Karen State - No Paperwork, No Problems...

Shane B

Active Member
Mar 8, 2019
25
33
13
My trip to the Karen state in Myanmar was a tad accidental and somewhat opportunistic. However it turned out to be quite the adventure and a very interesting experience. I entered crossed into Myanmar a few times over the course of a few days. I discovered that there are many border crossings throughout Western Tak, both over land and river. To my surprise I didn't encounter any issues crossing into the Karen State as a foreigner.


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My original plan was to head to Umpang for the weekend to check out Thi Lor Su. I had been meaning to come down that way for a while. 1,219 corners on the road down from Mae Sot. Lots of low clouds, fog and rain on the way. I’m sure it would have had some awesome views if I was able to see it.


First stop along the way was Mae Sot. I rode up to the bridge to take a few pics.


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I had heard about a "special economic zone" in Myawaddy so I decided I'd go check it out. I called the casino and hotel beforehand to check if it was alright for foreigners to stay without a visa or anything. No problemo.


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I though it would be cool to stay in Myanmar for the night so I parked up my bike on the Thai side and took the 30 second boat ride to the Myanmar side. No visas or passports. They didn't even ask for ID when I checked into the hotel.


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I decided to stroll right out the door at the other side and have a wander round. First stop was a market stall for a Myanmar beer.


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The Myawaddy complex is a nice enough place. Nice restaurants by the river Moei. Cheap booze available at the duty free.


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159 Baht for a jug of Myanmar beer.


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The hotel there is nice but a bit on the pricey side, relatively speaking.


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The next day I set off for Umpang. I had my breakfast, jumped back on the boat and then back on the bike.


It was an overcast day with intermittent rain on the road to Umpang. Having copped a proper soaking I decided to pull in for an ice cream and a drink. When I checked the map I noticed I was only 2km from the Myanmar border. Seeing as I was there I thought I might as well go check it out.

It turned out to be an awesome ride down there. The little concrete road weaves through lush green fields with huge jagged limestone karst outcrops. Very dramatic scenery.


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Upon reaching the border line I noticed a very decrepit guard hut that appeared to be disused. No soldiers in sight either. I pushed on....



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I soon came across a village and saw lots of Burmese writing and Burmese looking people. I stopped and asked a guy if it was possible to go on and he said yes. He told me there were soldiers and a checkpoint further on but it was ok.

Seeing as I had come that far I decided it would be remiss to pass up in the opportunity to go a bit further. However in the back of my mind I didn’t want to get in trouble with soldiers for being on the wrong side of the fence.


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It turned out to be a really cool trail but was quite tough in parts. Kinda wish I had the CRF250L but the AT did the job just fine. I passed through a several Burmese villages much to the surprise of the villagers. The trails led across open hills and the views were epic.


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Plenty of cool trials to explore around.


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I reckon I went about 5km before I decided I might be best not running into any checkpoints. I could see from the map that the trail popped back into the thai side at a different point. This one might have had guards. I didn’t fancy explaining to soldiers guarding the way out why i had cruised through 10k of Burma. So I turned round and headed back the way I came.

No issues on the way back, I just enjoyed the trails and cruised on back to the main road and then on to Umpang.


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The next day I intended riding south of Umpang all the way to the end of route 1288. However I missed my turn at one point and found myself back at the Myanmar border. I came across the below KNU Karen army checkpoint. I though I'd try having a chat with the soldiers to see if it was possible for me to proceed. At this point I just wanted to see if it was possible to come back another day as I was planning on turning around and heading back to where I had originally planned.

I had a chat with them for a bit, told them the road looked like fun and that I was keen to have a look around. The told me I could proceed no problems. Not only did they not care, they pretty much invited me to come in. I told them I had no visa or anything. That didn't matter. I also asked if there were other checkpoints further down the road and whether they were Karen army or Burmese. They told me there were some but it wouldn't be a problem. They also told me there were some Burmese checkpoints but that too shouldn't be a problem.


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I genuinely hadn't intended on making this detour, but I thought I shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth. There was also a break in the weather. I thought I might as well make the most of the dry spell and the invite. So I scrapped my other plan for the day and pushed on into the Karen State.


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The day was dry but overcast so my pics aren't the greatest. There was nice rolling countryside that the road weaved through.


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As one might imaging, the road on that side wasn't in the best of shape. The start of it was quite muddy but eventually it became decently graded.


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A few very surprised looks on the villagers faces when they saw a falang rocking up on a big bike.


