Sunday, 2 August 2009

Myanmar (Burma), Talichek, Keng Tung

The immigration process to enter Talichek, Myanmar aka Burma from Mae Sai, Thailand is easily the most bizarre I've ever encountered but sort of expected given the secretive nature of this military junta. Many areas are off limits for foreigners and specific roads are closed with checkpoints only allowing approved locals to travel.

After paying the u$d10 visa fee you have to specify how far you are going and then you surrender your passport to immigration and get issued a temporary travel document with photo (looks like a Myanmar passport) which gets stamped as you pass numerous checkpoints. You retrieve your passport as you exit the country thru the same border crossing.

Myanmar temporary passport id

After crossing the border and changing our watches back half an hour to Myanmar time, we presented our temporary travel documents to the bus ticket agent who then had to send them by moto back to immigration to log exactly where we were going. From this point on we never handled our documents since they were handed on to the next host recipient be it the bus driver, tuk tuk driver or guest house owner etc who was obligated to register our details with 'big brother'.

Myanmar, Burma

The bus from Talichek to Keng Tung took 5 hours but the scenery was fantastic with luscious green rice fields set into the mountains of jungle. They don't get too many tourists around here so when we arrived we were quite a novelty for the locals and got received with a mixture of curiosity and friendliness. Kids and adults will just stare and when you say hello they smile or just look away shyly.

Poverty is a serious problem here and you can see the life struggle some of these people have had just looking in their eyes but they are still very friendly. It's hard to believe this was once one of the wealthiest countries in SE Asia when the British colonized it. Even more disturbing is the continuing house arrest for Aung San Suu Kyi who faces fresh charges after an American activist recently entered her house apparently uninvited.
Keng Tung, Myanmar / Burma

The only foreigners we met were a French couple who had traveled from Mandalay and some missionary workers who were setting up a church and although we only spent one night, it will likely be the most memorable part of the whole trip. It's not often you get to visit such a beautiful place and you are virtually the only tourist.

After a hot and muggy night with a power cut at Harry's Guest House and where the generator was shut off at midnight we explored the morning market where several hill tribes come to pedal there wares before we set off in a shared taxi with some locals back to the border.

At the border our driver surrendered our temporary travel documents to immigration and we retrieved our own passports before crossing back into Thailand. Being back in touristville was a mixture of relief and sadness. More photos below.

Click on map to enlarge

Tags: ..Myanmar, Burma, Kengtung.

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Diarmuid Hayes August 03, 2009 4:44 am  

Looks amazing and unspoilt

Baino August 03, 2009 5:43 am  

Enda I don't know how you do it. You've got the knack of just crossing borders and surrendering passports. When I travel I've got mine close and giving it to no-one. Hey, you're young and if you hadn't done this sort of trip, you'd be kicking yourself when you're 50. I know I am. I wish I'd been more adventurous when I had less fear and a more happy go lucky attitude. Wonderful trip, wonderful pics.

nick August 03, 2009 7:40 am  

Goodness, they certainly keep a close watch on people moving around the country, unlike Britain and Ireland. It's always enjoyable finding places that aren't tourist traps, where you can actually feel like one of the locals and just soak up the natural atmosphere.

Quickroute August 03, 2009 9:51 am  

@ Diarmuid: - thanks it was all that and more

@ Baino: - thanks, it's not always easy but no regrets so far - wouldn't mind having a base in the country like yourself - it's hard to have the best of both worlds though!

@ Nick: It's difficult to find these places alright as if they are beautiful then they are usually on the tourist trek - We just happened to luck out with stumbling on this place

Thriftcriminal August 04, 2009 6:59 am  

Looks stunning. I'd be curious about visiting, my grandfather fought there in the 2nd world war. Didn't say much about it, jungle warfare is never pleasant.

Quickroute August 05, 2009 11:17 am  

@ Thrifty: It is stunning - I'm sure it was a bit of culture shock back then for visitors - as it still is now

Stevo August 06, 2009 6:15 pm  

Excellent. I envy you. I have to go! Soon! So much green is too hard to pass up.

NicoleB August 07, 2009 6:21 am  

Oh wow, that sounds like more than just a small adventure.
But it seems to be a beautiful country. Too bad it lives under such a rule :(

Quickroute August 07, 2009 1:09 pm  

@ Stevo: So green it reminded me of the ol' sod

@ Nicole B: It's beautiful alright but impovershed beyond belief

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