We've only met two people from Myanmar in our travels, so our understanding of their country is very limited. Most of what we know is from the same news programs and articles you read.
So when we realized the easiest and fastest way to renew our Thai visa was to do a visa run to Tachilek, Myanmar, mixed emotions arose - it would be very interesting to get a glimpse of the country, but are we aiding a ruthless regime (with our $17 entry fee)?
3 hours in a speeding van, minus the 20 minutes to stop at a natural geyser surrounded by souvenir shops, and we were in the queue to get our Myanmar "day visa". Now for a place that gets a continuos stream of day visitors, the immigration office was exceedingly small but efficient. Picture taken and visa in hand we headed into Tachilek.
Hordes of touts desperate to sell you anything - from a tuk tuk ride to cigarettes, vaigra and cialis descend upon you immediately. After 50 or so "no thank you's" we were free to look around. The guide books tell you this is a typical Myanmar town and if accurate, Myanmar is one of the poorest countries we have seen in SE Asia (Cambodia has not fared much better).
It's hard to draw too many (accurate) conclusions in 15 minutes, but this seemed pretty clear - the people (minus the touts) are wonderful but have not much at all. We've seen this story many times and it is always a sad, but sobering reminder how good we, or anyone living in a developed country have it.
Our time was up, we had to go, but we stopped long enough to buy a sampling of pan fried snacks from a polite young man genuinely glad to earn 20 baht (60 cents).