For a lot of people who have never been to Tachelik, it is just seen as the city of the golden triangle, which is known for drug trade and human trafficking. In fact, if you stand at the immigration to cross borders to Thailand, you will see a lot of anti-trafficking signs to keep reminding people about the charges they will go through if they do so. This is a fact and is undeniable but that doesn’t mean that it is all that the city has!
So how is Tarchelik different from a typical Burmese City?
- Shopping: While the foreigners and the Burmese alike make a list of things they would buy when they get to Thailand in the next two or three months, the people of Tachelik can just easily cross the borders to go into the luxurious shopping malls where you don’t have to worry if the products you are using is authentic or not. Not only that, the Thais have accommodated for the Burmese customers well. For example, when you go to shop at the British Supermarket (Tesco), you will see a welcome to Tesco sign, aisles and even the toilet written in Burmese. Yes, they are thanking us for sure for doing all our shopping starting form buying meat to toiletries in Thailand.
That’s why, don’t be surprised when someone from a small city in the Shan state boast about how they go to another country to buy their snacks and shower gels.
- Monasteries: Yes, you will be surprised to know that, the monasteries they have in Tachelik is far from the traditional design that we have in Yangon, Bagan or Mandalay. There, you will see a lot of what they call Shan (or Thai) architecture. They are absolutely amazing!
- The Golden Traingle: Being the city of the Golden Triangle is the best part of Tachelik! Have you ever stood in one place and pointed saying that’s Myanmar and that’s Laos…and now, I am in Thailand! Well, if you haven’t, trust me, it is a great feeling!
- Money: Unlike many cities in Myanmar, people in Tachelik do not use the Burmese Kyats but use the Thai Baht. Yes, when you tell them a price in Kyats, they will use a calculator to convert it back to Baht and then respond. However, it is actually not legal to do so. Yet, due to the convenience and stability of the currency, people have gone with the luxurious looking Thai Baht.
- Mobile Phones: Most people in the city have two phones. One to connect to their families living in other cities in Myanmar and one to use within the city. The provider they actually use in town, which has better signal, deals and faster Internet is DTAC!
- Wifi: While many people in the former capital (Yangon) were suffering from slow internet, the people in Tachelik never got a chance to understand our problems because they also had the privilege to use fast and cheap Thai phones!
- Food: Shan food is famous throughout Myanmar, that is known! Now, in Tachelik, you can have both amazing Shan, Thai and Western food. If you want pizza or Thai, you can simply cross the border but in city, there are also amazing cafes, Tofu Nwe Stalls (tofu noodle curry), Malar Hnin places and what not!
- Organization Skills: Finally, people in this city are a lot more clean and organized compared to their Burmese counterparts. First, food hygiene is excellent! You can see people using gloves to make sure it is clean and second, the bike drivers are all organized wearing numbered tops and what not. I wonder from where they learnt that?
But now, talking about the real stuff…
The border crossing was disheartening as you can see a dramatic change in the way people dress, speak and the conditions of the road after you have walked for around 5 minutes just to cross the border to the other city. Our citizens are looked down on, constantly checked by Thai authorizes for drugs and questioned every now and then on the other side and they live in fear. The fear of getting told off by the immigration authorizes, the fear of not understanding how to fill the forms and the fear of humiliation. Well, if you have not been valued by your government for decades, how will the government of a foreign country value you?
This is an important lesson itself for Myanmar and a proof that the city could have gone a long way with good governance and regulations. Myanmar has a long way to go in terms of developing its towns since many of them still lack electricity and sufficient infrastructure including good hospitals and transportation links to other cities.
However, Thailand’s development definitely has had a spill over effect on the living standards of the people in Tachelik. Compared to the people living further away from the border, Tachelik thars (people of tachelik) are definitely more likely to use the Internet and are more likely know a lot more than just Facebook.
In addition, Thailand has been a good neighbor in many ways. Firstly, thanks to the provision of electricity by the Thai government (not sure if this is legal or not either) the streets are not as dark as many small towns in Myanmar and is actually lively at night too. Next, when a problem arises, they are not reluctant to help! Recently, when there was a bit fire in Tachelik, their friendly neighbor rushed to help.
Having said that, Myanmar has a lot to learn from Thailand. This I will keep it for my next post!