Tachileik & 10 kms around! 31/12/2008 – 1/01/2009
Whilst we were really keen to see Myanmar as you can't drive through it we'd sadly put it to one side ..but now due to the new Thai visa rule and the need for a quick border run as a bit of a sudden decision we found ourselves crossing the border. The lady at the (Thai) immigration offices where we left the car was adamant we could take the car into Myanmar as many Thais do - but official word is we can't and we really didn't fancy getting it stuck there so we left it!
As it was New Year's Eve there were hordes of people going through the border (on average 3-4,000 a day) ..predominantly Thai but a few farangs - just to buy cheap fags and booze mainly. We queued up, moving slowly forward and were eventually herded into the foreigners' section. There we were photographed and issued with our photo ID card. This has to remain with you throughout your time in Myanmar and just to make sure you don't forget to return it they hold your passport as surety!
Tachileik is very much a border town.. full of Thais shopping for a bargain in the huge market- mainly dried mushroom, herbs, herbal medicines cigarettes and cheap Chinese goods. It wasn't a particularly attractive town but had a couple of interesting temples, having a more Burmese style similar to Chinese temples. There was an impressive gold statue of a former Burmese King who defeated the Thais in the 17th century though we had to photo it between the bars as the soldiers wouldn't let us any nearer !
We stayed in one of 3 possible Government guesthouses which was ok..a bit more pricey than the same standard in Thailand (300 baht)- less competition I guess. $USD or Thai baht was used everywhere, we never even saw any Burmese money. It was interesting just walking around the streets seeing a few different Burmese sights - the ladies in their distinctive golden cream face paint, the beetle nut stall selling pre-ground paste wrapped in lime leaves for chewing - even popular with the monks!
New Year's Eve was somewhat understated to say the least! It isn't a big holiday here and if people had celebrations they were private! In desperation we got a bike taxi to the imposing Regal Resort and Golf Club - a Government run Casino popular with wealthy Thais.
It was a bit of a washout as they only had private parties and we ate alone off a limited menu in a huge canteen! Andrew can't drink whilst on his malaria medication so after dinner, not really wanting to gamble we were back in the hotel by 10pm!
One of the most understated NYEs I can remember!! Thailand is half an hour ahead of us and we heard and saw their fireworks and lanterns from our hotel then half an hour later they began on the Myanmar side a bit more muted!
The next day determined to see a bit of Myanmar we hired a guide and took off by motorbike. Our guide Slim was a great guy - very good English and really helpful. We'd really recommend him if you find yourselves here he can be contacted on 08 76610127 (Thai number.)
We were a bit limited in that we could only go 10km to the North and 2km to the West of the city due to government restrictions. Within these limitations we saw a fair bit.
We first took a scenic drive out of town to Morenyin Pagoda an interesting Wat. The majority of people here are Buddhists though there are also Christians and Moslems.
Thankfully no one seems to be persecuted due to their religion. The temple was quite Hindu in parts and also had Chinese style Buddhas. There were graphic pictures inside of the tortures suffered by the damned - a bit gruesome!
The Shan indigenous people are Buddhists with a slant we'd not seen before. They build what look like sand castles..very carefully hand sculpted ..as part of their offerings to Buddha.
We then went to another Wat overlooking the town where a lovely lady talked me through making an offering to my Buddha ..based on the day of the week you're born - Thursday in my case.
Myanmar has only had access to the internet for a year and we saw a room full of young monks really enjoying going on line!
We got back into town for a good look around the markets prior to leaving. The markets seemed to sell everything …food/clothes /cigarettes (a lot of these) Viagra (all sold under the counter ….they really pushed this …or they seemed to be really targeting us….. hope it's the former!! ) and guns of course!
I felt frustrated leaving ..like I'd been shown a really nice meal and then not allowed to eat it as what I saw really made me want to explore this lovely country and we left after hardly seeing anything.
So, before the 6pm border shut off we were back into the northern most point of Thailand. We picked up the car with no problems and with 15 more days on our visa headed back to Doi Tung to camp. Next stop Chiang Mai.