KLH picked us up from our tourist week in Chaing Mai, we had a farewell breakfast at our favourite haunt Bake 'n' Bite, bought some granola and fresh bread to enjoy in Mae Sariang, and off we went. However, our stay was to be brief as the following day saw us bcak on the road heading south to visit the furthest 2 refugee camps from us, Tham Hin and DonYang. Pam and KLH took turns driving over the next few days, Louie & I tagged along with DS, LLS and TTS, 3 DARE trainers going out to these camps to stay and do some training. They do this at various camps to support the DARE workers, leaving their own families for weeks, sometimes months at a time. They are refugees themselves with special Thai ID cards that allows them to be in and around their villages of residence, but need to get special passes everytime they need to travel. We all also have to get camp passes from the Thai authorities. DARE does a lot of travelling in order to support all their addiction teams in 9 different locations all along the border. They have one rapidly aging truck and currently only 2 staff can drive. (2 are being trained, so as to take the pressure off). Louie & I were useless in this endeavor as we cannot drive stick shift! Plus Thais drive on the other side of the road just to make things more confusing. Louie & I are still looking the wrong way when we cross the road!
A strange piece of info: Burma drives on the left side of the road, but cannot afford the right side steering wheel cars that Japan makes especially for the western market. So it buys Japanese cars that are made for Japan (who drive on the right side like Thailand). That means they are using right side of the road cars on the left side! Makes for very unsafe driving as you can imagine!
Anyway..since we did not have enough room, 2 of the men sat in the back of the truck on a mat with the bags. Ouch! Since then DARE has changed the back of the red truck into a song taew that is a truck with seats in the back. It's still an uncomfortable ride, if you ask me anything, but I guess they are used to it! As we drove we began to follow the curves of a river, Burma was just on the otherside. We spent the night in Mae Sot, "an edgy border town" (according to the LP). And it is. Mae Sariang is small & quiet, while Mae Sot is packed with refugees, migrants, NGO's, tension and trauma. Many of the people are Burmese, most of whom are considered "illegal migrants" (2 million or more in Thailand!), fleeing violence and a crap economy in Burma (see BurmaNet News for what's happening over there). Trafficking in gems, teak, drugs and humans is the norm. Various armies roam on the other side. On the way into town is the "capital" of the refugee camps; Mae La camp, "home" to over 50, 000 refugees clinging to the mountain only moments away from their homeland Kawthoolei(Karen State) meaning "land without evil". I caught a fleeting glance and then we were past the police check points and into Mae Sot. I'll be returing to Mae La in a few week. More then...
We stayed in a strange, but clean & friendly hotel called First Hotel and ate at the very yummy Casa Mia, a small Italian restuarant run by a Karen couple. The wife half of this enterprise is the very awesome cook, who learned her Italian & western cooking art from an Italian doctor here. Early the next morning we ate at "Canadian Dave's" and then it was off to Suan Puang, a samll town near our first camp.