Mae Sot: My kind of city
I recently spent a long weekend in Mae Sot, Thailand while making a visa run into Myanmar and discovered that it really was my kind of city. Mae Sot reminded me of things I had no idea I was missing while living in my small town in Khampaeng Phet province. In the end it was actually really difficult to leave and I will have to make a point to go back. Here are some reasons I enjoyed it so much.
1. It’s in the mountains
I love mountains. I wrote a whole post about how much I love mountains which you can read here. So when I was told I was going to be teaching in the northern region of Thailand, I was severely disappointed by how flat my town was. While on the bus to Mae Sot this weekend, I grew more and more elated as we drove through mountains to get to the city. The town itself isn’t too elevated. Only about 210 meters. But even that slight elevation and being surrounded by higher mountains gives the city a distinct feeling and quality that makes me feel comfortable and happy.
2. Food, food, food
Don’t get me wrong, I love Thai food. But the options in my town can be rather limiting particularly for a vegetarian like me. Since vegetarians are practically an endangered species in my town, often the restaurants do not already have options available, and international food extends as far as french fries. That wasn’t the case in Mae Sot. During my three days there. I had tofu fajitas, a spicy black bean burger, spinach and ricotta ravioli, vegetable spring rolls, potato samosas, a Burmese noodle dish and, of course, pizza. As far as I’m aware, none of these options can be found in my town. Even more importantly was the obvious care and pride the restaurants took in their food preparation. The pasta and sauce at one place was homemade. I could see where the vegetables from the fajitas were grown. The place with the spring rolls boasted an entire fresh vegetarian menu. I was reminded of the farm to table and push for local produce trends in the United States and the food was easily some of the best quality I’ve had in any city.
Places to try: Krua Canadian Cafe (Mexican, burgers, veggie wraps and more), Famous Ray’s Burgers (one of the best veggie burgers I have had anywhere), Casa Mia (homemade pasta), Borderline Cafe, Shop and Gallery (Vegetarian food and handmade Burmese crafts).
It’s not that there isn’t diversity throughout Thailand. It’s just that when almost 96 percent of the population are ethnically Thai and just under 94 percent are Buddhist (source), it can kind of feel like there isn’t much diversity in Thailand. This goes especially for my small town smack-dab in the middle of the country. As far as I know, there is one Christian family in my town (there are likely more but I only know of one). Of course this isn’t an issue in itself, but going to Mae Sot I realized had been missing that diversity I had the privilege of experiencing in university and in my travels. In Mae Sot, there is a significant Muslim community (the largest religious minority in Thailand), a noticeable community of Christians, a wealth of Burmese and even a strong ex-pat community. With diversity comes opportunities to learn and grow and, of course, a variety in the food and art of a city. It was refreshing and yet saddening as I was reminded of something missing in my current home town.
Okay nightlife is a strong word when compared to the images my college friends or big city-dwellers might conjure on hearing that word. But coming from my town which it seems is asleep by 10:00 pm it was quite a change. There were a few bars that had a nice, relaxed atmosphere. I’m told there is a nightclub which holds no appeal for me personally. But at my guest house I shared drinks and conversation with two Englishmen, two men working in the United Arab Emirates, and a Burmese gentlemen. So more than just having at least a semblance of a nightlife it has a nightlife atmosphere that I find appealing. Relaxing in the cool mountain air while swapping stories with new friends from various places and a cool beer in hand is my kind of evening.