Mae Sot

I'm adding Mae Sot to my 'most favorite' list of Thailand cities.  Located in Tak province approximately 512km from Bangkok, Mae Sot sits at about 210 meters above sea level and is home to roughly 45,000 permanent residents.  The higher elevation and dense forests help explain the much cooler temperatures and almost constant rain.  At almost any time of the day or night, there is a 10 C difference between Mae Sot and Bangkok.  This is one of the few places in Thailand where I can be truly comfortable with the weather during the most hot months of the year.

 

The Drive

Leaving Bangkok on the Expressway you head out towards the old Don Meuang international airport until the Expressway ends.  Soon you're on Highway 32 which you follow to Highway 1 North.  Up to this point you're traveling on modern 5-6 lane highways in relatively good condition.  If you've ever driven north to Chiang Mai then you're already familiar with this part of the drive. 

As you enter Tak province on Highway 1 you'll take the Highway 105 turnoff.  20-30 km later you start to notice a gentle climb as mountains take shape and the occasional tree comes into view.  Before you know it you're in those mountains with a forest all around you.  You'll either being admiring the beautiful vistas or praying to your god as you white knuckle the dashboard swearing to yourself that you'll never again make this trip by road. 

I love views, but my traveling partner on this trip became quite nervous and even felt sick by the constant side to side motion of the SUV moving 'gently' through the corners.  To be fair this is a rather harrowing stretch of highway and many of the drivers on the road with you seem totally clueless on how to drive on mountain roads or indeed that other vehicles share the road with them! 

More than once I had a driver demonstrating tunnel vision change lanes right in front of me, and once we came very near to having an accident.  How near?  Our brakes were in the "anti-lock" mode doing all they could, the other drive had turned right into us, all I could do was apply the brakes but the driver was slowing at the same time!  We came within centimeters of contact.

Soon you're through the steepest parts which ran up to 9.5% grades, and heading down into Mae Sot.  I must say that I greatly enjoyed the views along the entire route.

 

The Town

 

As you enter Tak province on Highway 1 you'll take the Highway 105 turnoff

A Karen mother dashes across the road in the rain carrying her baby in the traditional Karen style

 

Not even two weeks ago I gave you the name of the guesthouse I stayed at and it's so nice I'll be covering it and the beautiful grounds in an  individual piece sometime in the future.  The Wattana Village Resort Guest House is roughly 3.4km from the town center. 

The town itself is very typical of many other Thai towns with the exception that some of the larger commercial buildings are quite old and sit empty.  Elephants roam the streets with greater frequency than you'd expect. 

 

A mahout and his elephant, one of many in this area

A mahout and his elephant, one of many in this area
 

There are no local taxis that I observed and most visitors rely on the Mae Sot version of the tuktuk.  This is a very simple abortion of a motosai turned tuktuk.  The only nice thing I can say about them is they're slightly better than the version of tuktuks which are actually towed by motorsais. 

 

A typical Mae Sot style tuktuk made from a motosai

A typical Mae Sot style tuktuk made from a motosai

 

There is a small Tesco-Lotus and just recently a KFC, otherwise all the businesses and restaurants are local versions.  One of the local restaurants which I really enjoyed and have already mentioned is Canadian Dave's.  You get a lot (big portions and good quality/taste) for your money and you'll meet a lot of other westerners enjoying the menu as well. 

 

A rainy street in Mae Sot, Canadian Dave's on the right

A rainy street in Mae Sot, Canadian Dave's on the right

 

Looking out from Dave's watching the rain fall (captured with a point and shoot)

Looking out from Dave's watching the rain fall (captured with a point and shoot)

 

Dave hard at work (captured with a point and shoot)

Dave hard at work (captured with a point and shoot)

 

There is an unusually nice park dedicated to King Naresuan.  The park is cared for very well and is popular with the locals.  The location, weather, and sun tempted me to stop and make some captures which by themselves make for pretty pictures if nothing else. 