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The border checkpoint that I entered was directly south of my position (the blue arrow) shown on this map. I rode all the way to Waw Lay and beyond.

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I think this was a KNIA army base.

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The road got better as I got closer to Waw Lay.


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Some interesting propaganda posters.


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It was later explained to me that the below accommodation was build to help with resettling returning refugees.


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Eventually a nice concrete paved road near the town of Waw Lay.


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I decided to initially bypass the town and head further inland in the direction of Su Ka Li. I would come back to the town on my way back.

The road deteriorated pretty quickly.


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On my way I passed another village with a Burmese army checkpoint (unfortunately no pics). I saw a Burmese soldier with an automatic rifle hopping up from his guard post to approach me. I was about to do a power slide u-turn to high tail it out of there when I could tell by the body language that he didn't seemed to fussed. He simply asked which way I was going. I was about to say I was lost and heading back to the Thai border, but, due to his non fussed demeanor I though I'd chance telling him I was heading inland to the next town. I checked the map and found the name of the next town and he simply pointed me in the right direction.


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The road was very rocky in places. After a few KM on this road the weather started getting a bit drizzly to I decided to head back to the town to check it out.


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There was construction work underway to upgrade the road connecting it to the rest of the Karen state and central Burma.


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I took this pic outside the police station. No police in sight though.


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I had ridden about 50km inside of Myanmar at this point and I was about to turn around and head back to the border crossing from where I had come from. I noticed a temple on top of a hill and decided to go check it out.

When I got to the entrance of the temple there was a monk and some other people. Once of them called out to me and in almost perfect English invited me over to sit with them. I though I might as well.

They were super surprised to see me and they said that they hadn't come across any falangs in that area before. However they were extremely welcoming. This seemed to be the case with everyone I encountered there including the Karen military. It was as if they were glad a foreigner had bothered to make the effort to come visit their region.

I ended up staying for a few hours and having a good chat with them. They gave me a tour around the temple and surrounding area. The monk and the other man told me about the history of the area and how the site of the temple had once been a gun position during the battles between the Karen and the Burmese.

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The monk gave me a traditional blessing along with amulets.


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They were very kind and very friendly.


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He showed me an old bunker in the grounds of the temple that was used as a gun position.

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A traditional Karen shrine.


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The Jay dee.

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The view from the temple of the surrounding countryside. The pic doesn't do it justice.


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A monk ordination temple.


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They showed me a nearby house made of teak wood.


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Huge teak support structures.

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Myanmar registrations on the vehicles in that area.


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We then went for lunch to a local restaurant that served Thai food.


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I then took a look around the rest of the town of Waw Lay.

This pic is taken at the Thai border. The little wooden bridge over the river/stream separates the two nations.


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The market place just over the little bridge was selling lots of cigarettes and booze.


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Fairly casual checkpoint. This pic faces into the Thai side.


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The Burmese village even had its own little casino. Maybe it doesn't come to life until later in the evening but it looked like it had seen better days.


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A few more pics from around the town of Waw Lay.


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I hung around the town of Waw Lay for a few hours. I had a good chat to the Monk and his assistant. After having lunch and taking a few more pictures, I headed back in the direction I had come from.

I was told it's possible to ride all the way to Myawaddy from where I was. Ironically, even though it's a dirt road, its a much quicker way of getting from Umpang to Mae Sot then along the 1090 on the Thai side.

Nice chilled out ride back through the same rolling countryside. Thankfully the rain held off.


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I stopped at a little village for a drink on the way back. Needless to say the looks on their faces was as if a spaceship had landed.


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And back to Thailand....

All up this was a really cool little trip into the Karen State. In total, I rode about 80km on the Myanmar side. This route took me almost halfway from Umpang to Mae Sot/Myawaddy on the Myanmar side. It's a place that you don't really hear much about. Most of the little knowledge I have of the area came from taking to the people there and some online research afterwards. There seems to be peace with the Burmese at the moment. Both Karen and Burmese people and soldiers coexist peacefully in the region for the time being.


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(Coincidentally this is the sign from the Immigration office in Myawaddy. Note the bottom section. This is the area referred to above.)


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Tarquin Ferrets

Active Member
Feb 4, 2019
40
47
18
Cool report Shane, thank you for sharing. Great to hear it's all peaceful and accessable now. However, glad you proceeded with caution as the situation on the border can change rapidly either way. Good stuff.
 

