Dec 27-30, 2019
Visiting Mae Sot
Location: Mae Sot (district), Tak (province), Thailand
An Invite to Mae Sot
With Suzi's re-visit to Chiang Mai, I was invited to travel with her to Mae Sot, the place where she devoted a few months of volunteer service to an NGO for the welfare of the Burmese refugees. Of course I said Yes! I haven't been to Mae Sot, it would be nice to be away from Chiang Mai for the holidays, and I will be spending time with Suzi.
Mae Sot is a 6.5-hour bus ride south towards Bangkok, from Chiang Mai. It is a border town with Myawaddy, Burma and has seen a lot of Burmese economic migrants and refugees. As a border town for vulnerable refugees, Mae Sot has been a hub for human trafficking and the drug trade as well. There is a large settlement of Burmese people who have already established themselves there - Burmese market, Burmese eating places, wholesale gems and teak, etc. The refugee situation 10 years ago sprouted NGOs and international aid agencies by the dozens. Mae Sot was rife with humanitarian activities. However, now that refugees are no longer accepted by Thailand, the NGOs have likewise dwindled, making Mae Sot, back to being a sleepy town. Lately though, Chinese money is being infused into the local economy. Mae Sot is set for transformation.
Suzi and I have always gotten along well, but we haven't traveled together. Not yet. And you know what they say about putting friendship to a test - travel together and you can crumble the most vault-solid relationships. No arguments, no unmet expectation, just a flow while we explored the narrow streets of Mae Sot. We differ with our eating choices but we did it her way as much as mine. I'm more pedestrian with my eating choices - cheap local street food. We weren't really traveling like backpackers on the open road. She was more my host, guiding me around, taking me to her favorite or memorable places and introducing me to her friends. Verdict? In our case, all went well - great bonding, great sharing and definitely time well spent together.
Part of Suzi's visit to Mae Sot was to see her Christian missionary friends again. Alison wasn't in town but let us use her house for the entire length of our stay. Joan and Peter, a lovely couple who has been doing a tremendous amount of work in Mae Sot for the longest time, took care of us - picking us up to and from the airport, and driving us around for lunch and dinners. In the ensuing conversation, I got a sense of their unwavering commitment to their faith. Unlike most priests who just talk within the four walls of the church, these missionaries roll-up their sleeves and get down and dirty to get a thankless job done. I've long been disillusioned by the Catholics and Christians, but these people redeem that idealism that has long been lost to so many.
There isn't much to do in Mae Sot. There is the Burmese Market, but it's just like any other wet market in Thailand. There are good eating places though - the Lucky Tea House, Mughal, the fish tank guy and that manicured garden resto, the Jungle Restaurant. It's lavish enough for THE princess, who once graced the place. There are a few bars. One such is Krua Canadian, better known as Canadian Dave. But it's such a lonely place that seems to attract sad people. One upscale bar is Woodstock with live music beginning at 10 pm, but the acoustics were bad - hard to appreciate the music. Well, from the few days we were in Mae Sot, that's what I've seen.
Karen Tribe Wedding
Suzi and I attended a Karen wedding. The feeling was tribal where people could say their piece to the couple. There was an emcee and a band. Friends took turns singing and wishing the couple a happy life together. Advice and insight were shared by elders who've seen it all. Tribe members need no invitation. Tradition dictates that any tribe member can simply attend the wedding and partake of the ceremony. Some came from 2 days bus ride away. Since nobody knows how many people will come, relatives pitch-in for food and expenses.
Coming from a Catholic background where weddings are muted and only the priest presides over by reading from a text (which I find utterly mechanical and perfunctory), I find the Karen wedding much more meaningful and purposeful.
Mae Sot is not the place you go to for tourism. But maybe it's a good place for a visa run, being a border town. But I gained a few wonderful insights during my short visit. I learned that there are these missionaries who dedicate their entire lives in the service of humanity. I learned about the intimate tribal interaction of Karen people during a wedding. I've heard (not seen) about the compelling issues facing the refugees and the frustrating work NGO workers endure just to make a difference. And of course, Suzi. What can I say? She's been generous, considerate, and mindful of my presence on the trip. I've walked away before from someone I was traveling with, but with Suzi, again the seamlessness is apparent. I'd travel anytime with her. Thank you Suzi, thank you Joan and Peter, and thank you Alison. And to the newly wed Karen couple, I hope you have healthy and bouncy kids.
--- Gigit (TheLoneRider)
YOGA by Gigit | Learn English | Travel like a Nomad | Donation Bank
(Jan 10, 2020) We were touched and humbled by your kind words. We are the lucky ones getting to serve our Lord here.
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Next stop: Friends, Coffeemates and Breadmates (Dec 2019)
Chiang Mai to Mae Sot (aka Mae Sod) by bus
There is a Green Bus line that departs from the Bus Arcade and drops you off at the Mae Sot bus terminal. Departure: 08:30 and 13:10. Return schedule (Mae Sot to Chiang Mai): 6:15am and 10:00am. Duration: 6 hours/30 mins. Cost: wide seats B490, regular seats B315
Travel Tips for Thailand
How to Get a 60-Day Thai Tourist Visa and then Extend by another 30 Days
- Bring the following to the Thai embassy:
a) proof of money (bank statement will suffice)
b) flight booking to Thailand
c) onward flight back to your country from Thailand
d) filled-in tourist visa form
e) 2 passport pictures
f) hotel booking in Thailand (they didn't ask me for this but better be safe)
g) passport with at least 6 months validity
- After handing over all the documents, they will ask you to come pick your passport with the visa the following day from 4 to 5pm. That's it!
- NOTE: after 2 successful attempts, I was already questioned the 3rd time.
60-Day Thai Tourist Visa
NOTE: There is no need to go back to your country to get the Thai tourist visa. Any major city with a Thai Embassy will do. Apparently there is also no need to have an invitation from a Thai establishment to justify the visa.
- bring the following to the Immigration Office:
a) passport (make sure your Tourist Visa hasn't expired yet)
b) Baht 1900
c) photocopy of your passport + visa duration date stamp + TM6 card (white immigration card) and sign all the copies
d) completed TM7 visa extension form (available at the Immigration Office)
e) one 4cmx6cm passport picture
- submit the above to the Front Desk. They will give you a stub with your number on it. Take a seat and wait for your number to be called
- when your number is called, your picture will be taken. Then go back to your seat. They will call you again.
- when they call you again, they'll give you your passport with your extended visa. That's it!
- when there are no lines, the whole process can take only 10 minutes
NOTE: When your 60-day visa is close to expiry and you want to extend your stay. No need to leave Thailand.
General Travel Tips
- avoiding scams - as a general rule, I ignore the touts or anyone I don't know who call out to me. The calling comes in many forms - "Hi! Where are you from?", "Excuse me! Excuse me!", "Where are you going?". I don't look them in the eye and I remain non-verbal with them. If you reply to them, you just gave them an 'in' to hound you. In order not to look rude, I smile and wave the 'not interested' hand to them, without looking at them.
- power bank - hand-carry your power bank. Do not check it in. You can be called in when you are already inside the plane to go all the way to the loading dock so you can personally remove the power bank...and chances are, you'll have to surrender it to them. And you might delay the plane departure!
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