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.

Spot the Problem

There’s a dump here in Mae Sot and, like many dumps, it’s dirty and it smells. Trucks deliver garbage, and a Hyundai excavator moves things around into very high mounds of trash. Here’s a photo of the excavator at work:

The dump in Mae Sot, sadly similar to those in a number of other developing countries, is not only frequented by excavators and garbage trucks. In the uncropped version of this same photo, there’s one clear problem. Can you see what it is?

*The photo above is downloadable at high resolution. Click the photo to view the high-res copy, and then right-click on that image and select “save image as” to save it to your computer. Free to keep on your computer, please request permission first if you’d like to use it for anything.*

Over 300 people live on the trash (many of their homes are literally sitting on top of refuse), earning money by picking out recyclable plastic to take to a recycling depot a ways away. They used to earn 5 baht per kilo brought in, but that’s now down to 1 baht per kilo (that’s CAD 3.6 cents per kilo or CAD 1.6 cents per pound). If you weigh 200 pounds, you’d need to carry your own body weight in recyclable plastic about a mile to earn CAD $3.20. Not the kind of work your average ten year old girl should be doing to help her family survive.

The people living at the dump are illegal migrants from Burma, a country where life is so difficult for them that they are willing to live (if you can call it that) on a garbage dump. They’re not pitying themselves and crying, and they’re not begging in the streets as some able-bodied people do here. They’re working hard, for little pay.

There is no official funding to help pay for better food, warmer clothing (it’s VERY cold here at night), better footwear, medicine for the common diseases (tuberculosis, worms, malaria, dengue fever, bronchial infections, etc). Publicity is hard, because too much attention causes the Thai government to periodically send in the police to clear all the people out, who then sneak back in a few days later, rather than try and help the people.

There is one kind man who has been going in multiple times a week for over a year now, doing his best to help the people with some of the worst problems they face. If you feel like donating a small amount of money for his efforts while I’m still in Mae Sot (until the end of this month), send me an email and let me know. There’s no charitable donation receipt, so it’s up to you if you want to trust me to receive the money from you and withdraw it from my Canadian bank account on this side, then tell you what it was used for.

A number of people are currently working together to try and find a durable solution to help the people on the dump relocate to a new home away from the garbage, earning money doing other things. This planning will take quite some time and is only really in its infancy, so at the moment there is still a significant need to help meet the basic daily needs of these people.

Creatures of Thailand

*Warning* The last 4 photos in this post are spiders, in case you don’t like looking at photos of spiders. The first 21 photos are not spiders.

Although the first photo is of dead creatures, the rest were alive at the time I shot the photos.

Fried cockroaches (for eating)

Cat on router:

Cows on lawn:

Three photos of a jewel beetle that used to visit us at the guesthouse:


Strangest caterpillar I have ever seen:


Live dragonfly:

Dead dragonfly with gecko:


Frog on bookshelf:

Toad on floor:

Fly with moustache-face butt:

Kukri Snake:

A butterfly that landed on my shirt, then on a post:

Puppy at a migrant school:

Kitten at the same migrant school:

Water buffalo:


The next / final four photos are spiders I’ve met at home and in the office: