This summer (2013) I am visiting Chiang Mai with ATMA SEVA for a second time for two weeks. This time, my trip’s main focus is teaching English camps at various schools and developing monk chats in preparation to bring them to different schools in Arizona. In addition to this, I also have some opportunities to travel and really get to explore some of the locations I hadn’t been able to yet.
On one of these trips, I got the opportunity to visit Chiang Rai, near the Golden Triangle of Thai, Laos, and Burma. Through this experience, I was able to see two major borders and see how they operate.
While visiting Chiang Rai, Tony, Lily, David, and I (some of the team members) saw some really cool places. Our first day, we stopped at a restaurant after visiting the opium museum. Across the restaurant, we had a beautiful view of Laos across the river while sitting in Thailand. This was the first time I’ve been sitting in one country looking at another, which was really cool to think about!
Before I saw Laos, I imagined some completely foreign land. While looking across, I found myself trying look for distinguishing factors between where I was and where I was looking. Seeing the borders on the map, I honestly at first almost thought that I would see a dark line separating the countries. Ultimately, I realized there was absolutely no difference. On both sides were the same beautiful green mountains, the same restaurants, and the same kind of people looking back at us. This made me realize how insignificant that border on the map is practically. These kinds of borders are just created by men to separate the world to try to create their personal territories.
After a scenic lunch, we went on a boat ride across the river to visit Laos for a bit. We toured a market that was near the dock. Still expecting vast differences between Laos and Thailand, I was surprised to see the striking similarities between the markets. They were selling the same cheap clothes, jewellery, souvenirs, exactly what the shops back in Chiang Rai were selling. This is when I realized that we were less than a mile away from the other markets, why would there be a major difference between the two? Just because there is a border between doesn’t change the fact that, because of the proximity, the cultures practically grew and developed together. The local people were crossing the river as casually as they would any river for their needs. Another cool thing that we saw that night was a really big casino on the Laos side, and Natch explained to us that pretty much every night boats go to and from Thailand and Laos because the people are really into the casino, it didn’t really matter that they had to travel to a different country! Things like this made boundaries becomes pretty much meaningless in the bigger picture. In the vision of a world without boundaries, although they seem necessary now, borders ultimately are serving to divide us in a time we need to unite to solve the world’s many problems.
written by: Raghav Agarwal