Monday 27 December 2010

Thailand's Tijuana

If you've ever been to the USA, especially LA or San Diego, chances are you would be familiar with Tijuana.

It's the gaudy, seedy, slightly desperate Mexican border town where Americans go for cheap pharmaceuticals, cheap trinkets, and cheap company. Plus you can claim 'I've been to Mexico!'

Well, Thailand has Burma's Tachileik.  Go north to Mae Sai (about for hours by road from Chiang Mai) and you'll arrive at the border, also Thailand's northern-most point. Tour buses and market stalls congest the approach to the bridge for about 1 kilometre.

A small bridge over a narrow muddy river (only about 10 metres wide) is the border. A huge archway welcomes you to the Union of Myanmar. Yes, this is Burma, keep walking. Pay 500 baht and you get an entry permit (14 days for 500 baht) and hand your passport over nervously for their safekeeping so you don't defect to Burma.

Then, you're in Burma. Suddenly you're swarmed on by a plague of vendors selling temple tours, Viagra, beer, Viagra, taxi service, Viagra, hotels, Viagra, massage, Viagra ... and, just in case you need it, more Viagra. Jing jing!

The market beside the bridge is a seething, labyrinthine mass stalls and humanity, like a canvas-and-plastic version of a Middle Eastern souk bazaar. Among other necessaries, you will be offered Saddam Hussein playing cards, Viagra, beer, Cialis, water, Viagra, sunglasses, Cialis, cigarettes. I don't know what this says about the vendors. Or the visitors.

Suffice to say, everything is on sale and for sale -- including their own grandmothers I suspect. I snapped up a pair of Adidas running shoes for 500 baht. (Yes, they work in baht and all speak Thai). I'm hoping they'll last at least one week in the gym so I get my money's worth.

It's a tour bus scrum getting in and out of the place. You'll be thankful once you return over the bridge to Thailand. Then realise, you went to Burma -- arguably one of the world's most fascinating countries -- and saw absolutely bloody nothing.

Actually, that's not true. Burma looks exactly like Mexico.


  1. Tijuana Jing Jing isn't quite as bad as you describe it. But, yes, we do sell a lot of Viagra.

  2. You have to go past the market at the border, walk down some of the quiet streets, have some tea and cakes. Running in and out for the 1 hour border run will not give you much of an impression.


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