If you read some of the earlier posts, you’ll know that the blog isn’t 100% about Mixed Martial Arts in Pakistan but also about my training around the world and some of the experiences that come with it. Since we’ve gotten a much bigger following, I will soon update the website as to separate the two topics. Until then enjoy 🙂
Because I have been to Thailand for so long. I have a great deal of experience with what is known as a “visa run” what this means is that I have to leave the country every so often and re enter to have my visa re-issued. The majority of people then head to the nearest neighboring country, cross the border and come back, often staying in the country for less than 15 minutes, other will take a short holiday for a couple days or weeks. Before I had an education visa for a year, so I could stay in Thailand for 90 days before having to leave the country. This visa expired in April and so as of July I was on a month by month tourist visa.
Anyway, my visa was due to be up on the 4th of September and I needed to renew it. I would head up to Mae Sai, the Northern most city of Thailand and part of the fabled “Golden Triangle” and cross the border into Burma, check out the famous market and head back. I would get a 14 day extension which would be enough since I am slated to leave for the United States in two weeks.
I headed out on a motorbike to do the 400 plus km trek from Pai to Mae Sai against everyone’s objections. I was told that it would be a highly difficult ride and that it would be more tolerable if I went by bus. I however, wanted to leave immediately and get the thing over with, so I left in spite of everyone’s warnings that I would regret. I left around 5 pm, and when two hours later when reached the bottom of the mountain the leads up to Pai I knew that I was to be in for a long ride and it was now night time so I would not be able to go as fast as I could in the daylight when the objects coming up in the road would be more visible. It took me almost 6 more hours to reach Mae Sai. I would ride for sometimes 20 km without seeing another human being on the dark winding rural mountain roads. On the last part of the ride it started raining very hard, and I actually got kind of warning. Northern Thailand can flood very quickly due to the terrain, with water pooling at the bottom of the hills and if I were to run into one of these large pools, my motorbike would be out of commission until it dried off and I would be stuck in the middle of nowhere with who knows what lurking about in the jungle. So I was forced to ride very slowly and carefully down the wet winding roads and luckily I got my destination unscathed. I checked into a hotel and crashed immediately.
I woke the next morning and headed straight to the border where oddly enough I waited behind a large group of American’s (generally a rare site, since Americans don’t travel as much as Europeans or Australians) what was even more bizarre is that a large portion of them had Southern accents. Definitely not the American demographic known for traveling Asia. What made it even more strange was that on the other side of the road out of a duty free shop country music was blaring. My first guess was, was that these people were missionaries. I got this idea from the fact that I had heard of missionaries going into Burma and northern Thailand to spread their faith, this cliche is evident in the movie Rambo, second the country music was probably there because the people of the area had been exposed to this type of music for a while and some may have grown to like it, finally, from what I could gather by watching the Americans demeanor and conversation was that these were not the type of people to go traveling through Asia only to appreciate the culture or have a nice holiday. They seemed to be here for some kind of purpose, they had some sort of agenda. Anyway, I went through the line and got my passport stamped and was given a border pass while the Burmese immigration officials kept my passport to be sure that I would come back and not venture to far into Burma. My pass was good for 10 days. Immediately after crossing the border I was approached by a tuk tuk driver who would give me a tour of all the nearby sites for 200 baht (approx. 6 dollars of 480 rps) I spoke to him in Thai and he lowered his price to 120 baht which would could be negotiated lower to 100 or 80 baht but that extra dollar would mean much more to him than it would to me and there is no point in being stingy. He took me to a wonderful looking Stupa and an interesting temple and then asked if I wanted to go see a long neck Karen village. These women of this tribe wear gold rings around their neck, stretching them to twice their normal length. Everyone has probably seen this type of woman in a National Geographic or other such magazine or program. I had heard that these places could be likened to a human zoo but because I had time to kill and it was half the price it was in Thailand I decided I may as well get this over with and kill the curiosity.
It was interesting but in no way can I say I enjoyed the experience. It was most definitely human exploitation. The place was 3 km outside of town and from what it seemed it was 5-6 women with their children. From what I understand it was an orphanage and the husbands may have died from Opium addiction or having been killed by the Burmese government for being actual or perceived Karen rebels. Like the “Long neck villages” villages in Thailand this one was quite possibly operated by a Chinese businessman who essentially has these individuals as a form of property. I doubt they can leave the 500 meter squared site, or if they would even want to and venture into town only to be gawked at. I wanted to take a picture but was actually feeling quite sick of the idea of taking a picture of a human like an animal in a zoo. So after sitting down with one of the woman who was making some sort of handicraft to be sold to tourists I politely asked if I could take her picture. I felt guilty after doing it though because although she did not mind, I could tell she had done this thousands of times, quite possibly to groups of insensitive people pointing and giggling at the same time as taking the photo. I left the area feeling rather sad but consoled by the fact that these woman and their children has a much better life then they would have had they stayed in their ancestral homes. Chances are their families would be harassed and killed by Burmese soldiers and their children would remain uneducated. When I was there, they had a clean and decent living environment and their children got an education, they were actually learning lessons as I was there. I guess there is a give and take to everything in this world.
After that I was done with the sight seeing and asked my driver to take me to the well known market. Mae Sai itself is a plain Thai Border town but the market on the Burmese side is famous for it’s black market goods including counterfeit items from China, very cheap non counterfeit items from China and exotic animal parts for Chinese medicine. The last bit was very sad to see since there were some animal skins from leopards and what-not and I am guessing some of these animals are endangered. I understand that Chinese medicine is legitimate and I myself look into some of it’s treatments for myself, but when it comes to over harvesting limited plants and animals of the world I think that it is a responsibility of western science and experimentation to see if these things really do work and if they do to set up a system where these animals and plants can be harvested privately to avoid exploiting these organisms in their natural habitat. But that’s just my personal opinion. I walked around, bought a few things, got hassled by cigarette vendors determined to sell me either cigarettes, porn or Viagra none of which I wanted or needed and decided I had enough and it was time to go back to Thailand.
I crossed back in, got my passport had my self and body thoroughly searched for drugs, got my re entry stamp and got back onto my bike. The ride back although tedious as well, I had to deal with three separate storms this time along with a flat tire was much nicer because it was daylight and the scenery is amazing. I also got more evidence that the people I had seen before waiting in line were indeed missionaries because it seemed that every village that I saw had a small white board with “Baptist Church of New Love” or “Jesus loves you new life congregation” etc. These churches would be 500 meters from each other. I actually went into one of the villages and checked out the church which seemed very still and quiet and the door was locked. This led me to believe and I am not sure if I am wrong or right but that many of these groups go to a village, plant a sign make a small church and then go back home and tell everyone they have a new congregation in the mountains of northern Thailand. There were so many different denominations that I saw along the way that it really seemed as if churches were coming here just because others were and didn’t want to be left out of the mix. I really don’t know but this is the impression that I got. I would need to go back and talk with people and hang around for a few weeks to see the real situation. Regardless it was an interesting experience and gave me some food for though.
I finally got back to Pai last night, with a sore back and a really painful pinching in my neck from looking up from the motorbike on my 800 km ride. I took a day off training but will be back tomorrow. I also have confirmation that I will be returning to the USA September 16th. That means two months of working for MMA Pakistan before I come back to Lahore and lay the ground work.