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One Night In Mae Sot

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A long time friend of mine recently passed away and had some of his ashes scattered in Mae Sot. He visited there frequently over the past 15 years in fact was the person who introduced me to the place which has become my favourite destination in LOS outside Bangkok. So I made a promise to visit there on my next trip and pay my respects.

 

There was absolutely no way I was driving up during songkran as the 100 odd km road from Tak to Mae Sot is one of the most dangerous roads I have ever been on. Mountainous and winding, and as most of us know the Thaïs have practically zero common sense when they get behind the controls of any vehicle. The stand out part of the road is the escape route on one of the steeper sections. Any vehicle that used it as a form of slowing down or stopping would very quickly find themselves airborne over a small ravine, as the ramp is maybe 150 feet leading to a sheer drop. It is more like a launching ramp.

 

So a couple of days after Songkran a good mate of mine who lives in Bangkok but who has never visited there and myself jumped in the rental and headed off on the 6 hour journey. For the record the new Honda Accord is very comfortable but

has an engine the size of an eggbeater. Completely gutless. After a stop for breakfast in Nakhon Sawan we arrived at First Hotel to check in at about 2.30 pm. I love this hotel as it is basic but central to town and has a very accommodating owner who understands the needs of his guests. He is the guy who introduced me to a regular Burmese girl who would visit my room and give me a 3 hour massage for 360 baht. Also the fact the owner is restoring it in hand-carved reclaimed teak has always fascinated me and I have watched his craftsmanship over the years. To date a work in progress of almost 25 years.

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So being beer o’clock we headed off to find a cold beer and a feed. Despite its remote location and relatively small size Mae Sot is among the most culturally diverse cities in Thailand. Walking down the streets of the town, you'll see a fascinating ethnic mixture: Burmese men in their longyi, Hmong and Karen women in traditional hill-tribe dress, bearded Muslims, Sri Lankans, Thai army rangers and foreign NGO workers on their pushbikes. My mate suggested we ask one of the female middle aged Ngos where we can find a cold beer and some girls for fun. Although I frequent the place it always takes me a short while to re-familiarise myself with the small town centre. Lots of one-way streets that always confuse my sense of direction. I did however remember a little restaurant that I have eaten breakfast at many times called Bai Fern and managed to navigate us there. I knew they would have a nice cold beer. I guess the temperature was pushing 40. Always a few degrees hotter or colder than Bangkok. So we sat down for lunch a couple of Singhas and prepared ourselves for the conquest ahead, more beer and ladies.

 

There are several very vague reports on the nightlife in Mae Sot. Unless you know where to go or have a reasonable degree of local knowledge, Mae Sot is a ghost town by about 9.00 pm. Way too early for us. Stickman has made a short review and there are a few comments on another board but very little detail is available. I had heard reports of a karaoke bar down near the markets so we decided to make that our next destination. Paying our bill we also asked the lady serving us if she knew of bar with lady in our best way which became a mixture of english/charades. Not many of the ethnic Karens speak much English and my Thai is not at all good. With her shaking her head no and a perfect smile and a giggle we headed off to the town markets. The Burmese Market in the centre of town represents an amazing cultural mix. Here most of the food, apart from the vegetables is either alive or covered in flies. Turtles, eels and frogs all available. I don’t find the other markets nearly as interesting down on the river near the Friendship Bridge as they are more touristy. I do though find the dodgy stalls by the boardwalk at the river amusing with their black market cigarettes and alcohol as well as a good selection of penis enlargement medication and sex toys and some rather dodgy looking Russian made Viagra.

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A futile trek around the markets yielded nothing except direction to a cold fridge of soda so we decided to head back towards the hotel and finds somewhere to sit down. The heat was starting to take its toll. I had been to a restaurant before run by a Canadian so we made our way there. The Canadian has lived in Mae Sot for 15 years and has a Burmese wife who works in the restaurant with him. Mae Sot was noticeably quiet but I guess the holidays were playing a big part in that. Lots of shops closed up for the week. Sat at the bar under the fans and ordered a couple of Singhas. If I remember correct 60 baht a bottle. The larger ones not the ones we are used to in Bangkok. After a second beer I decided to wonder up towards the gem markets to see if I could find an old friend Mr Sein. I had shown a photo of him to the Canadian to see if he knew him and had seen him around to which he assured me he was still in town. He was from Sri Lanka registered with the UNHCR many years ago. On his U.S. visa application his commitment to honesty was a little bit too honest.. Not wanting to lie he openly acknowledged to the U.S. Embassy that he was once a ‘bomb maker’ and that he was also a devout ‘Muslim.’ Unsurprisingly, the application was rejected. There was no sign of him so I headed back to my friend to down another beer. The Canadian and another customer told us that most of the bars/drinking spots were closed for the break but if we headed about 1 km out of town there were possibly a few places open. So we made plans for the evening. A shower, change clothes and head off again on our conquest for beer woman and song.

