Joining A Biker Gang In Thailand And Invading Opium-rich Myanmar

I told you about anarchy in Mexico. With all due respect to Acapulco and the Anarchapulco Conference — and even the great state of Guerrero — they are not nearly as anarchic as Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle, where opium is the cash crop, central governments are kept in check and militias and drug lords run the show… and where my fellow libertarian bikers and I like to go motorcycle riding and illegal border crossing.

My outlaw credentials

Before explaining how we managed to penetrate the boundary of Myanmar (aka Burma), I’d like to get you caught up on my history of illegal border crossings. You are likely aware of my visit to the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh that got me permanently kicked out of Azerbaijan. I sang the Armenian national anthemand danced with Armenian schoolchildren while in the self-proclaimed republic within Azerbaijan. The Azeri authorities apparently did not like that very much.

What I have not told you before is that I illegally crossed (very briefly) into Azerbaijan from Georgia. I was visiting the David Gareja Monastery in Georgia, which is situated on a steep cliff. Toward the bottom of the cliff, peculiarly, Georgia ends and Azerbaijan begins. Some people attribute this to Soviet shenanigans, but we don’t need to get into that.

It so happens that there are some caves with frescoes that are in the Azeri part of the monastery. Occasionally, the Azeri military is there with soldiers and helicopters scaring off the tourists who would otherwise dare to illegally cross into the caves. That wasn’t the case when I was visiting the monastery. I got in and out of the Azeri side without any hassles.

Hence, I have not once, but twice, crossed Azeri borders in an improper way. But, remember, I did not do so out of spite for Azerbaijan. The people of Azerbaijan are in my heart, and I operate Katalatto — a development aid organization — in the South Caucasus country.

Arriving in Thailand for the first time

Back to Southeast Asia — Thailand specifically. Most of this anarchic trip took place in Thailand. In fact, the main point of the trip was for a group of libertarians to see anarchy in practice in Thailand. One German libertarian friend of mine had spent time in Thailand decades ago. He had picked up the language — to some degree — and had probably picked up some women and definitely picked up an appreciation for Thailand and its lawlessness (something positive). Years later, he wanted to show some younger libertarian-minded people what Thailand is like — out in the wild, more so than in the tourist and party destinations.

Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River

I arrived in Bangkok. Well away from the Golden Triangle, I met some guys at the renowned Nana Plaza, where all the strip clubs are in Bangkok’s red-light district. We went to a famous bar called Spanky’s. There, a bunch of girls spank you, and you watch them dance on the pole. Yeah, really. 😉

Drinks and discussion at Nana Plaza

It was also in this fine establishment where I randomly stumbled into the filmmaker who went on to produce The Modern Masai, a documentary about my life as a perpetual traveler. We had a nice evening together and obviously struck up a partnership.

After a detour to Pattaya for a little fun and relaxation, we took a night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. I took a long walk on the way to the train and got lost, but did manage to make it aboard.

Pattaya nightlife

 

Train time

Despite it having the status of being the digital nomad capital of the world (something that doesn’t particularly allure me), I actually found Chiang Mai to be pretty. Aside from visiting some of the landmarks, we hiked in the jungles and mountains surrounding Chiang Mai. While hiking, we got to enter Karen communities. The Karen people are a hill tribe who live in Thailand and other southeast Asian countries.

Motorcycling gone wrong in the Golden Triangle

Our bikes

The trip really began when we got our motorcycles in Chiang Rai. We then embarked on a 5+ day trip through Northern Thailand to the Golden Triangle.

Beautiful Doi Mae Salong in the Chiang Rai region

For the sake of clarity, the Golden Triangle is where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet at the confluence of the Ruak and Mekong Rivers. The term Golden Triangle is also used to refer to the area surrounding this convergence of countries and rivers, which happens to be notorious for opium production — rivaled in the global opium business only by the Afghanistan-dominated Golden Crescent.

Golden Triangle

One other point of clarification is needed before we embmark on this biking adventure into the anarchocapitalist underworld. This was my first time ever riding a motorcycle…

For the first two hours, I struggled to ride my motorbike. I really didn’t know what I was doing. The Thai traffic, even in the north, made things worse. Meanwhile, the other guys had experience riding motorcycles and were faster than me.

After a couple hours, my control of the motorcycle improved and I got faster and faster. Still, the other guys were faster than me, and they sped off on a route different than the one I was taking. One guy tagged along with me, though. Thankfully…

As the ride carried on, the weather changed. It started to rain. Meanwhile, the road became bumpy, and it was getting dark outside. I wanted to stop, but they guy I was riding with said to keep going and that we didn’t have much farther to ride.

Narrow, windy roads

Darkness fell.

Deep into the mountains, there was a curve in the road. While trying to navigate the curve, I rode into a pothole and fell.

I woke up seeing something that resembled stars. I felt like I had left my body. It seemed like a near-death experience.

I had lost consciousness for three or four minutes. I suffered a concussion, back pain and a bunch of small wounds on my arms. I was bleeding, but the pain was bearable. The problem was that the motorcycle was on top of me. I couldn’t free myself.

