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Mae Sot

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Burmese puppets in Mae Sot

Burmese puppets in Mae Sot

 

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Photos And Travel Guide - Mae Sot, Thailand

Photos

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Burmese child in Mae Sot

Burmese child in Mae Sot

 

Camera: Canon 40D
Lens: Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0L IS
ISO: 200
Shutter Speed: 1/160s
Aperture: f/4.0

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Transliteration

The practice of writing Thai names in English is a complete disaster. Firstly, phonemes exist in Thai that don't exist in English, and vice-versa. Secondly, written English is so inconsistent that if a 'u' is used in a transliterated word, the reader doesn't know if the sound is like a 'u' in 'but' or a 'u' in 'put'.

Thirdly, different transliteration systems have no consistency and official system is hopelessly inaccurate, using the wrong vowels and consonants, not differentiating between long and short vowels, etc.

Fourthly, I am convinced that there was a huge amount of German input when transliteration systems were devised. A 'y' is used for the Thai 'j' consonant (Levi yeans), 'v' is used for 'w' (Sukhumvit Road) and umlaut sounds are written using a vowel followed by 'e', as is the German convention when an umlaut is not available.

The only Mae I had ever heard of before I arrived in Thailand was Mae West - pronounced May. The actual sound is like a breathy 'mair' with no emphasis on the final 'r' and a falling tone. It means mother in Thai.

In German it would be an 'ä' sound and if there is no umlaut on the keyboard Germans write it as 'ae'. This is why I am certain that Thai transliteration systems were devised by Germans. The way Mae is written is far more meaningful to German speakers than it is to English speakers.

แม่สอด - mair sot

 

Burmese jeep in Mae Sot

Burmese jeep in Mae Sot

 

Camera: Canon 40D
Lens: Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0L
ISO: 200
Shutter Speed: 1/400s
Aperture: f/5.0

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Background To My Trip

In the days when I was a tourist I only knew about a handful of places in Thailand and all of those places were tourist cliches. After a while I had visited all of them and found them all to be as boring and superficial as each other. Beaches and islands, especially, bore me to tears.

I wanted more than tacky souvenir shops, fake watches, faux Irish pubs, overpriced food, overpriced accommodation, Indian tailor shops, etc. In addition, I wanted to feel that I was in Thailand and I didn't want to be surrounded by thousands of foreign tourists.

For these reasons, when I moved to Thailand permanently in 2003 I deliberately chose a location that attracted few farangs. By the same token, when I travelled within Thailand I looked for places of interest where tourists wouldn't normally go.

Sometimes Thai friends gave me ideas about where to go, such as Sangkhlaburi, and sometimes I would get ideas from other sources. I can't remember now exactly what sowed the seed for a trip to Mae Sot, but it was an inspired choice.

The most interesting places I have been to in Thailand have been on on the Burmese border - Sangkhlaburi, Three Pagodas Pass, Mae Sai - and Mae Sot was no exception.

Thailand's neighbours are quite different to Thailand and border towns are full of activity. The laws of supply and demand govern border towns and although much of the activity is illegal it can be fun to observe.

Down on the southern border, many goods - some legal and some illegal - flow either way and commercial sex is a big cross-border activity with tiny border posts such as Dannok growing into quite large towns to satisfy the demand for prostitution from Muslim Malaysia.

Thais are big gamblers but, technically, gambling is illegal in Thailand. Thais and foreigners living in Thailand cross the border to Cambodia, which has legal casinos.

As I write now, in 2016, a democratic government has been elected in Burma, and over time the country will change beyond recognition, but it will take a long time. When I visited in 2009, Burma was still governed by a military dictatorship and there was a huge amount of cross-border trade in Mae Sot.

This page is a short travelogue of my visit in 2009. As development in Burma continues to accelerate at a breakneck pace, it follows that border towns in Thailand on the Burmese border will also start to develop quickly. I suspect that Mae Sot has already changed enormously since I went. Be quick to visit before it changes beyond all recognition.

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Weather

According to Wikipedia, the rainy season in Mae Sot suns from May to October. I visited in early October. The weather was pretty hot and there was no rain. Mae Sot is hot throughout the year and in April, at the peak of the hot season, it is very hot.

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Accommodation

By the time I visited Mae Sot in 2009 I had already lived in Thailand for six years and was fairly comfortable with getting around the country and speaking Thai. I wasn't expecting Mae Sot to be that busy, therefore, didn't book any accommodation in advance. This was a mistake.

When I arrived I was keen to start exploring and didn't want to spend time looking at hotels. I hurriedly checked into the Pornthep Hotel but, to be honest, it wasn't very pleasant. It was a typical old Chinese-style Thai hotel that hadn't been decorated for about 30 years.

 

Pornthep Hotel, Mae Sot, Thailand

Pornthep Hotel, Mae Sot, Thailand

 

Camera: Canon 40D
Lens: Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0L
ISO: 400
Shutter Speed: 1/60s
Aperture: f/4.0

 

Before I went, I should have spent an hour researching hotels on-line to make sure I stayed at a decent place. Arriving with a hotel reservation also means that you can go straight to your hotel without wasting time looking for places to stay.

