Mae Sai

Decided not to go to the beach just yet, but go north instead. Before that spent some more days in Bangkok. The kings birthday on December 5th was crowded.

Heading north i took an overnight bus to Mae Sai. It’s the northernmost place in thailand, small town growing around a four lane highway hitting the border crossing to Tachilek in Burma – an interesting place. I stayed there for half a year from september 2001 to March 2002, and on and off for some months after that. Back then i was a volunteer for DEPDC, and used to hang out a lot at the Childlife shelter too.

For a day i did what i often did on Sundays back then: bought a bag of ice coffee (yes, in Thailand it often comes in a plastic bag) and sat at the border watching if anything interesting happens on the bridge. It was as it used to be: Burmese and Thais are importing and exporting on cars, motorcycles, bicycles and and on their backs (no lorries anymore though, as another border crossing was opened a while ago a few kilometers east.) Tourists, Thai and sweaty fat farang, cross back and forth as you can cross to Tachilek for a day without a visa here. Street children follow them back and forth asking for ‘ten baht, ten baht’. And some mothers with worn faces sit on the curb and yell instructions: ‘There’s a rich looking bugger!’ (in languages i don’t understand).

I saw Lotti, an Akha boy now maybe 12, who used to stay at the Childlife shelter 6 years back. He liked to watch tv sitting on my lap and being thrown in the air, being a wild boy. But, he liked his freedom too much and didn’t stay there long. Now he was begging with the other kids.

People sell fruit and other snacks on the bridge and when a Burmese border guard comes walking down and the vendors hurry towards thailand, but go back to the bridge once he has gone. Street kids take their brake from begging playing under the bridge.

Some avoid the hassle of going through the official route, and jump over the fences to the bridge on the Thai side, and then down from the bridge on Burma’s side, and on under a barb wire fence to dusty Tachilek. Two big bags of something were taken to Burma this way. A tatmadaw soldier was watching over with an assault rifle on his shoulder.

After dark good is food sold on the sides of the big road next to the border: shan style noodles, purple rice pancakes (!) and sweet sticky rice rammed into bamboo tubes and cooked on fire. Plus all the usual thai food, and what’s new from my last visit, someone had a pizza oven. Small but still a heavy thing to bring to the street every night.

I visited DEPDC. It’s grown al lot. They even have a radio station now. Before the coup last September it was broadcasting in 9 languages. But now the military rulers does not want anything broadcasted in languages the Thai officials don’t understand. So for now, it’s only in Thai.

The elections are coming, the early voting was on last weekend and no alcohol was sold because of this. 23rd is the main voting day. After the election the ruling Council for Democratic Reform is supposed to hand power back to democratically elected mps and senators.

Spent one night in Chiang Rai, and continued Chiang Mai to see friends. Now back in Bangkok, and tomorrow off to the beach.

photos from Wednesday, December 12th 2007
Sprite to Burma A burmese border guard watches streetkids crossing to burma Someone is crossing the border under the fence Unofficial imports to burma(?) Mae Sai - Tachilek border Children and heavily loaded bicycles at Mae Sai - Tachilek border bridge
photos from Tuesday, December 11th 2007
Mae Sai -  Tachilek border in late afternoon MaeSai & Tachilek Some hindu deity and hills in Burma
photos from Sunday, December 9th 2007
dark clouds and light Chaopraya 1 Chaopraya 2 Chaopraya 3 Mr Dog is taking a nap at Saphan Taksin pier, Bangkok Bangkok skyline over the skytrain lane seen from the National stadium station Skytrain lane & cars 2 Streetfood Skytrain lanes King Skytrain lanes & cars Altars in front of Central World Plaza Crossing a road in Bangkok Bangkok
photos from Wednesday, December 5th 2007
Bangkok chinatown Bangkok chinatown 2 Kings birthday Kings birthday 2

Through Laos to Thailand

Left Kunming on the 19th of November after recovering from my flu and a sinus problem that followed it. Spent some days in Jinghong again, not doing much and then continued to Mengla near the Laotian border.  Then a bus from Mengla to Luang namtha, in Laos.

Things have changed in 6 years: electricity 24/7 thanks to a dam a couple of kilometers north of town, new buildings,  more travelers, better english, etc. The trekking business is more organised, and seems to be doing well in many ways: the companies (Green Discovery Laos fo example) even tell you where the money goes.

There was something wrong with the phak i put in my foe or with the som tam i had and got a stomach problem and rested for 2 days.  Then a 20 hour bus ride down to Vientiane.  It seems more or less the same as it was last time. Retook some photos i took the last time, met some people and got a visa sorted out for Thailand, but otherwise didn’t do much there.

Now in Bangkok. Kings 80th birthday is tomorrow, and everyone has been wearing yellow or pink  shirts through the week (and past two years) congratulating the king. Pink is the new yellow. The weather is good, not too hot and the sky is clear. Pleasant after the haze and smoke in Yunnan and Northern Laos. It’s rice field burning time there.

