Journey to the unknown: The golden triangle (Mae Sai, Burma, Laos)
Another morning in the foreign land. It was my last day in Chiang Mai. I had to wake up early to return the motorcycle. The morning cool enticed me into a leisure bike ride around the square walls of Tapae. I returned the bike and walked back to the hotel. I had a calm, relaxed breakfast alone with my thoughts. I had sort of figured out to go up and see Golden Triangle area perhaps. To get there I needed to get to Mae Sai.
The plan was to go to Mae Sai, the border town of Thailand/Burma and walk around a bit. Then see if I can enter burma for a short while. There is also an island of Laos which can be entered without a visa. And also a place where you see the three countries intersecting. I left my luggage at the hotel and came to the bus station. Got a ticket for 234 THB but the bus was in a couple of hours. I sat down at a coffee shop just writing my journal.
My experiences with all the people around me had shaken me at a certain level. It made me feel that this journey was trying to teach me something but I could not figure out what. For a moment I really wanted to be back in Bangalore. In my comfort zone. But then I realized that its not happening. I had sort of expected a little more scenery on the bus journey but it was not remarkable. I got to Mae Sai around 6.45 PM. I had no plans, no reservations so I had to improvise.
It took me 20 minutes and 15 THB to get to the town (almost at the border) from the bus station. Sometimes I felt Thailand can be so cheap that it amazed me. On the bus I happened to see a woman dressed in an Indian fashion with a bindi etc. However she spoke fluent Thai. I wanted to ask her about who she was but I never got around to it.
So I had to walk around checking out hotels. There were many of them on the highway but mostly it was over my budget. Finally I found one a bit cheap and paid for it. However when I got to the room, it was one of the shittiest room ever. For 700 THB i had got more than a beautiful bungalow in Sukhothai and yet here it was a small, stinky room. I wanted to go away and argue but then I thought it’s just the night. The worst part was no WiFi.
I showered and went back out on the street. It was like an evening market all over the highway that led to the Burma border post. An evening market full of many types of women’s dresses. I took a pad thai for dinner and spring rolls filled with chicken. The pad thai turned out to be weird tasting and so oily. To add to my woes there was no fork. I ate a little but couldnt eat more. So decided to rest. Tomorrow a new country beckoned!
The morning dawned. For some reason waking up early and starting a new day, a new adventure filled me with joy. I was unsure if I would get any phone network in Burma so I did a little research. The breakfast was pathetic as expected and so I had just bread and tea. Now came the confusing part. Where do I do the Thai exit formalities? For 20 minutes I wandered and walked the wrong way for about .5 KM. Finally googled more and realized my error. The blogs I found online had some pictures that guided me to the Thai post.
On entering one of the officials saw my passport and pointed me to a queue. I waited there for my passport to be stamped for exiting Thailand. Walked across this bridge in no man’s land and well there I was at burma immigration. I wondered how it might be compared to Thailand. Just a small distance away and yet a whole new way of life. There was But funny part was there hardly anyone there. I could have probably breezed past but I wanted to be safe. So I asked someone who took me into an office. Asked me about my purpose etc and then too 500 THB and stamped me in/out for burma for the same day.
I walked out and into Burma. As people had mentioned the air was slightly different, people a little more serious. The other thing you notice as soon as you step in there is women with face paintings made of some white paste. I found out later it is called Thanaka face paste that Burmese women apply in various designs. And the other thing I found was that a lot of Burmese women wear a longyi (long skirt type of thing) instead of skirts. However that didn’t mean that there were no short clothes worn. by any means mean that no short clothes were seen. At a certain level it was the same: pretty asian women, beautiful clothes, lovely hair. In fact the longyi added a sense of elegance.
I just walked around a bit. I wondered what to do here for a bit and then decided to head to the Shwedagon pagoda. At first I sat in a tuk-tuk that took me somewhere entirely different. I walked around feeling lost and in a not so touristy area. I got a few stares for sure. Then I took a motorcycle taxi and got to Shwedagon pagoda finally. It is a beautiful place, situated atop a hill, offering brilliant views. The pagoda itself looked stunning and then it had these statues representing days of your birth and you had to pray to the correct one.
There were smaller temple areas with buddha statues and they were beautiful too. It was a pretty good place for reflections but it started getting too hot by around 9AM . Then there were these small kids with umbrellas who would guide and explain to tourists on what to do. But as for me, either they did not understand my English or they did not considere me a tourist. I just I stayed there for some time, thinking and reflecting. I walked around the town for some time and went back to Thailand.
I found a Honda dealer that rented motorcycle in Mae Sai. The lady was quite amazed how I was able to travel so much without speaking much Thai. I rented a Honda scooter drove to the Golden Triangle area. It was the place where Burma, Laos and Thailand meet. On the way there were spectacular views of green fields and empty land. Sometimes I just made selfie videos of nothingness. Just the road and me, going on and on and on. I was listening to some music and singing out loud. It felt like I was a free bird and I was just happy being this person.
On the way I saw this sign of Hall of Opium. I had read about it on the wikitravel website so I decided to stop by and check it out. It was either a part of some resort or had just an amazing location with a lake and a mountain. I got to entrance and paid the 200 THB fees. The first was to walk under the mountain for about 200m to get to entrance. It felt surreal and since we could not click pictures all I have are the images in my mind. Dimly lit in blue lights, psychic music playing while you walk under a mountain was surreal.
Then I got to the other side and a girl (it is always a girl. At times i wondered where the guys are) explained everything to me. Then I went in to an auditorium where they played a 7 minute video about how this place started up. So apparently the Golden triangle area was home to a significant opium growing machinery which was the cause and effect of various disasters. And after the king realized how big a threat it was, they ran this whole campaign to remove opium from the country. Then there were various shows and informative narrations about opium’s history and spread and how it changed the world.
I knew a little bit but here I found the whole story of how british used opium to bring down China. They imported vast amounts of opium into china which made the balance of trade in their favor and it was also the cause of the wars and later the humiliating treaties that china was forced to accept. Overall, opium was and is a fucked up thing and should be avoided. We use various forms of poppy but this one, poppiferus somniferum is the killer.
So I completed the tour and then drove up to the golden triangle. The place where you can see Laos, burma and thailand meet. To be honest, it wasn’t anything spectacular but then it was an experience of its own kind. I got back to Mae Sai feeling tired and I planned to go back to chiang mai tonight. I figured I still had some time so decided to go to this Fish cave mentioned in wikitravel. When I got there I was already hot and tired and there was a huge crowd. I decided to turn around and return the motorcycle.
The fun started then. It turned out that there were no more buses to Chiang Mai for the day. So I just took a local bus to chiang rai hoping that I can find a connection from there. However the local bus was slow, stopped quite a bit and in general took 1.5 hours to get to Chiang Rai. On getting to Chiang Rai bus station, I found that all buses to Chiang Mai are full and as such there is no way to get there tonight. Once again I had to find a hotel on the fly.
Since I had to go to Chiang Mai anyhow as my luggage was there, I booked a ticket for next morning. I went to a café and found a simple cheap place to sleep. Anyhow I was about to get this place for a room when another guy approached me for a guest house just 50m before the one I thought I would go to. This one was called Orchids Guest House. 500 THB a night and it looked clean and good. I took a room, had a long hot shower and had a coffee.
I didn’t feel like going out. I had got to this point in the trip where I was genuinely tired and didn’t want to travel much. But anyhow I was here and had to finish the journey I started. I ate at a small local place, the usual Khao pad and coke and got back to the room. I called it a day and drifted off to dreams of traveling.