Thailand Travel – Tachileik-Mai Sai Markets Burma

Within the infamous Golden Triangle that boarders Thailand, Laos and Burma is Mai Sai, the north most district of Chiang Rai. Here travellers will find a bridge that divides two worlds, one is the rising Thailand and the other is the country hidden under an opium laced shadow, Burma. Burma, who’s government renamed to Myanmar, is one of the world’s most secluded countries, a mysterious and unexplored destination for western travellers, a country untouched by the momentum of development.

We stumble across a makeshift car park and give the attendant 10 Baht for care of our hire car, from here it’s only a short walk to the Mai Sai border crossing. Being from Australia we’ve never walked into another country and the idea of walking into Burma made the 4 hour drive from Chiang Mai all the more worthwhile. At the boarder we are ushered into a small and unusually hot room where a man dressed in a military uniform sits behind his desk and asks of our intentions for visiting his country. His English is difficult to understand and before we can answer he tells us we are only visiting for the day to shop at the boarder markets. 500Baht is handed over and to our surprise passports are retained and will supposedly be returned when we attempt to return back into the Kingdom of Thailand. The heat already souring its all the more sweaty knowing we are walking into Burma without passports.

The markets are bursting with stalls and goods overflowing onto narrow paths made narrower by the men and boys shoving into us with baskets of pills for enhancement and DVD’s of questionable content available at ‘cheap cheap prices’. Remembering advice I received from a drunken expat the night before in a bar, I move my wallet into the front pocket of my jeans, this is not just a precaution, it is necessary. When the senses start to settle back down there are many bargains to be found if you have a good eye and time to sift through the junk. Everything is cheap here, cheaper than the popular night markets of Chiang Mai that now offer market goods at tourist prices. There is a copy, a fake, a ‘real copy’ or a look alike for almost any product you can think of. The watches look good until you realise they are twice as thick as the real deal however this is forgiven when you realise the designer watch offered at Tachileik will only set you back a couple of cappuccino’s in your home town. I show interest in a table of designer pens and suddenly a young girl is handing me one and asking me to test the quality, surprisingly it writes very well and equally surprising is the girls English compared to her Thai sisters. Then another girl hands me another pen which also looks the part and is surprisingly usable. This continued until there were six girls at the table and I had tried 6 pens, after some intense negotiation we agreed upon 2 pens at 300Baht, approximately 8 US dollars.

Two hours of walking, negotiating and dodging the occasional motor-bikes speeding through the narrow market lanes, a couple of sneaky market photos and we decide we’ve had enough adventure for the day and will return to Thailand. Returning to Thailand is relieving as passports are returned and stamped with a minimum of fuss and the harassment from young boys desperate for loose change is left behind us.

Although not the real Burma it was an interesting and unique experience that resulted in some fascinating memories, a couple of covert pictures and a Myanmar Walk stamp in the passport. Visiting Burma was a choice we made lightly and upon learning more about the military controlled country it has become apparent the choice should be given more thought and consideration. More locally to Mai Sai is the depressing environment of illegal border crossings, drugs and human trafficking, all world issues that are too easily forgotten when on holiday.

The drive back to Chiang Mai down the mountain takes us into Chiang Rai and a stop at the famous White Temple (Wat Rong Khun). White Temple is a modern temple designed and built by artist Chalomchai Khositphiphat around 10 years ago. The intricate details covering the large temple are an incredible vision and the entirely white design with silver edges glistening on dragons and other mythical creatures creates a surreal environment. The site also has a hall that exhibits paintings of Chalomchai Khositphiphat.

A few dodged cows and a little nervousness waiting for the first petrol station in Chiang Mai and we arrive safely after dark, ready to tell the story of our trip to Tachileik over a few Chaing’s.

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