Mae Sot, Thailand
We’d just spent some time preparing the bike for Myanmar, so we wanted a non-stressful saunter to the border. We did not know what Myanmar would hold for us, but we had to plan for the worst. We were concerned about long days, terrible roads and poor services. In retrospect this was foolish, we should have been planning for what was to come after Myanmar! Our route to the border would take us about a week and take us through some beautiful national parks and hopefully some smooth, winding tarmac. The western side of Thailand was quite hilly and thick with jungle in this area, and the physical border was a large river. This happy combination of water and shade leads to only one thing that matters; mosquitos. This time it was malaria.
So we began popping our doxycycline prophylactics (once you pop, you just can’t stop – 2 days before the malarial area, then 4 weeks after). It was good to be back on the move again although Nickiy’s work had overrun a little so we would have to find somewhere on the way to finish that off. Our first leg took us over some impressive hills to Mae Chaem and this gave us a brief feeling of actually being cold as we climbed over 1600m. Once we had found lunch and lodgings and performed our bike-readiness chores, we were quickly plunged into darkness in this small village. The rural areas always seem to suffer when the power grid becomes overloaded and damaged. Needing dinner, we donned the head torch and headed out into the black streets in search of an open eatery. Most places indicated they were closed, but we chanced upon a rather busy outdoor shed. Where Tesla and Edison fail, man resorts to older methods. Buckets of hot coals were brought to each table and we cooked our own fish and veg in broth on a steamboat. The coals provide heat and light so we could even see our food before power was restored. The basis for stopping our food sticking to the steamboat was a large chunk of back fat which slowly melted on the apex. Whilst not exactly vegetarian, we figured it was a critical component to the process and watched it slowly reduce and darken during our dinner.
Turning dog-leg south then directly west again the following day we passed through some amazing high-altitude farming villages before we located a riverside guest house in, the popular, Mae Sariang. Apparently this was the lowest point on a long, multiday tourist scooter route which went north from Chiang Mai, through the chill-out zone of Pai then down the Myanmar border road. I don’t think I would have enjoyed it on a scooter, wheezing over those hills with a backpack on, but Stein isn’t always easy to handle either!
We did a little side trip from Mae Sariang down a 45km dead-end road. At the end of this road there is a village where you can sit, sipping sweet coffee whilst resting your eyes on the smooth, brown river in front of you. On the far bank is the country of Myanmar. You could swim across, in fact, I expect many people do. Further down the border road the next day we passed the Myanmar refugee camps, sprawled through the hills and up to the roadside. Later we were told how Myanmar workers were treated worse than dogs in Thailand, but as usual people were happy to have a cheap pool of labourers. Some more amazing roads followed as we seemed to enter a highly militarised zone near the camps. Road blocks and pillar box bunkers were manned by camouflaged Thais holding guns they could barely lift. We didn’t know if we should stop, ignore or just slow down. The guns made us friendly to all of them.
Finally we were on approach to the border town of Mae Sot. This was a main road that passed over 40km of mountains and was clogged with freight traffic. To make things much, much worse, the Thais were busy ‘improving’ the whole mountain road by dynamiting, excavating, cementing and widening. They were doing this is in small sections to maximise disruption and increase the hazard to all invovled. We had a choice of doing truck speed (1st gear, overheat, flatten battery) or ute speed (3rd gear, balls out, hold on). Many imperfect overtaking manoeuvres were required for this second option and we were glad to pull into town and rest our white knuckles at the end of the day.
We hunted for Myanmar currency (kyat) in this bordering town, but amazingly only one place had any. All the banks didn’t want to touch the stuff. The town was extremely hot and thanks to rooftop metal water tanks, the cold water was often hotter than the hot water. This didn’t help us cool down. However, once we’d found the old Newfie’s restaurant, poutine and beer did the trick!