Arrival in Burma : From Myawaddy to Kyaikhto


Posted by Giom | Posted in Myanmar, On the road, South East Asia | Posted on 26-01-2014

I reach the Burmese border the 22nd of January 2014 in Mae Sot, Thai side.


The frontier has hardly been open for 6 months : A situation never experienced for over 50 years of dictatorship by the military junta.

Of course, I couldn’t miss this great opportunity ! At the frontier, the officer even provides me with a small English-Burmese glossary. Very nice !
Then, I must try to change some money. The banks open at 9. It’s 7,30. I manage to change Thai Baht on the black market, for Burmese Kyats.
I can’t afford to dawdle, because I have to climb up and down a mountain today !

It’s an even day. The traffic goes towards Mawlamine. If I had arrived on an odd day, apparently , I would have had to pedal against the traffic flow.
I had hardly cycled a few kilometres, when I felt a ditch, no ! an abyss, between Thailand and Burma :
The roads are in a dreadful state. The men wear « longyis », this sort of typical long skirts made of cotton cloth.. The traffic is on the right hand side of the road, but the steering wheels are on the right of the cars too. Very practical :-( Bloody dangerous, I should think ! NDLT (Note de la traductrice:-)

Then, another new alphabet.
And the Burmese haven’t forgotten what a honking horn is, unlike their Thai neighbours.
The two countries are like day and night !

So, I climb up towards the mountain that separates me from the sea of Andaman, heading towards Mawlamine, a very busy port city . The road is dusty and in bad state. A traffic jam occurs in the middle of the climb : A team of workers are repairing the road : Woven bamboo buckets full of stones, bare hands, barrels of fuel oil heated on a wooden fire : That’s right ! It’s how they make tarmac here !
A young elephant and its mahout overtake me and disappear into the forest before I have the chance to get at my camera.
Around 1pm, I am at the top ! It wasn’t so terrible after all :-)
An hour later, I go and eat my first meal in Burma, at a roadside canteen. The menu is in the pans. All I have to do is lift the lids and point at what I want. Just as well, because I can’t speak a word of Burmese, apart from « Mingalaba » to say « Good day ».
Here, the govenment forbids the foreigners to practise couch surfing and also to camp.
The only legal places where to sleep are the hotels for tourists, not any hotels, the ones that have a special licence for it.
And to crown it all, a Burmese human will pay 3000 Kyats (about 3$), while his pal, a human too, will pay 10 000 kyats. That’s because of the taxes for tourists. The hotel doesn’t gain 1 more cent, the government pockets it all !
So, after 100 km, I start to get a bit tired, all the more for having climbed up 40km, them cycled down as many on a road full of potholes.
A lorry filled with scooters, stops to take a photo of my magic bike. He is going to Mawlamine ! OK, let’s put the bike at the back, and head for the city, with a night at the hotel of course !
The next day, I decide to take the boat which sails on the Thanlyin river up to Hpa An. I have been told it’s a pleasant trip… I find the boat with difficulty and climb on board at the last minute.
4 hours sailing with the engine in my ears:-( Luckily, the scenery is beautiful.
Hpa An. The city’s pagoda plays the reading of a holy text 24 hours a day. It’s even noisier than a mosque. Plus here, it’s ALL day and ALL night. I stay there two nights because of the kind of strange atmosphere one feels in the place, hard to define, a mixture of relaxed agitation and melancholy happiness !! And it’s only the start of paradoxes !
I will find out later that this country is full of them ! Sometimes, it’s hilarious, sometimes appalling.
1or 2 caves here and there. I recommend the one at Saddan, which is particularly magic. There I met Khun Tin Win Tun and his girlfriend with such a radiant smile. He is a member of the NLD National League for Democracy, the party of the Lady who stood up to the power in place for 30 years : Aung San Su Kyi. Khun Tin Win Tun lives alone with his sister a few yards away from his parents, which surprised me. His parents are frightened of the present government, so they asked their son to go and live further away, because he is in the direct opposing party. This sounds crazy to me !The young man who has his heart on his hands, invites me to visit another cave the next day, on my way north. He translates a little glossary for me, which will prove very useful later on..
We bathe in the warm springs, then we split as I head north.
He goes back home to prepare his probable departure to Malaysia for work !
I arrive at Kyaikhto where I sleep in a small hotel kept by young people who seem to be hardly 20 ! One of the young ladies seeing my SPOT satellite messenger which allows my geolocalization at any time, must have thought it was a bomb, and she threw it as far as she could in a bramble thicket. I had to explain that I needed it, and 5 mins later, she handed it back to me. That gave me a good laugh !
Next morning, I head to Lake Inle by bus, staying at Yangoon a few hours for a bus change.
These are only the first 4 days, and I already feel so far away from Thailand, in a different reality. People are extremely friendly and warm-hearted, with welcoming smiles on their faces.
I am so pleased I have come to v isit this place, and it’s only the start !


Translated by Marie-Louise DAVIES

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