Few days in Bangkok and then i think i’m going for a beach holiday, as i have been a bit tired of traveling lately.

photos from Friday, November 30th 2007
in Vientiane buddha buddhas buddhas buddhas haw pha kaew
photos from Thursday, November 29th 2007
pha that luang pha that luang 2
photos from Wednesday, November 28th 2007
vientiane dog early morning in Vientiane
photos from Sunday, November 25th 2007
Nam tha a dam near Luang namtha
photos from Saturday, November 24th 2007

Ruili, Dali, Lijiang and the tiger leaping gorge

Ruili is not Yunnan’s Sin City that it was two years ago, but still interesting. Lots of friendly Burmese people and good food. I especially liked the purple pancakes with brown sugar and peanut powder. I have had them before somewhere, but they were brown then. Or maybe it was too dark to see that time… i think it was in Mae Salong in Thailand, back in 2001.

There’s a big market for semi precious stones in town, with lots of buying and selling. I didn’t buy. The Burmese in town are very welcoming and some speak ok English. But not after i asked how long they have stayed in China. Jiegao, a town just next to the border is a few kilometers away. Even more Burmese and less Chinese there. The border is not too heavily guarded it seems (see photos).

Taking the bus back northeast to Xiaguan (“Dali city”), the bus was checked by police as expected. This time my bag was checked too, and they even screwed a lamp off above my bunk and checked the space behind it. I suppose i look suspicious.

Old Dali is a short bus ride from Xiaguan. The town seemed nice as i arrived in early morning. But as i walked towards a hostel i ran into too many Chinese tourists, a sea f them. Groups following tour guides in Bai head dresses directing their flocks with megaphones. Plenty of backpacker cafes with pizza, pasta and banana pancakes. Smiling old Bai grandmas approaching me all the time, whispering “do you want to smoke hashis?”

Maybe it was a nice place ten years ago. But i still ended up staying two nights, sitting in cafes and watching people go by, and walking around. Towards the mountains northwest of the old town it’s quiet, but there still are nice old buildings. I ran into a weird construction material “mine”. People are digging for big and small boulders of rock (by hand tools only), and then splitting the rocks into fist sized bits (by hand tools only) and these are then loaded to trucks (by hand, again).

From Dali continued to Lijiang, a Naxi town. The old town is very nice, but there were even more Chinese tourists. From Lijiang went to Qiaotou, the start of a trek in the tiger leaping gorge. First day of trekking was really nice. I had more than 10 kilos on my back but it was ok. Steep mountains, snow capped mountains, etc. Very, very nice. The 40km hike is usually done in 2 days, but the morning after the first day i woke up with a fever, and decided to come down the mountain and take a taxi back to Qiaotou. There must be something wrong with the air in China as i’m ill all the time.

Qiotou is already quite Tibetan. Long haired Tibetan men in heavy boots and cowboy hats, and women in strange costumes, and signs in Tibetan script. However, i ditched my plans to continue north to the even more Tibetan parts of Yunnan and western Sichuan. Sleeping in unheated buildings in less than 10 degrees is just not fun with a fever. And it would have been a lot colder further north and higher in the mountains.

Now in Kunming for the 3rd and last time. Tried to get a Thai visa, but they needed to see a ticket TO and from Thailand and they only would have given single entry visas anyway. The from part i knew about but the “to” part was a bit ridiculous. Different rules in different Thai consulates.

So no Thai visa. Instead applied for a visa for Myanmar. I heard it’s cheaper to apply here than in Thailand. Will go in January if things are “ok” there. Some people, including Suu Kyi, think one shouldn’t go, others say that one should (some discussion). I suppose i’m with the latter then.

Now the plan is to go to northern Laos for two weeks or so, then spend December in Thailand with a 30 day stamp, fly to Myanmar for a month and then back to Thailand. A month or so in Thailand again (maybe two if the Yangon embassy gives me a visa). Then Cambodia, Laos and maybe Vietnam, or something else.

Bought a ticket home: 5.6.2007 from Hong Kong to London. Its 205€ with Oasis so even with the connecting somewhere-in-se-asia – HongKong and London – Helsinki flights it’s fairly cheap. Air Asia has cheap tickets to Hong Kong from Bangkok and elsewhere.

But, plans might change as usual:-)

photos from Friday, November 9th 2007
mountains at tiger leaping gorge 3 corn house and mountains mountains at tiger leaping gorge mountains at tiger leaping gorge 2 sleepy little doggie tea horse guest house hikers behind a tree cloudy mountains at tiger leaping gorge The upper trail at tiger leaping gorge
photos from Thursday, November 8th 2007
Old naxi women dancing Mao Vegetable mongers in Lijiang
photos from Wednesday, November 7th 2007
Red lanterns ATM Fruit monger in Lijiang water canal in lijiang doorway Too many tourists in Lijiang.. and this is not high season Chinese tourist on a horse
photos from Tuesday, November 6th 2007
white workshop pagodas near Dali Dali a rock mine (?) near Dali
photos from Monday, November 5th 2007
rays Dali cafés noodle shop Meat Schoolkids in Dali Schookids in Dali Card game
photos from Sunday, November 4th 2007
Currency exchange unfinished building Burma on the left, China on the right A purple rice pancake with brown sugar and peanut powder Border building From china to burma
photos from Saturday, November 3rd 2007
Mr. butterfly on the pavement Abandoned (?) restaurants in Ruili Jade, etc for sale A park next to the Jade market A Market in Ruili A market in Ruili 2