I had completely rearranged the bags yesterday in such a way that I had all the clothes and accessories that I wanted in China in one bag. I quietly acknowledged that I would have to do laundry in Beijing. By 6 am I rang up the reception for a bellboy to take my luggage to the car. In a short while Htoo rang me up to ask what it is that I wanted from the reception! I was all set in the next 15 minutes and waited for the others to join for breakfast. Before breakfast we exchanged presents. Pyae and Htoo, on behalf of Silver Hills, gave me a huge wall hanging with semi-precious stones depicting the life in Myanmar. In turn, I presented them with copies of my books and mugs of the London drive.
I limited my helpings to eggs and toast with fruit juice and mangoes. Htoo, Hnin and Pyae had a large bowl of soupy noodles and meat. Finally, by 7.30 am we were ready to leave from the hotel. The first stop was the Customs office. Sadly we found the office locked. Htoo walked around and found one of the houses in the compound open. He explained his requirement and was promptly asked inside while we despaired outside knowing that the office would open only by 9,30! Htoo came out of the house with a huge smile, his signature, for he got the officer to complete the Carnet and the rest of the formalities from home! The next stop was in the Land Transport Office. We had to go to two offices before the temporary license plate could be deposited. At a quarter past eight we were at the Myanmar Immigration. The officer who we had met the previous evening explained the procedure for moving the car to China and opened the ‘Middle Gate’ for the same.
While the formalities of Myanmar Immigration was on I got in touch with Andy, the Chinese guide who was waiting for me on the China side. When I moved the car to the Middle Gate he waved at me across the border. I walked to the Chinese Immigration and was met by a friendly officer who helped with the arrival card and the immigration process. I met up with Andy there. It took just a quarter of an hour and I was ready to drive the car into China. It was tough taking leave of the three with who I had become very friendly over the past five days during the drive in Myanmar. Hnin had even taken a day pass and gone across to the Chinese side to take video of the car rolling into China.
The car was cursorily examined and allowed to go beyond the border. Immediately as I passed into China an hour and half was added to the time with China time at +8 GMT as against Myanmar at +6.30 GMT! There were a few more formalities to be completed before we left the Chinese border town of Ruili. While I expected that most of the work would have been done in advance Andy told me that he could not do them because of the intervening holidays. Thus, we had to get car insurance at the PICC office, temporary number plate and driving license at the Traffic Police and Customs gate in at their office. While I had hoped to start the drive to Dali, the destination for the day, at noon we were far from that. By the time we were ready to leave Ruili it was after 4.30 pm. We had to wait for the Traffic Police officials to return from lunch, which was between noon and 2.30 pm.
Instead of whiling away time Andy took me to the Bank of China to exchange currency. He estimated that we may require about 9000 RMB for tolls, accommodation, food and fuel for the ten days in China. At the bank Andy was told that I would need to open a bank account to exchange more than $500. I settled to exchange that amount initially. We drove back to the Traffic Police office and had lunch at a restaurant bang opposite it. The Wifi connection in the restaurant was so good that I could, later, operate WhatsApp sitting in my car! Andy ordered a fried egg with tomatoes, pork with mushroom and a tofu soup. The large helpings were definitely too much for the two of us. The food was incredibly tasty, though. The restaurant also had an array of locally made wines in large jars.
It did take us a while to get the number plate and license from the Traffic Police, but it was done in the end. The movement through Customs was efficiently facilitated by a liaison guy. It was closer to 5 pm and we had a drive of 415 km to Dali ahead of us. I insisted that we do it even though it would be late by the time we got to Dali. That would help me to stay on course in the itinerary. One reason why I was confident is because of the infrastructure of roads. What I saw in the city of Ruili amazed me. The wide, clean and efficiently marked roads with unambiguous signages was a revelation. And when we hit the freeway G56 I was sure that I had taken the right decision. At the entrance to the freeway, at a toll booth, we were given a card that mentioned our entry point to the freeway. Wherever we exited the freeway we would have to pay toll calculating the distance travelled on the freeway. There would be no intermediate toll booths.
The G56 was a beauty with large four lane tunnels often over 4 km, bridges spanning 5 km, verdant forests, thick fog, moderate to heavy rain and top class road surfacing and markings. Add to that the unbelievable road discipline and you have the ride of your dreams. It was the right time to use cruise control and I made use of that liberally till the fog set in. The freeway has excellent restroom facilities at intermediate locations.
With just two bio stoppages we reached Dali by 10 pm. Andy had booked us into Jade Emu, the budget accommodation run by an Aussie and his Chinese wife. The reason for choosing that accommodation was, apart from the price, that it was the only place in China where one could access Facebook, YTube and Gmail! These and social media sites like Twitter were a no go in China. I was prepared for this, but what I was not prepared for was that the same ban would apply in Muse, the border town of Myanmar. The hotel staff explained that the Wifi connection was from a Chinese company and hence, the bans in that country were applicable in Muse too! I was inconsolable because I could not inform my Facebook friends that I would not be able to post updates about the drive for the next days. However, the stay in Jade Emu would remedy that.
As soon as I checked into the ‘family room’, a free upgrade, I got active on the excellent Wifi connectivity and updated posts on Facebook and the blog site. With this post I will be ‘silent’ till I reach Vladivostok on 2 June. During the interim I will be travelling via Chengdu and Beijing to get to the border town of Hunchun on 1 June.