BURMA/MYANMAR After all the animal fun, I spent the next day "catching up on life" in Chiang Mai before heading up north to Burma the next day. Turns out bills, taxes, and such don't just go away just because you have. Darn. I had been told that you could only enter Burma for a few hours if entering by land and 30 days if by plane. I was happy to discover that this was not true and was issued a 15 day pass upon crossing the border by foot. This being the case, decided to spend a night in Burma. It was a pretty uneventful border crossing--much less so than Tijuana. After arriving at the bus station in Mae Sai (the border town in Thailand), I boarded a tuk-tuk (they are there waiting for you) to the border. Walked to the counter, handed over my passport, paid my money, and walked across. You have to leave your passport and pick it up upon leaving the country. I had been warned about this, otherwise I would have thought this was a bit shady.
see the patch on her cheek? 30 min time difference
Turns out "border runs" are quite common for people who need to renew their visa. Simply walk into Burma, buy a beer, and then head on back to Thailand with a new visa. Simple enough. Since several of my students last year were refugees were from Burma/Myanmar, I felt a pulling to visit their homeland. Although it was a quick visit and superficial, I feel honored to have seen even a glimpse of a country so recently opened up to foreigners. I spent the first hour driven around town to see a few temples and sites before finding a hotel and exploring the markets some. The markets have similar stuff as Thailand (bought some $1 "Ray Ban" glasses) but virtually NO street food--couldn't even find a café or restaurant. Eventually found ONE cart that had fried onion and noodle things and a place next door with fried eggs. Ate those and later found a local place with fruit shakes and food. They do, however, have several duty free shops with REAL wine!!! I bought a bottle and it turned out to be a good thing because the ENTIRE city shut down around 5pm. So, it was a fun night of wine a movies back at the hotel. It was hard to get a true feel for Burma in such a short visit and in a border town since all border towns are unique from their countries. That said, my overall impression was that it's not much different from Thailand, the people are very friendly and like to smile, and I'd love to visit it more in depth soon. One thing of note was that several women had yellow circles on their cheeks that looked almost as if they had applied sunblock but made no effort to rub it in. I tried asking the tuk-tuk driver what this was. There was a language barrier, but from what I understood, this was the women from Myanmar who do this and they do so to show their pride. If anyone knows more about this, I'd be interested to know.