There is this certain stretch along the Burma border of highway 112 which feels particularly risky.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8 , @F8  1/320th  ISO 100

I could immediately tell this trip was going to be different.  There wasn't a cloud in the sky and on the trip up I was able to see beautiful vistas and viewpoints previously hidden by the low laying clouds before.  More, I was able to enjoy the drive rather than be on super alert status dodging cars sliding in the rain as they come around the corners totally out of control.  There is this certain stretch of highway 112 which feels particularly risky.

 

Instead of it taking the usual 2 hours from Mae Sot to reach the Mae La camp, it only took 50 minutes.  We were actually surprised when we noticed the first huts and the wire.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8 IS, @F8  1/80th  ISO 100

The sky was a delightful shade of blue, made more precious to those of us who normally spend our days in Bangkok where a blue sky is a once a year event and grey/brown grunge is the norm.  Along the border the air is naturally fresh, filtered and scented by the many trees.  Instead of it taking the usual 2 hours from Mae Sot to reach the Mae La camp, it only took 50 minutes.  We were actually surprised when we noticed the first huts and the wire.

 

Once you get near the camp you'll see many Karens walking along the roadside, allowed outside the wire by their military keepers to

Canon 1ds Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8 IS, @F8  1/200th  ISO 100

Once you get near the camp you'll see many Karens walking along the roadside, allowed outside the wire by their military keepers to  barter and trade and forage for whatever the forest provides.  Everyone is friendly and waves as you pass.

 

Inside Mae La refugee camp Karen refugees from Burma live in very simple housing

Canon 1ds Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8 IS, @F8  1/40th  ISO 100

No matter how many times you see the huts which pass for 'homes' you'll still be amazed at their "Robinson Caruso" like construction.  Bamboo makes the frame and supports, and the large leaves the walls and roofs.  Every 3-4 months the leaves need to be changed to provide any sort of weather tight integrity at all.

 

50 kms from Mae Sot you'll find the Mae La refugee camp

Canon 1ds Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8 IS, @F8  1/40th  ISO 100

Looking down from the road you notice the trees and shrubs have grown a lot in the recent sunshine.  Last month they were half this height.  Now the trees and shrubs work together to provide a sort of privacy or shield from passing eyes.

 

 Large tubs are used to launder clothes and then they're hung on lines to dry.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8 IS, @F8  1/60th  ISO 100

Colors are more bright, the air more clear.  Compared to just 5-6 weeks ago the difference is astounding.  Large tubs are used to launder clothes and then they're hung on lines to dry.

 

Spices and peppers drying inside the Mae La camp along the Burma border

Canon 1ds Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8 IS, @F8  1/250th  ISO 100

Some of the rooftops of support and admin buildings are made of tin.  In the hot sun they make perfect places to dry natural herbs and roots.  You'll see different ingredients and food stuffs drying in this manner as you make your way from one end of the camp to another.

 

But then something reminds you they're Burmese refugees not like other children at all, other children aren't kept in cages without hope for nationality or citizenship, caged their entire lives.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8 IS, @F8  1/50th  ISO 100

As always children are everywhere and they'll watch with keen interest as you go about your business.  In many ways they appear like any other children you could find anywhere in the world.  But then something reminds you they're not like other children at all, other children aren't kept in cages without hope for nationality or citizenship, caged their entire lives.

 

This small Karen girl peeks out from behind the porch.  Refugees live on very little.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8 IS, @F8  1/6th  ISO 100

And then there's the children who are curious, but not quite willing to approach too close.  They'll hide and peek out from behind almost anything as they follow your movements.  I often wonder exactly what they're thinking as they watch, what they're hoping for..  and what it would take to provide what they wished.

 

A temple inside the Mae La refugee camp

Canon 1ds Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8 IS, @F8  1/200th  ISO 200

 

I've told you before that the vast majority of Karens are of the Christian faith, a fact that surprises many of the Thais experiencing their culture for the first time.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8 IS, @F8  1/125th  ISO 200

I've told you before that the vast majority of Karens are of the Christian faith, a fact that surprises many of the Thais experiencing their culture for the first time.  If you look carefully along the hillsides you'll not only see several Christian churches, but a fairly good sized Buddhist temple as well.

 

Homes built from natural materials inside the Mae La refugee camp

Canon 1ds Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8 IS, @F8  1/400th  ISO 200

With the clear skies the clouds no longer hide many of the huts along the ridgelines you couldn't see, or easily see, before.  You can see much better which reveals the camp is that much bigger than you initially realized.  And you never thought the camp was anything but enormous before.

