Riding the Thai - Burma border. Ang Kang, Tham Ngop and the KMT.

Steve Merchant

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A week ago I received a history page taken from the internet outlining the life in Thailand of General Lee Winhuan, commander of the 3rd Army of the Kuo Min Tang. Mr Unkovitch was asking had I been to these places, what did I know and would I care to take a look? The page sent was sub-headed with the following; Thom Ngob is the heart for the core of the former Chinese National Army, The third Army with General Lee Wenhuan as the leader. The Chinese National Army or the Kuo-min Tang (KTM) was a group of soldiers and civilians who were members of the same party or same side. It then went on to list its importance and talked of the things now standing. I wasn't sure I would actually find anything from this list but what the hell, I'll give it a go. The weather was good, the bike waiting and it was another chance to check out a once tried route and get out for the day. I wanted once more to see if my entry into Nor Lae from Nong Tao was just a one off or perhaps a route now open to all vehicles and was keen to visit the not so little Chinese community of Ban Mai Nong Bua and return to the little coffee shop with a great collection of old KMT photographs. Three birds with one stone and a Yamaha.
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From my place its a quick ride up to the Fang bypass road and a turn off heading west towards the Mae Mao Hydroelectric project, turning left 200m after Wat Muan Chum. Its a decent road until its passed the big Lahu village and shortly after that deteriorates to a badly damaged broken surface but dont fret, it only lasts for a couple of hundred meters and suddenly reverts to a brand new bitumen road with bright makings and road barriers. The surroundings turn from farming to forest and then an army post with a barrier across the road. Once more I was just the friendly tourist out in the beautiful countryside making my way to Arunothai and apart from writing my own passport details on a slip of paper they gave me no problem. Almost immediately from there its a switchback climb all the way to Nor Lae. At the top 100m before the actual village the barrier was down and no-one was at the hut. I let myself out, confirmed with a local guy that it wouldn't be a problem and then stopped to walk up to the army post where I was told (wrongly) there was a good view. The amusement here was that the army appear to be putting on a show, letting tourists from the Ang Kang side in, offering some places for them to visit and providing a couple of aerial photos to show where the Thai and Burma army bases are.
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It was a lovely day and the ride past Ang Kang was a pleasure, brightened even further by the brand new road surface which started just after getting on the 1340 and went on almost until arrival at Pa Daeng with its friendly coffee shop that I like to contribute a small amount of business to just for them being open in a desolate spot. Tham Ngop is a short ride from there, not the high quality road of previous but decent enough for any type of bike. I pulled over at the T junction in Tham Ngop, parked up and went over to look at the obvious sign that catches the eye.
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With there not being a good view from the road I walked up the small bank to the rear, took a photo and much to my surprise found myself at the place I had hoped to find. Sadly, the Covid situation has taken a big toll on the budding tourist industry this area had hoped to grow and prosper from, and things are showing signs of neglect, but I still had the feeling they mean to get this running again. There were several building all closed off and no-one around to question or pester for a look. There again there was nobody to stop you going anywhere you could, no fee to pay and no hassle to buy a trinket. I wont try to impress with my knowledge, I know no more than anyone reading this so I'll post the pictures and you can guess what they are. The only thing to say was that the mud/straw 'bricks' had held up amazingly well considering all the monsoon rain they have seen in the last 60 years.
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The original internet page suggests there was a meeting room, headquarters, radio room, pack horse stables, weapons and explosives store, uniform production, a school, a prison and a rice store. All this in a mountainous environment with no roads and no outside electricity source., they must have been busy, wonder they had time to fight any battles! Amazingly I saw no sign of what was once famous here, the Tham Ngop Inn so either I was having a blind moment (not unlikely) or its been removed.
From here I stayed on the 1340 through to Sinchai and then exited on the left, wound around and down the mountains till I arrived at Ban Mai Nong Bua, a place much bigger than I anticipated when I first visited and also showing distinct signs of wealth. General Lee (sometimes spelt Li) is buried here so I made my way to the cemetery, obvious by its location on a hill at the north west end of the village to see if I could locate his tomb but it was not only big and sprawling but also contained many large fancy monuments and I decided to just give up. Local knowledge is perhaps needed to locate this tomb, it may not even be in the public cemetery. Ah well, thats something to come back for. What there is here is a coffee shop owned by the son of another KMT soldier who has a big collection of war photos from both the Burmese and Thai sides of the border and he just so happens to serve a decent coffee for 30b. Right opposite is a decent and popular restaurant and nearby, as a way of finding the place, is a Bangkok Bank.
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Yes, there is plenty to see out here and in the cold sunny season the views are terrific. Well worth a couple of days.
 
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DavidFL

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Nice one Steve. Thanks for checking all that out again.

That's fantastic news if you can go up the Nor Lae back road, that road really used to be a toughie.
The logic behind it being open & then closed always defies most of us & I've never gotten the definitive answer.

Tham Ngop & its attractions are always a bit of a mystery & I've yet to nail it all down.

I found this report from Ian
it seems as if the good General's Tomb is at Ban Yang?

It is great to see that little KMT Coffee shop going well in Mai Bong Nua.
Many thanks for taking a look up there for e again.

Some other older info for the Fang - Chai Prakarn area


Some GTR KMT History
 
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rumolddo

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Rode up yesterday - the 3 soldiers wouldn't let me pass for a reason I couldn't grasp with my limited Thai (should have the recording on my bodycam so will ask some friends to translate later), so I had to go back towards Fang and go the long way round.

The Nor Mae army base is certainly bizarre at the moment - soldiers milling around on the job whilst they've built selfie spots with signs saying things like "HUG!" - overlooking Tatmadaw and United Wa State Army bases - the absurdity of the modern age!
 
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Steve Merchant

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Rode up yesterday - the 3 soldiers wouldn't let me pass for a reason I couldn't grasp with my limited Thai (should have the recording on my bodycam so will ask some friends to translate later), so I had to go back towards Fang and go the long way round.

The Nor Mae army base is certainly bizarre at the moment - soldiers milling around on the job whilst they've built selfie spots with signs saying things like "HUG!" - overlooking Tatmadaw and United Wa State Army bases - the absurdity of the modern age!
Thats interesting, I was still not sure if I had just been lucky in getting some young lads who were not sure what to do with me. There's not many who try, its a quiet route.
 

DavidFL

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Rode up yesterday - the 3 soldiers wouldn't let me pass for a reason I couldn't grasp with my limited Thai (should have the recording on my bodycam so will ask some friends to translate later), so I had to go back towards Fang and go the long way round.

The Nor Mae army base is certainly bizarre at the moment - soldiers milling around on the job whilst they've built selfie spots with signs saying things like "HUG!" - overlooking Tatmadaw and United Wa State Army bases - the absurdity of the modern age!

In more "cordial times" the soldiers from the Myanmar side used to come to Nor Lae for shopping & cooking supplies for evening meals.
Exactly who is in the immediate camp on the Myanmar side right now I don't know, but would assume it is Burmese, with the Shan & Wa further away in other camps / bases.
The people right on the border would prefer to live in peace & harmony as much as possible.
The Shan are much more friendly than the Burmese & Wa, & are generally closest to the Thai; but every now and again relations get strained because of an "official issue" being decided elsewhere that affects all the groups.

This Palong info might be of interest to you
 
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rumolddo

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Sep 20, 2021
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In more "cordial times" the soldiers from the Myanmar side used to come to Nor Lae for shopping & cooking supplies for evening meals.
Exactly who is in the immediate camp on the Myanmar side right now I don't know, but would assume it is Burmese, with the Shan & Wa further away in other camps / bases.
The people right on the border would prefer to live in peace & harmony as much as possible.
The Shan are much more friendly than the Burmese & Wa, & are generally closest to the Thai; but every now and again relations get strained because of an "official issue" being decided elsewhere that affects all the groups.

This Palong info might be of interest to you
That Palong post is excellent info. I planned to go up to the Palaung Self-Administered Zone when I lived in Myanmar, but it closed by the time I found myself in Lashio - those areas are forever closing and opening - much like these roads it seems!

There’s a poster up at the base with info about the opposite bases - 3 including the immediate camp and the one on the hill up the road are Tatmadaw (the Myanmar flag is flying from the base opposite too), one is UWSA.