Category Archives: Thailand

The Mae Sot Garbage Dump

In a previous post in January, I posted a downloadable large-size photo of the dump in Mae Sot, Thailand. It is/was (the ‘was’ is the subject of a post to come in two days’ time) home to many migrants from Burma, who pick through the trash to find recyclable plastic and certain types of metal, which they take to a depot to earn a minuscule (and I really mean minuscule) amount of money. My friend is making a documentary film about the situation, and he asked me to join him to help out a bit and take some photos as well. We met many of the dump inhabitants who shared their stories and the problems they encounter with the Thai authorities, as they are undocumented migrants. They want their story shared, even though there is a risk that more attention will increase Thai authorities’ efforts to ‘solve’ the ‘problem’ of Burmese migrants, as they see it.

A man and his child at the dump:

There were a LOT of people living at the dump, around 300 according to many estimates.

After trash has been delivered by garbage trucks, the Hyundai excavator moves it onto the massive piles of garbage that rise skyward.

In the next post on this site in a couple days you can see another, far less innocent, activity the excavator was used for…

Umphang again! With the biggest waterfalls in Thailand

A week after my first trip to Umphang, I went down there again. My Spanish friend Carmen wanted to go, and we hoped we could find a way to get to the waterfalls this time, the ones for which Hans and I had refused to pay $15.

Just over halfway to Umphang, on the side of the highway, is Umpiem Mai refugee camp, with a population of around 15,000 refugees from Burma. On the other side of the border near here is where a lot of the recent fighting between SPDC, DKBA, and KNLA forces has been.

Carmen and I tried to visit the camp but smiles weren’t enough to get us in. Still, we could take photos from the road!

The refugees are not allowed out of the camp by the Thai government, but they can walk out onto the highway without a problem. There’s a checkpoint to stop them from going up to Mae Sot, though they could walk a very long walk to Umphang if they had a good reason.

We met a couple of young boys walking past as we took photos of the camp, so we let them use our cameras for a bit to teach them how, and they were really happy at the chance. They’d never held a camera before, and you could see in their facial expressions how proud they were to be trusted with something like a camera. Here’s a shot of one boy, taken by another boy:

We made it safely to Umphang and I called my friend Praew, who works there (but was out of town the previous week), and she invited us to a late office Christmas party that evening, which was really fun as we got to meet a number of aid workers from different organisations and countries, mostly locals of course, and there were games (such as the balloon stomping game from a previous post) and LOTS of amazing food.

The next morning, we got up early, barely managed to start up our bikes in the freezing cold (yes, it gets cold in Thailand – it was below 5 degrees Celsius and humid), and off we went to the Thi Lo Su waterfalls. The ride was painfully cold for my hands, and there was a tremendous fog on the road so we couldn’t go full speed, but the road was familiar so it was no problem to get there.

We arrived at about 830am and the gate man wouldn’t let us take our motorbikes in, same as last week. So we went to the ticket lady and she said a truck would come by eventually and we could figure out a price. Only a few minutes later, a guy with a pickup truck full of Thai tourists showed up, and after a lot of haggling we managed to convince him to let us ride in the back of his truck (the Thai tourists were comfortably seated inside) for 50 Baht each (CAD $1.50). Nice!

Riding along the bumpy 25km road in the forest (which we eeeeasily could have done on motorbike, but it was nice to let someone else drive for once)

The falls were really nice; we had to walk a while to get to them, and they were quite picturesque. Mostly we just sat in the sunshine in front of the falls warming up, relaxing after the 25km bumpy ride sitting on the hard bed of the pickup truck.

We both had to be back in Mae Sot the next day, so after the waterfalls we had a quick bite to eat and we were off on the highway back to Mae Sot. Here’s Carmen on her shiny red bike on one of the high mountain sections of highway:

All-in-all, a successful trip #2 to Umphang!

Umphang and a Round of Migrant Schools

On January 10, I was going to go from Mae Sot down to Umphang for a look around. I found out the night before that one of my motorbike buddies (Hans) from the roadtrip to Mae Sariang was heading down to Umphang the same morning, also alone, so I called him up and in the morning we met up and set off on our ride. It was a good drive, 1219 curves in the amazing Highway 1090 up and down mountains and through jungle, really beautiful. We chilled out in the tiny town of Umphang that evening, had the best fried rice I’ve ever had, and the next day we set off to see Thailand’s biggest waterfalls at Thi Lo Su. However, when we arrived, they wanted to charge us each $15 to drive us down the 25km forest road, as they wouldn’t allow us to take our motorbikes on the road, saying it was too dangerous.

