Myles Harrington

Myanmar? Might As Well

In Myanmar, Thailand on December 12, 2010 at 11:37 am

I had a couple of places in mind to visit for the week I had to return to Thailand before my flight from Bangkok. Chiang Rai was the natural stop off point from Laos being the first major town. After a swift and fun border crossing that involved drinking the only cider I have managed to find in Asia a couple of Swedish pear ciders and we paid the boatman an extra 10,000 kip to go a long route to Thailand, slightly down stream on the Mekong. Once over we had a swift transfer to a rickety local bus for two and a half hours to Chiang Rai.

CIDER!

When I’d spoken to people about Chiang Rai they pretty much all said the same thing, it’s like a mini Chiang Mai and has an amazing white temple that is well worth a visit. Our first night there didn’t involve much, just the usual drunken antics like annoying a couple of Thai girls by trying to cook in their kitchen and making friends with groups of locals in the hip Face Club in order to have some of their whisky.

Annoying the staff

On day two we got a local bus from the conveniently, and unusually for Asia, centrally located bus station to the White temple. I was blown away by the place. Its official name is Wat Rong Khun and it’s the brainchild of a Thai artist called Chalermchai Kositpipat. Kositpitat is hoping to expand on the current building and have nine identical white temples on the site completed by 2070, the outside of the temple is magnificent and it’s a shame it wasn’t a sunny day when we visited because I can imagine it would have looked even more impressive glistening in the sunlight. The inside of the temple was just as fantastic. It’s meant to signify a type of heaven and hell with Buddha on the wall facing the entrance and on the entrance wall ‘hell’ depicted using modern sci-fi creation murals, these include Neo from The Matrix, the guy from Avatar, Spiderman and Superman.

Us with the cardboard artist and a random guy

We decided to hitch-hike the 14km back to Chiang Rai because we weren’t sure how frequent the buses were and would be guaranteed a comfier ride in a car than local bus. It could perhaps be free too. We were asking around outside the temple for a few minutes and eventually a western guy opened up the back door of a car and asked what we were after. The Thai driver and her friend in the front seat spoke relatively good English and it turns out that the Canadian, named Thane, who was in the backseat had only met them the day before too and he had a 22-year-old Thai girl on his lap. In a bizarre twist of fate the woman in the passenger seat owned a bar called Dragon’s Breath in town so we thought it would be rude not to hop along for a beer upon our return to central Chiang Rai. I wasn’t feeling too good so I stuck to the water to save money and sickness and we headed to Chiang Rai’s really cool open air night bizarre for some snacks and then on to Peace Café, another bar along the town’s farang bar strip.

Chiang Rai's Night Bazaar

the lady that gave us a lift

It was in Peace Bar that we got chatting to a Romanian guy who told us he was heading over to Myanmar for a while the next morning. Until then I had always thought it was relatively difficult and expensive to go to former Burma but after talking with him and consulting the Lonely Planet I discovered we were only an hour and a half from the Myanmar border where foreigners are allowed to cross. For US$10 you can spend up to 14 days in a couple of designated towns in Myanmar. As we were in the area it would be rude not to get the passport stamp.

My temporary Burmese ID card

I am aware Myanmar has been in the news recently with the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and the mass exodus of Burmese into Thailand but we thought not much harm could come to us in the border town of Tachileik. The bus ride there seemed much longer seeing as we had to stand for the whole time but we got chatting to a disgruntled ex-pat from Sheffield called Fred. He was fed up with leading his thirty year-long Thai life and just wanted to retire back in the UK to get his skin cancer sorted but was stuck here due to family constraints.

Fred the ledge

Fred entertained us with stories of how Thailand used to be unsafe and how he had once visited Myanmar and had hated it. He was a dodgy guy but it was entertaining for a while. As always the Asian border guys were making things awkward and didn’t want to accept small bills for the $10 entry fee and turned their noses up to a $20 bill because it had a pen mark on it. Eventually we managed to find two notes clean enough to pass through and we were in with our temporary ID cards and our passports were kept at the office for safe keeping.

The inside of my passport replacement

At first we were swamped by touts all offering us tours of the town and beyond. It was starting to sound how Fred described it but eventually we lost them and stumbled across a relatively safe looking hotel in the market area. Adam was suffering from the Sam Song shots Than had purchased for him the night before so he had a nap while I discovered the small part of Myanmar we were allowed to. I did a loop through some local areas using my newly found linguistic skills of saying min ga lar bar (hello) and jai zu bay (thank you) to everyone I met. It was really nice to be somewhere that little Western foreigners bother going to. Most just go to immigration and then back into Thailand which doesn’t make sense considering it’s a cheaper option to pay $10 for the longer stay than the 500 baht turn around to Thailand option. Most of visitors are Thais who hop over the border in huge swathes to buy cheap merchandise.

Good morning Myanmar

My first impressions of Myanmar were very positive, there were delicious deep-fried street snacks and everyone was friendly. It hadn’t occurred me that Myanmar has a border with India and walking around on my own reminded me a lot of my time in India. It was like stepping in to Little India. There are Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists all intermingled. Tea shops, people chewing paan and even Indian sweet shops added to the vibe. It seemed like India and South East Asia had been combined in one colourful and bustling small town, I just wish I had a lot longer to explore this highly intriguing country.

The coolest number plates in the world

I went back to the Chinese run hotel to wake up Adam and fed him some gutka I’d picked up at a paan shop and we went for dinner at Valentines tea shop. We ordered Myanmar veggie curries which turned out to just be bland stir fried veg. The Myanmar beer was a disappointment to as Fred also had told us it was. We went back for a nap and were woken to the sound of what sounded like bombs and machine gun fire. Perhaps that’s why we were the only farang we saw in town.

5k remaining: £151.24

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  1. What I love most about all your posts is the frequent and unwavering dedication to updating us all on what you have a) eaten, b) drunk and c) thrown up at any point on your travels. I feel I know you better now than when you sat opposite me.

    Skillz

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