The Power of Social Media – Staying with the family of a friend and visiting a refugee camp

Day 55 and 56: Two rest days near Mae Sot

We have had the loveliest, most restful two days here at Adam B’s house within the grounds of Morning Glory school. As I type this, I am lying in the hammock outside his house. Chickens cluck and peck at the grass with their newborn chicks tweeting, following their every move. Surprisingly, country western music plays quietly from the other houses behind me, locals living opposite speak quietly in Thai (or possibly Burmese) from inside their basic home. Made from thatched wicker for the walls and corrugated iron roofs, the people living here take care of their homes, with neat cut grass out the front and plants prospering in pots and planted in old tyres. 

It has been a long time since we have had two days of no cycling. Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking we mustn’t stay in one place for too long, and we need to get on the road and cycle. But this journey for us is about travelling slowly, experiencing other cultures and gaining insight into how other people live in other areas of the world. We are not setting any records for the fastest or furthest cycle tour. Staying here has been a wonderful opportunity, not only to meet these inspiring people and get an insight into their interesting lives which are fairly different to ours but also to really rest our bodies and minds. It’s also a great chance to do the simple things like getting all our clothes properly washed in a washing machine, do some good bike maintenance and stock up on supplies from the cheap market in Mae Sot before we head into the rural area of north-west Thailand, where we will most likely be camping.

Yesterday (Friday, day 55), we were treated to a trip to the local waterfall. Adam B took us with his daughter Esther and many of the children boarding at the school. It was a beautiful waterfall and Adam had the chance to practise his rugby skills, passing and stealing the ball from the children as they played catch boys vs girls. It was a wonderful and special way to spend a few hours of our rest day.

With Adam B at the Mae Ka Sa Waterfall

Adam pretending he can still play rugby.

We spent the rest of the afternoon snoozing and chilling. In the evening, we strolled to a local roadside cafe, and enjoyed some rice and pork. On the way, Adam B took us by the local Buddhist temple. Naughty young boy monks set off fire crackers behind us as we passed.

The temple down the road from Adam B’s house

The next day, Adam B’s wife was arriving back from Myanmar. We hopped into the school bus along with some others and joined Adam B on a trip into Mae Sot. We wandered around the big, busy market and were able to take in the varied sights, smells and sounds much better on foot. Bloated toads and frogs clustered together tightly in nets, bowls of snails, tortoises climbing on each other’s backs in an attempt to escape their silver bowl prison, slithering eels and other small fish whirr and splash around in bowls. The smell of raw meat. The sight of colourful, vibrant flowers and fruits piled high, stall after stall.

Tortoise for sale

If you buy a chicken in this area, you expect to receive the “whole” chicken. Head, feet and everything else.

Man Utd supporter and a monk in the Burmese colours.

The ethnic diversity of Mae Sot is apparent immediately.

Impressed with this woman’s balancing skills.

Adam B, his daughter and Lucia.

The difference between rich and poor. Corruption is rife in the border region.

Frogs are commonly eaten in this region

Bugs for sale at the market. Lucia loves these.

Monks need purses too

There is a high population of Burmese living alongside Thais in Mae Sot; many of the Burmese people have yellow paste on their faces, in protection from the sun. As we wander along, dodging scooters and bikes with trailers piled high with cartons or boxes, we notice the Burmese products by their different script. It is such an interesting and culturally varied experience. 

We then head to Thailand-Myanmar Friendship Bridge to pick up Nunu, Adam B’s wife. It is here that we are at the westernmost point in Thailand, and the closest we will be to the UK for some time before we head north to Chiang Mai and then east to Laos. We take the obligatory photos and wander around another market, this time an inside market. This one sells even more Burmese products, a wide variety of things including locally made clothes, colourful gems and souvenirs.

We were really pleased to meet Nunu, who completed Adam B’s family. It was like a missing piece had been filled and we were glad to have stayed another day to be able to meet her and extremely grateful for Adam B’s generous and thoughtful hospitality. Their amazing hospitality continued as they treated us to lunch at a beautiful cafe near their home, surrounded with bright green foliage and vibrant koi carp. Esther, Adam B and Nunu’s 3-year-old, continues to amaze us with her awesome, funny personality, and her language skills have completely blown us away! She speaks fluent English, Burmese and has excellent knowledge of Thai as well. For a 3-year-old this is so impressive. She is such a sweetheart. 

