Saturday, February 11, 2006

Visiting Burma

Quaint Thai visa rules insist that visitors go out of the country and come back in once a month. Hence there is an active "visa-run" mini-bus business. However on the Visa Run you only
get to stay at the boarder about an hour and I wanted to spend more time so I took the bus there.

There are three main bus services, VIP which is almost as good as first class on Air
Canada with wide leather seats that recline almost flat, padded foot rests and refreshment service. Then there is the "air-con" which is considered second class but is still pretty good and finally the cheap way, no air-con but fans and open windows. Prices vary but its about $7 for VIP, $6 for Air-con and $2 for local.

The boarder closes at 4.30 p.m. so I got the afternoon VIP bus and arrived around 6 p.m. The bus station is not too close to the boarder so it is necessary to get the "Red Bus" for a few pennies. The method of making the most money by Red Bus driver/owners, is to stuff as many people as possible inside on the two long benches then more people sitting on tiny stools in the aisle and then have as many people as possible hanging off the back. The bus does not leave until it it totally full and of course stops every few minutes.

I was the last to get off but the driver did take me to the very best hotel in town, a huge building run by a Chinese family. The rooms were first class, very clean and spacious, big TV and two phones, nice modern bathrooms and lovely "juliette" balconies. The price was a whopping $35 but did include a large buffet breakfast.

As is usual, there was a night market along the main street so that provided the entertainment for the evening. The many food stalls offered tempting dishes but, being careful I chose to go to the only restaurant that seemed to be open where I actually got at scotch and soda in a single order (scotch is usually only served by the bottle) and some wonderful prawns cooked in glass noodles and, for the first time since I left Canada, a side order of french fries. (I know, I know but one can finally get tired of rice.)

The next day I entered Burma. After leaving my pasport with some trepidation, I hired a tuk-tuk for $3 for the morning for trips to some of the temples. It was lovely, high in the mountains it was cool and the air was very fresh and smelled of jasmine.

The temples are very different from the Thai ones, no so elaborate. but very peaceful. My favourite temple had worship points for each day of the week. The guide had a book which showed, according to birthday, the day of the week you were born on. I was born on a Tuesday, which makes me a Lion so I bought flowers and candles and inscense to place in front of the goddess of Tuesday. Then I had to pour water three times over the statue and the lion symbol, then hit a small gong three times. After this I went to a huge gong on a balcony overlooking the lovely countryside where I had to hit the gong any odd number of times. My guide was a delightful man who spoke perfect English and had a deformity of two thumbs on one hand.

After my tour of other temples and a visit to the golf course and a small tourist-oriented tribal village of "long necks" (women who are forced from childhood to wear brass rings around their necks which pushes their shoulders down). I did not stay there very long I thought that it was a very cruel practice that tourism was encouraging to continue.

Then it was to the market (of course). Not too different to the markets in Thailand but quite a few beggers which is not something you see much of in Chiang Mai. Had hoped to find some Burmese Jade which often has colours of pale pink and soft green flowing into each other. I had bought some in Bangkok so guess I will have to look for the shop again to add to my collection.

By the time I got back over the boarder I had just missed the VIP bus and had to take the local bus, complete with non-working fans and lots of people leaving work, to the next town of Chaing Rai where I was finally able to connect with the VIP bus for the 4 hour journey back to C.M.

It was good to get back "home" but it was an interesting trip and a chance to see a little bit more of the world.

 

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