Tomorrow morning, at 6:30, I will be leaving Baan Mae Sa Luang, the humble village where I live and work, and will be going to the bus station on a visa run to Mae Sai and crossing the border into Tachileik, Burma. These towns are open-air markets, the Southeast Asian version of Tijuana, with cheap goods and legacies of drug wars. Additionally, the nation of Burma in Shan State (where Tachileik is located) and Kachin State is currently in a state of considerable unrest. So far this unrest has not gotten to the area where I will be going, but it is not an entirely risk-free trip, as far as it goes.
The visa run is a common experience here in Thailand, but it is unusual for those who are not familiar with the area. I have a year-long visa to Thailand, but the visa must be renewed every 90 days. I have been in the country almost three months, and so to stay “legal” in Thailand it is necessary for me to exit the country and then re-enter with another 90 day pass. Given the location of Thailand (and my own location in the northern part of Thailand), there are not a lot f options for a visa run. The most popular option for northern Thailand is the Mae Sai-Tachileik crossing, which is where I am going. These two towns (of about 20,000 people apiece) are on either side of the Mae Nam Sai (River), which forms the international boundary between Burma and Thailand along that sector. There are other border crossings but they are more lengthy in time and more adventurous—including a border crossing up the Mekong into China from a “fastboat” from Chiang Saen, the crossing from Thailand to Laos at either Luang Prabang or Vientiane, or another crossing into Burma further away at Mae Sot or Three Pagoda’s Pass (which is in the hotly contested Karen state).
Although I’m not sure why Thailand requires its foreign visitors to leave every 90 days and visit its neighbors, that is the law, and it is my practice to obey the law unless it conflicts with God’s law (Acts 5:29), even when I don’t understand the reasoning for such laws. I leave it to the readers of my blog to speculate why a nation would want its moderate-term visitors to have to cross into places like Burma, Laos, and Cambodia every three months. As for me, I have an early morning bus to catch, and then a border crossing. If I am fortunate, I hope to post from the border. If not, I should be back Monday afternoon, God willing, with a few stories to tell of my trip. Either way, see you soon, I hope.