Don't make the same mistake as me.

The best hotels in Thailand get booked up quickly and walk-in rates are the most expensive. To make sure you get the best rate and stay where you want to stay, book on-line in advance.

Click here to book accommodation in Mae Sot through Agoda
Click here to book accommodation in Mae Sot through Booking.com

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Foreigners In Mae Sot

There is a big non-governmental organisation (NGO) presence along the Thai/Burmese border and especially so in Mae Sot. I saw hospitals, clinics and other facilities run by NGO's.

There were a few tourists, but most foreigners I saw looked as if they worked for an NGO.

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Getting There

I took a bus from Bangkok to Kamphaeng Phet and stayed in Kamphaeng Phet a few nights because it was another place that appealed to me. It has historic remains, similar to Ayuthaya and Sukothai, and it is visited by very few foreign tourists. I dislike those parts of Thailand that are swarming with tourists and have nothing of interest.

From Kamphaeng Phet I travelled to Mae Sot. I can't recall exactly how long the journey took, but I did make a note of the fares. The bus from Kamphaeng Phet to Tak main town was Bt42 and the minivan from Tak to Mae Sot was Bt56. When I arrived in Mae Sot I paid a motorbike taxi driver Bt20 to take me to a hotel.

After Mae Sot I travelled further north to Chiang Mai before flying back to Hat Yai from Chiang Mai via Bangkok. The bus fare from Mae Sot to Chiang Mai was Bt304 and it was quite a scenic journey through lots of rice paddies.

Mae Sot also has an airport, which is served by Nok Air and maybe others. The IATA code for the airport is MAQ.

 

Burmese man in Mae Sot

Selling (fake?) Viagra in Mae Sot

 

Camera: Canon 40D
Lens: Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0L
ISO: 200
Shutter Speed: 1/500s
Aperture: f/8.0

 

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Local Transport

As with all provincial Thai towns, there are a variety of motorbike taxis, tuk-tuks and sawng-thaews. There were also some bicycle taxis, which you don't see everywhere in Thailand.

 

Bicycle taxi, Mae Sot

Bicycle taxi, Mae Sot

 

Camera: Canon 40D
Lens: Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0L
ISO: 400
Shutter Speed: 1/320s
Aperture: f/4.5

 

Some local transport options in Mae Sot, Thailand

Some local transport options in Mae Sot, Thailand

 

Camera: Canon 40D
Lens: Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0L
ISO: 200
Shutter Speed: 1/125s
Aperture: f/5.6

 

Mae Sot is quite small and during the whole of my visit I just got around on foot without needing to use any local transport. I took a motorbike taxi from the bus station to my hotel when I arrived and another motorcycle taxi back to the bus station when I left.

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Thailand/Burma Border

Its location on the Thai/Burmese border is the single entity that makes Mae Sot the place it is. The natural laws of supply and demand override everything else and there is a constant flow of cross border trade in either direction. This trade applies to both goods and labour.

In other countries it probably wouldn't be very interesting observing border activity, but the Thai/Burma border is fascinating. My most interesting experiences in Thailand have all been along this border.

As I write now, several years later, a democratic government has been installed and things are no doubt changing, but in 2009 under a military junta even basic items were hard to come by in Burma. To supply demand, I observed huge trucks arriving in Mae Sot containing all sorts of goods. There were food items, cars, and thousands of bicycles.

Going the other way were hundreds of Burmese workers who work in sweatshops on the Thai side of the border making cheap clothes. Labour in Thailand isn't particularly expensive, but in Burma it is even cheaper.

A bridge over the Moei River is the official crossing point and, accordingly, there are immigration and customs points, but there is a huge amount of illegal border crossing. Goods are carried across on small boats, the owners of which didn't want to be photographed, and Burmese workers cross the river on huge inner tubes made for large trucks. It looked to be extremely precarious, but the Burmese women crossing the river this way still manage to retain an air of dignity.

 

The Thai/Burmese border

The Thai/Burmese border

 

Camera: Canon 40D
Lens: Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0L
ISO: 200
Shutter Speed: 1/250s
Aperture: f/8.0

 

Burmese women crossing the Moei River to Mae Sot

Burmese women crossing the Moei River to Mae Sot

 

Camera: Canon 40D
Lens: Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0L IS
ISO: 200
Shutter Speed: 1/400s
Aperture: f/6.3

 

Used bicycles on their way across the river to Burma

Used bicycles on their way across the river to Burma

 

Camera: Canon 40D
Lens: Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0L IS
ISO: 200
Shutter Speed: 1/500s
Aperture: f/4.0

 

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Refugee Camps And Safety

There are large refugee camps on the Thai side of the border. I wanted to look around, but didn't know what I might be walking into. I started talking to a Burmese guy who spoke English and Thai. He offered to be my guide for Bt100 and told me that in the previous week he had guided a foreign journalist. It sounded like a good deal and I accepted.

