Firstly, what is a "Baan Huay Sala"? Baan Huay Sala is a very small village in the far north of rural Thailand. The first map below provide the exact location relative to the country up on the Myanmar border. The second map provides the route to drive from the northern city of Chiang Rai.

Most people have never heard of the place, let alone been there. If you search Google for "Baan Huay Sala" you only get about 2 pages of hits and about 75% of those are attached to me somewhere on the web, with another 15% not making any sense to the original search anyways...

Within Thailand itself, Baan Huay Sala is known for the more sinister role it plays in the drug trafficking trade. A 2007 article by The Nation is appended at the bottom of this post that references Baan Huay Sala twice - bold & underlined - in its role as well as descibing the greater picture associated with drug trafficking from Myanmar into Thailand.

Having covered that aspect; now the actual purpose of this story. Back in 2005 I was based in Bangkok and half way through the year we ended up in the common corporate situation of PC upgrades. The result of which left a large number of 3-year old notebooks with zero book-value.

In deciding what to do with them, someone had a a great idea of auctioning them off to staff and using the money raised to donate to a charity. After about a month of bidding, all PC had been auctioned off and, although I forget the exact amount, a couple of thousand dollars had been raised.

Now... what charity to donate to??? It turned out, after much deliberation, that one of the local Thai staff had briefly attended a school in Baan Huay Sala as a child. This was a small poorly funded school that struggled to deliver basic education to a broad ethnic mix of children. So this is how the Baan Huay Sala school became our charity for donations.

Some time passed as the school was contacted, decisions were made about what it would be spent on, and all the administrative hoops were jumped through. When the time arrived to visit the school to donate the funds, anyone for the office was welcomed to come along, however, travel had to be self funded. This aspect severely reduced the interest. However, for me, it was an opportunity not to be missed - it represented access to a part of Thailand that is difficult to come by.

Baan Huay Sala school is an international school but not in the usual sense most of us understand this type of school designation. There are no Thai students; of the 333 kids there were a mix of various indiginous Hills Tribe people, kids from Laos, and from minority groups of both Myanmar and southern China.

The school ran on a shoe-string budget with most kids sharing texts of between 2 ~ 4 kids per book; and they have 8 Baht a day for each child to feed them - US20c.

The school buildings were basic, as to be expected, and classrooms were often a little crowded but all in all the students appeared happy, playful and adequately nourished. I just love to meet kids like this - being giving an opportunity for a better life, well natured, friendly and still enjoying their childhood.

And no matter where you are in the world, there is always that "naughty boy" somewhere in the class

The play yard seemed to be dominated by volley ball courts with no shortage of would be players - both boys and girls in mixed teams - with the periphery seemly offering to be the local hang-out area.

A number of the younger kids continued to follow our group all day (by the way, our "group" was only about 5 people) - more out of curiosity than anything else I think. There was one particular young girl that stood out in my mind by the end of the day. She was a cutie, always at the front of the group, smiling and very playful. The shot below was one of my favourite of her isolated from the usual group she stuck with.

The day ended with a school congregation in the common hall cum gym. The head master addressed the students in Thai and told them that we were here to donate money to build new classrooms for their school.

As much as I love to see these kids, I don't like the idea that they are asked to show appreciation to us as the donators. For me personally, I would like to have them understand my appreciation for just having been giving the opportunity to meet them and spent a brief moment in their world.

Never miss an opportunity in life...

Source : The Nation
A COMBINATION of plenty of cash and a lax attitude among border law-enforcers could well facilitate the flow of 800 million methamphetamine tablets across Thailand's border from Burma this year [2007].

Drug traffickers predominantly use just 15 routes.

They vary the use of these routes according to security conditions at the time and along the way have established safe houses, bulk-storage facilities and illicit laboratories to further refine the drugs. The drugs come from Burmese border regions to Thailand's northern provinces, such as Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son. The Third Army Region gave The Nation an opportunity to investigate these paths.

The 15 routes are critical for the smugglers, millions of speed pills being carried along them.

