This will be my third volunteer through Workaway, but this time I’m even more excited. I will volunteer in a very remote area of Myanmar, and help a western woman that settled there with her bears. Yes, bears, she has two moon bears, just like most of us have a cat or a dog.
*Please note that these bears were orphan babies when found
I always wanted to do a volunteer related to animals, so once I found this opportunity and in the country that I loved the most, I needed to try. After feeling stomach sick for 2 days in Mae Sot, I finally move to Mu Aye Pu, a Karen village in Myanmar only reachable through Thailand. In Mae Sot, across the border with Myanmar, you still see a lot of Burmese people. I can recognize them by the way they dress, they wear Thanaka, or even for the music that is playing in the store that is on my Burmese music playlist too. I think I can also recognize the language… I conclude that many people in this area of Thailand are Karen.
Karen is an independent state in Myanmar, they have their own government with their own rules and culture. But not the whole state is fully controlled by the Karen army, and some areas are still under Burmese control. Many of these Myanmar people that you see in the Mae Sot area are Karen refugees. I could say that this area just next to the border with Myanmar is almost taken by Myanmar people with several villages of Karen refugees along The Moei river, the river that separates Thailand from Myanmar.
One of these villages is Mu Aye Pu, a Karen village mostly with Karen soldiers’ families, and a school. Most part of the people that live here is students, most precisely, 200 out of 300 people.
The village is in fact in Myanmar, but it is separated from the country by mountains. Mountains that give it a charming look and make of this village a very pleasant and beautiful place. On the other side is the river, and Thailand. So, in one minute I’m in Myanmar, and the next one I am in Thailand.
Getting to the volunteer village
However, getting to Mu Aye Pu was not so easy for me…. Thai people don’t know about this place…
I left Mae Sot at 9 am heading to Mae Tan and after these 2 hours on a pick-up truck, I am supposed to change the bus to another one going to Mae Sariang. Most part of the journey I have this “bus” for myself and once we reach the market in Mae Tan, I ask about the bus to Mae Sariang. But apparently you don’t need to switch buses. So the bus driver tells me to wait. I thought I will be switching buses ahead, but it didn’t happen, so I was never able to tell him that I want to leave in Mu Aye Pu. Being that, I needed to make this bus stop by myself following the GPS sign on Maps.me. The village is marked on Maps.me, and I see a little path not far from it, so I guess that’s where I need to go. But I was wrong…
I left at the yellow cross:
And there was a family here too, so I was happy that I’m not alone, but they don’t seem to care much about my presence. I reach the river and follow them. There is nothing here! I don’t see any “boat” so I wait to see what they do. They cross to the other side on a bamboo raft that wouldn’t be able to keep my things dry. I start doubting that this is the right boat to cross to the other side of the river.
When I asked them about Mu Aye Pu, they nod their heads and that was all. All the family crossed the river in 2 different rides and left me on the other side staring at them. At this point, I’m starting to get worried as there are supposed to be people that would help me cross the river, as my hoster said, but apparently no one cares about me. I sat there and looked at them playing on the other side of the river and thinking “WTF is going on”.
As I clearly see that these people will not help me cross to the other side of the river, I get nervous and start walking along the margin in direction of the village to see if somehow I can see any boat nearby. I walk until a point where I can no more. Frustrated with no idea what to do, I went back and sat. There is a boat coming, and this one is actually a motorboat with, so I think “GREAT, this is it”. But they also don’t seem to care much about my presence there. They pass through me and don’t stop but slow down stopping on the other side of the margin. They launch some nets and walk along the sandbanks while I think they will be coming back for me after that.
After 15 minutes nothing changed so I started to worry even more…. I don’t think that these people will help me cross the river or neither are they with that intension.
Having the motorboat insight, and being even more clueless regards on how should I act, I start yelling from Thailand to the Myanmar side while waving my arms and shouting “MU AYE PU”.
They are looking at me, but no response, no reaction, no nothing. That’s when I think that this can’t be it. After almost one hour there worrying and thinking that there must be another way, I pick up my things and go back to the main road. My hope is there is a path closer to the village that is not seen on Maps.me, and after walking almost 10 minutes there IT IS. A dirt path that doesn’t appear on the Maps.me app and that is about the same direction as the village. Without any other hope in mind, I follow it. It must be it- shouts my mind- otherwise, I’m f+cked.
Reaching Mu Aye Pu village
Meanwhile, it was already almost 2 pm and I got there at about 12 am. It took 3 hours to reach Mu Aye Pu in Myanmar from Mae Sot and it cost 140 Bahts. As I walk through the dirt road I start to listen to the sound of people, so I’m getting relieved! This must be it. There is a little wooden house, and deep down the hill, there is a river with boats and people. THANK GOD! This definitely looks like a place where I can cross. On the other side, I can already see the village. I ask a young man about “Lee Wah Moh” and the boat drives me all the way as close as possible to Sabine’s house, my hoster. I’m so happy that I’m finally here in the place where I will volunteer!
There is another volunteer. He is a Thai guy that is traveling for 9 months already and always volunteer around Southeast Asia. This will be his last one before he goes back home, to Bangkok.- Inspiring story. This day I don’t do much but enjoy the wonderful view from our guesthouse. It’s a little wooden house with 4 bedrooms, a table, 4 chairs, and a little bench with a view of the river and so Thailand. So, here I am in Myanmar while looking over to Thailand while writing this text.
I wrote about my previous travels in this house with this inspiring view. But I’m only publishing the articles now.
Here is a video that sums up a little bit about this place:
To visit this place follow the link below: