Friday, January 8, 2010

 Happy New Year- สวัสดี ปี ใหม่

So much in such a relatively short period of time. On Jan 1, I left the shelter with Mickey, the Founder and  another volunteer heading north. The intention was to make a stop in one of the Hill Tribes and interview a few girls for possible inclusion at the shelter as well as visit a few of the hot spots for sexual trafficking of children. Our first big event was when we spotted 2 Westerners (ex-pats) on the road with large backpacks asking a local for directions. The three of us looked at one another and discussed whether we should give them a ride? After passing them yet a 2nd time we did indeed extend an offer. Mind you we were way up North heading to a remote Yao village in DoiWawi, Thailand, West of Chiang Rai. Well, they hopped into the back seat and rather than purse their original plans after being dropped off at the wrong spot by the local bus they, Alan and Galey ended up spending the next 2 days with us as we made out way along the Thai/Myanmar /Laos borders. They were a great addition, both working for NGO’s (non-government organizations) out of Bangkok. Truly wonderful people and I think long term friends.

At our 1st major stop, DoiWawi, we were hosted by the chief of the village, his wife, several young children and the chief's 80 year old mother. Grandma was quite skeptical at first, refusing to look at us but eventually let me take a few photos of her. 3 of the older girls at the shelter had originally come from this same village. We were absolutely treated like royalty, fed an enormous quantity of delicious food for both dinner and breakfast the next morning. After arriving but before dinner, we went to pick fresh oranges in their orchards. After dinner, 4 “at risk” girls were briefly met with for consideration at the shelter. The next morning we got up at 5 am to hit the mountain top for sunrise. The men and woman slept separately, so Gelay became my “new best friend”, sharing a room with me. Showers were skipped and  bathroom visits kept to a minimum at our personal discretion as both were outside in a very rudimentary structure with very basic appliances – need I say anymore!

 80 year old grandma

Sunrise at Doi Wawi

Mai Sai, official and unofficial border crossing into Myanmar was our next major stop. The Guest house were stayed in was right on the river between Thailand and Myanmar. Hot showers a real treat in Thailand, were taken immediately upon check-in, then out to explore. Border crossing for the Thai & Burmese at Mai Sai cost 10 B (Baht), which is about 30 cents. Many do so on a daily basis to sell their good on both sides. Being New Years holiday it was sheer pantomime. There were a huge volume of people going in both directions. To me the most interesting point was how porous the border actually was. Some were just opting to avoid the 30B walking across the river others skimming along the fence and hopping over. Lot of very poor people, some selling merchandise, other just begging – it was very sad to see. Mai Said is also a populist border crossing for a "Visa Run" – place to get a 2 week extension on a Thai Visa.

A very poor "Day Trader" coming from Myanmar
to Thailand to sell her goods

Illegal Bording Crossing from Thailand to Myanmar

Thailand on the left, Myanmar on the right
One man carried his bicycle overhead
as he crossed the river and by-passed the
official border check.

Alan and Gelay wearing every stitch of clothing they had
to try and stay warm - clearly not enough

After Mai Sai, we headed East to Chiang Sean a river port were cheap Chinese goods are dropped off & Chinese Cargo ships restocked. Another curious site as I got to see live ducks purchased and transferred, to the cargo ships.

Next stop, Chiang Kong, border crossing to Laos. This is where people can also make a visa Run – go into Laos and get a 2 week renewal on their Thai Visa. Phinn, the volunteer traveling with us opted to ender Laos this way, travel south to Vientiane, capital of Laos to apply for a 3 month Visa extension at the Thai embassy. A much quieter border crossing, a mere small boat crossing on the now low tide Mekong River to the other side.

A few more hours on the road and we arrived in Chiang Rai where Alan, Gelay and I were dropped off.

More to come soon,
Carpe Diem,