Saturday, August 08, 2009

Myawaddi, Myanmar

Mae Sot is a nothing little town, really, but it serves as a border crossing in Myanmar and that was my entire reason for going there. Unfortunately, only a day pass is issued and passports are held hostage to guarantee a return before 16:30. I rose early and took a motorcycle taxi to the Friendship Bridge and within a minute or two I was signed out of Thailand started the 420 meter walk across the bridge and in a few minutes was being stamped into Myanmar and then I was on my own in the border town of Myawaddi.

It may only be 420 meters away, but the differences are vast. Myawaddi was like being back in India in many ways. The roads were in bad condition, pot-holed and in places non existent. Immediately across the border, there are lines and lines of cycle tuk-tuks ready to take visitors anywhere. But for all the tuk-tuks waiting, I was the only tourist, and the only firangi I saw all day. I decided to do as much as possible on foot and took the first street that left the main road.

While it did remind me of India in many ways, it was also very different. The biggest difference was the people, from the children to the adults. It was obvious they don’t get so many tourists. People watched from a distance and kids shied away from the camera. They were obviously poor, but not one person approached me for money or anything else.

I did after some point stumble across a small billiard hall and was invited in for a game. I didn’t play as I imagined there would be so much to see, so many temples to explore and the clock was ticking. Looking back I should have stayed for a while and relaxed. As it turned out, there are a few temples around, but they are very small and don’t take much exploring like some of the larger ones in Thailand or India.

But I did see what is by far the most bizarre and unusual temple I have ever seen. It is in the shape of a giant crocodile that happens to have a pagoda on his back. In his open mouth that is baring the usual set of teeth one would expect on a crocodile, there are several Buddhas. Yes, the temple itself is in the open mouth of the crocodile.

From there we did several more temples and I have no idea what the names are. Everything was in Burmese. As I said, it is not touristy like Thailand, and even here it is often difficult to find descriptions in anything other than the local language. But at one temple I did get invited to join in for lunch, an offer I immediately took them up on. The spread of food there was absolutely unbelievable. I didn’t even realize I was hungry until I saw the sea of bowls all brimming with different dishes. I have no idea what I had, they just put a few kinds of noodles in a bowl, and started adding things and then poured a creamy chicken sauce and some hot peppers. It was one of the better meals I have had on the trip so far.

It was soon clear there was not really anything else to do, at least not in that area and there was no time to travel anywhere else, so I headed back to the border area looking for market. It was then I realized I had not seen a single market of any type all day. There were stores, but only selling what people needed. There were no stalls with handicrafts or souvenirs. Not even a single Myawaddi snowdome. I wasn’t ready to go yet, so I went to the Riverside Café which is conveniently located on the river overlooking Thailand and ordered myself a Myanmar brand beer, which comes served with a Myanmar brand beer glass mug. It was then I realized it was the perfect souvenir and so I managed to buy it from the café.

I only spent a few hours in Myanmar, but it was enough to drive me to see more. I am hoping that soon I will be able to go to Yangon and then visit one of my dream places, Mandalay. I don’t know why, but that name just conjures up the most exotic images. But for now, it is off to the north and the city of Chiang Mai… Only seven or so hours of travel ahead of me and hopefully no sniffing honeys sitting next to me…

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