Nicolas is in India now. We’re missing him!
Our thirty day visas were running out but we weren’t (quite) ready to leave Thailand yet so a ‘visa run’ was required. We could get a minibus directly to the Myanmar border at Mae Sai or, for a couple of hundred more baht (~$7), visit the White Temple in Chiang Rai and some other tourist ‘attractions.’ Lunch included.
After a long hot day climbing the day before, the alarm sounded very much too early but we did make it down to the lobby in time for a quick breakfast before our 7:00 am pickup. The seat in the minibus was hard and the road was a series of sweeping curves so, despite my best efforts, sleep didn’t return. After a little more than an hour, we stopped for a twenty minute break by a small, steaming, fountain. Hot springs, I presume, was the reason for this parking lot full of other minivans and gaily painted coaches, and the usual array of stalls selling all manner of merchandise catering to the undiscriminating tourists.
Then, back in the minibus and on for an hour and a half to the White Temple. This is a new temple, started in the 90’s and still under construction, characterized by its totally white exterior. Not quite kitsch. Very different from the standard, and quite beautiful, temple buildings that are in abundance throughout Thailand. Many of the figures depicted skulls and disturbing images, hands raised in supplication. I’m sure there is a story here, but we didn’t get to hear it. Very crowded, with busloads of Thai and foreign tourists. Some of whom I recognised from our previous halt at the hotsprings.
Then on to the Golden Triangle, where Myanmar sneaks down one side of the Mekong River, between Thailand and Laos. Bev and I were here thirty years ago and I have a vague recollection of a quiet, pretty spot on a dirt road with a wooden sign proclaiming the ‘Golden Triangle.’ I even waded across the shallow water to spend a few minutes in Burma (as it still was then, I think). Now it’s another ‘well’-developed crowded tourist attraction. You can still see Laos on the other side of the Mekong, and Burma on the near side of the Mekong, separated from Thailand by the muddy waters of Mae Nam Sai. A sign on the Laos side: “Welcome to Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone” advertises a casino. Paradise Resort, visible in Burma, is another casino. Thailand, it appears, offers no such delights.
There was a one-and-a-half hour trip offered (300 baht) across the Mekong to Laos – another shoppingopportunity that Bev and I declined in favour of a wander through the lanes along the river side. Then back on the bus for the ride to the border at Mae Sai. Our minibus ‘guide’ warned us not to stop in the market but head straight across the border to get stamped in and out of Myanmar and back into Thailand to depart in half-an-hour. It seemed an optimistic time frame but it didn’t take long in the line to get stamped out of Thailand. A short walk across the bridge to Myanmar immigration where a very courteous official (“Is it alright if I put the stamp on this page?”) gave us entry and exit stamps in our passport in exchange for 500 baht (~$17); this process took less than a minute (and I’d thought that my previous unofficial visit to Myanmar, wading across the river, had been a short one). We were back in Thailand, with a fifteen day visa and five minutes to spare!
The last stop before we headed back to Chiang Mai was at a small hill-tribe (Karen) village. Bev and I had been lucky enough, thirty years ago, to spend a week in a Karen village that had only really seen a handful of Westerners; a very different experience than this visit: this one slightly uncomfortable with the inhabitants and their wares ‘on display’ to hundreds of tourists, on minibuses like ours, each day.
For an extra 300 baht it would have been possible to wander down the path a little further to the ‘Long-necked Karen,’ a hill-tribe where the women lengthened their necks with metal necklaces (a practice apparently growing out until its economic potential was realised). We passed on this opportunity, too.
Then we had the long drive back to Chiang Mai, dropped back at our hotel around 9:00 pm. It had been a fourteen hour day, much of it sitting in the bus and the rest of it not particularly satisfying. I’m glad that this type of tourism is a very small part of our journey.