 

Feeling a bit fresher and ready to hit the town we asked the guy at the reception desk on our way out if he had any idea where to go for drink and lady. “Oh Lucky Lucky you go Lucky Lucky†he says. He tells us there is a karaoke bar just near 7-Eleven up street. Now I knew exactly where the 7-Eleven was so there we headed. Shame he wasn’t around earlier as the daytime staff had no idea. The 7-Eleven is a bout 50 metres from the hotel. We got there to find two motorbike taxis riders sitting on some old crates drinking beer from a bottle. We asked if they knew where Lucky Lucky was. Oh yes Lucky Lucky and he points to a pulled down shutter across the road. Not open today he tells us. Bummer. So we ask where we can go see lady and drink. His eyes light up and he asks you want lady? Yes and drink. Ok he says we take you. Ummm on bike? I am nervous on bikes to begin with but put a drunk Thai in control and it’s not for me. But the younger one seemed sober enough. So why not besides we didn’t really feel like an early evening. My friend decides to be clever and goes and stands behind the younger sober rider as he said he was no way getting on the drunks bike. Turns out he was waiting behind the drunks bike after all and we both had a good laugh. So we told them to take their time and finish their beer while we summonsed the courage to actually see this through. So on we get and go all the way up one way then all the way back down another road and end up just around the corner from the 7-Eleven. I guess taxi drivers in LOS are the same no matter where you are. We pull up at a doorway on the opposite side of the street just down from Bai Fern. It is just next to an internet café I used to visit years ago before we all had smart phones.

Inside is a few tables and chairs small counter, which behind sits a rather attractive Thai lady in her early to mid thirties. The taxi guys beckon us in and show us to another doorway to the rear of the premises. Here we find what we have been looking for. A lounge area consisting of few tables, a couple of lounges occupied by some beautiful Burmese girls, a fridge full of beer and a karaoke machine. Jackpot.

 

So in we go and find a table to sit at and order a bottle of Singha. For the record large bottles 80 baht. Not bad at all. The girls I guess were maybe late teens, early twenties and by no means seemed new to their work but did seem a little surprised to see farangs in their bar. The taxi guys seemed to want to hang around. My mate wanted to smoke but they didn’t allow it in the room so we headed back out to the main area and the Thai lady seated us at a table near the lounge entry. Moments later our taxi guys joined us. Seems they wanted in on the night. Wasn’t going to happen. So we gave them 100 baht each and bid them farewell. The young one left but the old drunk one could be heard later butchering song after song on the Karaoke machine.

 

So just when we think our luck has changed the place gets raided by the immigration Police. The pace they worked gave anyone who shouldn’t be there ample time to either hide or leave in a hurry out the back. So suddenly there was only one Burmese girl and a couple of men left including the drunken taxi guy. So we just ordered another bottle and watched the show. They all were required to show ID and get photographed holding them to prove a match including the Thai lady. All the documents of the bar were photographed. Even my mate and I were photographed. But they did apologised for the inconvenience. We accepted the apology and insisted a group photo to which they agreed. I hadn’t laughed so much in a long time. They finally left after about 20 minutes and shortly things returned to normal with even more girls appearing.

 

So we sat there quietly for the next couple of hours drinking and just observing this fascinating little establishment. Kind of reminded me of that movie The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas. A steady flow of customers rolled in and out. Ranging from young Thai’s, old Thaïs, soldiers, drunk motorbike taxi drivers. I questioned the mamasan how things worked. She told me each punter has the girl for 20 minutes upstairs in a very basic room for 400 baht. Girl takes 300 the bar 100. She insisted condoms were always used but I honestly doubt it. She claimed the girls were regularly sent for check-ups but anyone’s guess whether that was fact. We entertained ourselves by having bets on how long each punter would last. Some of the older men would return in a lather of sweat while the girls wondered back in without a hair out of place. Ann the mamasan who incidentally I was quiet keen to maybe spend some time with after closing explained the girls used to do hotel visits but she put an end to it after one of her girls got pack raped by a group of Arabs one night. They had also had a few violent incidents with Indians as well. They now had a strict policy that they would not service either so the place had really become purely to cater for the local Thaïs. She was true to her word when two Arabs walked in and she told them no girls were available. There was probably half a dozen in the karaoke room.

 

So it was without doubt one of the most memorable evenings I have spent in LOS. Bar closed at 1.00 am and my mate headed back to the hotel while I was whisked away on the back of a bike to an unknown place to continue drinking with Ann. Had absolutely no idea where her room was but consciously tried to find points of reference in case I needed to find my own way back. Fortunately I was delivered back to the hotel in one piece in time for breakfast. Exhausted but without regret. There is absolutely no way I would have found my way back.

 

I have been to a lot of small villages up north and throughout Isaan, but Mae Sot holds the true essence of Amazing Thailand. If you ever get the chance do yourself a favour and visit.

 

On a footnote after breakfast, on our way back to the hotel we ran into Mr Sein. He has finally been granted relocation to the US.

 

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Not tourists. There are a vast number of sweat shops run in and around Mae Sot due to the abundant supply of migrant workers. Where there's a sweat shop there's usually one or the other.

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Probably hasn't. I am sure First Hotel was there back then. Sits across from the Police compound. Current owner has been there for over 25 years.

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Good report!

 

There was absolutely no way I was driving up during songkran as the 100 odd km road from Tak to Mae Sot is one of the most dangerous roads I have ever been on. Mountainous and winding,

 

Yeah, I recall that. On the trip we were offered pills against seasickness, we politely declined, but the missus sure regretted that later on....

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My wife did her student teaching for her B.Ed. in Mae Sot. I'd almost forgotten that. Her supervising Thai teacher wouldn't give her an A because she refused to cut her hair short. I think she was the only one in English who got a B in student teaching. TIT

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Hi,

 

"Her supervising Thai teacher wouldn't give her an A because she refused to cut her hair short."

 

Another fine example of the Thai educational system :(

 

Sanuk!

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Once you mentioned karaoke, I was thinking: Opposite Seven, up the stairs! That was years ago, though - 10 years ago. Glad that some things never change!

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Unfortunately will have to wait until next trip up there YS.... what do you remember about it?

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