A riverfront village on Thai-Myanmar border struggles to recover from pandemic

Mae Sam Lab village, Mae Hong Son province, Thailand
Yostorn Triyos

A woman waits in Mae Sam Lab village, northwestern Thailand, for a ferry to cross the Salween River to Myanmar. Operators can wait up to a half day for enough passengers to break even on such trips, July 15, 2022. (Photos by Yostorn Triyos/BenarNews)


Locals play Takraw (kick volleyball), a traditional Thai sport, along the Salween River before sunset in Mae Sam Lab, Thailand, July 11, 2022.


People disembark from a passenger boat, the main mode of transportation in the area, in Mae Sam Lab village, northwestern Thailand, July 13, 2022.


A small boat loaded with goods remains on shore near Mae Sam Lab village as it waits for additional passengers, July 13, 2022.


Myanmar passengers check their mobile phones while waiting to board a boat to take them across the Salween River from Mae Sam Lab village in Thailand, July 13, 2022.


The children of a ferry operator play near the pier in Mae Sam Lab, Thailand, July 13, 2022.


A Thai fisherman checks his net on the Salween River, July 15, 2022.


After catching no fish, a Thai man returns to shore at Mae Sam Lab village, July 15, 2022.


Some Myanmar residents act as couriers by purchasing food and supplies in Mae Sam Lab village for others in Myanmar’s Karen state, July 12, 2022.

The inhabitants of Mae Sam Lab say life in this Thai village along the frontier with Myanmar used to bustle with tourists and a vibrant cross-border river trade.    

As the people here struggle to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic violence from attacks by Burmese junta forces nearby have made things worse, they say.

“The doldrums started with the COVID-19 pandemic. Tourists – Thai, Chinese, Japanese and Korean – were gone. Boat operators, local guides, souvenir shops have been badly affected,” said Chai Pongpipat, an official with the Tambon Mae Sam Lab administration.

 In the months since the February 2021 coup in Naypyidaw, troops belonging to the Burmese military regime and Border Guard Force have clashed with ethnic resistance forces including in the Karen State, which lies across the Salween River from Mae Sam Lab.

 “Over two years of enduring COVID, people seemed to be able to adapt to its effects, but the slight COVID recovery was worsened by the clashes between Myanmar forces and ethnic fighters in the areas. The trade activities have stalled,” Chai told BenarNews.

Meanwhile, fishermen say their catches have been falling. They’re afraid to fish when it’s dark on the river, which separates the two countries, because of nighttime clashes on the Myanmar side.

 “Lately, there have been a handful of small boats from the nearby village coming here to buy stockpiles of food and necessities as the fighting is unpredictable,” Chai said.


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