|Today, we embarked on a very unplanned journey, to a very unexpected place. A few days ago in Krabi, some British friends informed us of the one-month Thai visa limit, which conveniently expired for us on that very day - now it makes so much sense why we signs for "Visa Runs" everywhere. With many options on the table, Kuala Lumpor, Phnom Penh, we opted to go Northe to the Burmese border, thinking we would save a couple dollars and maybe see a new part of the country.
Yet another uncomfortable and freezing overnight bus ride brought us to the dark, cold and sleepy city of Mae So. Completely unprepared for the cool air, we took the only available transport: the Tuk Tuk (remember those shady taxis that are really shifty metal carriages melded onto a motobike?). The cold tuk-tuk ride brought us to the only guesthouse in town, Bai Fern, thank god for Lonely Planet guides. We crawled happily into bed at 6 AM and caught a few hours of sleep.
I woke up early as usual and shared a shower with 100s of mosquitos before I took a stroll down the main drag. THIS is Thailand. There are VERY few white people, and the few that I saw I frantically tried to chase down for answers). Any farangs present are most likely expat NGO workers assisting in the nine refugee camps along the border. Some random Canadian had a restaurant where I ate breakfast; I spotted a nice Aussie and he informed there's not much to do here but work with poor people or cross the border for a day to get your Thai visa renewed: he was right.
It was still interesting to be in such a remote part of the country, away from the hustle and bustle of tourist traps.
Being that no one in the town spoke a word of English, a lot of sign language and confusing facial expressions led us on a goose hunt around town to find a songthaew to the border. I've learned you have to do a lot of trusting when you're traveling so vulnerably. The songthaew dropped us off right at the border control just as promised. After dealing with the Thai immigration agent and paying outrageous fines for our overstay, we were directed into the Burmese border office. Our white skin afforded us special entry into the air-conditioned office where we were immediately taken care of by a jolly old man, proudly spouting off his English skills through his black and white smile, tar covering the inner spaces between each tooth and the next, displaying to us the Myanmar sense of hygiene. "Kristin Michelle your name yes? Just like first lady.. Obama... Michelle Obama!" How, again, does this poor old Burmese man know more about our President-elect than some Americans do?
The trek into Burma is across the Thai-Burmese Friendship Bridge. I guess they call it this because they've had so many border disputes and it makes countries like the US get off their back a bit. We crossed the river with scarlet-robed monks, women toting large sacks of vegetables over their head, and looked over the edge to spot all the homeless on the Burmese side washing their clothes in the river. It was shocking looking from one side to the other, from Thailand to Burma, and notice the stark differences in well-being. Burma has no cars, only bicycles serving as taxis, Burma has no tall buildings, Burma has no clean streets. Our short hour stroll through the city only brought surprised stares from the locals and a curious wonder on our part of these people, this land that we know so little about. The people didn't smile like they smile in Thailand. Their skin was darker, harsher, more leather-like. The people seemed older.
Our Burma experience only lasted an hour and I suppose that was enough considering the political situation of our two countries and the State Departments warnings against visiting. At least we had the experience. At least we know the Myanmar Border agent knows Michelle Obama and thinks the US is "good country with Obama". Maybe there is something to hope for.