I have a fairly well developed sixth sense, which is a vital attribute if living in Thailand because potentially it is such a dangerous country. The average tourist in one of the tourist resorts may not sense the danger, but each year many foreigners return home in body bags from 'The Land Of Smiles'.

As it turned out, I didn't sense any danger but it was good to have a guide for two reasons. Firstly, he told me what went on in otherwise non-descript buildings. Secondly, he was able to interpret for me when I wanted to ask Burmese workers questions. I don't speak Burmese and not all Burmese working in Thailand can speak Thai.

If living in the refugee camps was an improvement to the people living there over Burma, then conditions in Burma must have been pretty bad. Domiciles were of the shanty variety and there was no running water, with people having to fill water containers using hand pumps. Some people were ill and a few looked really desperate.

 

A young Burmese girl pumps water in Mae Sot

A young Burmese girl pumps water in Mae Sot

 

Camera: Canon 40D
Lens: Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0L IS
ISO: 200
Shutter Speed: 1/500s
Aperture: f/5.6

 

Refugee shanty accommodation in Mae Sot

Refugee shanty accommodation in Mae Sot

 

Camera: Canon 40D
Lens: Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0L IS
ISO: 200
Shutter Speed: 1/1000s
Aperture: f/5.0

 

Living in garbage in Mae Sot

Living in garbage in Mae Sot

 

Camera: Canon 40D
Lens: Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0L
ISO: 200
Shutter Speed: 1/60s
Aperture: f/8.0

 

Desperate in Mae Sot

Desperate in Mae Sot

 

Camera: Canon 40D
Lens: Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0L IS
ISO: 200
Shutter Speed: 1/800s
Aperture: f/5.0

 

Fishing in a storm drain in Mae Sot

Fishing in a storm drain in Mae Sot

 

Camera: Canon 40D
Lens: Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0L
ISO: 200
Shutter Speed: 1/800s
Aperture: f/5.0

 

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Burmese Influence

I have never actually been inside Burma, but my experiences on the Thai side of the border make me feel as if I have. Although located in Thailand, places such as Sangkhlaburi and Mae Sot are more Burmese than Thai.

There is Burmese writing everywhere, most people wear thanaka on their faces, and there is a lot of evidence of betel consumption. This habit has almost died out in Thailand, apart from a few old people, but chewing betel is still very popular in Burma.

 

Burmese girl in Mae Sot

Burmese girl in Mae Sot

 

Camera: Canon 40D
Lens: Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0L IS
ISO: 200
Shutter Speed: 1/60s
Aperture: f/6.3

 

Many Burmese in Mae Sot chew betel

Many Burmese in Mae Sot chew betel

 

Camera: Canon 40D
Lens: Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0L IS
ISO: 400
Shutter Speed: 1/60s
Aperture: f/4.0

 

Burmese sign in Mae Sot

Burmese sign in Mae Sot

 

Camera: Canon 40D
Lens: Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0L
ISO: 400
Shutter Speed: 1/160s
Aperture: f/4.5

 

Burmese man in Mae Sot

Burmese man in Mae Sot

 

Camera: Canon 40D
Lens: Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0L IS
ISO: 200
Shutter Speed: 1/320s
Aperture: f/4.0

 

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Is Mae Sot For You?

Foreigners visit Thailand for vastly different reasons and depending on your interests certain places are more suitable. Many foreigners want to spend time on Thailand's beaches and islands. Some are attracted to locations where there are lots of neon signs and prostitutes. If you fall into either of these categories, Phuket or Pattaya would probably be a better choice than Mae Sot.

Mae Sot isn't a destination for hedonists, beach lovers, or those who can't leave without foreign food and creature comforts. However, if you want to see beyond the superficial image of Thailand that is manufactured by the tourist industry and you want to see what real life is like for many Thais and Burmese it offers a huge amount.

It's not a destination for everyone. Some people will love it; some people will hate it. I found Mae Sot to be one of the most interesting places in Thailand I have ever been to.

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Visit Thailand

Thailand is an incredibly photogenic country, both for its landscapes and its people. Regardless of whether you enjoy large Asian cities, beaches and islands, or rice fields and mountains, Thailand has something for you and it is a dream destination for photographers.

One of the great things about visiting Thailand is that hotels are plentiful and a lot cheaper than in most other countries. I always use Agoda to book hotels in Thailand. The company was established in Thailand and has great local knowledge, as well as a huge inventory of hotels.

If you click on one of the destinations opposite you will get a list of hotel deals from Agoda. It's generally a good idea to book on-line because you will get a good room rate and you won't suffer the disappointment of arriving at a hotel to find that it is full.

I book hotels regularly in Thailand and I have always found Agoda to be the best on-line travel agent. At times I have spent a lot of time researching hotel prices and although other deals sometimes look better at first I always end up returning to Agoda.

If you don't wish to pay for your hotel at the time of booking, Booking.com normally allows you to pay when you check in at the hotel. Some people prefer this method, but I have always found Booking.com to be more expensive than Agoda.

If you want to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined. However, you will normally find that Agoda is the cheapest and therefore you can save yourself time and money by just booking through Agoda in the first place.

Images of Thailand

Images of Thailand

 

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