Shane B

Active Member
Mar 8, 2019
25
33
13
Cool report Shane, thank you for sharing. Great to hear it's all peaceful and accessable now. However, glad you proceeded with caution as the situation on the border can change rapidly either way. Good stuff.
Cheers mate. Yes, I stopped and checked a good few times with soldiers, guards and locals along the way just to be sure it was ok to proceed.
 

Moto-Rex

Moderator
Jan 5, 2008
943
286
63
Brilliant write up Shane
.
Great photos showing what life's like in the back blocks.
The riding down there looks spot on.

There was no casino the last time I was down there. Looks like a beautiful location for a beer or two.
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Thanks for sharing.

Moto-Rex
 

Shane B

Active Member
Mar 8, 2019
25
33
13
Brilliant write up Shane
.
Great photos showing what life's like in the back blocks.
The riding down there looks spot on.

There was no casino the last time I was down there. Looks like a beautiful location for a beer or two.
View attachment 131281

Thanks for sharing.

Moto-Rex

Thanks mate.

The picture above is the Myawaddy complex casino. There are many other casinos at the Mae Sot/Myawaddy border area also. The little boat crossings are located about 5 km away from from the friendship bridge. Good spot to stop off for a few Myanmar beers :)

The biking down there was fantastic. Would have been even better on a dirt bike as there seemed to be endless trails criss-crossing the region.
 

DavidFL

Administrator
Staff member
Jan 16, 2003
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Chiang Khong
www.thegtrider.com
A fabulous report & a 5-star experience.
You are so lucky pulling that off - weather wise & checkpoints.

I bet you felt on a real high after doing that. An incredible little trip & time by yourself, when it could all go so wrong if luck & was not on your side.

It just goes to show you what some of the issues are with crossing borders & riding in Myanmar are. Not everything is controlled by the Naypyidaw government. There are multiple ethnic states in Myanmar, that want self autonomy & control of their own resources & border crossings, so they can collect the taxes & fees for their own use, not have to remit everything to the central government. There are multiple local border crossings, like the one you did, on the Thai - Myanmar border,that are stuck in limbo because there is no international agreement with the Naypyidaw government, the ethnic group controlling the area & the Thai government. If only they could get their act together, we would have many more options to ride into Myanmar.

I love this shot
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so close yet so far.

Many thanks for the brilliant write up....what's the next adventure?
 

Shane B

Active Member
Mar 8, 2019
25
33
13
A fabulous report & a 5-star experience.
You are so lucky pulling that off - weather wise & checkpoints.

I bet you felt on a real high after doing that. An incredible little trip & time by yourself, when it could all go so wrong if luck & was not on your side.

It just goes to show you what some of the issues are with crossing borders & riding in Myanmar are. Not everything is controlled by the Naypyidaw government. There are multiple ethnic states in Myanmar, that want self autonomy & control of their own resources & border crossings, so they can collect the taxes & fees for their own use, not have to remit everything to the central government. There are multiple local border crossings, like the one you did, on the Thai - Myanmar border,that are stuck in limbo because there is no international agreement with the Naypyidaw government, the ethnic group controlling the area & the Thai government. If only they could get their act together, we would have many more options to ride into Myanmar.

I love this shot
View attachment 131326

so close yet so far.

Many thanks for the brilliant write up....what's the next adventure?


Thanks mate. It was a good one alright! That shot was taken a few meters from the Thai side.


I also came across many other border crossings on the river Moei on the way into Mae Sot. I stopped and checked with a few of them to see what the story was with a falang simply hopping on a boat and heading over. None said I couldn't and most were egging me on to go. They said I couldn't automatically cross the river with the bike but if I really wanted to I would need to get the permission of the village head man and the policeman overseeing the village. Bit of a run around but apparently doable.

Below is one of the river crossings I checked out. I came across many.

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GTR-Admin

Administrator
Staff member
Mar 22, 2016
181
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Thailand
Hi Shane

Thank for taking the time to post that adventure. It just goes to show that there are still opportunities for exploration if you are a bit cheeky and proceed as if you have every right to be there! Even if you don't.. 5555


Keep up the good work!
 

Shane B

Active Member
Mar 8, 2019
25
33
13
Hi Shane

Thank for taking the time to post that adventure. It just goes to show that there are still opportunities for exploration if you are a bit cheeky and proceed as if you have every right to be there! Even if you don't.. 5555


Keep up the good work!

Thanks mate. Yep, there sure are plenty of cool places to be explored. I like to think I was invited in 555 :)