We turned around, and on the way back to Umphang we visited a free, and big, cave. I’m no good at cave photos, but here’s proof we were there:


Hardened (very hardened) mud, where water fills large areas of the cave during rainy season. I wouldn’t venture into this place at that time of year, you’d be taking a big risk…

I had to be back in Mae Sot for other engagements the following morning, so I took off on my motorbike alone for the 1219 curves and 164km back up to Mae Sot while Hans stayed another night in Umphang to look around and relax. On my way ‘home’ I stopped for the first time to get a closer look at a pagoda and waterfall I’d seen several times before, but I never did figure out how to get up there.

The next day was a visit to a Burmese migrant school often called the Monk School because there’s a monastery associated with it, and the monks help the children with some teaching and some support in terms of food. The children monks attend the school with the other children. We took a big delivery of vegetables and spices for the school, as the children were not getting a balanced diet and needed veggies badly. We also arranged for several weeks’ worth of deliveries, and a trusted friend agreed to try and round up funds to continue this in the future.

Here are the kids:

While we were there, a World Education truck drove up and out jumped a friend of mine, Hongsar! This is the guy who taught me to drive a motorcycle back in November, and he works for another organisation that oversees many migrant schools. He was helping World Education deliver big boxes of items for a number of migrant schools in need, stuff like stationary and soccer balls. He asked me to join him for several more school visits, so I left my motorbike keys with James, who had hitched a ride with the truck of veggies, and he drove my motorbike home later while I jumped into the World Ed truck. We visited 4 more schools, quite distant from Mae Sot (the farthest was 48km away!), and it was really nice to see some new areas.

This is what we had to cross to get to one of the schools:

And these are some of the younger children of that school, excited and confused at the sight of a foreigner:

At another school, we arrived as a number of local women were returning home after a long day working on the farms:

The last school we visited was run by a rather ancient, but apparently devoted, couple. This is the main school building (more than one class, they don’t have walls to separate them).

A few days later, I was back on the road to Umphang! More on that in the next post…

Children’s Day in Mae Sot

After a VERY long delay, caused by a lot of travelling, computer problems, and time constraints (I’m writing my thesis now, so I have to prioritise), finally a few blog posts with a whole bunch of photos are coming this way. I’m back in Uppsala, Sweden now, but this post is about Mae Sot, Thailand in January. Yes, January.

I spent Christmas in Vancouver, and a week later returned to Mae Sot to continue my activities of thesis research and having fun. The first shot is a random – two Buddhist monks crossing to Burma on the Moei River Bridge that separates Burma from Thailand just outside Mae Sot:

On January 9th, the day before Thai schools celebrated Thailand’s annual Children’s Day, I was invited to check out a big Children’s Day celebration for Burmese migrant schools in a big field in the outskirts of Mae Sot. One of the first things I noticed was a man jabbing a bamboo pole into the ground. This seemed just a little bit strange, and you’ll find out soon enough what it was for.

These boys were looking happy in their rarely worn traditional clothing. I forgot to look at my camera settings and took a ridiculously overexposed shot, so this is what I got out of it, after some editing:

The celebration brought 5 migrant schools together, all primary schools, which means there were a LOT of little children running around! Many of the girls performed dances on stage for the parents and other children:

This toddler was more interested in me than the dancers:

In case you haven’t seen my previous photos of kids from Burma hanging out in Thailand, the stuff on his cheeks is called thanaka; made from sandalwood, it’s used as a skin cream by children and young adults, and by women, and also acts as sunscreen (often it’s seen covering the whole face).

Right, so that bamboo pole we saw earlier…. It turns out it’s a game – two boys work together to get the 500 Baht note (about CAD $15 – a LOT of money) on a stick at the top and, if they succeed, they get to keep it. The pole is coated in wine, though, which makes it extremely slippery!

They’re given the wine-soaked rag which they must use, and they chose to tie it to the one boy’s legs, not sure why…

He didn’t manage to get high enough up to grab the money, so he came down and they rethought their strategy. They switched positions, and this time the boy climbing chose to use the rag with his hands, wrapped around the pole.


The crowd was quite happy to see the boys succeed!

Another game being played involved some hand-carved wooden pins and three tennis balls. There was a very long queue for turns to play (all the games were free, of course, as the attendees wouldn’t have the money to attend a fair with paid games), and most of the children managed to knock at least one pin down.

One of the most exciting games for many was the balloon-popping-wrestling game. I’ve seen this at other events with Burmese people as well. The children all tie a balloon to their ankle (sometimes one to each leg), and they run around trying to pop each other’s balloons. The last person standing with an unpopped balloon is the winner, and they’re allowed a fair bit of body contact! These are the last two standing in their match:

One of the schoolchildren taking care his baby brother:

A number of races were organised as well, about 75m or so in length:

Spectators for the races had to protect their heads, and their younger siblings’ heads, from the strong midday sun:

The winner! The motion blur is deliberate, and I kinda like the way it turned out.

Well, that was children’s day for migrants from Burma. They’re a terrifically poor community, but they try to maintain a semblance of normalcy, especially for the kids, and I think this celebration was particularly fun and beneficial to the kids’ happiness.