Sunday, 6 May 2012

Day 44 - A day in Burma and a drive through the Thai Highlands (Thailand/Burma)

Having picked up some stupid bug somewhere along the lines, I haven't been feeling very well the last few days, hence the shortage of blogging. But all is now well.

We tried and failed miserably to stay a night in Petchaburi. After driving around the town for two hours and stopping in a shopping centre for directions, we eventually found our way to a hotel. Unfortunately it was a proper posh hotel costing at least five times as much as we planned on spending, so even though that's still a little under $20 each, we couldn't really justify it. On we went to Ratchaburi where we did manage to find somewhere cheap and dingy enough for our requirements.

The following day took us to Tak, a town about 80km from the border of Burma. We've noticed that everybody seems to come out at night a lot more than we're used to in Australia. At 10am there are often not many people on the streets and most shops are still closed. Then rush hour seems to be the duration of the afternoon, and most shops remain open until 9 or 10pm. We've also noticed that most people eat dinner much later in the evening, and the night markets and street restaurants are open until quite late at night. Tak however, perhaps just because it is a much smaller town than Chumphon or Phatthalung, seemed to be up and running much earlier in the day and closing up sooner in the evening.

Day 42 (Saturday 5th May) was the day we've all been looking forward to. Well, one of the many days. We drove the exciting and treacherous road from Tak to Mae Sot, a 80km stretch of wet and windy danger where we passed about a dozen overturned 4x4s, a few derailed semi-trailers and way too many unfortunate scooters in the ditches. Despite it's windiness, the road was actually pretty wide and properly sealed, the local drivers just don't seem to be able to keep their vehicles on the roads. Needless to say, we were much better at staying on the road and managed to get to Mae Sot with our car still on all fours.

We were disappointed, but not at all surprised to find that we couldn't take Trevor with us into Burma. So walked across the Thai - Burmese Friendship Bridge into the border town on Myawaddy. At Customs we were escorted inside the office where we had to pay 500Bhat (AU$16) and leave our passports for the day. Foreigners are only allowed across the border for one day and the border closes at 5pm.

Although probably not a really true picture of the country, being one of the very few places tourists are allowed to visit, and located right on the border of Thailand, it was a very interesting day for us. Their choice of vehicle, unlike the Thais who much to our surprise drive mainly brand new Toyota Hiluxes (although usually with a around six people sitting in the tray), was more along the lines of the beat up van with five times extra rear suspension, piled high with layers and layers of packages, people and smaller vehicles; the tractor type machine which runs on an engine that has been tied to the front with some sort of rope, and bubbles as it runs; the motorised scooter with seven people on it; and the make-shift bus put together with panels from smaller, worn-out cars. The roads and houses were also worlds apart from their neighbours in Thailand, with only one sealed road in the town and very few houses made of anything other than wood.

But the thing that really struck us was the reactions we got from people. Sure, we got stared at and a few of the bolder ones or young children waved at or even talked to us, but unlike what we usually experience in the developing world, it was out of sheer interest and they were ever so polite and timid about it with no hint of asking for money or anything else. It was most refreshing and really helped us enjoy our few hours in the country.

We arrived yesterday in Pai, a small village north of Chiang Mai in the highlands of Thailand. It's our first time since the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia that we haven't been sweating and have even been able to pull out some trowsers, which is a huge relief. Because the 90km drive from Chiang Mai took us three hours (it was somewhat windier and hillier than we were lead to believe on the map), we'll stay here a couple of nights before heading on our way.

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