Thailand and Burma

I spent two weeks on the Thai/Burmese border working with an Burmese newspaper/magazine called Mojo which stands for "Lightning" in Burmese. A border dispute and ethnic insurgencies have destabilized the area. In addition, over the past decade hundreds of thousands of Burmese have fled across the border to Thailand where they live in refugee camps in near poverty. They are in a very difficult position. To stay in Thailand means working in unsafe conditions for poor pay. They face capture and deportation by the Thai police on one side. The alternative is Burma where a repressive military junta uses forced inscription in the army and forced labor to enrich a military elite. 

The border itself is rife with drug smuggling, spying by the Thai and Burmese intelligence services and the smuggling of goods like gems from the rich veins in the Burmese mountains and Teak from the Burmese hills. The Karens, an ethnic group seeking autonomy, have an army based in Mae Sot and every few weeks they tangle with the Burmese government and another Karen group across the border. The United Wa States Army, another ethnic group, uses the city to smuggle meta-amphetamines. Burma is the worlds largest manufacturer of meta-amphetamines aimed mainly at the Asian market and it may soon take over the title of worlds largest heroin producer again as Afghanistan falls into chaos.

I spent my time training and not taking photos so the pickings are a little weak in this series. Click on the photo for a larger version.

The staff of Mojo
Training at the offices of Mojo
Our translator, Pee Thet Nee, wearing the traditional Burmese longyi. Pee Thet Nee is also a poet.
Mae Sot. It has two main streets and about 300 gem trading shops where you can buy jade, emeralds and rubies. I heeded warnings and stayed away from them. It also has four colored twine shops...two next to each other. I think that beats New York City.
Oh yeah. Here's the other street....the one with the town stop light. As in all of Thailand....road rules are more recommendations that strict rules.
The town market. A good place to buy your cheroots (Burmese cigars) and beetle nut. Beetle nut is a mild sedative wrapped in leaves and placed between the cheek and gum. It was not bad but I didn't catch a buzz. It does stain your teeth (an the ground) red.
The architecture in Mae Sot is Burmese. Here is a typical Buddhist temple (called wats) using the bell-shaped architecture commonly found in Burma.
Thai religious architecture is always quite elaborate. Here is a building on the grounds of 700-year-old Wat Chiang Mai in the northern city of Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai was a major moated city in the area dating to the 10th century and built by pre-Thai hill tribes. The moat and remnants of the red brick city walls still surround the old part of the city. In the 60s and 70s it had a renaissance when astounding amounts of drug capital poured into the city. Many of the hotels and estates throughout the city can trace their origin to China White, a high quality heroin made from Burmese grown poppies.
Detail on door of Wat Chiang Mai. I think it was Wat Chiang Mai. It is easy to get confused there.
Wat Lok Molee in Chiang Mai. The rather cryptic inscription on this wat said: "The first occasion of the name of this wat appeared during the reign of Kuena when it was the residence of ten monks who were pupils of Phra Maha Uthumphon Buppha Maha Sami of Nakhon Phan in Burma. In 1541 Phra NMuang Ket Klao's life was terminated thus a chedi was constructed to house his ashes at this temple."  There you go.