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