crossing over the burmese border

shaun and i went on a little adventure the other day.

we have visas that can last up to 2 years, but we have to cross over the thailand border and back every 90 days to keep them going (not sure what the reasoning is behind this). we didn’t know about this catch until after our 90 day period had already passed, ooooooops. overstaying your visa doesn’t really seem to be much of a big deal here, there’s only a monetary fine of 500 baht a day when you overstay your visa and not deportation…. though it sucked because we overstayed 9 days which was 4500/person, equalling 9000 baht (around $270USD). bummer! apparently they can’t charge you over 20000 baht/person (or 40 days’ worth) for overstaying. with some visas, you have to cross the border more frequently and i’ve heard stories of people just not bothering to renew their visas until they’re ready to leave the country, and then just paying the maximum fine when they buy their tickets for home. a road we will not being traveling down, for sure. crossing the border every 90 days is no big deal, and it’s a great excuse to go see laos and vietnam as well as other surrounding countries.

anyway, when we realized we overstayed, we bought the cheapest ticket to cross whatever border we could find as soon as possible. the only one we could really afford (what with the fine and all) was a van ride over the northern thai border, into burma. we had to get up at around 5:30am the next morning and meet the van in front of the travel agency where we booked the trip, so neither one of got any sleep.

a couple of people shaun knows had to make a border run for their visas too, so we met them out front of the travel agency and the van picked us up. we picked up a couple of other people around town who were making border runs as well for the same reasons.

we rode for around 6 hours in a crummy little minivan that was apparently not equipped with any shock absorbers, and the highways around here aren’t exactly the smoothest. it was like riding on a trampoline strapped to the back of a bucking bronco. the guy didn’t even slow down for the rougher parts of the road, i’m amazed that the van even made it to burma and back.

we passed through some really beautiful countryside on the way, lots of mountains, rice fields, groves of trees, and jungle. as exhausted as we were, it was nice to see a little more of thailand. i really should have taken more pictures, but i was too tired to really do anything other than sit and try not to fall out the window from all the bumps in the road.

the topography here is really strange. there’s long, flat expanses of land (chiang mai city is on one of them) and then mountains shoot up out of nowhere. the mountains are really interestingly shaped themselves, a lot like what you see in japanese ink paintings (instead of shaped like triangles they’re more lumpy). i’m guessing this is maybe because they’re older and have been worn away or something?

we stopped a couple of times along the way for bathroom breaks. this one place we stopped at was built on a hot sulphur spring, and had a geyser in the front.

they had a large foot soak area outside, which sounds kind of gross (soaking your feet in the same water as a bunch of strangers) but it was flowing water, and i didn’t have any cuts on my feet. i thought it was actually pretty cool.

once we got to the border, we had to pay our overstay fines before we got into burma. once we payed those fines we crossed over this bridge and into a creepy office where you pay a fee – either 500 baht or $10USD, which is strange since $10USD = around 330 baht. one of the people with us knew about this and had changed out some baht for some USD, so we saved a couple hundred baht which was good.

from the thai side, looking at the bridge to get to burma:

burma was depressing. as soon as we set foot across the border there were all these people trying to sell you cigarettes among other things… but mostly cigarettes. everyone i saw was dirty and had really awful teeth, which were totally black (it was gross). there was a huge market set up that we went to as a group and wandered around in for about an hour. it was full of designer knock offs, which would’ve been kind of funny if i weren’t so tired and bummed out. there were all these dirty little kids begging for money, too. you could really tell how desperate everyone was for cash, and i think that the situation at the thai/burma border probably wasn’t nearly the worst of it. i didn’t take any pictures while in burma either, since i wanted to draw as little attention to myself as possible. i just wanted to leave.

once we got back to the thailand side i felt so much better… people were hocking things there too, but it wasn’t close to the same level of pressure and desperation. ugh. i think next time we’ll go to laos or vietnam instead. arriving back in chiang mai was one of the best feelings ever.