November 25, 2015 by Live And Invest Overseas
On The Burma Trail
Eight of us in a van bounced over rutty roads in Burma, a day’s drive north of the Thai border. Farther north was China, west was Laos. Suddenly a checkpoint appeared with a young soldier, weapon at hand. Our guide said, “That’s a Wa army soldier.”
We turned off.
I’d never seen a private soldier or a private army before. I’d always thought they’d be a ragtag, makeshift group, more like a street gang. But this Wa soldier wore a crisp green uniform with insignias and epaulets. He had a serviceable vehicle at hand.
Welcome to Burma, now called Myanmar. (When Thais say “Myanmar” it comes out sounding like “Burma” somehow.) We were in Burma’s extreme northeast Shan state, wedged between China and Thailand. Our part of Burma was isolated from the rest of the country. By land locals could easily get to China or Thailand. To get to Rangoon or Mandalay, however, they’d have to travel miles across mountains without roads, rivers without bridges.
Private armies and/or drug dealers in the region control huge swaths of territory.
Our group (mostly American friends and I) had started the day before in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We’d taken a van four hours north to the Burmese border, met our guide, then crossed the bridge into Burma. Because our group hadn’t obtained visas, we left our passports with the Burmese border people in exchange for visitor cards. We’d pick up our passports again after the five-day trip.
We paid fees, received our visitor cards, bought booze—Burma charges about half what the stuff costs in Thailand—and piled into another van up to Kyaing Tong, the regional capital. Call it KT. It was another four hours north of the border.
Somerset Maugham visited KT in the 1920s and wrote about its colorful market. People from “half a dozen countries speaking a dozen languages” gathered at market to buy and sell, to chat and change money. We saw the same market as Maugham did back then, and I doubt much has changed. Every morning traders from the surrounding hill tribe villages pour down into KT. Today they ride motor scooters. Back then they ...Continue Reading »