 

 I can't help but wonder how long it will be before someone realizes this land would be ideal for high-end resorts and million dollar homes.  In America we put the native Indians on reservations located in the most inhospitable and poorest lands we could find.  Lands no one else wanted.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8 IS, @F8  1/250th  ISO 200

No matter where in the camp you might be, you'll still be thrilled to witness the natural beauty all around you.  I can't help but wonder how long it will be before someone realizes this land would be ideal for high-end resorts and million dollar homes.  In America we put the native Indians on reservations located in the most inhospitable and poorest lands we could find.  Lands no one else wanted.  Lands where it was impossible to farm effectively and game was scarce.  How long will it be before..

 

Along the roadsides you'll find small groups of refugees with items for trade, waiting for the trucks to come by and barter for their goods

Canon 1ds Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8 IS, @F8  1/125th  ISO 200

Along the roadsides you'll find small groups of refugees with items for trade, waiting for the trucks to come by and barter for their goods.  Their patience is incredible.  I noticed this group in the same location, with the same bag, waiting for over six hours.

 

Refugee, Burmese, Small children standing motionless go unnoticed.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8 , @F8  1/320th  ISO 200

The foliage is so dense, and the light so filtered, that you'll miss much.  Small children standing motionless go unnoticed.  Without movement your eyes will pass over them without notice.

 

it would have been very easy to miss this small family living on the Burma Myanmar border

Canon 1ds Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8, @F8  1/80th  ISO 200

Another example.  High up on a ridge, without movement, it would have been very easy to miss this small family.  I only noticed them after stopping and intentionally scanning the hillsides.  The natural backlighting helped them stand out a bit, but it would have been very easy to miss them altogether.  Of course they notice me, and it appears I'm of some interest.

 

This small Karen refugee keeps an eye on us

Canon 1ds Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8 IS, @F8  1/250th  ISO 200

Against a dirt embankment this small boy looks on with interest. 

 

Young Karen girls from the Mae La refugee camp near Mae Sot Thailand

Canon 1ds Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8 IS, @F8  1/250th  ISO 200

This small group of girls watches from approximately 200 meters distant.

 

These two brothers were on their way to a swimming and fishing hole.  Their bamboo poles with fixed length lines were carried with pride

Canon 1ds Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8 IS, @F8  1/400th  ISO 200

And then others will be all smiles.  These two brothers were on their way to a swimming and fishing hole.  Their bamboo poles with fixed length lines were carried with pride.  I can't help but think brothers all around the world enjoy similar activities together.  I know my brother and I did, as did my sons and I.  As a kid I used similar home made fishing equipment.

 

Outside Mae La Another group waiting by the roadside for someone to come along and trade for their products

Canon 1ds Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8 IS, @F8  1/125th  ISO 200

Another group waiting by the roadside for someone to come along and trade for their products.  They've only been there for two hours and seem to be very happy

 

As you leave the Mae La refugee camp behind and continue along the road you'll notice signs in Thai.

Canon 1ds Mark II, Sigma 12-24mm F4, @F11  13mm  1/100th  ISO 100

As you leave the camp behind and continue along the road you'll notice signs in Thai.  Many of them tell you of waterfalls and viewpoints.  The forest and trees are so thick you'll often forgot what's really around you.  Following a set of signs up a dirt road for a click or two we suddenly burst from the darker cover of canopies into the sunlight.  Looking out from the vantage point you'll see mountain after mountain.  The views are truly beautiful.

 

Burma Border, Small streams are everywhere.  A source for fresh water, cleaning, bathing, and doing laundry.  They also provide for recreation for those who wish to fish and swim.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8 IS, @F8  1/40th  ISO 100

Small streams are everywhere.  A source for fresh water, cleaning, bathing, and doing laundry.  They also provide for recreation for those who wish to fish and swim.  Unfortunately they're also the camps sewer.

This area along the Myanmar border out of Mae Sot provides some of the most beautiful land you'll ever see in Thailand.  It's almost like being in another world.  This is very desirable real estate for those who love living in such clean and beautiful surroundings.  Unfortunately it also houses up to 9 refugee camps holding up to half a million refugees at any one time.  Half a million individuals who live in very primitive shelters subsisting on donated anti-starvation diets.  No country wants them.  They have nowhere to go.  Their entire lives seem destined to be lived out inside these camps.

 

Later this same day I made it up to the Safe Haven Orphanage I shared with you last several months ago

Canon 1ds Mark II, Sigma 12-24mm F4, @F11  19mm  1/400th  ISO 100

Later this same day I made it up to the Safe Haven Orphanage I shared with you last several months ago.  I'll share that part of the trip with you next week.

 

Scenic along the Burma / Myanmar border

Canon 1ds Mark II, Sigma 12-24mm F4, @F11  24mm  1/125th  ISO 200