While Tun Tun wanted to even leave by 3 am Myo Min suggested a much later get away. The former said that the Daw Na Taung (mountain) could be a difficult attempt once the Sun goes down. Finally, I took a call for a 4 am departure. Myu and Tun Tun said they would be at the hotel by then. The hotel agreed to give me packed breakfast. It was 4.30 am by the time we picked up Myu from near his house – he could not get a taxi to reach the hotel, he said! The initial stretch of the road was in excellent condition and the first 100 kms was done in 70 minutes. I yearned for a coffee and we turned into one of the convenience centres on the highway to Bago. The restaurant was not busy at the time, but I still saw many chomping on fried rice and fried eggs at that early hour. It seems that any time is good time for fried rice and fried egg in Myanmar! I ordered a coffee and we shared the breakfast pack which consisted of two boiled eggs, a sausage sandwich and a banana. Myu ordered an ‘egg platter’. It did taste nice, but looked more like a fried omelette. The road condition continued to be good right up to the Kaiyin State border. We drove past many rubber plantations, mostly replanted ones. I was told that many of them belonged to the Police Department!
Myint joined us almost half way to Myawady; he had gone in advance to check the road conditions. Once he joined us we took the roads he suggested; as Tun Tun put it, “they are shock cuss and safety, Sir”. Short of Kaw Ke Rek, where we were scheduled to have lunch, on one of the short cuts, which every vehicle in Myanmar seemed to be taking that day, an impassable traffic jam confronted us. Tun Tun got out of the car, in searing heat, and said, “I will check it, Sir”. Believe me, had it not been for his aggressive ‘policing’ we would have been stuck there till God knows when. The jam was caused by the breakdown of a freight truck and road repair just ahead of it. No one knew how to control the traffic both ways on that narrow road. People who were stuck in the traffic for more than an hour before us were most thankful to Tun Tun for his initiative.
We reached Kaw Ke Rek around a quarter to one and Tun Tun, in his inimitable style, located a cheap eatery. When he does that he announces, “cheap and tasty, Sir”. Cheap he may have found out, but tasty how, I never knew. As it turned out the meal was really tasty. I had a large portion of river fish curry and rice. Each of them helped themselves to mountains of rice and all the accoutrements served along with the meal. Soup and some vegetable side dishes are normally served with the rest of the order, as the owner said, free. While we were at lunch the lady owner of the restaurant broke the news that more than 500 vehicles are stuck on the Daw Na Taung due to breakdown of a large freight carrier. Tun Tun said that it would be difficult to fathom how long the hold up would last and suggested that we carry packed food in case it was prolonged.
The Daw Na Taung was the final frontier of Myanmar, as it were. Just a short while after Kaw Ke Rek starts the mountainous climb that is steep and winding. The distance from Kaw Ke Rek to Myawady is less than 70 kms, but the many breakdowns and poor road conditions with work on in many stretches, makes nonsense of any distance time estimate. All through my drive in Myanmar I have appreciated the road discipline in the country. Well, the Daw Na Taung affected even that and discipline of any kind was given the short shrift on the mountain, where it was most required. It was three and half hours of nerve wracking drive, when it finally ended. Breakdowns were many and every sharp bend of the road added to delays. Moreover, the heat was too much for even the car to bear; air conditioning went on the blink. The saving grace was the regulation that traffic is permitted only one way each day. In the month of March it was the odd calendar day for going up the mountain and the even day for going down it!
Once the climb was over and the drive downhill began the traffic eased up. The road side was dotted with many shops offering car wash facility. The dusty and axle testing drive does take a toll on the car. We were stopped at the entrance to Myawady by the traffic police; they waved us on once they were satisfied by the papers presented. We had encountered many police patrols, particularly the ones on the state borders, but were mostly allowed through due to the stickers on the car – Tun Tun was fond of saying, “you are VIP, Sir”. At the approach to Myawady city the road dramatically transformed into a beauty. Again Tun Tun supplied the information that it was done up by a Thai company. He also directed me to fuel up with Thai diesel at one of the fuel stations. Fuel in Myanmar had cost me between Rs. 40 and 45 per litre. They quote by the gallon; a gallon is 4 litres.
Just ahead of the city is the EXIM Zone where traffic from and to Thailand is dealt. Cargo is passed here, trading is done and freight meant for Myanmar and Thailand is transhipped at this point. We decided to visit the border post and inquire about the formalities to be completed the next day. An extremely friendly Immigration official said that the border opens at 5 am and works until 8 pm. He even suggested that I go through to Thailand just then! I could have, but did not want to break the scheduled hotel bookings. On his board he even had pencilled my return through the post on 4th May! I also met a youngster, Win, working in Immigration arrivals who explained the departure formalities and gave me the departure card to fill in and bring with me the next day. The border post works from 5 am to 8 pm since January this year. Win explained that it is difficult working a 15 hour day.
After checking into the Myawady Hotel I took a round of the bustling night market and explored the smells and sights, which needed a strong stomach and a blocked nose. Everything was on sale from blossoms to blouses. On the way back I chose a road side shop for fried rice and chicken. As I was about to eat the city suffered a power outage that went on for the next hour. I sat it out in the hotel lobby with a bottle of Myanmar Beer. Once the power supply came on I got to the sparsely appointed room for rest and recuperation after the exhausting day.