So, five days into Myanmar, where am I?
Understand I have to live these experiences before I can post, so expect delays.
Heading toward the border on the Green Bus (yes, it was) from Chiang Mai was very civilised, with a complimentary bottle of water, pastry from the Phung Noi Bakery and facial wash tissue. Familiar now with the routine, we charged along admittedly smoother roads than Laos, gravity pulling us left and right into the turns on mountain roads; a mix of local business folk, family and western tourists, with three police checkpoints to negotiate before arriving at the border.
At the border however things began to unravel. Overconfident there would be an ATM I could use at the bus station for the tuk tuk ride to the friendship bridge at Mae Sot, I ended up having to pop into the local equivalent of Homebase, in search of such a machine. Alas, as I had already experienced in Chiang Mai, it isn’t a straightforward process, and the security guard informed me I’d have to walk a kilometre in the opposite direction with my MasterCard. Doing the maths I decided to walk to the border, 3.5 kilometres away. So whilst my fellow western bus companions had quibbled over paying an extra 100 baht for the drive there, I started out alone in punishing heat.
As luck would have it, on passing a roadside cafe, a guy offered to give me a lift at no charge. So, somewhat smugly I passed the others who hadn’t made the offer to give me the 20 Baht I was short of.
Border crossings are always a bewildering experience. Toll gates backed up with traffic, people shouting and pointing everywhere, narrow walkways with queues of locals standing before single, tinted windows, where staff with jade expressions, seemingly immune to the stress around them sit, as lorries cough plumes of exhaust directly outside the flimsy, sliding aluminium door to Immigration. The room itself little bigger than… well, the one I happen to be in now, slowly recovering from food poisoning. Thankfully, not as brutal as when I was in India or indeed my last visit to Chiang Mai, but still incredibly exhausting.
So, the Immigration office into Myanmar is roughly two single beds wide with space for a door. With seven or eight ‘foreigners’ and all their backpacks, that’s not a lot of room to conduct business, with more coming in all the while. As it was, having only to fill out a poorly photocopied visa entry form it was pretty straightforward.
Having left all my gear in the back of the car I was a little distracted at the thought of my man disappearing with all my stuff. Nervously peering out the door, as others filled out paperwork, on not seeing his car I went into a mild panic and ran toward the back window of the last car in the queue heading into Myanmar to see none of my stuff; spinning round I made a dash for the car heading back toward Thailand, before I heard him calling to me from behind... he’d moved, I’d looked in the wrong, but identical, car. Given you’re always on alert for some kind of scam, your thinking is at best blurred.
Official stamp in passport, I was finally in the country… only to lose my cash card to the first local machine for Kyat (pronounced Chat). Time to increase the sweat and agitation or…