Updated: Nov 12, 2018
Our hotel last night was basic but grand. Large quantities of timber gave it a solid air. Shame that the hot water was only available on the hand shower, not from the main shower head! We headed off to skirt the Myanmar border & ride down to Tak & beyond, on our way back to Bangkok. We were on the road as far west as you can go in Thailand, deliberately avoiding the main highways. The scenery was majestic. Towering mountains on both sides of the pass our road was in. A river running between, marking the border most of the way. What we didn’t expect was the huge ‘village’ we came across.
There has been a refugee problem in Thailand for many years, as the mostly Karen peoples in Myanmar flee from government & military persecution. Settlement camps were established under UN auspices as far back as 1995. But the persecution has gone on far longer than that. When I was last in Thailand and Burma, 30 years ago, I went on an elephant trek from Chiang Mai. When our guide, who was Burmese, found out that I was a photographer & my then partner was a writer, he took the trek a different way. We went into the hills in northern Thailand & he led us back across the Burmese border to a Karen military encampment, where we spent the night, after talking to all the people there. I had no idea where we really were (no gps & smartphones then) but the encampment was real & the stories were vivid.
The village we came across, literally on the border, was we believe a refugee encampment. We wanted to go in, but every entrance was gated & guarded & barbed wire ran along the entire boundary. A few inhabitants were being watched on the road as they collected the Jurassic leaves & we were approached as I got my camera out. They weren’t unfriendly, but they certainly weren’t welcoming & didn’t want us there. We went a bit further along the road & I got my camera out again - same reaction. All the people inside looked happy enough, but many of them were born there, so know no different life. Sad to see... :(
Crossing back across the mountain range towards Tak, we rode along one of the longest (and in its present state of construction) scariest mountain pass roads we’ve ever travelled. It will be a wide 4 lane highway, but so much of it was two lane & still under construction & there were so many large trucks travelling at a snail’s pace with cars continuously trying to overtake, that bikes were almost squeezed out. We stopped for a break halfway & ran into a biking club who had hired bikes in Chiang Mai & were doing a tour. Apart from the fact that they were riding our bikes (at home - Honda Transalps), they also didn’t appear to be too experienced, almost toppling a couple of bikes in the sloping car park! The other jollity there were the number of cockerel statues that were apparently purchased & then left there as a tribute!
Arriving at Tak, another central provincial town, straddling the main highway 1 that runs north-south (that we are trying to avoid), we sought out a riverside restaurant for breakfast / lunch & to plan how far we were going to ride in the afternoon. Not a single word of any language we understood was spoken. Google translate was useless & even ‘beer’ was an unknown word. However, we did eventually manage to wrangle a good meal and a few drinks. A peaceful & tranquil setting.
We found a hotel in a town we felt was as far as we could reasonably go, and worked out a route that could be more interesting than highway 1 (although much couldn’t be avoided). It’s a great hotel, but mainly deserted. I ask again, ‘when is high tourist season in Thailand?’ A quick swim, a nice tall gin & tonic & a Pad Thai & I feel refreshed! Tomorrow we get to Bangkok.
You’ll find all the images from my Rovings here:
If you enjoy the blogs and / or the pictures, please tell as many people as you can. Share the joy! Tell friends, acquaintances, the media, just anyone. And do comment. I love healthy debates!