Day22 Mae Sot to Mai Sariang, Thailand

11:59 pm Motorbike/Motorcycle, Thailand, Travel
Departure Time 8:17am
Departure Location Mae Sot, Thailand
Arrival Time 5:22pm
Arrival Location Mae Sariang, Thailand
Distance Travelled 274km

Day22

We left the cottage early, and rode into town to find a place to have breakfast.  Along the way we came across this nice Buddhist temple in a back street of Mae Sot.

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Here you have Rebecca checking out the menu of a place that serves breakfast.  It was run by a Canadian.  While we were having breakfast, we saw these women go past carrying their goods on their heads.

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After breakfast, we rode to the Myanmar border.  The first photo shows the immigration/customs building, behind which they have built the bridge over the river.  The following photos were taken from under the bridge.  It turns out that there is a huge amount of trade going on under the bridge.  We even saw people on the Myanmar side with rubber tubes to cross the river to the Thai side.  It appears that this area is treated a little bit like ‘no man’s land’.  You can see the people carrying goods walking past the "Moi River" inscription.  It looks like these people came across from Myanmar, went to the markets under the bridge on the Thai side, and are returning to Myanmar.  We couldn’t quite work it out, but it appears as though both governments allow this as long as the people don’t venture beyond the area under the bridge.  Given that we were able to ride our bike under the bridge shows you how fluid some of the borders are.  Needless to say, this was an interesting place to visit.

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Once we left Mae Sot, we again passed through wonderful scenery.  We again went off the main road to look at the way people live away from the beaten track. We went  to some hot springs, but decided not to hop in, as we didn’t want to spend the time.  It was very beautiful though.  As you can see in the photo, the people are so friendly wherever we go!

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We saw lots of workers in the field. Notice how they lay down the rice in rows.

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Here is a roof made of leaves – these leaves come from a tree that is abundant in Thailand. The leaves are all over the road, and they are huge.  Some are more than 30cm (one foot) in length.  When they are dry, you can hear them go crunch as you ride over them!

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As we headed north, we reached a security checkpoint, where we were stopped and asked where we were heading.  This is the first time we had been stopped.  We didn’t think anymore about it.  However, after a couple of kilometers we came past this huge village – it stretched for two to three kilometers.  We stopped to take a photo, and then noticed that there was barbed wire fences.  This seemed odd, and then it dawned on us that this is a refugee camp set in a very beautiful border area.  Just look at the mountains that form the backdrop to this camp!

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As we were taking photos, this young man walked past and started talking to us.  I think he wanted to practice his English – which was actually very good.  He offered to take us into the camp and show us around.

The refugees living here are Karen from Myanmar.  I must say – this refugee camp was very different to what I had expected.  The security turned out to be very, very lax.  The refugees use the main road to get from one end of the camp to the other, as it is easier than using the dirt tracks within the camp.  Many young people had mobile phones, and I could hear children playing video games in some of the huts we went past.  Some of the refugees have their parents back in Myanmar, and go back once a year to visit their family.  It appears that they are here because they can get a better education.

Don’t get me wrong.  Being a refugee here is not an easy life and these people need all the help they can get.  But the stereotype I had built up in my mind of what a refugee camp is was certainly challenged during this visit.  This is the largest, most accessible and most ‘open’ camp in Thailand.  We found out later that one is supposed to apply for a pass to visit, and that this takes about a week to process.  There is also a Seventh-day Adventist lady that runs a school here.  Again, we found out after our visit, otherwise we would have tried to track her down.

The Karen people are here because many of them come from an area where the Burmese government is fighting guerilla groups.  The government doesn’t want anyone living in this area, as the local people could pass important intelligence to the rebel groups.  There are several armies fighting in this area.  Unfortunately the local people have few choices – they can either be displaced people in their own country, live in a war zone, or become refugees in Thailand.

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We climbed up one of the steep mountains to the place where our guide lives.  He goes to school to learn English, and then he comes ‘home’ and teaches the others in his house.  Here is how they live.  Notice the boxes around the room – they are the bedding they use at nights (remember – you can click on the photos to see a larger version).

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This is a photo of the kitchen, the temple, and the primary school.

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As you can see in this photo, the water is carried from the bottom of the hill.

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This couple were from America and visiting various refugee camps in Thailand and providing medical care.  The woman told me that they went to a camp that can only be reached by boat at this time of the year, and that they hit a rock in the water and all fell into the river.

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These women have just come from the doctor, and are walking back to their part of the camp via the main road.  No problem taking the babies through the barbed wire fence. The boys were playing soccer and quickly surrounded us with great interest when we stopped to take this photo.

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Once we left the area of the refugee camp, we came across another security checkpoint, and that is when it dawned on us – as long as the refugees stay between the two checkpoints, they aren’t bothered by the authorities and are free to use the road to get between the far ends of the camp.

We stopped for lunch at this little place, and were surprised to find another BMW motorbike rider having his lunch there.  He had come a bit further than us, having ridden all the way from England!  We decided to ride to the next major town together, which turned out great, as the next few hours were very windy roads and it was the first time that we saw very few vehicles or people.  It also meant that we got some photos of ourselves riding our bike!

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This picture is interesting, because this house in the middle of nowhere had solar panels on the roof.

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We met these locals walking by the side of the road.

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Here we are riding over a temporary bridge, as the original had collapsed in the middle.  A photo we have thanks to our new found friend.

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We arrived in Mae Sariang just as the sun was setting, and stayed in a room right over the river.

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