After about 10 minutes, the guy I was riding with realized I was missing. He came back and found me and moved the motorcycle off of me. Luckily, I had been wearing a helmet and a backpack. When I fell, I didn’t land directly on the ground, but rather on the backpack.

The place I fell was on a very remote mountain street in the far north of Thailand near the border with Myanmar. Even though my friend had freed me from being trapped under the bike, I was stranded….

But shortly later, a Thai family arrived. They picked me up, gave me some first aid and drove me to the nearest hospital. At the hospital a nice Thai lady treated my wounds. I was released, and I returned to my hotel and had a nice sleep.

I woke up the next day feeling okay, just with some minor pain. I didn’t have any trauma. But I didn’t do any motorcycle driving that day. Instead I rode on the back of the bike being driven by the leader of the group. We did some sightseeing in areas close to where we were staying.

On the third day of riding, I got back on my own bike, and from then on, it was smooth sailing… at least until we tried to cross into Myanmar.

This illegal border crossing wasn’t so easy.

Deep into the north of Thailand, while riding on very small roads, we made the decision to attempt to cross into Myanmar. We rode to four different border posts. At each one we were told it was not possible to enter Myanmar.

Very frustrated, we started making our way back. We stopped along the road at a restaurant. A worker at the food joint struck up a conversation with the leader of our group. The man informed us that there was one border crossing where we might be able to enter Myanmar.

Back on our bikes, we rode for more than an hour before reaching the border post. When we arrived, there were a few Thai soldiers standing at the post. We spoke with them a bit, and these guys agreed to let us go into Myanmar, but on certain conditions…

We had to leave our motorcycles behind at the border, and we also had to hand over our passports. Also, we needed to return before 6 p.m. when the border post would close for the day.

It was about 3 p.m. We only had three hours to venture into Myanmar and try to see things while not getting killed by warring militias or drug lords.

Caught in the anarchic crossfire

Mind the crack please 😉

Now on foot, we entered the territory of Myanmar. After walking for about five minutes, we saw a pickup truck. Apparently it was carrying some smugglers.

The smugglers offered us a ride, and we got in the truck. After riding along for two or three kilometers, we got off the truck. It was still the middle of nowhere, but we saw a village about 1 kilometer in front of us. And we still had a couple hours before having to return.

Village lies ahead

The terrain was hilly with lots of rice paddies, and opium poppies were everywhere. When we closed in on the village, we saw there were a lot of soldiers. We soon learned that basically every village in this part of Myanmar has its own army. And all of the villages go to war with one other.

Then suddenly…

We had to act fast. Bullets came flying within 20 meters of us. As they whizzed by, we looked to the rag-tag group of soldiers in the village army and realized they were not capable of protecting us. Having been stripped of our motorcycles and other possessions by Thai border guards, we were only left with one option: ducking and running.

Well… no.

That’s kind of how I imagined things turning out as I entered this village — quite clearly one of the poorest and most desolate villages I had ever stepped foot in. Being in the Golden Triangle surrounded by opium and anarchists (not the peace and love kind of anarchists, nor the type of anarchocapitalists you find at Anarchapulco), it felt like violence could erupt any second.

Also things felt very foreign. Now that we were out of Thailand, people weren’t speaking Thai anymore. We were in a village of Lahu people, an ethnic group spread across China and Southeast Asia. They speak their Lahu language, and this meant we had no one in the group who could converse with the locals. But then we stumbled into a guy who could speak a little Thai.

As he conversed in broken Thai with the leader of our group, this man gave us a tour of the village. We paid a visit to the local school and joked around with some children. This time I did not sing any national anthem.

Cute kids in the school

We ventured over to a large villa, where we were astonished to find… a 9-hole golf course with immaculately trimmed green grass. They play golf in one of the two opium capitals of the world??

Golf anyone?

Fittingly, we learned the guy who owned the villa and the golf course was a local drug baron. Luckily for us, he was not there at the moment. We were free to move around the village, but only to select places – and with a soldier joining us. The whole situation was quite scary.

Our interactions with locals were limited. We managed to communicate with a few people who were quite friendly. But they also came across as shy.

Drug barons basically hold this little impoverished village together. They finance the village functions via the opium trade. The clock was ticking, but there was still probably enough time for us to meet a local drug lord, possibly the one who owned the golf course. We weren’t eager. We got the picture and it was time to get out.

After spending about 30 minutes touring around the village, we turned back… alive and well and feeling fulfilled from the experience. But we were still in a rush to make it back to the border. What if we didn’t make it back by 6 p.m.? The Thai border guards had our means of transportation and our government-issued travel permits.

This time there was no smugglers’ truck to give us a ride. We had to walk. And we did — for about 5 km.

The Golden Triangle gods were with us that day. We made it back to the border at about 5:30. The Thai guards greeted us and returned our passports. We hopped back on our bikes and were off.

Smiles at the border

Anarchocapitalists of all flavors

Our stay in Myanmar was very short. But it was historic. It was a meeting of the minds — a cultural exchange between people who equally don’t like central government, but go about living an anarchocapitalist lifestyle in different ways. They grow dope and ship it. We produce other goods and services and transmit them — sometimes physically, but often digitally. But we both tell the state to get lost, and in that commonality, we share a humanistic bond.

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