Vol. III No. 38 - Saturday September 18 - September 24 2004
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FEATURES
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Chiang Mai to Kyaing Tong in one day

The sad story of the Fa Wiang In temple

Chiang Mai to Kyaing Tong in one day

A survey trip to Shan State, Myanmar

Reinhard Hohler

When Cyriel Van Tilborgh from Antwerp in Belgium visited Chiang Mai in August to exchange memories of Expedition Mekong 2002 (see Chiang Mai Mail Vol. III No. 36), we had the ambitious idea of making a survey trip to Kyaing Tong in the eastern part of Myanmar. Knowing that there is now an improved and paved road from Tachilek to Kyaing Tong, we started our trip with an almost 40 year old Land Rover in the early morning of August 28.

The medieval city center of Kyaing Tong where the monastery of the Mahamatmuni Buddha Image of Mandalay is on the right.

Leaving Chiang Mai on Highway 107 towards Chiang Dao and Fang, we crossed the scenic Maekok River at Tha Ton and passed the Lisu village of Ban Laota. From there, it was easy to reach Mae Sai, the northernmost point of Thailand in Chiang Rai Province, facing the Union of Myanmar across the Mae Sai River. To make it in one day from Chiang Mai to Kyaing Tong, we headed straight to the impressive Thai border gate to stamp our passports out at the immigration office just before noon.

The Myanmar-China Border Gate - 500 km from Chiang Mai.

If you leave the Kingdom of Thailand with your car, you have to submit the blue registration book at the border and sign a customs form accordingly. Leaving the blue book at the border is also to guarantee that you will bring the car to back Thailand.

With the help of Tin Win, Office Manager of Myanmar Travels & Tours on the other side of the bridge, the transfer into Tachilek town in Shan State went smoothly. For 650 baht per person including three passport photos, we were issued a pink 14 day visa for Myanmar. The original passports remain with the Myanmar immigration office at the border. However, to use our own Land Rover, we had to pay 2000 baht extra to receive a road permit to Kyaing Tong.

Cyriel Van Tilborgh and Reinhard Hohler in front of the Drug-Free museum in Mong La.

Leaving Tachilek, the sprawling city in the Golden Triangle, we drove 165 km on the recently upgraded and paved road passing three tollgates on the way, where you have to pay 4000 Kyats altogether (1000 Kyats = 50 baht).

After 50 km through many Tai Yai villages, you reach Ta Lay. From there, the road follows a river and leads through some Akha villages. Then you reach Mong Phayak, where there is a military checkpoint.

Akhas along the road…

From Mong Phayak, it is another 150 km to Damenglong in China’s Sipsongbanna Autonomous Region of Yunnan, passing the old principalities of Mong Yong and Mong Yu, but the road is in bad condition. From Mong Phayak the road to Kyaing Tong leads to Yang Kha and then over the mountains, where some Christian Lahu families operate a few small shops. The last winding 30 km into Kyaing Tong will bring you to another military checkpoint.

Kyaing Tong is a sleepy medieval town built around Nong Tung Lake. There seems to be little doubt that the original inhabitants of the valley of Kyaing Tong were Wa people of the Palaung-Wa branch of the Mon-Khmer ethnic stock. During the time of King Mengrai of Lanna Thai in the 13th century, the Wa were driven out of the valley and the walled town was settled by Tai Khuen, a branch of the Tai ethnic stock. In 1559, the Burmese King Bayinnaung conquered all of present-day Shan State.

The 39 year old Landrover was a big attraction everywhere.

We checked in at the Princess Hotel, near the east gate in Kyaing Tong. There are cosy rooms for 1000 baht and GM U Soe Shwe suggested some excellent Chinese restaurants nearby.

The next morning, we visited the crowded an0d bustling morning market. Next to the Tai Khuen town people, there were Indians, Chinese, and many of the different hill tribes, buying and selling completely undisturbed. We found some moneychanger to get some Chinese Yuans. Later on, we visited the most sacred monastery in the city center, where a copy of the famous Mahamatmuni Buddha Image of Mandalay is venerated.

One of the 12 city gates from Kyaing Tong.

In the afternoon, we met the trekking guide Paul, who lives near the Roman Catholic Church in Kyaing Tong, and visited villages of Wa and Palaung outside the city walls. The Wa were fierce headhunters before and nowadays are heavily engaged in the international drug trade within the Golden Triangle, especially in “Wa State” further north of Kyaing Tong.

An Akha village on the way from Tachilek to Kyaing Tong.

On the early morning of August 30, we set out to Mong La, a town in Special Economic Zone No. 4 at the Chinese border. The Chinese-built road is an engineering masterpiece and winds precipitously through the Akha inhabited mountains on rock shelves. It is a major route for smuggling drugs and human trafficking. At the deep-cut Nam Ma river valley, we had to report with a renewed road permit to a military checkpoint.

Tachilek, the entrance gate to the union of Burma, where it all began.

