Crossing into Myanmar

So my last few days in Thailand had me clinging to the edges of my tent at 1am to hold it down from a furious wind in pouring down rain; walking my laden bike hill after muddy hill through small, rustic villages in unrelenting, cold, rain, completely out of character for the season; frantically trying to stash my valuables into my shoulder bag as I grasp onto the side of an old Ute as we tear around the slippery back roads – you might want to read my previous posts (The road less travelled, by accident!

and, The bumpy road ahead ) to get up to date. 

 Otherwise, read on! 

So it appeared I’d be walking (and sometimes riding) my bike well into the wee hours of the morning on steep dirt tracks currently too sludgy for vehicles, to make it out of Thailand in time. The guy who’d made me feel the most alive I had in a while (haha and no no not in that way! In a super scared for my life kinda way!) had dropped me off in a place which appeared no better than when I’d started.

After saying goodbye to him, I spent 45mins mostly walking my bike up and down steep slippery hills in the rain. The maps on my phone said the track I was walking on didn’t exist. 
I came to a 4 way intersection.There was a shelter at the corner so I stood under it and contemplated what to do. 

The maps on my phone was telling me to go straight – the only track that was marked on my phone – which meant continuing along 54km more of these same dirt tracks.

It was 4:30pm and I only had 2 hours of daylight to go. 
At the intersection there were signs in Thai (which was no help at all) but there was also English directing towards the villages. However most of the words had been scratched out and there was only one I could make out.

I couldn’t believe my luck!

The Temple indicated on the sign was also marked on my map but it appeared to be North and I needed to go South. However there appeared as though there was a track from the Temple that would run 14km or so up and then down to the main road 

The main road where I wanted to go.

So I took a chance.

I had decided I was going to treat this as a multi day Adventure Race, so I took a calculated risk, and I backed myself. 

I was going to aim for the road using the little info I had, and a huge amount of hope that I might be able to find the track and get to the road. 

This would save me around 40km and about 8 hours. 

If it worked that was.
As I walked my bike up the track it climbed, up and up and up. 

1500m high up in fact. 

I was moving around 2km/hr. 

Darkness was almost setting in. I was actually getting a little cold.

And then I came to an intersection and the track leading down was marked on my map! It had worked!

I now only had 10 or so km to go and I would hit the main road!
The sun set in beautiful shades of pink as I pulled my headlight on and pulled on my arms warmers. I followed a ridge line for an hour or so and then climbed down 1300m. My brakes squeaking loudly like a chicken in the last few minutes of its life, overheated at one stage and I lost grip crashing into the bank. 
A little shaken after that I stopped every few minutes to allow my brakes to cool down.  

The track was so super steep, bumpy, and narrow. This 10km was sure taking a long time.
As I pulled into a small village backing onto the main road I excitedly found a water purification machine. I drunk hungrily like I’d just had a msg laden meal and scoffed the last off the fried snacks the young girl had given me. 

I would have an asphalt road to ride 45km to a town which would surely have a guesthouse. I was pumped!

As I rode along the road it was awfully quiet. Airily so.

I got up some pretty good speeds and I blessed bringing my aero bars, tucking down to be as aero dynamic as possible.

I knew to my left was Myanmar. There appeared to be security guarded shack like huts and I wondered what they were. I knew that it would’ve been a really interesting experience having been in daylight but I didn’t want to find somewhere to camp in the bush so I could check it out in the morning. I wanted a shower. I wanted a bed. It wanted to clean my clothes. I wanted to charge my electronics. It was my last night in Thailand before I hit the unknown, Myanmar.

I would do what it took to get me what I wanted. 

I passed many armed checkpoints along the way. Some stopping me fascinated by this woman covered in mud riding alone in the dark night, offering me water or coffee; some barely looking up from their desk.
As I pulled into a Guest House I spotted off the main road at 9:45pm, chased by noisy protective startled dogs I almost didn’t care what the guy would charge me.

He gave me a $2 discount for not wanting Aircon – in my opinion, all it does is make you cold, it’s often dirty and you can never dry your washing with Aircon turned up – and I did what I said you should never ever do; take a room without looking at it first.
I walked in and it stunk. It had obviously been closed up for a long time. You know that musty, dirty sock smell? I turned the fan on full and opened all the windows. I didn’t care about mosquitoes, I wanted that smell out of there!

As I poured all of my dirty gears into the shower I noticed the shower head was broken, and the hot water didn’t work. The bed was also rock hard and the towels smelt like they were torn between horrible harsh bleach and moth balls. 


I normally would expect such things (I usually don’t stay in the nicest of places) but this had cost me 3 x more than normal. 

I laughed to myself.  He’d seen me coming.

The next morning after a lovely big sleep on the giant king sized rock – my bed – I slowly made my way to Mae Sot, the last town before entering Myanmar.

I only had 30km to ride. Why not wait until 12:30pm when the sun was hot and high? (Oh yes it looked like that crazy rainy cold patch had disappeared just as quickly as a GnT goes down on a hot summers day.)

