Quick trip to Shan State with Scott
Trip Start Apr 01, 2008
46Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
Mya Shwe Yee Hotel
I haven't written anything in here for a while as I have been too busy.
But I am hoping to be less busy and in January 2010 I am stopping being a paid worker for Mirror Foundation in the hope that by doing so, I can clear some time for myself and also probably achieve more than I am currently achieving.
Anyway, as a prelude to (hopefully) a life of a bit more freedom and time - I am about to go to Tachilek, Keng Tung and Mong La with Scott Woz for a few days. Starting (perhaps) on 1 Dec.
I will add more info soon...
Scott has had a bad back and I have been sick with a bad cold. We came close to cancelling the trip but instead settled on a shorter version just into Tachilek.
Oh, who is Scott?
He is a friend that has been here in Chiang Rai for about 6 months teaching English. More info is available here: http://www.travelpod.com/travel-blog/scottwoz/manmeetsworld/tpod.html
Kanchana, Kitty and P Ray drove us to Tachilek and after a coffee shop break...
Into Myanmar mid to late morning and we started the trip with a look through the markets
Sadly there are plenty of examples of wildlife parts for sale as well. Tiger teeth and claws and skins of leopards and things like that. :-(
We both brought some new shoes and had our first random conversation with a hawker. His family were originally from Tamil Nardu and he spoke Tamil, Burmese, English, and ... who knows what else. Everyone here is multi lingual.
From there we walked into the Muslim section of town and Scott's never ending search for some good Muslim food started. We were invited to tea with 3 men. One was the Islamic teacher at the mosque, another was Thai but now lived here. They all had origins in Urdu region of India (near Pakistan) and they spoke Urdu as well as Thai, Burmese and who knows what else. They were happy to chat and share thoughts. They seemed happy and relaxed but said life in Myanmar was difficult as the government didn't give Muslims opportunities. I asked the young Thai citizen why he didn't go back to live in Thailand to which he replied that in Thailand he is poor and would have to work for someone else, but here he has enough money to be a trader and work for himself. Most of our conversation was in Thai, but every now and again they'd come out with some knowledge of English
At lunch we met a Padaung man called Mike who was proud of his English and wanted to practice. He'd spent a year and a half living in Perth as a Jesuit student and now worked as a hawker in the market beside the bridge selling cigarettes and Viagra and other hawker items to tourists. At one point he told us that Thai jails were the nicest he'd experienced, certanly nicer than Burmese.
I'll try to keep that in mind next time I plan some time in a jail.
He'd been in Burmese jail for selling marijuana to a French tourist.
He also explained to us his techniques of exchanging decent quality goods for poor ones if the tourist was rude or refusing to pay a reasonable price, basically by distracting their attention and switching the cigarettes. For people that were decent and paid a reasonable but still very cheap price, he would not rip them off, and genuinely enjoyed using his English language with people.
He did have some good information though on getting to Keng Tung, trekking in that area, avoiding taking a guide from here, etc. Basically, the rules have recently changed and now tourists must take a guide from Tachilek to Keng Tung, pay for the guide, his meals, accommodation, etc. But it seemed quite possible to talk to the Burmese officials at Immigration and pay 300 Baht to not have to take a guide. Good guides were available in Keng Tung and he suggested one called Mr Young Boy. Also from Mike, it sounded like it would be well worth spending about 3 days trekking and staying in villages in the mountains surrounding Keng Tung.
Other miscellaneous info from Mike:
Cost of the permit to go to Keng Tung = 50 Baht
Bus ticket round trip = 700 Baht
About a 5 hour journey to Keng Tung on "good" roads
In Keng Tung, Myanmar money would be needed. Not Thai Baht or US$
Mike's rent was 700 Baht per month
And he paid school fees of 600 Baht per month which pretty much took most of his money.
He recommended the Private Hotel near the airport in Keng Tung and said the trekking there was good and that in that area lived some small ethnic groups.
Mike did go on a bit and we finally escaped him at around 2-3 pm to go find a hotel.
It is worth noting that Mike is Padaung - a small tribe you may know of as the Long Necked Karenni. And we had already spoken to a Tamil, and some Urdu people (who are almost Arabic in appearance), a number of Akha, Shan, Thai, Lahu and Burmese
We did contemplate going on to Keng Tung, but the stuffing around with permits, getting a passport photo, the cost, etc put me off. Plus, we didn't have the time to have a good look. Plus, I still wasn't 100% and Scott's back would have to endure a long ride. And did we even have enough money? I wasn't sure and there are no more ATMs here. Anyway there seems so much to see and explore just in Tachilek.
