25.12.2010 - 29.12.2010 17 °C
Mae Sai town is located in Chiang Rai province and is the northern most town of Thailand. As in other northern and north eastern towns of Thailand, Mae Sai experience the cool season during the end and beginning of the year with temperature as low as 15 degrees during night time to a high of 25 degrees during day time. Chiang Rai adventures took me to Mae Sai, Tachilek in Mynmar, Doi Mae Salong, Doi Tung and Chiang Sean, the Golden Triangle area where 3 countries, Thailand, Mynmar and Laos sharing borders along the Mekong River. Bus journey from Bangkok took about 12 hours departing at 19.30 and reached Mae Sai at 7.30. The double decker VIP bus service provides its passengers with 1 movie entertainment, a box of dinner meal which comes with 2 pieces of cakes and a fried chicken drumstick, a bottle of water, 2 small packets of biscuits, 1 coffee or tea and 1 glass of carbonated drinks. This is the type of bus I mentioned when I missed it during my Indochina adventure from Mukdahan to Bangkok. From my experience, this VIP bus will definitely provide more comfort than the ordinary bus firstly with its seat which can was more spacious, adjustable to almost 180 degrees level and with massage feature. Secondly, this bus has minimal stops which fastened the journey and thirdly, its more comfortable and less stuffy and fourth, it has a toilet on the ground level. Nevertheless, I still believe that Thailand or any other VIP buses in other ASEAN countries that I had been to over the last couple of years still couldn't be as good as the Lao VIP bus which comes with sleeper berth and toilet. My experience from Vientiane to Savannkhet allows me to confirm the fact that Lao VIP intercity bus is one of the best in the South East Asia region and yet Lao is still tagged by western cables as one of the poorest among its ASEAN neighbuorhood that relies fund from sponsors.
Most travellers come to Mae Sai for a short day trip across to Tachilek, a small town in Mynmar for shoppings at the market where traders sell all sorts of consumer goods at very inexpensive price. Of course, this market is a paradise for Thais due to the good value items available here and the fact that Thailand is just a walk from the border control post. There are also a good number of foreigners seen shopping for items as the goods sold here are suitable for just about anyone. Though Mae Sai is not a major tourist spots in Thailand, Chiang Rai city is located not too distanced away which is about 76km from Mae Sai. And most foreign travellers arrived at Mae Sai from Chiang Rai most probably to get their passports stamped for entering Mynmar (killing 2 birds with 1 stone) apart from the inexpensive shoppings. There are several hotels located at the main road leading to the border post immigration which charge between THB800 to THB1,000 a night. Most of the hotels here still remain unrenovated on its interior after its establishment over years ago but on the exterior may look new because renovation works were carried out on the interior instead of both sides of the hotel. The main trading activities in Mae Sai town focused mainly on the main road that leads to Tachilek in Mynmar. Most of the shops located along this main road sell items including tea from Mae Salong, chinese herbs, chinese mushrooms, seaweeds, cashewnuts, ginko salty nuts, toys, assorted candies, precious items as well as jackets and t-shirts and several coffee house and restaurants catered for travellers and shoppers staying at hotels in Mae Sai. There is also a fresh market here which sell many vegetables, herbs and other local fresh produce that also come from as far as Chiang Rai and Mae Salong as well as food stalls selling local food such as the khao soi (a type of noodle similar to Bun Bo in Hue, Vietnam) and the black glutinous rice cake. So, having reached here in Mae Sai, one should try out these two local delicacies while strolling along the fresh market. There are also a bazaar establishment in Mae Sai town which are located on sois (small lanes) behind the 2 storey shops on the left hand side of the main road to Tachilek. Most of these stalls sell items mentioned above.
