When I leave Thailand and people ask me how my time here was, I’m going to sum it up in one sentence:
Saw a lot of cool wats, ate a lot of delicious food, hung out with a lot of amazing people, the end.
Seriously, this accurately describes all my time in Thailand (ok, not ALL my time in Thailand, but some things are private, people!).
My time in Mae Sot has fit the mold, though Mae Sot is different than any Thai town I’ve been to. It’s on the border of Burma and has an interesting mix of foreign NGO workers, Thai, Burmese, and other ethnic groups from Burma like the Karen. There are several refugee camps in the area, and there is a large population of Buddhists, Muslims and Christians, though I can’t comment on the harmony of those populations living together because I don’t really know enough about the situation.
This is my second visit to Mae Sot to visit my friend Sarah, and while she is working, I’m off exploring, eating lots of food, and sitting in coffee shops. Oh, and taking naps, of course. What am I, somebody with a job?
Here is part 1 of my Things To Do In Mae Sot If You’re Not Being a Do-Gooder and Feel Kind of Bad About It list. It is highly subjective and only reasonably informative.
1. Embrace Your Inner Dirty Hippy
Do you harbor a secret desire to wear fisherman pants without irony and not wash your hair on a regular basis? Mae Sot is the place for you!
The foreign population in Mae Sot, in my entirely informal poll of people I’ve seen and talked to in a couple of days, is mostly made up of NGO workers and volunteers. Many are those extremely beautiful, makeup-less, fresh-faced, eager, young people who wear baggy fisherman pants without irony and talk about changing the world in such an earnest way you want to give them a big hug and protect them from the inevitable disappointments of the world. In Bangkok, these people are usually confined to Khao San Road, where they can eat terrible pad thai, drink buckets of whiskey and Red Bull and talk about how awesome Thailand is.
In Bangkok, there is a largely-professional group of expats working in the city. Even (“even”!) English teachers dress up for work in business clothes. I generally try to dress like a normal human being in Bangkok and make an effort to put on make-up and wear heels occasionally. In general (GENERAL), Bangkokians may not dress up, but they don’t really dress down.
In Mae Sot, though…I’m totally embracing my 20-year-old inner dirty hippy. I’m wearing the same dirty pants (trousers, Brits, trousers!) every day I’m here, I’ve got my hair in a bun, no make-up, and I’m wearing those awesome head covering things that I usually only wear at the beach or for hiking. And you know what? I totally do not stand out and I am loving it.
I don’t even feel unattractive, whereas in Bangkok I would be the biggest slob on the block in these get-ups. Not that it would matter, but still.
p.s. I’m sure there are plenty of professional people here, and clearly not everyone is a hippy, but it’s funnier that way!
2. Take a Burmese Cooking Class
My mother’s favorite restaurant in the Washington, DC area is a Burmese one called Mandalay, and she adores their ginger salad. When I told her I was going to a Burmese cooking class in Mae Sot, she gasped, “Oh, be sure to make my salad.”
Well, Mother, never fear, I have made your salad, and it is stupid easy to put together. I’ll make it for you when I get home.
The class we attended was at Borderline, which has a cute shop and a tea garden/restaurant with scrumptious food. We started off the day by going to the market in town for supplies, then stopped off for breakfast at a Burmese tea shop, where we sat on teensy little stools and had some noodles and…tea. I know, that’s a shocker.
In the class, we made ginger salad, tealeaf salad, veggie pakoras with lime ginger dipping sauce, potato curry, and basil lime juice. And then we put it all in our faces and made a lot of obscene “mmmmmmm…ohmygodthatissogood” noises.
It all costs 450B (about $14) per person, and we got a cookbook to keep, as well. Worth every freaking penny.
3. Go See Burma
Notice I didn’t say you could actually visit Burma from Mae Sot. You know how Sarah Tiny Fey Palin can see Russia from her house? Well, you can see Burma from Mae Sot! You used to be able to cross the bridge and go into Burma, but Burma closed the border in 2010. Mrwah.
4. Rent a Bike and Ride It Around
While living in Japan, I had a bike I rode around the city, as many people did. I would zip around people and ring my bell at them with great glee. I miss it quite a lot, to be honest. And you might think I take my life in my hands when I ride a motorcycle taxi in Bangkok without a helmet, but I would truly be suicidal if I rode a bicycle around that city.
Enter Stage Left: Mae Sot!
Dang, people, riding a bike around this town is fun.
- It costs 30B (~$1) a day to rent a bike.
- Traffic jams don’t exist here, so it’s fast getting around.
- It’s flat flat flat.
- It takes no time at all to bike outside of the town and find yourself in the middle of rice paddies and water buffaloes. I biked about 20 minutes from the center of town and was really in the sticks, with people staring at me and gasping, “Oh, farang!”
- It sucks when it rains.
- Not so easy in a dress/skirt.
- It’s hot hot hot.
5. Battle Some Soi Dogs
So far, Sarah is winning the battle, but she is afraid it’s only a matter of time before she starts to lose.
***Part 2 of Things To Do In Mae Sot If You’re Not Being a Do-Gooder and Feel Kind of Bad About It will be coming here in a few days…