We stayed in Mya Shwe Yee Hotel which costs 600 Baht per. Very nice, clean, hot shower, good bed, comfortable.
And a short walk to Swedagon Pagoda which we looked at next. See the pictures.
More friendly people at the Pagoda and good views. We also met a Chin man (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chin_State) who had great English and a great voice - he could have easily have read the news or done voice overs or something in English speaking countries
Like people anywhere he felt his government wasn't too good, but there wasn't much he could do about it. So he simply had the attitude of taking the good they offered and not taking to heart the bad things done.
Then a walk through the streets and ally ways where we found more friendly people.
Lots of kids running around playing, people going about their business, etc. It had a feel of a very normal, relaxed, down to Earth place.
At night, sat in a restaurant and watched the world go by. Everything again very pleasant and calm. No hint of any tension or uneasiness. Lots of kids out playing, families having dinner, etc. Walking around feels very safe
Day 2 -
Woke up, had a good hot shower, went and looked around. Kids riding their bikes to school. Stopping to buy breakfast. People walking to work. Just more generally happy family life. Probably the exact opposite you expect to see in a country that has been in one of the longest running civil wars on the planet.
Anyway, I noticed where the kids were eating and decided that was a good idea. Wrote some notes about the trip while waiting for Scott to wake up and then gave up, left him a note and went to eat. Guess what? More friendly pleasant people..
We checked out after breakfast and went exploring
There were a couple of puppies here and they followed us a little further up the hill to a larger temple where there were another 5 or so Burmese soldiers and a Shan Buddhist monk.
(Location: 20°27'3.18"N 99°52'18.25"E)
As we arrived a young soldier was being visited by his wife and small daughter, who loved seeing the puppies. The family were sitting quietly on the side of the hill and it was a nice reminder that soldiers, whether they be "the enemy" or otherwise, are just people the same as anyone else.
Anyway, we had a great chat with the monk who gave us coffee and biscuits.
We walked around the temple / position a bit, saw they had some 40mm mortars and they were digging in and also doing repairs to the temple.
We spoke to the corporal that was responsible for this section.
Basically they were occupying the high ground and it seemed that there was some drug production not too far off to the West and the army was keeping a lid on the militia that controlled that - or something like that.
Back down the hill and we continued the search for the Akha village, with no luck initially. So I grabbed some motorcycle taxi drivers, who got someone else who got another couple of drivers and we got a couple of motorcycle taxis to the village.
Quick look around the village. It was small, with small, very basic houses, but looked like a typical village compared to the others around here.
The motorcycle guys took us on tour around the area next, through some other villages and to have a look at a temple and church school
Then to Allure Resort that has a "Long Neck Karen" (Padaung) village set up. I knew this village was here, but was initially reluctant to go. Is it just a human zoo? But I was also interested to see how the people are treated and what they think. Anyway, the motorcycle taxi guys decided for us as they decided we should go.
It is a very artificial village and basically a human zoo. But, the Padaung there are happy. They are paid ok, and have food and shelter and safety. Which they had much less of where they came from.
The kids can go to school. They were happy
It isn't the worst place in the world. And it does give people a living. But I wouldn't recommend it, as it is just so fake and paying to look at people because they are 'different' seems wrong. But ???? Up to you.
We had a chat with a very lovely young Padaung lady that had just completed university in Rangoon
After that, back to the main part of town and departure from Myanmar.
Our little visit was very enjoyable. The people seemed very friendly and were very genuine types. Everything was very safe. Everything was very interesting. We both very much want to come back.
The multicultural aspect of the town was surprising - very mixed.
Anyway - time to finish this entry off.
Lunch in Mae Sai and then the song taew trip home. Hmmm, Thailand seems a bit like a disappointment after exploring Myanmar and seeing so many interesting things - but that feeling doesn't last long.
Post note - I have tried to organise to take some blankets to the Akha village for Christmas, but so far the board at Mirror Foundation say no as it isn't a village they know. But I may still get some volunteers to buy some and come with me later to give some to that village.