Okay, time to share these photos from Thailand which I took when I visited Gina (that’s her standing near the temple). As I mentioned in an earlier post, Gina was working in the town of Mae Sot. The town is not a touristy place but it is interesting nonetheless because it shares a border with Burma|Myanmar and is home to thousands of refugees and migrants.
En route to Mae Sot, I was surprised when a man in uniform boarded our bus and asked for identification documents. Passengers without anything to show were made to disembark. Gina explained that Thai authorities were cracking down on migrants from across the border.
Naturally, this made me wonder about the passengers who were asked to leave our bus. What happened to them? Pessimist me sees them currently detained in some Mae Sot jail. Cynical me believes that they were able to bribe officials to let them out. While optimistic me is hoping that they somehow got immigration papers that would allow them to work and travel, without any hassle, across the Kingdom of Thailand.
After a few days in Mae Sot, I took a bus to the northern city of Chiang Mai which some Filipinos equate with Baguio. Except for the fact that they have significant indigenous/hilltribe populations, I’m not sure if we can really say that these two cities are similar. My impression is that Chiang Mai is miles ahead of Baguio in all economic and social development indicators. It is a pleasant walkable clean city that has managed to develop and yet maintain its ties to the past. Baguio, on the other hand, is the perfect example of mindless urban sprawl with over-population issues.
Although I kind of like Chiang Mai, I was shocked at the blatant use of hill tribes as tourist attractions. In fact, I thought of joining an eco-trekking group but decided against it mainly because of the offensive and ubiquitous promo materials that shout “SEE THE KAREN LONGNECKS”. Damn, they’re not animals in a zoo! Effin, exploitative tourism agencies!
Rather than hill-trekking, I spent the day at the Chiang Mai zoo where they have this zoo-born baby panda named Lin Ping…
… and a rare white tiger and its cousins, the more common lion and leopard.
I also walked around Old Chang Mai (or the walled inner part of the city before it expanded) where you can see lots of Buddhist temples like these ones.
Some of the Buddha images you can see inside the temples.
After five days in northern Thailand, I decided to go to Luang Prabang in Laos to see the Buddhist monks and their morning ritual of going around the city to receive alms.
Of course, to go to Laos, I have to pass through Thai immigration where the officer, while scrutinizing my passport, said, “Oh, from Philippines. You know Manny?”
“Manny who,” I asked.
“Manny, Manny Pacquiao. He beat big man yesterday,” he said.
“Ah, Pacquaio. No, I don’t personally know him but I see a lot of him on TV back home,” I replied.
Apparently, Manny Pacquiao is pretty famous in Thailand where combat sports is very popular. I was soon to learn that he’s also famous in Laos and Cambodia.
Next stop… Luang Prabang, Laos.