A Day in Myanmar

Trip Start Nov 08, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Myanmar  ,
Wednesday, December 13, 2006

We have no real itinerary for SE Asia. We just figured we'd hang out in a country until our visas ran out and then we'd head to a neighboring country and repeat the process. We can only stay in Thailand for 30 days at a time unless we go to an embassy and apply for a travel visa. We could also pay for an extension in Bangkok, but it's $50 or so. So we'll just jump borders. One place to do that is Mae Sot where you can cross into Myawadi in Myanmar. Myanmar (formerly Burma) isn't a travelers' paradise. We had originally planned on checking it out - wandering over to Mandalay maybe.

I realize I use the word "wander" a lot. It's because that's what we do. We don't really have destinations or goals in mind. It's not like going to Europe and saying you want to see these certain cities so you can visit such and such museums and see specific ruins and wonders. We're in SE Asia because it's cheap, neither one of us had been here, and it looks different than anywhere else we've traveled. So we're wandering around. Back to the story.

So we thought about checking out Myanmar, but it's not terribly tourist friendly or easy to navigate. The country is ruled by your basic totalitarian regime. Citizens and guides in the country aren't allowed to discuss the local political situation with foreigners or engage in anything that could be considered dangerous or revolutionary. Our guidebook specifically lists which organizations are owned by the government and suggests only dealing with private businesses so as not to support the regime. We decided it wasn't that important to check it out.

But a border run was necessary. So we traveled 6 km to the border, did our exit paperwork for Thailand, and walked across the bridge into Burma. It cost $15 to enter Burma for the day (which is required to enter back into Thailand) and so we thought we'd have a look around for a few hours. Lonely Planet says Burmese immigration charges $10 U.S. to get into the country or 500 baht. They didn't take our dollars. We had to pay in baht, which makes it more expensive. Plus, we didn't take much baht, so we were left with almost no cash and some time to kill in Myawadi. Our guidebook listed a few nice wats in the city, but had no map of the town, so we couldn't find them on our own. Cashless, we walked around town. We decided to head down a dirt road off the main street and found a world very different from the one on the Thai side of the border. Myanmar is obviously poorer than Thailand. And they don't get many visitors. So people didn't know what to think of us. Adults stared at us suspiciously. Kids screamed and pointed, then followed us around the streets like puppies. When we'd turn around to look at them they'd freeze and stare at us with odd, awkward smiles plastered on their faces. They didn't say "hello" like in Thailand, but said "hey you" in what sounded like a New York accent. Some guy named Guido opened a language school in Burma. But the kids were friendly and that part of the walk was fun.

However, as we made our way into other parts of town, the feeling changed. The young adults seemingly hated us for some reason. They'd yell "Hey you!", we'd turn to say hello back, then they'd yell, "What you looking at?" Guido had taught them to be angry.

There weren't any real incidents, but every time you visit somewhere new, you get a feel for a city. And this place didn't feel right. So we headed back to the bridge feeling a little guilty for spending just a couple of ours in the country. But as we sat on some steps before returning, we saw another Western couple walk over from the Thai side. They walked off to explore the city and we commented that they should have an interesting time. But it wasn't terribly interesting because they returned 2 minutes later looking unnerved and returned to the Thai side of the bridge. We grabbed our passports from immigration and did the same. We got fresh stamps for Thailand and now we have another 30 days before we have to leave again. So we plan to go up north and go to Laos by Jan 12.
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