Mae La Sub-district, Tha Song Yang District, Tak Province
Distance from Border
8 km in a straight line
Distance from Mae Sot
57 km, approx. 1 hour driving time
Car: Good, all-year-round access from sealed road (public transport available)
Phone: Good mobile phone coverage in most parts of the camp
Internet: Privately-run internet services available in camp
Area 1,150 rai (184 ha)
Introduction and History
Mae La is by far the largest of the nine camps, with a population of more than 37,000 people or some 6,700 households.
More than three-quarters of the population come from Karen/Kayin State, while around 10 percent are from Mon State and more than 8 percent are from Bago Region in Burma/Myanmar. Small numbers also come from Yangon city and the Ayeyarwady Region.
The sprawling camp set among hills was originally established in 1984 with a population of some 1,100 people following the fall of a Karen National Union (KNU) base near the Thai village of Mae La.
After the fall of the KNU headquarters in Manerplaw the following year, a number of refugee camps in Thailand were attacked in cross-border raids in the area, and the Thai authorities began to consolidate the sites to improve security. Mae La was designated as the main consolidation site and by April 1995 its population was 13,195.
That number more than doubled during the following years when more camps, including the large Shoklo camp, were closed and residents were moved to Mae La.
Due to its size, Mae La has a wide range of educational opportunities and is considered a centre of study for refugees. The current population includes a few thousand students from other camps as well as from Burma/Myanmar who are registered as temporary inhabitants.
The camp could not run without the efforts of a huge number of camp workers such as rice warehouse worker Saw Great Soe and warehouse security guard Saw Dai Wi.
Since 2008 mobile phone coverage has been available at the site; this has facilitated privately-run Internet services and other business activities in the community.
A year later, the camp was connected to the mains electricity grid. The camp office and most health, education and social centres, as well as a number of households, now have access to constant electricity.