 

There is an unusually nice park dedicated to King Naresuan

Very small elephant statues line these steps

 

Mae Sot, Burma, Myanmar Front entrance to the park

Front entrance to the park

 

The official park name

The official park name

 

Bangkok Images, Stepping back and using a wider lens allows a different view of the same area

Stepping back and using a wider lens allows a different view of the same area

 

The rain lets up, the sun peeks through the clouds, and a nice image is the result

The rain lets up, the sun peeks through the clouds, and a nice image is the result

 

The park includes a nice man-made lake area

The park includes a nice man-made lake area

 

 

Thailand Burma Friendship Bridge

 

Thailand Burma Friendship Bridge

Under the Friendship Bridge

 

The bridge physically is nothing to look at, but it does connect Thailand with Myanmar and the small town of Myawaddy.  It is possible to make a visa run from this bridge and in fact I watched my 16 year old son as he strolled across the bridge into Myanmar, made an about face, and came back across with 15 more days annotated in his passport.  The fees I remember as being very reasonable, something like 400-500 baht total.  On my next visit I'll personally make a trip across to check out Myawaddy and the visa information. 

Myawaddy is a very small and contained town/shopping area that doesn't allow for overnight visits.  It's basically a trading center between the two countries with shops set up for tourists.  There were very few western tourists, but there seemed to be a fair number of Asian tourists from China, Korea, Japan, and Malaysia among others.

While the bridge is nothing more than a few hundred meters in length that straddles a 40-50 meter wide river, with cracks appearing in the structure making it unsafe for heavy loads, the real action takes place under the bridge.  You can see people swimming on the Burma side of the river and the Thai military guards keeping watch.  Under the bridge, more on the Thai than the Burma side, is a small improvised hut that appears to serve a small family of several men and a teenage boy and girl.  These same people where here during several visits weeks apart.  Next visit I plan on getting their story.  Why they choose to live in this dangerous and less than desirable location must be a fascinating story.

 

The bridge physically is nothing to look at, but it does connect Thailand with Myanmar and the small town of Myawaddy.

This Karen family lives here under the bridge

 

Under the bridge on the Thai side you'll find a number of military men armed with M16's.  Usually they can be see chatting up the girls but when I aimed my camera at them they seemed quite interested to chat with me!  Soldiers everywhere are always curious about soldiers from other countries and soon we had a good conversation going and I was able to learn much about their duties.  The duty at this particular location was considered far superior to duty along other parts of the river.  This area is considered a "safe zone", there are no safe zones for Thai soldiers anywhere else along this border and the Moei River. 

 

Under the bridge on the Thai side you'll find a number of military men armed with M16's.

Thai soldiers chatting up girls

Thai soldiers take a break

The Moei River runs along the Thailand/Burma border and this location is the most western point in Thailand.

Thai soldiers take a break

 

The Moei River runs along the Thailand/Burma border and this location is the most western point in Thailand.  It seems like a popular place for locals to eat their lunch and for young couples to catch a nice view.

 

Mwestermost point in ailand along te Moei

Mwestermost point in ailand along te Moei

 

The immigration station is at the head of the bridge and as you exit there is a high chain link and barbed wire fence to keep the controlled zone separate.  Many trucks and other vehicles enter and exit Thailand at this point.  Once past the immigration checkpoint there are vans and motorsais and other vehicles offering you a ride to the other side.  My son walked this length in less than two minutes.

 

Thai immigration station as it faces Myanmar

Thai immigration station as it faces Myanmar

 

 

 

The rear of the Thai immigration station as you come back from Myanmar

 

The rear of the Thai immigration station as you come back from Myanmar

The rear of the

This gives you a brief look at Mae Sot, however Mae Sot's main feature is that its simply the gateway to the refugee camps and orphanages that plague the Thailand/Burma border.

City name

 

This gives you a brief look at Mae Sot, however Mae Sot's main feature is that its simply the gateway to the refugee camps and orphanages that plague the Thailand/Burma border.  Mae Sot is the support town, the jumping off point, and the last well known Thai city before heading up/down the river to the camps.  It's not surprising that the town is heavily populated by those of Karen descent, but perhaps it's surprising that the closer you look.. the more you'll find evidence of this being the most dense Christian area in all of Thailand, save for the camps themselves.

 

Disclaimer:  This series is the most "dumbed down" I've ever done.  The Thai government, and rightfully so, is very sensitive about this area and what is written about it.  I can't write about what I've really seen and experienced without risking offending my Thai hosts.  I encourage you to Google some of the information I've provided and read what's really happening in this area as written by those living in other countries without risk.