"April 2nd, Baan Rub Aroon, Chiang Rai
I begin the documentation of these travels in medias res, and by now I have already visited the border town of Mae Sot, a town where the the cultures of Thailand and Burma intersect. At this moment, I am in bed, armed for the day with a wonderful cup of real coffee, and Kate is at my side perusing her copy of The Lonely Planet, our travel bible.
Being ensconced in a tangle of white sheets has reminded me to appreciate the departure from the stark and dubious accommodations we had in Umphang. Deemed as needing major TLC, we stayed at this resort which suffered from the attack of after-rain insects, mainly slugs and ants.
Accommodations aside, Umphang was absolutely beautiful. We paddled downstream a beautiful lazy river (river Khlong) which was the perfect conduit into the heart of the jungle. We paid a cursory visit to hot springs, and later on swam in the bottom pool of Thailand's biggest waterfall, Thi Lor Suk. Although I regrettably declined out of jumping, it was still quite the experience.
To get in and out of Umphang is a feat in it of itself. Winning the title "Death Highway," the mountainous terrain to Umphang includes 200+ curves, whose roads lie right on the edge of steep mountains, and whose views alone can induce nausea for those with even a slight fear of heights (me). Our vehicle was no mean pick-up truck/ SUV/ minivan-- we rode a regular songthaew, the conventional mode of transportation here in Thailand. They look like pick-up trucks with seats that face each other on that back. It's absolutely fine if you're traveling from one town to another, but a different matter when you're sitting with 21 other people, squished like canned tuna, with children sitting on your feet, for a total of 5 hours. Add the ubiquitous and frequent vomiting, stolen water bottles and seating spaces, and you have the perfect storm for the most challenging transportation experience (in retrospect I think Caitlyn and Steph top me on this with their excruciating 3rd class train ride). I would not be surprised if animals are ferried in these songthaews, if they could still manage the space. Still, it's one of those experiences that easily turn into the greatest stories if you somehow manage to emerge intact and breathing.
Before this venture to Umphang, we stayed for two nights at this little town of Mae Sot, briefly aforementioned. It is Mukdahan's ( bordering Laos) lateral opposite. There, I tried a little bit of Burmese cuisine. I loved the tea the most, it reminds me so much of chai! I like recognizing the cultural influences of a place, and I definitely felt like I tasted a little bit of India in my introduction to the Burmese palate. My most interesting cultural education in Mae Sot, however, revolves around a particular female heroine who plays a major part in Burma's National Democratic Party, the current political opposition to the military junta currently in place (illegitimately). Her name is Aung Sung Suu Kyi, and she has spent close to 20 years under house arrest and celebrated her 64th birthday in prison. She won the Noble prize in 1991 and has campaigned against human rights violation in Burma for her entire political career. Burmese history is one in which I had very little familiarity, so she has definitely piqued my interest.
Aung San Suu Kyi has definitely enriched my fascination with the role of women in facilitating peace processes. There are documentations everywhere, I feel, that vindicate the women's role in healing a fragmented, war-torn nation-state and empowering impoverished and even religiously oppressed communities. Examples abound: women peacekeepers in NIgeria, female community leaders in South Africa, Afghanistan, Iran.. etc. Suu Kyi is a testament to this potentially transformative power of female leadership, a trajectory towards equality and democracy against oppressive paternalist forces (er, the military). It's almost too crude to point that the house arrest is just another telling metaphor for the illegitimate government's efforts to subdue feminist power back into the domestic sphere.
Mae Sot-- I will not forget the quaint coffee shop of Auntie's, the rain that pelted that Sunday morning (thwarting our attempts to cross to Myanmar), its people and their decorated faces, the bustle of the gem industry, and the markets replete with raw cuisines of the exotic sort.
I have had a great and absorbing travel so far, with high hopes that the rest of my trip will be enlightening like this."
To view some of my pictures, click on the "Travel Photos" page on the right.