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Pai, Chiang Mai And Misadventures At The Burmese Border

  • Written by Ocean
  • October 8th, 2004
  • 8 min read

Pai, Chiang Rai And Misadventures At The Burmese Border

Great area, the Pai valley. The day after our trek to the waterfall, hot springs and up the river, we went the next morning with the owner of the guesthouse on the river we were staying in to a small Karen hill tribe village just outside of town to look for silver. By the way, the search for hill tribe silver has not been super fruitful so far. And of course, there was none to be had, but the women folk were all weavers, and we got to watch them setting up their simple looms and do a bit of weaving.

They had some pieces lying in a case, so we looked them over and Elizabeth (my wife) bought a traditional Karen skirt that took the lady 3 days to make after dying the cotton threads. She asked for 250 baht (38 baht to the $1 these days) which we gladly paid! It is a beautiful piece of fabric. There were a few older women hanging around and they were eying us sort of warily, and we found out through 2 translators that the old ladies did not speak the Thai language. They only spoke their native Karen. They spoke to the granddaughter who also speaks Thai, to our guide, the owner of the guest house, who spoke English to us, that the old ladies had never seen a white person before! We were as amazed as she was. We took out our digital camera and asked if we could take her picture, to which we received a yes, so we took it and then showed it to her. She smiled so big! She giggled a little bit. This old lady who looked to be 70 had never seen an image of herself aside from those in a small mirror. Pretty cool.

We next followed the guesthouse owner, Mr. Tawat, to a temple up on the hill that overlooks the valley. Very peaceful and beautiful. We were both on motorbikes. He was really nice and asked us to share dinner with him and his family, wife Tuee and son, Thame. We went to the evening market at 5 pm and bought food for a chicken kabab barbeque and some drinks too. Had a nice dinner and then, there were was an impromptu group of travelers sitting around a fire by the water, so we joined them and sang songs to a couple of guitars for a couple of hours.

The next morning, yesterday, we got up early and had breakfast and then hired a mini van to take 10 of us, including one baby and 2 boys in all, another mixed, Thai and Danish family needed to go to the border of Burma (currently named Myanmar) on a visa run to renew the Danish guy's visa. So, off we went on the most windy and steep roads I have ever been on, except for the trip into Pai. LOL! We made it down to the next valley and then up that for a while and then had lunch in a small town on our way north-east to the border town of Mae Sai. After lunch, it was back up into the mountains on more windy roads, and the oldest boy, Thame, was at one moment sleeping and then without as much as a warning peep, proceeded to blow chunks all the way to the front seat from his spot in the 3rd row! I had been feeling queasy myself, and it took all I had not to start puking too! I'm sure if I had, it would have triggered a mass vomitation!! But, I stuck my head out of the window and thought pleasant thoughts… We were in the 4th row, thank heavens, or I would have erupted as well!!

In the line to re-enter Thailand from Burma, we talked with a Canadian guy we had met at Chiang Mai previous to this leg of our trip about what had happened, and supposedly, this is a really common occurrence on the bigger tourist buses. They sway and rock more, and he said sometimes, the mass vomitation will get going and 5 or more people will have their heads stuck out of the window spraying the weeds! Thame was fine after that, and the butt of a few jokes throughout the day, and off we went to Mae Sai.

We paid 250 baht each and crossed over into the border town of Takilek in the Union of Myanmar. The men were mostly dressed in long sarongs, and the women all had a whitish mud smeared on their faces, and you could see the indication of different tribal characteristics in the different hill tribes and those with similar features to people from India. Burma shares a border with India. Takilek is a border town only and because of this, there were large markets there right after crossing the bridge to the other side offering cheap Chinese and Burmese goods for sale. The people were nice, but pushy, being people of a border town trying to get money out of everyone. Burma is terribly poor because of the military dictatorship, their squashing of rights and freedoms, and the UN and World Trade Organizations' sanctions due to the Junta's repression of freedoms. From all accounts, the people of Burma are wonderfully nice and the country is very rustic due to being closed to outside influences. We walked around for an hour. This is how much time we had as a group before heading south to Chiang Rai back in Thailand.

Back at the border, the line was moving incredibly slow. There were 30 people in line and it took us over an hour to get up to the window. We had to fill out our immigration cards including a line asking what hotel we were staying in. Well, instead of lying, because we didn't actually know, we left it blank. Upon me turning my passport and immigration card over to a clerk, she too one look at it and threw it back at me and yelled at me to fill out where we were staying! I tried to talk with her and tell her I did not know exactly where we were staying, but she yelled at me again and called for the next person in line, repeatedly. Well, after standing in a short line for over an hour and being yelled at for being honest and not really knowing what to put down, I did something really STUPID! I wrote that I was staying at the Fuck Yu Inn. Well, after standing in line for another 15 minutes to get back to the head of the line, it was shorter because it was the end of the day and the border was about to close, I gave my paperwork back to the immigration officer, and soon, all shit hit the fan! She started screaming and took my passport and walked away with it, and I realized I screwed up and started looking for someone to help me and then word got around to all of the officers at the border and all these usually sweet people were looking at me as if I was a baby murderer, and asking me why I no like Thailand, etc……

Oh BOY! I was starting to realize I had made a bad mistake and was begging everyone for forgiveness. I can really grovel when I have to. I apologized about 100 times and asked for forgiveness and said I make mistake and I love Thailand and its people, which I do, and even pulled up some tears to show how sorry I was and begged and apologized!

Well, meanwhile Elizabeth had gone through, her not being a stupid head like me! And all of our Thai friends were waiting 3 blocks away for us, when Mr. Tawat, who I think is 50 years old or so, comes back and asked Elizabeth what was wrong and talked to the immigration officials. Well, we knew Mr Tawat was a teacher, who are held in very high esteem by the Thai people, and a government employee, but we didn't know he was some kind of special high ranking honcho. See, his wife owns and runs the guesthouse and he teaches. Well, he whips out his government identity card and all of a sudden, the border police start bowing to him and smiling and he tells them I am a good guy and he says he vouches for me and helps explain what has happened.

Meanwhile, I am in another room crying and apologizing! LOL!! So, soon, they take me out of the room and send me over to him and make me wait about 15 more minutes and then give me back my passport with my entry stamp and tell me to have a good time in Thailand! Well, I am heaving huge sighs of relief and as soon as we walk around the corner towards the van, Mr. Tawat starts laughing at me and I apologize to him for making a fuss. We got in the van and headed down the road, got rooms at a small motel and went next door to the bar / restaurant where I bought the drinks to laughs and back slaps from everyone.

We proceeded to journey into Laos before heading back to LOS and flying back to the US. We had a wonderful time and are getting ready to buy tickets to return in January with a side trip to India. This time, if we don't know where we are staying, we were told to always put, "the Orchid hotel, over by the temple!"

Stickman's thoughts:

If Mr. Tawat had not been there, you might still be in Burma now! No matter how much shit one gets, never give it back to an official in these parts.