Crossing to Tachilek, Mynmar from Mae Sai, Thailand will never allows anyone to travel beyond this small town to other parts of Mynmar. For Thais, the Mynmar immigration office in Tachilek will issue a border pass valid for 7 days which can be arranged by the hotel where one stays while for other foreigners including from ASEAN countries, a travel permit valid for 14 days will be issued by Tachilek immigration office with the passport being held at the immigration office until one returns the travel permit upon checking out to return to Mae Sai at the border control post. For one thing that I noticed when at the Tachilek immigration office while getting the travel permit ready, it was the friendliness of Tachilek immigration officers. I must say they were a friendly lot where one officer repeatedly acknowledged his gratitute for travelling to Tachilek by saying thank you a few times and these officers never look sterned but of course not before you hand over an entry permit fee of THB500 which is applicable to all foreign travellers other than Thais, who pays only THB100. Prior reaching the Tachilek immigration, after a stamped out from Mae Sai immigration, its only a short walk across a bridge where upon reaching Mynmar's soil, a blue colour arch with words, The Union of Mynmar greets travellers from Mae Sai to Tachilek. A small section of the "no man"'s land on the right towards Tachilek with shops belong to Thailand are being located with its frontage being fenced up with only five footways for shoppers to walk to these shops which sell mostly gems, jade and precious items from Mynmar as well as souveniers, t-shirts and bags can be found at these shops. There is also an arch for toursits and travellers to snap photographs as evidence that they have been to the northern most of Thailand. After getting the travel permit ready and passport withheld at Tachilek immigration office, the tuk-tuk drivers will approach travellers offer to take them to several tourist spots within Tachilek. If you want to explore more of Tachilek instead of just shopping, a bargain with these tuk-tuk drivers will indeed give you a good value for short half day trip just to explore Tachilek and get to know the town better. For THB200, you can actually explore one of the best tourist spot in Tachilek, the smaller version of Tachilek's Shwedagon Pagoda, Wat Phra Yok, Wat Phra That Chai Mueng or Wat Thai Yai, The Wat Thai Lek, sampling the local Mynmar food for lunch, visit the Regina Padong Long Neck Village, a chinese temple and also a stop at a gemstone shop which sell the real gemstones and precious items that are being massively produced in Mynmar. The first stop was at the Wat Phra Yok. Here, the very beautiful white jade Buddha crafted the Burmese style is being placed at this temple. The interior of the temple is decorated with large framed buddha paintings which include the spreading of the buddhist teachings by the Buddha to its followers and monks as well as those of the famous monk photograph placed on the walls of the interior of the temple. Among others on display are the several other smaller golden buddha stupas as well as 2 larger buddha stupas on the left and right of the white jade buddha stupa. Green mats are being placed on the floor greeting visitors as well as for devotees to sit while praying. On the exterior, the temple has a very close association with the Hindu style architecture. A small table with old collection of Burmese coins and stamps was available at the entrance to the temple.The Tachilek Shewdagon Pagoda is one of the best tourist product that Tachilek could offer to visitors. This pagoda though is not as grand as its Yangon's bigger cousin, it is however equally stunning and marvelous as the one in Yangon. The area which Tachilek Shewdagon Pagoda sits on is rather large where it is located on the massive flat land up the hill. An arch will greet visitors to the pagoda from its main entrance and no far away from this arch is a large monk stupa on sitting position with several others in standing position lining up with the black colour alms bowls led by the Buddha in front. On the entrance to the pagoda were several stalls selling souvenier items. Once entering the Shewdagon Pagoda main area, you will be required to take off shoes and there will be the "pagoda guides" that will offer their "services" to sell you the prayer items while they take you around the pagoda and explain to you on the brief history of Tachilek's Shewdagon Pagoda. Depending on the day you were born, you will be led to that specifc day and to offer prayers and to bath the buddha stupa on the side of the altar. There are 2 temples within Tachilek Shewdagon Pagoda. One houses 3 large Buddha statues in it while the other with 3 different buddha statues from Mynmar, Thailand and Laos. At the end of the Tachilek Shewdagon Pagoda "tour" the guide will sell several items tagged as souveniers which include postcards with choice of old Burmese notes or new Mynmar notes which the price ranged between THB100 to THB150 each. To help the local people, you can choose to purchase these souveniers as a token of appreciation for their kind services, to help the people of Mynmar to improve their living standards or just for souveniers for own keep or for friends and families. The surrounding landscapes of Tachilek Shwedagon Pagoda were amazing with houses and shops dotting the foot of the hill where this pagoda is located as well as views of several other beautiful hills surrounding Tachilek town.
