Podcast: Visa run to Mae Sai & Tachileik, Burma

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If you are a foreigner living in Thailand, you’ll probably be familiar with the concept of a ‘visa run’. Depending on what visa you enter Thailand with, you may be required to leave Thailand after 30, 60 or 90 days before re-entering with a new visa. There are several places you can do this, but two of the most popular are at Mae Sot and Mae Sai. At both these crossings you walk over a bridge, enter Burma, pay, get your passport stamped and re-enter Thailand.

This month I decided to do my crossing at Mae Sai as it can be done in one (albeit long) day from Chiang Mai. 13 hours later I returned home. By clicking the play button above, you can listen to the podcast I made along the way.

Mae Sai is the Northern most point in Thailand, well known thanks to its location in the Golden Triangle region of Thailand – one of the main Opium producing areas in the world – made famous during the rein of Khun Sa, the ‘Opium King’, who died last year in Rangoon, Burma.

Trip information

A year or two ago, I took a one day minibus round trip from Chiang Mai to Mae Sai. It was hell. This time, following a recommendation, I decided to take a public ‘VIP’ bus from Arcade bus station. I caught the Greenbus company’s V400 bus leaving Arcade bus station in Chiang Mai at 8.00 am, and arrived in Mae Sai at about 12.15pm. After about 3 hours in Mae Sai and Tachileik, I returned to Chiang Mai with the V403 bus (also the Greenbus company) leaving Mae Sai bus terminal at 15.30. The trip cost 335 THB each way (about US$10).

I suggest you buy your bus tickets the day before travel, and take some ear plugs due to the presence of Karaoke VCDs on the bus. Upon entering Burma you will need to pay $10 or 500THB for the Burmese entry visa – it is much better to quickly change 330THB to $10 before crossing as this saves you 170THB and gives the Burmese regime less.

Map of Northern Thailand showing Mae Sai

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Podcast: Peace in Burma protest, Chiang Mai

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Last Friday evening, straight after putting the Givetoburma.org website live, I raced down to the Three Kings Monument in Chiang Mai to meet Tina and attend the Peace in Burma protest. You can listen to the podcast we made at the protest below.

Peace in Burma are a Chiang Mai-based coalition of people and organisations who support peace, freedom and democracy in Burma.

Peace in Burma protest, Three King

Since August 15th, when the military government dramatically increased fuel prices in Burma, thousands of monks started to lead peaceful demonstrations through the streets against the Burmese military government.

The fuel price rises were the catalyst that brought a population already striken with poverty onto the streets. The hikes hit Burma’s people hard, especially the poorest, forcing up the price of public transport and triggering a knock-on effect for staple foods such as rice and cooking oil.

For more information about the protests and fuel price rises, the BBC website has an informative Q&A here. To make a donation to help the protesters, please visit the Givetoburma.org website. To find out more about some of the Human Rights abuses against the ethnic minorities in Burma, please visit the Karen Human Rights Group website (the group I volunteered with when I first came to Thailand). Finally, on the BBC website is an interesting article called Burma unrest: Account from a monastery.

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Launch of a new donations website for Burma

Givetoburma.org - donate to BurmaLast Wednesday evening I received an appeal email from a Burmese friend, Su Su, in Chiang Mai. Following this, between 5pm Thursday and 5pm Friday I worked with Su Su to design, build and register a PayPal account and domain for the website www.givetoburma.org. We got it up online, and then raced to a Burmese support gathering at the Three Kings Monument in Chiang Mai.

They have taken about $1,500 dollars in the first 30 hours it has been live, and yesterday sent more than $1000 inside Burma straight to the monks that have been protesting. More soon…

Protests by Buddhist monks in Rangoon, Burma

As some of you may know, I originally came to Thailand (2 years ago) to volunteer with a Human Rights group based on the Thailand/Burma border in Mae Sot. During my time there, I developed a much better understanding of the situation in Burma (also known as Myanmar), as well as becoming good friends with many people displaced by, and affected in one way or another by the ongoing situation there.Buddhist Monks Protesting in Burma

To hugely simplify a very complicated situation, since about 1960, Burma has been under the control of a one-party military government that uses fear and violence to subdue and oppress its population. It has also, arguably, been attempting genocide against some of the many ethnic minority groups there. (There are 135 distinct ethnic groups recognised by the Burmese government).

In 1988 thousands of people were killed across Burma in anti-goverment riots, and in 1989 opposition group National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi was put under house arrest.

In 1990, the NLD won a huge victory in a general election, but the result was ignored by the military.

Since the early 90s there have been a number of protests put down violently by the military, but none on the scale of the protests currently happening inside Burma by the monks. Yesterday 1,500 monks took to the streets of the capital Rangoon in their biggest protest yet.

The BBC site reports this today as follows:

In a strongly-worded statement, seen by the BBC, the Alliance of All Burmese Buddhist Monks described the military government as “the enemy of the people”.

It said the monks would keep up their protests until they had “wiped the military dictatorship from the land of Burma”.

The group has asked people across the country to pray in their doorways at 2000 hours on Sunday for 15 minutes.

This is the first time the monks have explicitly challenged the government in this way. The decision to take to the streets has given fresh momentum to protests that began in mid-August over the government’s sudden decision to double the price of fuel…. The movement has turned into the largest public show of opposition to the Burmese authorities since the uprising of 1988.

If their past behaviour is any guide, it cannot be long before the military uses force to stop such opposition.

Having been very interested in the situation in Burma for a couple of years, I feel a sense of nervous excitement to read such strong words issued by the Alliance of All Burmese Buddhist Monks against the government. It must take great courage. I also fear for the outcome over the next few weeks.

Further reading: If you are interested, there are many groups that document the on-going human rights abuses inside Burma, and one of the longest running and most respected is Karen Human Rights Group.

Website design – Karen Human Rights Group

Karen Human Rights Website designKaren Human Rights Group (KHRG) are a small grass-roots organisation documenting the human rights situation of people in rural Burma. KHRG is the organisation I volunteered with when I arrived in Thailand in 2005.

I undertook a redesign and redevelopment of the KHRG website whilst working for KHRG, which began with an assessment of the current website – looking at its design, speed of download & visitor statistics. A series of documentation was drawn up including sitemaps & wireframe diagrams detailing the proposed new design & functionality. This was followed by full page mock-ups in Photoshop.

I developed this website in HTML and PHP with a MySQL database storing report information. Delivery of the website was followed up with several training sessions, and a training manual containing all the information required for KHRG to update and maintain the system themselves. You can visit the website by clicking here.