From the north, nationwide networks deliver them to end users. And the authorities are simply not doing enough to curb the increasing trade. Most checkpoints along the 15 routes have not been conscientious enough when searching passing vehicles, and that enables drug traffickers to elude detection much of the time.

Worse still, when Thai officials do take tough action and engage in shootouts with the drug gangs, during which the gangs may lose some of their number, the rings can easily recruit new members to act as "mules" to lug their produce. Few legitimate professions can match the dollars offered by the illicit-drugs business. Each smuggler carrying the drugs and those protecting them receive a few baht for every methamphetamine tablet successfully smuggled into Thailand. Those managing the depots are paid Bt1 a pill.

The carriers are usually Chinese Haw, Wa, Thai Yai or Hmong, but their well-armed protectors are mostly Laha Na. The smuggling gangs normally set off from Toh, Tha, Pang Sang or Yon in Burma, which lie about five kilometres from the border.

Their end destinations are Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Phayao and Mae Hong Son. Following a 36-hour investigative survey, The Nation is in a position to summarise how drugs are smuggled along the 15 routes. The first route's starting point is Toh, and its destination is Wiang Haeng district, via Piang Luang.

To cover the 350km route, the gangs travel by car for 200km inside Burma, then take up their journey on foot along rugged and mountainous paths that wind into Thailand. Despite the arduous journey, this route is regarded as worth the effort, because it offers the best chance of evading Thai authorities.

The second route starts from Tha, with the smugglers possibly stopping over at Pang Sang to observe Thai movements in the border region.

From there the smugglers make their way to Nam Piang Din village, where methamphetamines carried from Burma are further refined into tablets.

These are then transferred to Pang Mapha subdistrict and then to Pai district in Mae Hong Son, before departing for their eventual destination, Chiang Mai. There are several military and police checkpoints along the route, but they do absolutely nothing to stem the smooth flow of drugs.

One military checkpoint was observed recording car registrations but not searching vehicles for payloads of illicit drugs. Despite this, The Nation's camera gear was thoroughly searched then seized, despite the fact that smugglers have never been known to conceal drugs in expensive camera gear.

The camera gear was eventually returned, but it was explained that that particular checkpoint was close to a Thai Yai ethnic army base over the Burmese border, so that no camera gear was allowed.

Another checkpoint in Pai district was manned by just one police officer.
He simply asked to see identity cards and spoke to both motorists and passengers, confirming they were Thais.

The remaining checkpoints along the route were poorly manned.
The third delivery corridor is from Toh to Wiang Haeng district, via Pak Sam. Once smugglers reach Pak Sam, if set checkpoints are unmanned, they travel by car.
In the checkpoints are operational, carriers simply either wait until the coast is clear or continue on foot.

When The Nation was in the vicinity the checkpoints along the route were unmanned. The fourth route begins at Toh, ends at Wiang Haeng district and takes the smugglers through either Baan Nong Khew or Baan Arunothai.
There are some checkpoints along this way, but people are rarely searched for illegal substances.

The fifth route also begins in Toh, and.drugs are then taken through Baan Muang Na, then Baan Nong Uog and on to Baan Huay Luk.

Via this route the smugglers end their journey in Chiang Dao district.

However, because the Chiang Dao checkpoint is very strict, smugglers normally split their shipment at Baan Huay Luk, dividing it among several teams to increase the chances of at least some of the drugs reaching their intended destination.

Once successfully through Chiang Dao, the teams efficiently work their way to Chiang Mai city, using every available means of transportation.

They travel by bus, motorcycle and bicycle. Some disguise themselves as tourists. Smugglers using this particular channel are believed responsible for deliveries to Buaktuey and Mae Sa Mai districts in Chiang Mai.

The sixth route is again from Toh to Wiang Haeng district, but via Baan Nong Karang and Baan Arunothai.

And once again, lenient checkpoints offer smugglers a good chance of a hassle-free journey.

The seventh path begins at the Burmese villages of Na Kong Mu and Nam Ru Kun, from where smugglers track to Baan Tham Ngob, then to Chaiya Prakan and Baan Huay Luk, before finally reaching Chiang Dao.