After Tachilek Shwedagon Pagoda, the next stop is the Regina Padong Village, where visitors could experience live performance by the Karen and Akha Long Neck Hilltribes community dance as well as purchasing handcraft souveniers made by these long neck hilltribes women. Padong Village is located just next to the Regina Golf Club Resort, which is the most luxury entertainment available at Tachilek with a golf course and a hotel found over at this golf club. With the name Regina Padong Village tagged on this small long neck village, it is believed that the special Mynmar hilltribes village was set up by the owner of the golf club as a package to attract golf lovers from abroad to come play golf in Tachilek and to experience for themselves on the way of life of long neck communities in Mynmar and also its cultures at a closer look. This village was located on a small hill next to the Regina Golf Club with Karen and Akha hilltribes houses set up on the foothill of the village. These traditional hilltribes houses are made of wood and has 2 types, one of which the house sits on the land while the other is tall wooden house with the lower part of the house being use for weaving the handcraft items. These hilltribes houses could have been altered to suit the land topography or the need of these hilltribes people who live there as a showcase to attract tourists. Some of the Karen and Akha long neck hill tribes people can be seen working on the handcraft items while ascending the village to the top and final level of the village where the stage is located for the performance by these hilltribes women. Outside the houses are the hilltribes workmanship on display for sale. At the end of the village which is also the top most level of the village, you can take photographs with the long neck hilltribes women while waiting for the performance to start as well as after the performance. These women will be more than happy to have travellers taken photographs with them. Some of them can be seen sitting on the benches surrounding the stage for visitors to sit and enjoy the hilltribes performance prior to start of the dance. The performance by the Karen and Akha hilltribes women centred on their traditional dances. These women's ranges from as old as grandmother to as young as a 4 year old child. From the stage area at Padong Village, the view was scenic with a temple visible from here and several hills standing beautifully can be viewed from this top most level of the hilltribes village.
Next stop after Padong Village was to sample a Mynmarese food at a small restaurant downtown in Tachilek. The restaurant has simple decoration and looked Hindu style from the interior with its entrance doors covered with green colour curtains while rectangle shaped tables and chairs were arranged simply for between 4 people to 6 people to sit. Food served are rather simple, quite similar to the Indonesian padang food in which dishes come in small plates served with steam white rice. The dishes include curry chicken, pork with potatoes, curry mutton and fish curry all in small portion of small plates. Rice can be added if needed. At the end of the meal, diners were served with local dessert, "lapphet" comprising of sesame seeds, fried ginger, tea leaves pickle eaten with roasted peanuts and also snacks which were similar to the chinese candies which is good for stomach digestions.
After lunch, head to the temple which was the Wat Phra That Chai Mueng or Wat Thai Lek, which means a small thai temple. The name itself suggested that this temple in fact is a Thai temple where the architecture and design of the overall temple structures were based on the thai style. Unfortunately, the temple was closed during the visit for renovation purpose to replace the old "ubosot" building or ordination hall due to its old age and poor conditions. From here, moved on to Wat Thai Yai or simply the big thai temple. This temple's structure and architectures have a combination of several influences of not only Thai but also Burmese, Hindu and Chinese from my observations of the available building structures here. At the ordination hall, there are 2 layer of spacious courtyard, upper and lower level with in between large pillars' designs at the entrance of the ordination hall crafted nicely in thai style. Inside the ordination hall, the Buddha structure is placed on a section witha wooden structure beautifully and carefully crafted in thai style with 2 large standing clock on the left and right of this wooden structure. Just as with the decorations at the courtyard, the interior of the ordination hall is also decorated with thai style design resembling an arch in front of the wooden structure where the Buddha sculpture sits on. On the exterior ordination hall building, there is a structure on top of the buidling with multi layers pyramid shape can be seen with the roof top design crafted skilfully in thai style. There are also 2 pagoda like buildings that can be found within the boundary of this temple.
Almost all of those who crossed over to Tachilek from Mae Sai, Thailand was to do some good shopping at the bazaar just right after the Tachilek's immigration checkpoint. This large market is located on the right after the immigration office with a staircase for people to get down and up the market. There are hundreds of shops and stalls within this market and basically, almost everything is on sale from bags, shoes, shirts, cigarettes, viagra pills, food, coffee, ladies and men's accessories and many more consumer items which suit everyone at inexpensive prices. Of course, the trick here is to bargain to get the best price possible. Crossing back over to Mae Sai after a great day tour and shopping at Tachilek, get some rest before exploring the night market along the main road leading to the immigration. Most of the stalls on the left sell food and snacks while on the right, stalls mostly sell souveniers and shirts. So, while walking through the night market, bought some snacks for dinner comprising of local Mae Sai food including the rice roll wrapped with minced pork and the other one similar to bun cuon in vietnam, where minced pork wrapped into a rice roll and then cut into small pieces for consumption. Since the hotel has a balcony with chairs and tables, we bought beer (Cheers) while enjoying fried pork skin snacks and also the boiled eggs with yolk filtered out while enjoying the night scenes of Mae Sai town.