Delightful Northern Thailand 10 – Mae Sai, Myanmar, Mae Fah Luang
We leave Mae Salong on highway 1234, headed east. It's the very last day of my tourist visa. To get a new visa for Thailand, I have to step into Myanmar. Enigmatic Asia.
Along the road large tea fields stretch out. Only now we understand that there is no need for the difficult side trip to the "agrotourism tea plantation" west of Mae Salong – they grow everywhere right next to the road.
We meet airstrip-like highway 1 and turn north. "Look, there are fruit stalls", observes Norah. "Oh, they have STRAWBERRIES, Hans!", observes Norah. I know my duty and turn left, park the car and grab my novel – I'll have 15 or so minutes of reading time while Norah hand-selects for us Thailand's best strawberries between Chiang Mai and Mae Sai. She returns with bursting plastic bags.
I don't like all Thai border posts, I happily avoid Chong Mek for instance, but Mae Sai is a delightful little market place. Parking comes by hard, but then Northern Guest House graciously provides car space without even being asked. That same road right next to Mae Nam Sai border river bursts with market stalls specialising on torch lights, small tripods and baseball caps, then there is another section dedicated to mushrooms, herbs, spices, sneakers and synthetic socks. We find a noodle-and-coffee-shop where I want to gain strength for my trip to a foreign country, and they do a delightful cappuccino.
— MYANMAR IN 10 MINUTES —
Many many Thai people squeeze into the Thai border station on the southern side of Sai river. According to the guide book, 4000 Thais visit the Myanmar town of Takilek on the other river side every day to shop for herbs and mushrooms.
I know it's five dollars for a day ticket into Myanmar. Thai border police has even put up signs advising that you should not pay more. "You five dollar", asks me a Thai police? Oh, they already collect the cash on the Thai side? No, he just wants to make sure I have small money handy.
On the Burmese side I enter a wooden shack manned by several dark-faced mustached men. They collect five dollars, shove my passport into a drawer and give me a laundry ticket that's good to retrieve the passport before 5 p.m. that day. All this they do with kind of an excusing smile.
I have a shy smile, too. It is the very first time I visit a country
– not to visit the country,
– not to pass through the country,
no, I just visit this country because I want to spend more time in another country.
I feel bad about that. Usually I arrive well-informed. But Myanmar gets no attention from me. I only know what the international news pages say about this country – that's enough. I have to concentrate my Asian hobby, and I chose to concentrate on Thailand and Cambodia.
PLEASE PUT HERE PICTURES:
I walk into Myanmar, which at very first glimpse look like an impoverished copy of Thailand: Curbstones painted in red-white to indicate no-parking areas, and motorcycle drivers in colored vests. Touts swing photo albums, trying to sell me a day tour.
No, I don't even want to start to develop interest in this country. From Myanmar, on my Thai SIM card, I call my non-Thai ASEAN lover over in Thailand, who's on another Thai SIM card: "How's Mae Sai for you, darling?" – "Oh, I just found market with very good sour mango!! And how's Myanmar for you, darling?" – "Oh, I just found a roundabout. I'll walk around that and back into Thailand." – "Ok, I check market for some more time."
She'll be busy for another 20 minutes, so I slowly wander around, marveling at the intriguing, pretzel-like Burmese script full of circles and more circles.
— BACK INTO THAILAND —
Back at the Thai border, they even have picnic tables where I can sit down to fill out the immigration form. It already bears a stamp "Walking". It is also the first time I get the entry form with detailed inquiries about the visitor's income. At that time I believe the income-question is only for walk-in guests or for people who obviously do a visa-run. Angry about the Royal inquests, I tick the lowest category of income, below 20.000 USD.
Then I stand at the visa booth and wait and wait for my passport to be processed. Stupid to tell them I am poor, I think now. Maybe I'm not allowed back in because of self-declared dubious financial standing? I finally see that the official corrects my handwriting. He draws new, correct, capital letters where my negligent hand-writing did not clearly reveal my name. Finally the stamp is hammered onto my passport.
Another call on the cellphone reveals Norah still being busy with sour mangoes, "oh, and they have good peaches too!" – So I stroll down the river road towards the Suzuki. Funny, so many small tripods are on sale there; are they so high on demand with Thais? Actually, I could use such a tiny tripod for my compact digicam. – "300", demands the marketeer. – "Oh", I make with a disappointed voice and suggest politely that 150 might be enough? – "Oh", he makes with a disappointed voice. But it's already quite hot, and we both know what we want, so we quickly arrive at 200 Baht.
There's Norah! I take her to a small restaurant right on the river, looking over to the Myanmar side. But the international scenario is not at all special to her. She needs two chairs to park her newest bags of fruit and recounts what she found at which prices. I suggest we drive halfway back to Mae Fah Luang gardens, a Royal project and flower garden high on the hills which should be a great setting to munch the first few kilos of today's fruitload.
She doesn't care where to eat the fruit. She also doesn't care for details of my brand-new Myanmar adventures and Thai border formalities. But I know how to get her attention: "I purchased something on the market, too, darling", I say triumphantly. – Now she is most interested. – "It is something that we need to snap better self-portraits", I lecture. – That's great for her!
I fish for the fragile tripod, mount the cam on top and put it all onto the table in front of us. After about another five minutes I have managed to fix the camera in a way that it would not sink down again; the screw is half-broken by then. Finally we snap our first tripod-based self-portrait:
A Farang guy, an ASEAN lady, sitting behind a Thai table in front of a Myanmar backdrop – and happy together.