Despite strict enforcement and checks at the Chiang Dao checkpoint, smugglers can generally make their way through the town because officers do not work round-the-clock.
The eighth route, from Na KongMu and Nam Ru Kun villages in Burma, to Phayao, via Baan Yang, Chaiya Prakan and Chiang Rai's Mae Suai district, is often used because smugglers prefer to avoid any possibility of encountering the officers manning the Chiang Dao checkpoint.

The ninth route begins in Toh, continues through Nam Ru Kun and then Baan Luang and Mae Soon Noi.

From Baan Mae Soon Noi, the smugglers have a choice of two routes.

If they are headed for Chiang Rai, they make for Fang, Mae Ai and then Baan Thaton. However, if they intend to make for Chiang Dao, they go via Chaiya Prakan. Although Baan Luang is widely regarded as being home to one of the largest methamphetamine depots in the North, there are few checkpoints in the area. The 10th route starts from Yon and takes smugglers to Toh and Nam Ru Kun villages in Burma.

When the smugglers step onto Thai soil at Baan Lan, they either go to Chiang Rai via Mae Ai or head towards Chiang Dao via Fang and Chaiya Prakan.
The 11th route follows a similar path within Burma then goes to Baan San Ju and Mae Ai. At Mai Ai the smugglers assess which destination, Chiang Dao or Chiang Rai, is more convenient.

Convenience is determined by checkpoint status along the way.
The gangs might choose to go directly to Chiang Rai if the way is considered clear, otherwise they move through Fang and Chaiya Prakan, to reach Chiang Dao. The 12th route starts in Yon, tracks to Baan Huay Sala and Sukruthai villages and then continues to Mae Ai. Via this channel, the smugglers are again offered a choice: they can move from Mae Ai to Chiang Rai, or they can go to Chiang Dao via Fang and then Chaiya Prakan.

Baan Huay Sala is allegedly home to a large holding depot, where drugs are stored in lots of at least 100,000.

Information received by The Nation put the largest single shipment to pass through this village at five million pills.

It is said the notorious drug lord Lao Ta controls the area's operations.

The 13th route is from Yon to Baan Hua Muang Ngam and Mae Fa Luang. Traffickers using this route then make for Mae Chan and then Chiang Rai.

Along this channel, speed pills are normally stockpiled at Sukruthai, Santisuk and Patuem villages. Each community, at any one time, is believed to be hiding at least 10 million methamphetamine tablets. Despite tip-offs about drug movements through the area, the smuggling gangs in the area have not yet been apprehended. But then sources said the gangs enjoyed political protection. The 14th path also begins at Yon. The speed then reaches Thailand at Baan San Ma Ked. From there the pills are carried via Baan Therd Thai and often stored for a while in Baan Hmong. The smugglers then continue to Mae Fa Luang and Mae Chan before reaching their Chiang Rai destination.

The military source said that Wuei Sia Kang, known as Prasit in Thailand, was this area's drug lord.

The final route is along the Mekong River from either Burma or Laos via the Golden Triangle to Chiang Khong district in Chiang Rai.

The illegal substances being smuggled are ready-made methamphetamine compositions, which are then refined into small tablets in either the Golden Triangle or Laos. From Chiang Khong the pills are transferred by road to the city of Chiang Rai via Wiang Chai district. It is quite clear the Thai authorities could, if they wished, dispatch forces to beef-up the anti-drugs effort along each of these routes.

There are, after all, only 15 routes along which trafficking needs to be stymied to reduce the current flood of methamphetamines from Burma.

If the checkpoints along these routes were all as strict as the one at Chiang Dao, the drug industry might not be as large as it is today.

Manning every available checkpoint, ordering all officers to be strict, and establishing more checkpoints, are measures that could help curb the problem.

If the authorities fail to take the necessary action, then 87 methamphetamine-producing factories in Burma, 23 of them producing ready-made compositions, the others refining them into tablet form, will this year deliver no less than 800 million speed pills to Thailand.