It’s hard to say at what moment I went from tourist to resident. Maybe it was the moment when I started to use Mae Sot as a adjective: “that’s so Mae Sot” (you’ll have to live there to learn the definition), maybe it was the moment when I actually understood Mae Sot directions: “turn right past the tiny ponies”, or maybe it was the moment on a bus back from Chiang Mai when I realized I was happy to almost be home. Whatever the moment was, for three fleeting months, Mae Sot, Thailand was my home.
You probably haven’t heard of it; it isn’t a pristine beach town, it doesn’t have any particularly notable historic or cultural sites, and there isn’t any adventure trekking near by. In fact, with its hot sun beating down on a paved cityscape of tired four-story buildings where signs and tangled electric lines have replaced trees, Mae Sot is the type of town you’d drive through and instantly forget on your way to something else. But beneath its mundane surface, Mae Sot is a diverse and vivacious border town located 7 km from the Burma border. A miniature melting pot, Mae Sot inhabitants are a mixture of Burmese, Karen, Hmong, Chinese, Indian, Thai and farang (westerns).
Due to its proximity to the Burmese refugee camps, Mae Sot has become the operational hub of numerous NGOs. An array of altruistic acronyms of all sizes and funding levels have rooted themselves here to address the pressing issues of health, sanitation, education, and electrification for refugee camps and rural communities. Consequently, a portion of Mae Sot’s population is in constant flux: NGO volunteers rotate in and out, refugees quietly arrive and depart, and merchants frequently come and go.
The Mae Sot community is a function of time, and therefore, everyone’s Mae Sot community is unique. You may eat at the same restaurants, stay at the same guest house, and work for the same NGO, but Mae Sot will never be the same place twice. Therefore, as I pack my bags to travel around the rest of Thailand then return to the USA, I am both happy to go and sad to leave. In the grand scheme of things, three months is barely a blimp on the timeline, but nonetheless, I’m going to miss my Mae Sot community -the people I met and the places I went. For three months, I was a resident of the Mae Sot community and forever my Mae Sot community will reside with me.
This post is written by Patricia McHale.