At Ho-Main checkpoint, 20 km before Mong La, we had to pay in Chinese money 40 Yuan (1 Yuan = 5 baht) and 36 Yuan per person as a visa fee. We passed large Tai Lue villages and finally reached the border town of Mong La, facing Daluo on the Chinese side of the border. Besides the old Tai Lue village established high along the riverbank, there is now a brand new Chinese town south of the river with numerous hotels and shop houses.

Mong La is an ‘El Dorado’ for Chinese tourists coming in on daily tours from Jinghong, the capital of China’s Sibsongbanna Autonomous Region of Yunnan. Highlights to see are the recently built Drug Free Museum, Golden Pagoda Mountain, Sleeping Buddha Image and Gem Museum. A huge casino complex welcomes customers. A disco and karaoke center entertains until 2 a.m.

After having seen the popular ‘lady boys’ cabaret in a theater in the old town during lunch the next day, we were on the road again heading back from Mong La to Kyaing Tong. After passing all the military checkpoints, we bypassed Kyaing Tong and headed straight back to Tachilek with another road permit. Finally, we rolled into Tachilek town at 9 p.m. – almost a kind of modern paradise. After a quiet night in the new Maekhong River Hotel, we crossed the bridge into Thailand again without any problem. Another adventure was over.


The sad story of the Fa Wiang In temple

A symbol of peace taken over by an army

Autsadaporn Kamthai

Fa Wiang In is the only temple in the country that is situated on such a very unique location. Erected on two hills, one in Thailand’s Lak Taeng village, Wiang Haeng district and the other belonging to Burma in eastern Shan State. Though situated on endangered geography, the temple had never faced any problems of land division or separation – until recently.

The main temple, in Thai Yai mixed with European style, is still in good condition on the Thailand side.

Nobody and no organizations ever asked the temple to separate into two sides of the two countries. There was no borderline at the temple so both Thai and Burmese people were able to visit and worship at the temple and support the monks without any restrictions. Unfortunately, all these things have changed.

The Marachina pagoda was restored twice by the leader of the Shan State Army Zao Kornzurng Chanasuek and is situated on the Thailand side.

The nightmare began on May 20, 2002. “I can remember well,” said Phra Preecha Panyasaro, the monk who has been living at the temple for many years. “It was a war between the Burmese regime soldiers and the Shan State Army (SSA) along the borderline, which also included the temple area,” said Phra Preecha. “The war took place for a month and ended when the SSA withdrew into the forest. But the Burmese soldiers did not go back into their state but seized half of the temple located on the Burmese side, as their new camp.”

From the pagoda situated on the Thailand side, we can see the main Thai Yai temple with seven-tiered umbrella on top now occupied by the Burmese troops.

Today, they are still there, occupying what was once a temple, including deeply religious areas. They use the temple’s buildings on that side including u-bosot chapel in Thai Yai style with its seven-tiered umbrella, the temple’s school, 15 accommodation buildings and canteen and have damaged these buildings over time.

Yai Thai Tung (left) made for merit - making and devotions.

“Although the temple and all monks is in danger and has become a buffer zone, monks still reside here as we fear that the another half of the temple will be seized by the Burmese troop as well,” says Phra Preecha. “We didn’t want our sacred Marachina pagoda, which many local people have faith in, to be destroyed or deteriorated by them so we didn’t leave,” continues the monk.

The Burmese troops have also laid land mines to prevent people crossing to the temple on the Burmese side.

 

The Fa Wiang In temple was built in 1968 to be a soul center for both Thai and Burmese Buddhists living along the borderline. The temple school was built to provide education for disadvantaged children, especially for those whose parents had been allegedly maltreated by the Burmese regime in Shan State and left Burma to live in Thailand.

Other temple and accommodation being occupied by the Burmese regime troops on Burmese land.

Zao Kornzurng Chanasuek, a leader of the Shan State Army (SSA), helped restore the temple’s main pagoda, Marachina, in 1968 when the temple was built.

Zao Kornzurng realized the value of the pagoda so he restored it by allowing a Burmese craftsman “Jantar”, who resided in Shan State to complete the restoration. Thai Yai people named the new restored pagoda as “Gong Moo Laen Lin” (Laen Lin means border in Thai Yai dialect). Seven years later, Zao Kornzurng decided to restore and extend the pagoda further.

For many Thai (and Burmese) Buddhists, it is distressing to see half of the temple, which contains many valuable arts and architecture to be seized by the troops and used without care. For me as a visitor, a temple being occupied by such troops and being allowed to deteriorate day by day deeply hurt my heart and feeling. For all Buddhists in the world, we perceive by our awareness that a temple is the highest place that should be kept apart from any layman’s businesses. It is a place to purify human hearts and it is a place that can give peace for all.

But what has happened to Fa Wiang In temple? War can never be the best solution for any conflict and it cannot give anybody happiness. That a temple should be part of it is unthinkable.



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