Chiang Mai - Tak - Mae Sot: Delightful Part 3
April 12, 2010
I travel by van, over the mountains westward to Mae Sot, a town that sits on the bank of the Moei River, the natural barrier between Thailand and Myanmar.
Mae Sot is a stroller’s dream. The town is dotted with two important stroller-ingredients: golden temples and fresh-brewed coffee. May and Nok are my new friends at the Oasis Coffee Shop – Breakfast All Day, Free Internet, Café Americano.
The third stroller ingredient is a colorful, shoulder-to-shoulder market. And since Mae Sot is a border town with a porous border, many if not most of the merchants are Myanmar immigrants or refugees – legal and illegal.
Dressed in the traditional waist to floor wraparound cloth sheet called a longyi with their faces decorated with the yellow powder called tanaka, the shopkeepers and their children are welcoming yet a bit shy in front of my camera. I remember to say “hello” and “thank you” in Burmese.
I bought two “Songkran shirts” for the upcoming Songkran water festival: one is an outrageous blue-green, the other an equally outrageous pink-purple – both printed with lovely, tropical flowers – don’t ask me what! I’m sure to be a hit back in Bangkok.
I hired a tuk-tuk driver and we visited temples out of town and up in the mountains. Wat Thai Watthanaram has a huge reclining Buddha that is featured in my guidebook. Remote and up in the hills, another temple has a tall black Buddha who gestures towards the river far below. My driver also drove to the Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge (Ha!). I didn’t cross over but instead walked along the riverbank where the vendors specialize in cigarettes, cialis and crabs. And Burmese jade (Ha! again.)
I was lucky to get a seat for the long bus ride back to Chiang Mai. The bus was filled with a group of young folks from Norway – “We’re Missionaries.” The owners of the Oasis Café, Neill and Diana Gilbert are also missionaries. Neill told me his mission has evolved from religious activity to medical care, although he continues to preach at the Foursquare Mae Sot Church. Next to me on the bus was Carey Russell, a Texan, a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, and a documentary film maker.
Thank Heaven for the Norwegians, the Gilberts, and the Carey Russell’s of the world. Unlike yours truly, they “do issues.” Carey lives with a Myanmar family in Mae Sot. His life and their life cannot be easy – spare and hot, I assume.
Many ethnic minorities in Myanmar are shunned or forcibly removed from their land and treated as terrorists and traitors by their own government. Tens of thousands of Burmese have crossed the border. In Thailand they are treated with indifference, at best. Education and medical services are denied to them. Hence, the missionaries. My guess is that almost all of the foreigners in Mae Sot are there “to help.” *
Me? I went to Mae Sot to see a new place and take a few photos. Perhaps I am selfish – but in a good way, I hope.
The final delightful moment of my short trip came when Res and Som O met me at the Chiang Mai Airport to say “Good bye.” Res took time out from her family business. Som O (a nickname that means pomelo) is about to open a small spa. I promised I would be one of her first customers. And a delightful encounter that will be, I am sure.
* For the distressing, chilling and heartbreaking stories of hundreds of (landmine) amputees along the Myanmar-Thai border, see the Clear Path International website. At the Mae Tao Clinic in Mae Sot, CPI provides dramatic, life-altering assistance.