In what has become an unplanned, accidental tradition (if that words is applicable to something that happens just twice) I packed my bag and decided to spend the last Christmas in a small village in the border between Thailand and Myanmar. The previous year the chosen one was Sangkhlaburi; this year I went further north to one of the main land passes between both countries: Mae Sot. Technically Mae Sot is the last town within Thailand territory, but in fact it is overflow with Myanmar colors, faces, and smells, more obviously the closer you get to the bridge that separates the two countries (see my next post from Myanmar's neighbor town Myawaddy here). But nowhere the Burmese presence is clearer than in Mae Tao Clinic, a hospital that takes care of a big number of Burmese refugees and migrant workers that has become a key landmark of the Burmese community in this province.
|The lady awaits, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm|
|Morning gathering, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm|
|Chit chat, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm|
|A warm spot, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm|
The clinic is overpopulated and the work the doctors and nurses do is commendable despite the lack of enough material and resources, and around the clinic a whole settlement has sprout to give shelter to countless families that have been forced to leave their country or that come here as their only hope to find health care for their problems. The sights and realities can be hard at times, as one could expect in a place like this, but even in these hard conditions there is room for joy, color, happiness, specially in the eyes and legs of the kids that run endlessly throughout every alley and every corner of this place, and also in the desks of a small school, where education brings some hope where most is needed.
|Hide and seek I, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm|
|Hide and seek II, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm|
|Hide and seek III, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm|
|Eyes of bliss, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm|
|Lessons, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm|
|On ropes and cables, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm|
|Patterns and colors, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm|
|The pruning I, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm|
|The pruning II, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm|
|Refreshment robes, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm|
However, one of the temples of Mae Sot, called Wat Mani Phraison and located right in the heart of the town, hides a secret; from the outside nobody would say there is much difference compared to any other temple in Thailand, and actually they would be right in thinking so, since the difference is not in the temple itself, but behind it: discreet and unobtrusive in one small corner of the temple grounds, surrounded by a thin stream and a small forest, there is a very particular herbal sauna. What makes this modest building so interesting is the fact that it is a wooden-driven, traditional steam sauna where locals (both men and women, separated in two adjacent rooms) can go to enjoy a relaxing time every evening. The heat of the fire is, besides, also used to clean the robes of the monks that live just meters away. The entrance is free, but a donation box invites some voluntary contribution, and everybody must bring their own towels since all offered here is the high temperature inside a small cubicle. The shower, not surprisingly, is a big vessel located outside with refreshing, cold water.
|Herbal sauna and laundry I, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm|
|Herbal sauna and laundry II, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm|
|The king's anthem, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm|
Thailand has enjoyed an incredibly fast construction and development boom in the last decades, and that can also be seen in smaller populations like this, not just in the big cities (where, on the other hand, is much more obvious), and this has a dark consequence that is very obvious and reminds us of the dangers of unplanned growth: abandoned, unfinished buildings appear here and there, completely sank into oblivion, though some of them have found a new life by being inhabited by small communities of people who have made these skeleton buildings their home. But this reality discourages nobody, for new constructions continue appearing everywhere, and the circle continues spinning in this rather messy way.
|Relocation, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm|
|Stairs to nowhere I, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm|
|Stairs to nowhere II, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm|
|The road ahead, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm|
|Cooperative work, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm|
At the end of the day, Mae Sot turned out to be a very relaxing, peaceful place where spending a couple of days full of little surprises and far from the noise and bustle of the city, experiencing two cultures in one and, last but not least, enjoying great food, as is customary everywhere you might travel in this country.
|Night market, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm|