Wow Place #220: Myanmar Border

There’s a great scene at the end of the Indiana Jones movie, The Last Crusade, when our hero is asked to step off a cliff and take “a leap of faith.” Spoiler alert: he doesn’t die. Thankfully, Indy lands on a camouflaged walkway, breaking his fall and saving his life.

What makes the scene so powerful is that we’ve all faced moments like this, when the only way forward is to do something crazy and insane. In those situations, the only thing supporting us is our faith in the universe and our faith in ourselves.

My wife Donica and I are sitting in a bus in western Thailand, trying to reach the famous Erawan Waterfalls. Half an hour goes by. An hour. It’s clear that our bus isn’t going anywhere soon. But what about that bus over there, the one that’s just about to push off?

“What do you think, Hon? Should we just jump on that one?
“Where’s it going?”
“No idea.”
“Let’s do it!”

Spoiler alert: We didn’t die.

Three hours later, we find ourselves way up north near the Myanmar border, disembarking in a charming little country town called Thong Pha Phum. No tourist sights to speak of. Just a market, a couple of temples, and a Buddhist monastery. Absolutely lovely. Against all odds, our crazy leap into the unknown has worked out beautifully!

But the leap of faith isn’t over yet. A couple of idyllic days later, we decide to do something even crazier: proceed north to the Myanmar border. Now to be fair, there’s nothing officially dangerous about Myanmar (formerly Burma). It’s a marvelous country (albeit with a troubled government).

But border towns always feel kind of sketchy…especially when you’re talking about an area adjacent to the opium drug trade. Moreover, this is not the Three Pagoda Pass (Wow Place #87), where you can cross, fairly safely, into a peaceful, rebel-controlled region. The border above Thong Pha Phum is most-definitely closed; you can go there, but don’t even think about crossing.

To reach the border, you have to pile into the back of a songthaew, essentially a covered pick-up truck. In our case, the songthaew is packed to the gills with hunters, fisherman, a variety of baskets, fishing equipment and chickens. Lots and lots of chickens.

A few hours later, there we are at the border, a beautiful spot with a cool Burmese temple and majestic views of the hilly countryside. To our surprise, there’s no guard at the border. Just a gate, a few flags and a sign that I assume says, “Welcome to Myanmar. I’d go back if I were you.” To be honest, it’s all a bit disappointing. Where’s the barb wire? The armed turrets? The machine guns? Still, the journey is worth it – going someplace a bit scary, without a plan, without a safety net.

And of course, not dying.

(When is the last time you took a “leap of faith”? Was it a one-off event, or do you make such leaps a regular part of your life? Pretty much all self-guided travel is something of a leap. You’re transporting yourself to someplace where different rules undoubtedly apply. Who knows if you can find the food you want? Who knows if the accommodations are all right? What if you can’t speak the language? There might be thieves!

A college friend of mine once told me: “Always do what you’re most afraid of.” Well, I’m afraid of jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, so “always” has to be balanced with “safely”. But I think it’s fair to say, “Take a few more chances in life. Trust your experience, trust your resiliency and trust that what doesn’t kill you makes you smarter.)