Similarly to yesterday, we are spending the afternoon snoozing and chilling. We are really looking forward to sampling some of Nunu’s renowned Burmese cooking this evening. Tomorrow I have no doubt that we will find it very difficult to leave this peaceful and harmonious place where we have been able to rest so well and treated with such kindness. 

The westernmost point of what? It’s not the westernmost point of Thailand so maybe it’s the westernmost point of the river. Answers on a postcard please (or comment would be equally appreciated).

Day 57: Mae Sot to Tha Song Yang

Last night we had another delightful evening at Adam B, Nunu and Esther’s lovely abode. We were blown away with Nunu’s delicious Burmese meal, followed by being serenaded by Esther’s sweet singing. We even had a guest appearance by a little mouse (or rat), which scurried under the TV stand and caused much hilarity. 

Today I awoke early to the regal call of the nearby cockerels, seemingly trying to outdo each other in their morning announcements. The boys in the dormitory behind us began talking quietly as the first rays of morning light began filtering through the gaps in the curtains at the window. Deciding sleep wouldn’t return, I decided to get up early and jump in the shower, as there would be 5 people needing to use it this morning. As I left our room, I found Nunu was already up. She had also risen early, I think to put the rice on for our breakfast of Congee. 

Our breakfast was the absolute best way to fuel us for the day of cycling ahead. Nunu’s Congee was absolutely delicious. The dish is basically rice porridge: the rice is cooked in lots of water or chicken stock for as long as 1.5 hours.  This results in a creamy, silky savoury porridge. Small chicken pieces are also sometimes added. It is often eaten for breakfast and is popular in East Asia countries, including China. It can be served with different savouring toppings; Nunu served her Congee with items to help ourselves to sprinkle over our dishes: coriander and spring onion, spices (untouched by our soft mouths!), homemade croutons and slices of our favourite roti with condensed milk. Adam B also provided his traditional British input – toast! 😂 We enjoyed our final meal together, sharing more stories and giggling as always at the delightful and entertaining Esther.

As we had promised Esther and the excited Adam B that we would show them Adam’s drone, after breakfast, Adam flew the drone over their house and the school compound. They enjoyed seeing the school and their home from above; we took some photographs with the drone as well to remember our special time together.

The view of the school and church that Adam B lives and works at.

We had the most fantastic 3 nights with Adam, Nunu and the adorable Esther. We feel like we made friends for life.

It was then time to say goodbye, which I always hate. As an emotional soul, I was fighting back the tears as we said our farewells, thanking Adam B, Nunu and Esther for their remarkable hospitality. We really do feel like we have made friends, family even, for life. I could have definitely seen myself staynig for moths longer, volunteering to stay and help teach or help in other ways with the school. It really is such a special place and I thoroughly hope I or we return one day. But for now, the journey must continue. 

We headed out of the small village and onto the main highway. As we were cycling along, we saw a Buddhist procession: a group of primarily older women were dancing behind a truck playing loud music. Adam stopped to take their picture and was pulled into the partying by the insistent women. It is possible to experience a year’s worth of cultural experiences in one day on a cycle tour!

Dancing in the street with shots of brandy at 1030. You just never know what is around the corner on a bike trip.

Before not too long, we were cycling past beautiful fields of green plants and yellow flowers. Plentiful trees dotted here and there and far stretching sugar cane fields and other crops delighted us with their picturesque views.

We stopped off at a 7/11 next to a gas station in Mae Ramat for a small lunch of a sandwich each and chocolate ice cream, much appreciated in the relentless sun. Once back on the road, it began to get much more rural after that town. Cafes and shops were few and far between. We began cycling through a lush, green forest that in some places, seemed much more jungle-like, with impenetrable vegetation. I kept my eyes peeled for elephants, as we think this might be the area where we are most likely to catch a glimpse of them. It really was such a strikingly beautiful stretch of road.

