Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Day 66 - 4 May - Tak to Myawaddy

I had been told that the representative of the travel company that had coordinated my journey through Myanmar, Silver Hills, the guide and the government representative would meet me at the Myawaddy border gate by 1 pm. The distance from Tak to the border post was less than 100 km and that gave me a lot of time in the morning to get ready and hit the road. I even woke up late and had a leisurely breakfast of eggs, pastries, sausage and ham. The orange juice was good and I went about methodically emptying the dispenser. Later I made a tour of the hotel. The Soho Boutique Hotel is value for money. I loved the d├ęcor and aesthetics as well as the service. By 11 am I decided to check out and leave for Mae Sot, the Thailand side of the border. Last evening, when I returned to the hotel after the massage, the girl at the reception presented me a traditional Thai bath towel. This morning I gave her a copy of “Record Drives… And Then Some!” before leaving the hotel.

Once I was firmly planted on the route to Mae Sot I took the roads real slow. I have never driven so slowly, and that too deliberately, ever on a highway. It felt heretical doing so on such a lovely road. On the way were markets operated by tribes people, where fresh vegetables, fruits and homemade delicacies were available at really cheap prices. After a while the route vended through hilly terrain and the drive became scenic and enjoyable. I stopped at one of the scenic spots that was terraced to provide lovely views of the winding roads and the dense forests as well as to enjoy some refreshments. I was enticed to stoop there more by the advertisement of ice cream than by anything else. After a few photographs I moved to the vending counter only to be told that ice creams were not in stock! Disappointed though I was I picked up a couple of products homemade by the tribes people of the area. The dried honey coated banana with sesame seeds turned out to be a worthy substitute for the ice cream; the disappointment abated.

At Mae Sot, just before reaching the border, I turned into a fuel station with the intention of tanking up. I did not notice that I had been directed to the dispenser that had the costlier fuel option. When I saw the meter reading going rather quickly I stopped the attendant and told him that I wanted the cheaper fuel. I had to shift my car to another dispenser to have this done. The end result was paying more than I should have for the quantity that I filled.

I parked well ahead of the Immigration counters on the Thai border and walked to the booths with the passport and Carnet. I did not anticipate any problem as I had all the documentation with me. I was asked to report to a specific counter where my passport was stamped. The official then asked me to present the ‘Information of Conveyance’ to another counter. The lady at that counter was more intent on chewing gum and trying to look pretty rather than take interest in the paper given to her. She also displayed an annoying habit of shifting a face mask from nose to throat for no apparent reason, except perhaps calling attention to her ‘seen better days’ features. She sought the assistance of another colleague for assistance, who asked if I had informed people on the Myanmar side about my arrival. When I confirmed the arrangement she looked decidedly unhappy! Then she wanted me to present my passport to the Immigration counter; when I showed her the immigration stamp the unhappiness quotient seemed to increase. Then she said that I have to present papers to Customs. I showed her that I was ready to do that after the immigration formalities were completed. That may have been the last straw for she pulled out a voucher book and asked me to pay 25THB as overtime! When I protested, another officer clarified that they were working through a designated holiday this day and therefore, the overtime was payable. I did that and the lady set about photocopying all the documents and finally handed over all the papers intact. I wondered what would have happened had I not gone to the counter with that piece of paper, since the passport had already been stamped. Much time was not taken in the Customs. I handed over the documents meant to be retained by them and the Carnet was returned duly stamped and signed. Mercifully, the Customs department did not insist on overtime payment.

After completing the Customs work I looked around for a cool drink. I spied a vendor selling iced tea and coffee. I asked him for iced cocoa with jelly. It cost 10 THB, but when I told him that I am one THB short, he smiled and said, ‘no problem, enjoy the drink’. It felt heavenly in that heat and humidity. I slowly took the Friendship Bridge across the Moei River, which forms a natural border between Thailand and Myanmar. At the crest of the bridge is a signal beyond which I had to shift to the right hand side of the road. While driving is on the right side of the road left hand and right hand drive vehicles are permitted to operate in the country. It is a very curious arrangement. As I neared the Myawaddy check point of Myanmar I noticed a couple of guys who looked like my travel coordinators.

As I parked the car they came up to me and introduced themselves as Thein, the guide who had replaced Tun Tun, and Aye, the Silver Hills representative. Shortly, Myint Sang, the government official, who had been with me in March, emerged from one of the office booths. The trio would accompany me on the return leg from Myawaddy to Tamu over the next five days. The work in Customs and Immigration got done in double quick time because the background work had already been done by the time I got there. Moreover, senior officials recognised me and were keen to know how I experienced the drive. Thereafter Thein took me to a bank to exchange currency. Though it took a lot longer than it should have I got better rate this time than in March. My first impression about the new guide was that he was very well read with a wide range of interests, besides very good command of the English language.

We checked into the Myawaddy Hotel; even though I was okay with the basic accommodation,, absence of lift and poor network connectivity were vexatious. I had lunch of pork fried rice in the hotel restaurant and requested Thein to locate a good massage centre. He was very much apprehensive because massage centres are often mixed up in prostitution rackets, he said, in these places. However, by the time I came down after a short rest he was ready to take me to a place that he had researched. The one hour massage was every bit traditional and had most elements I experienced in Tak.
Daw Na Tuang had turned out to be an extremely strenuous stretch last time when I drove from Yangon to Myawaddy. Anticipating the same on the mountain pass I suggested that we leave quite early from Myawaddy to beat the traffic as well as the road repairs that normally hold up traffic during the day time. So, it was to be a 6 am start next day – I had adjusted to Myanmar time of +6.30 GMT when I was in the immigration office. I had an early dinner of excellent pork noodles and a bottle of Heineken beer.

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