At least I could get that brilliant sun on my skin before I’d have to be more conservatively dressed in Myanmar. 
It was a fairly easy bike ride, although made harder by the sun out in full ‘sorry I’ve been away, I’ll make it up to you’ strength. I stopped for a bunch of bananas (for only NZ 20c!) and 2 corn (40c) and made a joke to myself about eating fast food as I rode – get it? my spirits uplifted. 

I rode towards the border expecting to have a last Thai meal but was rather shocked. This was not part of Thailand that I knew. I could only assume it was the Burmese influence and this was what Myanmar would be like. 

It seemed drier and dustier than usual. 

Smellier. Dirtier. 

There was way more discarded rubbish.

The people seemed very poor and bedraggled. 

There wasn’t any beautiful fresh tropical fruit lying in the sun waiting to be bought. There was plenty of (what seemed like) tobacco.

 It seemed like a black market. A dark, dingy, bad secret. 
I started to feel a little nervous. 
I biked back to a roadside stall where I’d seen papaya for sale and bought one for 10 baht. I then biked to a Petrol station where I’d spotted bathrooms and a 7/11 store. I had a wash in the bathroom sink and then cooled down in the aircon of the 7/11. I had a few coins in baht that I didn’t want to carry into Myanmar with me so bought a coconut water and a soya drink for the young boy begging at the door. When I gave it to him and walked back towards my bike, out of the corner of my eye I saw him quickly guzzling the drink. As I made my way through my papaya I offered him a piece to which he happily took. Pleased with myself having filled 2 appreciative bellies I rode towards border control.

After a surprisingly simple process getting stamped out of Thailand I rode across the bridge of no mans land to the border control of Myanmar – I always find this experience being nowhere so amusing. Usshed into an aircon office a Customs Official stamped my passport and smiled at me.

There was no interrogation about where I was going, where I would spend the night or anything about my plans. I was simply allowed on my way into the crazy right sided busting streets of Myawaddy. 
***Myanmar having recently opened up the country to allow for Tourists to travel, I’d read to expect for my passport to be checked, constantly; for Police or any Official to want to know where I was going and especially where I would stay; with some Travellers even feeling as though they were being watched. 

There wasn’t even a suggestion of any of this as I rode wide eyed into the chaotic traffic. 
I spotted a Money Exchange and noticed it closed. 

I panicked a little. 

It was New Year Holidays.

How would I change my money if the exchange shops were shut?

After doing a mad search and frantically speaking with some locals, I was directed to a money exchange where I exchanged Thai Baht into Burmese Kyat. 

I spent a good 20mins outside the store, my brain trying to work out the conversion into Baht and then into NZ Dollar, and wondered if the store he ripped me a new one in the process.

When I’d happily worked my head around this new currency (the smallest note was 50, and I was carrying mostly 5000 Kyat bills) I took off to find somewhere to stay. 

I was feeling a little apprehensive about being somewhere new – my risk antenna up on high alert as I figured out how things worked around here – so I didn’t really want to find somewhere to camp.
The first 3 Guest House’s I approached shook their head at me. Foreigners are only permitted to stay at licensed Guest Houses or Hotels. They weren’t one of them.

I biked further around the city. 

Another Guest House spotted.

Nope. I can’ t stay there.

The sun started to set and I thought how much harder it would be to find a wild camping spot in the dark if I had to. 

I wasn’t feeling good about things.

I was directed to a Hotel and I pulled up outside it feeling completely out of place. 

Clean, well dressed people stepped out of prestigious looking vehicles. 

I simply threw my leg over my dusty duct taped up Bike. 

I can’t actually remember how much they wanted for a room as I remember feeling horrified (and a little scared) but they sent me 3km back into town with 2 possible Hotels.
The smiling guy at the Counter had me feeling hopeful. “22000 kyat” he said as I screwed up my face in disgust. “Can I please have a look?” I reluctantly asked as a young boy was handed a key and ran me up 2 flights of stairs to inspect the room.

The room was just big enough for a single bed and a fan.

That was it.

No window. No bathroom. No space.

I was horrified. 

I sniggered to myself how I thought my Thai Guest house last night was way overpriced. 

This was twice the price and I had a 2 x 2m box to show for it. 

As I went back down to the guy at the Counter, I exclaimed (before my brain could catch up with my mouth

“It’s horrible! You want 22000 for that?!”

He showed me another Hotel on the map. 

I cycled there. 

The price was more expensive and the room stunk of my dear old friend, musty.

By this time it was 7pm. I’d been playing this game for a few hours. I was feeling fed up and tired. 

It appeared as though there might be countryside side 5-10km out of the city in which to camp for the night; but how was I really to know? 

Wild camping is illegal in Myanmar and I didn’t really want to be caught on my first few hours in the country. And besides I was still feeling a little nervous about wild camping in a place I didn’t know. Especially setting up camp in the dark.

I’d have to find somewhere and pitch my tent in the dark.

Na I didn’t want to do that.

So cough up dear Princess or head off back to Thailand – actually even I couldn’t do that it was too late the border was closed.

So back to Hotel I went. 

I was going to go without dinner tonight so I’d be super hungry for the included breakfast tomorrow. 

I’d get my money’s worth! 

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