With 629m of climb in total today, it certainly wasn’t flat (as we thought it might be – we hadn’t ordered any hills yet!). They were rolling hills though; we enjoyed the uphills as they weren’t overly steep and never lasted too long. These are the warm-up hills for the mega hills we have to come! As we flew down the blissful downhills, we just soaked in our surroundings – definitely in the top two of the most stunning we’ve had so far. 

We cycled past a huge Burmese refugee camp today: Mae La refugee camp. The ramshackle wooden huts stretched for miles, much further than we had anticipated. Cycling passed, we contemplated how we take for granted the freedom we have to travel the world by bicycle. With a little research, I discovered that there are 40,000 residents at Mae La refugee camp, making it the largest on the Thailand-Myanmar border. At Mae La camp, thousands of refugees from Burma have lived confined to the camps in Thailand for 30 years. They have left their homes, fleeing from armed conflict and ethnic persecution by the Burmese government. Thousands of villages were burned to the ground, including houses, religious buildings, schools, belongings, and sometimes even domestic animals. Direct military attacks by the Myanmar army, forced labour, destruction of homes and food crops, and enslavement. Although refugee camps are hardly natural places to live, thousands have been born in the camps and never left. For 30 years now, Thailand’s policy has been to confine the ‘persons of concern’ to their ‘temporary shelters’ until the situation in Burma would improve and the displaced could go home, resulting in these refugees to be stuck in limbo: unable to go back to their home due to the extreme dangers of war, and unable to enter Thailand. The Burmese government has also consistently denied having any problems associated with refugees. Therefore for the vast majority of them, the only way of life they have ever known is one forced to be dependent on outside assistance. For many young refugees, refugee camps are where they were born and where they grew up, and the only reality they have ever seen exists within the fences of the camp. 

It is an extremely sad and desperate situation; however, as we cycled past I saw groups of children laughing and playing as someone showered them with sprays of water, cooling them down on this hot day. 

The children at Mae La refugee camp were intrigued to see two strange looking people on bicycles, ride past their house.

There are several police checkpoints along this road, due to its proximity to the border with Burma and the refugee camps. We stopped to rest in a wooden bus shelter after 60km. We ate some Burmese crisps that Nunu had kindly given us before we left and several delicious, fat bananas. We both had a short nap too.

The final 17km were the same epic views. We arrived into the small town of Tha Song Yang and headed to a resort that Adam had saved on the Maps.Me app. Unfortunately, the cost was 690 baht per night, which is over our budget. We spied a few more resorts on google maps just outside the town, so we had some chicken and egg fried rice for dinner at a cafe in the town before heading to the other resorts. The first one we went to was a collection of wooden ‘chalets’, with air con and private bathroom. For 400 baht, we accepted. It even had its own little balcony over a river, although it felt extremely unsteady when I stepped on it! 

Tomorrow we continue north. The number of hotels and places to stay reduces massively from here, so we will most likely be camping for the next few nights.

Eating Bugs and Climbing Mountains in Thailand
Getting to the start of the Mae Hong Son Loop from Mae Sot

5 comments

What another lovely read Lu, so good to read all that fab detail.
For the record, I took it that the sign to say it’s the rivers most western point 🙂
My love to you both, Mummamoodles xxx 🌸🐶💋

I think you’re right about the sign. Hope Cleo enjoyed reading about our journey too 🥰

Wow guys, so well written and very descriptive, I feel as though I could be there with you. So nice that you are taking your time to immerse yourself in the culture, so many other bicycle tourists are only interested in putting in as many miles as they can each day. A very good friend of mine once said to me as a teenager, knowledge is power, so absorb every aspect of your adventure, I think it is wonderful what you have decided to do. Going to keep my fingers crossed that the hills are kind to you, just a thought you could listen to Iron Maiden ( Run To The Hills) top tune.

(Adam here) Run to the hills will be on repeat for the hills to come. We feel that we are slowly getting there with the balance of moving forward and stopping to rest and enjoy the culture and surroundings. We are constantly aware that we will probably never get the opportunity to do something as big and epic as this in the future so it makes sense to take our time and immerse ourselves when possible. Lucia says thank you (she’s sat with me), it’s always lovely to hear positive feedback.

Always enjoy reading your posts,

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