Kawkareik, Myanmar, 20 january 2019
Cycling over the mountains from Mae Sariang to Mae Sot in Thailand was the toughest climb we have ever done. I pushed my bike were it was too steep to cycle, I had tears of fatigue, BUT what a view!!
We camped along the way. Made a fire, cooked a meal, slept under the stars and woke up above the clouds. It was so beautiful that I forgot the hard climbs.
I will not forget the third day soon though. We cycled for many kilometers along the largest Burmese refugee camp in Thailand: Mea La Camp. 34,000 refugees in bamboo houses with roofs made from leaves, all crammed against the ridge of the mountain. I could not believe the size of it, it took my breath away and really had to cry to see this.
So many refugees who have been there for three generations, born there, but not able to go anywhere, to have a proper future.
Four smiling kids shouted ‘Hello’ over the wooden fence that separates the road from the camp. We gave them all our cookies and took a few pictures of the camp. This had apparently been noticed, because when we stopped cycling a bit later to discuss where we were going to camp, a ‘black warrior’, Thai border policeman, came to us on a motorbike. We were doing nothing wrong, but we were clearly too interested in the camp…
With a “not safe” (the only English he spoke) and gestures of a pistol against his head and slitting his throat, we were escorted out of the area by him for 10 kilometers…. They do a lot to ensure that the world does not know too much about these refugees…
In Mae Sot we met Eh Poe, a young girl who works a lot with the Burmese refugees and migrants in Thailand and Burma.
She works a lot at Mae La camp and indicated that the refugees are in the same situation as those in the camps where we are now raising money for.
There is not enough money for food and good facilities since the NGOs leave the camps.
This conversation made us extra aware of our goal to help, no matter how small.
Our visas expired the next day, so we crossed the border from Mae Sot to Myawaddy.
Crossing from Thailand into Burma (Myanmar) via the friendship bridge showed a real transition. In the middle of the bridge we had to start cycling on the right again (Thailand was all on the left) and the road is in a very bad condition from the moment we rode on the Burmese side.
The border control guy who checked our passports was sitting lazily in his chair while chewing on a beetle nut, spitting the beetle nut juice into a trash can.
Many people in Burma chew on that nut, the ‘national addiction’ that supposedly gives a kind of energy boost. While chewing it gives off so much blood-red juice that you can’t swallow, that they have to spit it out all the time. You can see blood-red spots everywhere on the street.
If you chew a lot, your teeth turn red, and when you chew even more they become black. They seem to find it no problem here. It looks very weird and funny!
Another very popular thing here in Burma is the traditional make up for men, women and kids, made from Thanaka powder of wood from the Thanaka tree. It looks a bit like someone painted on your cheek or forehead, or put stripes all over your face.
Here seen as beautiful, in the rest of the world you walk around like a clown.
Myawaddy felt very chaotic compared to Thailand. It is also clearly poorer and much dirtier.
Finding a hotel turns out to be difficult, because you only have a small number of hotels that have permission to accommodate foreign tourists. The government has special tourist taxes,
which makes the shittiest hotels just as expensive as a luxury room in Thailand.
After a shower in our 18 dollar hotel room, we went out to look for some real burmese food!
At the market I selected some vegetables for the day after, for if we needed to camp somewhere (due to lack of hotels). The market vendors gestured that I can not pay: “for you, welcome Myanmar!” So sweet!! Every time people are generous (which happens often!) I melt!
We ended up accidentally in a Chinese restaurant. The already pretty drunk boys who were sitting next to us spoke a little english and helped us choose from the menu. But when it becomes clear to them that we liked to try Burmese food instead of Chinese, they invited us to join them somewhere else for a ‘real burmese experience’. The karaoke bar!
Despite our warnings of our fantastic singing talent, we really had to come along.
Just in front of the Karaoke bar was a guy selling little skewers with guts, eyeballs and many other undefinable ofal. Some became Kiran’s starter of the meal and..we were not allowed to pay. The guys paid everything the whole evening, we were their guests. So friendly again!
One of the guys is a profi singer that recorded two albums already. They rented this very big cheesy glitter and glamour karaoke room with fake purple leather walls, big couches, music too loud to talk anymore and lots of food and drinks on the table. We sang some awful songs and danced on theirs; good fun!
The Burmese hormone flow became a bit too much for us when they hired some female entertainment for them, so with many thank you’s we went back to the hotel.
The second day we took a road that leads over the mountains to Kawkareik. A brilliant trip, a 800 meter high but easy climb via small villages and then a descend with many U-turns and beautiful views over the rice fields of Burma.
We passed many army bases on the way and a number of border control posts where they checked our passport. It is hard to flee to Thailand unseen…
It is not for nothing the refugees tell stories of fleeing over the mountains for weeks before reaching the camps in Thailand…
We arrived in Kawkareik and luckily there was still one hotel left (out of 5) that had a place for us to stay. This first two days in Burma were already a big roller coaster of impressions!
I am eager for more!
I’m glad that with every kilometer we ride, we help the refugees a little.
If you want to support our trip, I would really really appreciate it!
Below the links to donate :