I spent the first two years after I graduated as a teacher, working at the Refugee Resettlement Centre in Mangere, Auckland, when at that time, the majority of each refugee intake to New Zealand were Burmese; refugees from Myanmar. We learnt so much about a country and a culture that had been essentially shut off to the world for nearly 60 years.
When Myanmar reopened officially to tourism in 2012, Gavin and I spent three weeks exploring The Golden Land; a country that was now under a unique process of reform, after being hidden away for such a long time, and we fell in love with the people, and with a culture that was so different, and so inspiring. Both of us called it our ‘favourite’ country for the years that followed, and wanted to return in some way with our boys.
It wasn’t until we started looking in to our route overland in Northern Thailand that we considered perhaps we could cross the border, and give Harry and Oscar a small glimpse of a culture we had held so closely…
So this visit to Myanmar was different.
- Short – we didn’t have a visa, so made the crossing in to Myanmar mimicking a Thai ‘visa run’
- Exciting – we couldn’t wait to be ‘back in Myanmar’!
- Memorable – everything we hoped it would be (we found Burmese curry, beer, and thanaka!)
And a lot about the adventure of getting there!
What we actually did…
From Chiang Rai we hopped on a local bus to the most Northern Thai border town of Mae Sai, grabbed a songthaew shared taxi to the border crossing, and crossed over on foot into Tachileik, a border town in the Eastern Shan State of Myanmar.
^^ Thats us, leaving Chiang Rai for the border crossing; with equally assumed trust in the open doors and lack of windows for air conditioning, and the sign-language purchase of a ฿35 (NZD$1.45) bus ticket…
In Mae Sai we found a songthaew (shared taxi) from the bus station to the town centre…
And crossed over from Thailand into Myanmar, via the Mae Sai-Tachileik border crossing; walking across the Friendship Bridge on foot.
[Interesting to see the cars (and people) crossing over on to the other side of the road halfway across the bridge… Thailand drives on the left; Myanmar on the right!].
What we enjoyed most…
As soon as we arrived in the Thai border town of Mae Sai, we could see Burmese culture; men and women in ‘longyi’ (sarong-like wraps), and with ‘thanaka’ on their faces.
Crossing into Myanmar it is everywhere; a distinctive feature of the culture, and one of the most memorable for me. It is a thick, yellowish paste made from ground bark, and is wet with water and applied like make-up for cosmetic effect, and as a natural sunscreen and beauty product.
On our first outing we met a lady at the temple, who grabbed us aside and made up a paste for Oscar and I…
I know you are meant to wait for it to dry; but how do we look?!
The Golden Temple
Where to stay
- Tachelik: Golden Cherry Hotel [huge room, very friendly staff, good location for a base to explore the town from and close to small restaurants and basic convenience stores; NZD $114 p/n].
One thing that challenged us…
You have to give over your passport at the border to Tachilek. This is never an easy feeling!
It was slightly unnerving trying to explain to the border guards on the Myanmar side that we wanted to stay the night in Tachileik…. “Why?” They couldn’t quite understand why anyone would want to stay there! (On reading up about Tachileik, it doesn’t have the most settled of history and at one point in time was a border crossing renowned for opium smuggling and trade of illegal wares). However, for us, we wanted to show our boys a few memories from our travels in Myanmar, and were essentially on the hunt for thanaka, Burmese curry, and the golden stupa at the top of the hill… which we found!
Overall, making a ‘visa run’ style adventure over the border into Myanmar was one of the most memorable adventures from our time in Asia!