I had made a few suggestions with respect to self-driving trips in Myanmar over dinner on 13th in Yangon with Myu and Zi, the company Advisor. I told them that it should be taken as constructive feedback and not as personal criticism of anyone. Tun Tun, as a guide, had done what he was accustomed to, accompanying general tourists. But that was not only what was required when accompanying tourists on self-driving trips. Yingchu, of Navo Tours, had set a very high benchmark in China, perhaps a bit too much to expect of others. But, still some it was necessary. I told them that the guide has to be fluent in the English language without the heavy local accent. Win, of the Immigration at Myawady, was such an example. The department deployed him to deal with foreigners. He told me that he had learnt the language purely by watching English movies! The guide has to be available to the tourist 24x7, for he has to help the tourist understand the country and its people. It is he who has to make the tourist carry positive impressions about the country. Tun Tun would vanish once the destination of the day was done and his heavy accent did not make it worth my while trying to ferret out information. Not that he was not a good guy, it’s just that more was expected of him. It is the guide who should have complete information about the terrain, roads, fuel stations, stores and the like. For this he has to be technology enabled. I told Myu that it was the responsibility of his company to do this. For this, they have to have full time guides and not free lancing ones, like Tun Tun. The company must also reduce costs to the customer by reducing the number of personnel accompanying the tourist, three is a no go and only one must be there. They must get government policy changed, if need be, I told them.
As per the original schedule I had drawn up, I was to have halted in Kaw Ka Rek. It was truly providential that Seven Hills had changed it to Myawady. It certainly was good that the worst of the roads was already done. The change in plans must have been necessitated by two factors – the type of accommodation available and the day on which climbing Daw Na Taung was permitted. Kaw Ke Rek, being a small hamlet, did not have hotels for overnight stay. Myawady, being a proper town, was better equipped.
I had arranged with Tun Tun to be at the border post by 5 am and I was there a few minutes before. There were vehicles all over and people swarmed the post. These were day traders and visitors that almost regularly went across and back. Some had relatives on the other side and went visiting. They went across on the basis of their residency card.as soon as the post opened there was a mighty rush to get across. Only the Immigration office was functioning. The Customs enclosure was not manned. When I enquired I was told that the cross border trade was controlled at the EXIM station. And what came through for consumption in the city, they did not seem to be bothered about much. As I was waiting at the ‘foreigner departure’ door of the Immigration a guy asked me sharply to move away from there as it was not yet open. Then Tun Tun suggested something magical. I had given him a key chain of the London trip. He asked me to distribute a few at the post in case I had some to spare. I did and the effect was dramatic. The Immigration was done soon enough but the Customs was unmanned. I had to get the Carnet stamped. Myu took me for breakfast to a eatery nearby to fill up time. He had a huge helping of fried rice and fried egg and suggested the same to me. I chose to have a bakery item instead, a cross between bread and doughnut. The Customs guy turned up by 6 am and immediately apologised saying that he had been to meet a monk to donate rice. The formalities were soon over on the Myanmar side and I was ready to get over to Thailand. I wished Myu and Tun Tun for all the help they had been. I will be meeting them on my return to the same post in early May.
There is a small bridge immediately as one crosses the Myanmar border gate. Half way up the bridge is a sign asking one to drive on the left side after a signal. I did that and as I took the other side of the bridge I saw the Mae Sod Immigration and Customs of Thailand. There were a large number of vehicles lined up on the road and many people at the Immigration counter meant for foreign passport holders. I resigned to a long wait after filling up the arrival card I fetched from the relevant counter. As I was waiting in the queue the uniformed lady who was manning the counter came out and asked me to come to the top of the queue! And there was not a murmur of protest from those waiting. She completed the passport stamping in a few minutes and I moved to the Customs counter to get the Carnet stamped. There too work was done smoothly and the officer asked if permission to keep the car in Thailand for 30 days would suffice. He was astonished when I told him that I would be exiting Thailand the next day! A senior official of the Customs department wished me luck as I drove past the post.
The road infrastructure was a joy to experience all along the 180 km drive from the border to the hotel in Sukhothai. The route was through two national parks in the area and hence heavily wooded. About 50 kms was Ghat road, which was splendidly bituminised with appropriate warnings at regular intervals. Lane discipline was scrupulously observed by passenger cars and freight trucks. In Thailand it is common to see the coupled freight trucks.
I was booked to stay at the Ananda Museum Gallery Hotel. It is bang on Route 12 that I got to the city by. The lady receptionist, when she saw the car, expressed a desire to travel the rest of the journey with me. It needed the car’s appeal to entice one of the opposite sex! Such is the effect of the pillages of time. The early morning start and the hot and sweaty day did not provoke me into any outdoor activity. I had lunch at the hotel restaurant and rested hoping to get out to the historical city site late in the evening. Sukhothai is reputed to have been the first capital city in Thailand, even though the land had been in occupation much before the 12th century.
By the time I woke up after the siesta it was almost dinner time. I rearranged things in the car and did some odd jobs, readying myself and the car for the next two weeks in Laos and Vietnam. I did not feel like a heavy dinner either. Hence, I fetched a cup of Maggie noodles from the car and completed the formalities of dinner.