I have coming soon. They said they hadn't done anything, their boss was away and that maybe all the hotels are full now. Hmmm, well that has pretty much ruined my day. I have a group of 10 students and 2 teachers arriving in Thailand pretty soon and I haven't any more time to organise stuff for them. These guys said they'd do it ages ago. Arrgghhh!!!

Nothing I can do. Get bus to Mae Sai which is 62km away. The bus costs 33 Baht, has standing room only and takes 2 hours. It is sort of fun, but I am pretty down from this morning's events. We arrive at the bus station which is still out of town a bit. There are taxis there waiting and I know that there is a 90% chance they won't rip me off, but I have had enough of being disappointed with humans for the moment, so I start walking instead. I pass a sign that says the border is 5 km away. Bugger. Keep walking. Eventually a songtaew passes and offers me a lift for 10 Baht. OK.

Get a drink of water, go through Thai emigration and into Myanmar immigration. 500 Baht for a 14 day entry permit that allows me to explore this part of Myanmar only. My passport stays with immigration.

Through the line and into the waiting touts who ask if I want to go here or there or buy this or that. Many are annoying, a few actually seem nice and if there weren't many other ones trying to annoy me, I would go with them on a tour they are offering. But instead I get away from them. One follows me. I duck into a restaurant and order lunch and he leaves.

While I was eating lunch a truck with a number of Burmese soldiers appeared outside the restaurant. Seemed like a good photo opportunity, so I took my camera out and motioned that I wanted to take a picture. One of the soldiers looked pretty unhappy about the idea, but another smiled and half posed, so I took that as a yes.

After lunch of fried noodles for ?a very cheap amount? I walked further down the street. This part of the neighbourhood was clearly the Haw Chinese Muslim area. Saw the Mosque (but only from the outside) and then went back the other way. Came across some more soldiers - the last I'd see on this trip - they were guarding a statue. They wanted money for a picture of them or the statue, so I gave that a miss.

Further down this road is where most of Tachilek is. I had decided to stay by this point as there was not much I could do by going back now and I was finding all this interesting.

I looked for a hotel for a bit and eventually decided on Mye Shwe Yee Hotel. It was 600 Baht a night. Clean, hot water, A/C, TV, big bed. Good. Had internet shop as well. The rooms also had free condoms in them which made me wonder if at night the tea shops that seemed to be quite common were going to turn into something else. But they didn't, and the only hint of prostitution in the area was the drivers at the tourists markets who asked if you wanted to have a girl.

Anyway, from the hotel I wandered up to Tachilek Swedagon Pagoda. Pretty nice and worth a visit. As well as the large chedi, there is a good view of much of the town. There was the usual stalls and selling stuff and wishing for luck and more money and that sort of thing that seems to occur at all famous religious monuments in the world. A good reminder for me to continue to avoid being religious. But it wasn't too much and mainly the pagoda was nice.

From there I wandered down the hill through the back streets and markets and what seemed like people's back yards. I suspect not too many tourists visit here, but no one seemed too fussed. In fact the whole trip people seemed generally polite and relaxed - accept the touts in the tourist market. I am getting better at recognising some different asian faces, dress, etc and it was clear that most people here were Shan, with many Akha, Chinese and Burmese and some Lahu - oh and some Palong, but I don't really know how to recognise them yet. This was later confirmed by my trishaw driver. I like the Shan people - there are many in Mae Hong Son also and that town also has a really calm and relaxed feel. I would be interested in seeing more of Shan state, although I have read that it is now becoming overrun with Wa people escaping China. The Shan by the way - feel that this is their country and that the Burmese are invaders and occupiers. For a very long time, the Shan controlled their own "country" here, including at the time about 800 years ago when the Mongols under Kubilai Khan were unable to defeat them and the Lanna Kingdom next door.

I walked to the tourist market then and brought a DVD for 50 Baht. Still there is no sight of Burmese currency here. I decided to get a trishaw to look around at some of the tourist sights. Cost 60 Baht. The guy driving me was a Christian Akha and I asked him about the religion of the Akha people here. He said they were all Christian or Buddhist. When I asked him if there were any left that are Akha religion, he looked confused and he said that he didn't think there was such a thing. I informed him that there was. I talked to him more and discovered that he could speak Burmese, Thai and Chinese Haw, but he knew no Akha. I taught him hello and thank you in Akha language. Burma about 50 years ago and into its past had been a British colony and I suspect that and the Christian missionaries that that fact would have allowed to flourish here, is the cause of the lack of Akha culture. Amazing to realise how lucky we are in Thailand that some still remains - although it too is now disappearing due to Christian Missionaries, Thai culture and capitalism.

Speaking to my driver some more, he said the Burmese run all the government here. He also informed me that they had basic schooling and basic health care, it cost money but was affordable. I got the impression that people didn't really like nor dislike the government. They were just there and mainly didn't annoy people, supplied some basic services and other than that were your typical ineffectual government, same as anywhere else in the world. As stated I saw some Army, but they really didn't have much presence in this town. People seemed to get on with their life like they do everywhere despite the fact that Burma has been in civil war for the last 50 years or so. The people here generally weren't rich, but they also generally weren't desperately poor - certainly not compared to some Australian aboriginal townships I have seen. I don't expect Tachilek is an example of other smaller remoter towns though. It is relatively safe from the fighting here and gains a lot from the border trade with Thailand.

At night I had dinner, wandered around a bit more, mainly up to the pagoda again and then watched X-men on the TV before falling asleep.

Tuesday 1 Jan 2551 / 2008. Up at 0530. I want to try to get to work in Chiang Rai at a reasonable time. The driver from yesterday said he'd meet me at 0600. He didn't show and so I started walking at 0605. Takes 15 minutes to get to the border. The gates are open as they said they would be, but the immigration guy who has the passports has slept in. The immigration officials here can hardly speak English but they are polite and make me feel welcome and relaxed. Strange. Myanmar is a foreign country run by a military junta - yet their immigration officials are 1000 times nicer to me than the bastards at Australian immigration that treat me like a criminal and make me not want to go to Australia. Anyway it is almost 7 when I get my passport and get into Thailand. The immigration officials here are even more amazing smiley and friendly and polite and great me with many "Happy New Year"s. I get stamped in for another 3 months (although for work I will need to leave again soon and when I come back I will be outside of my visa dates and suspect I will only get 30 days???????) and I get a motorbike to the bus station. A bus is leaving as I get there. I get on it, get into Chiang Rai and get to work at about 9.30 - 10am. It is then I realise most people are on holiday or coming in late anyway. But that is good. I talk to Khun Moo and get some work done.

Quite a lot of volunteers turn up to Mirror in the next few days and I help brief them and get them settled in. Most of them are coming from Antipodeans and I am getting paid extra to look after them. It is pretty busy and soon I leave to get to Bangkok to meet another Antipodeans group that are arriving tonight (as I write this on the 6th). We are going to look around Bangkok tomorrow then head up to Chiang Mai and then volunteer at Mirror for a bit before going into Laos for a week. After that I will get back to Mirror. Plan to be back home in Bangkok in late Jan or 1 Feb.

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