All of us – Karen & myself, Aad & Mike – were a bit sad at the thought of leaving Myanmar today, but our fourteen day tour of this beautiful country has come to an end and it’s time for us to move into Thailand for the next part of our adventures.
Up around 6:00am, we wandered around the corner and collected our bikes from the courtyard of the concierge’s home and packed them before quickly dispensing with another uninspiring breakfast. We were ready to ride at 8:00am as planned, already sweltering inside our riding gear.
We had another rider with us this morning – a man from Portugal riding his GS650 to East Timor. He was riding to a very tight timeframe – he had left Portugal two months ago and needed to arrive in East Timor on 28th November as part of some anniversary celebrations. He had crossed India in five days and Myanmar in four days.
We refuelled on the outskirts of Hpaan and hooked up with the four wheel drives again as we were supposed to travel in convoy today, but it wasn’t long before our tour leader waved us ahead and we opened up a lot of road between us and the cars, trailing far behind us as they struggled with the congestion in some of the villages we passed through, and the bumpy conditions on the open road.
Just out of Hpaan we turned east and could see the steep limestone karsts rising up from the paddy fields, wrapped in low-level clouds whilst their peaks poked out above. The road condition deteriorated and it became quite a bumpy ride, and as the road narrowed in width it became more challenging as we tried to overtake slow cars and trucks whilst also dodging the oncoming traffic.
The riders stopped for a cold Coke at a small shop along the way, before heading off and catching up again to the tour bus that saw us quickly through a ‘Tourist Police’ checkpoint on the road before again waving at us to go on ahead.
About 20km west of Myawaddy the crappy road gave way to a beautifully designed and constructed highway – smooth and perfectly cambered as it climbed from the plain up into the hills. After the bouncing and jostling we’d experienced all morning this road was an absolute blast to ride. We switched the ride mode to ‘dynamic’ and played a bit on the twisty road, enjoying the sunshine and fresh air. Too quickly however the highway ran out as we started to enter Myawaddy, grinding to a halt a bit back from the Myanmar border control post.
A helmeted policeman waved us forwards, around the line of stationary cars queuing to be processed, and then gave us a big thumbs up and a hand-shake as we jumped the queue and rode up past the front of the line. We quickly filled out a departure questionnaire, had our passports stamped and photos taken, retrieved our spare tyres from the back of the tour bus, and changed the last of our local currency into Thai baht. All up exiting Myanmar took us about 30 – 45 minutes.
We rode across the Friendship Bridge, switching back to the left-hand side of the road, and descended into the confusing quagmire of the Thai border control area. A policeman waved our three bikes forward and we parked on the wrong side of the road then crossed back over the road and front up at one of the booths to wait for an immigration officer to issue our Visas On Arrival. We quickly completed the arrival cards we were given, and advanced one by one, handing over our passports and then forlornly looking at the 15-day visa stamp when they were handed back – we had heard rumours that we could be issued with 30-day visas.
We were getting ready to ride away when a uniformed customs officer wearing a surgical mask over his mouth and nose told us that we needed to go see the people at the customs office, along with passports and vehicle registration papers. The clerk behind the window was struggling to locate key information on our BMW rego papers, and through an interpreter we pointed out the parts she needed to see – model of motorcycle and colour, for example. Eventually she printed off in triplicate our ‘Simplified Customs Declaration Form’, and then stamped it in red with a big warning that I’d be fined 1,000THB/day if I didn’t return the form or export the motorcycle by the required date.
Aad had two bikes to have processed by the customs people – his and Mike’s – and he got bogged down so badly in the process he was getting ready to explode. Meanwhile – I’d been alerted to the fact that we had inadvertently skipped an interim process when the customs officer called us forwards, and now I had to go back and complete and register our ‘Information of Conveyance’ form. The form itself was better suited to aircraft or boats as it requested crew and passenger details, and the process to have it completed was quite madcap. One officer handed out the blank forms – in between dealing with a constant stream of local people crossing the border and submitting another form – and then when the form had been completed she would stamp every page, then leave her booth – cross the road in front of all the traffic to the other side and enter another office where she would photocopy the original form, then return to her booth, stamp the photocopy, and then return the original form and the passport. Paperwork madness !!!
Karen – angel that she is – skipped across the border to a shop and bought four cokes and then waltzed back to us and gave us all a cold drink as we continued to deal with the various bits of paperwork and bureaucracy before us.
When we all finally had our papers sorted we were still unsure if we were really free to go, so Aad collared a senior officer – waved his sheaf of papers in front of him and got the ‘OK’ for us to leave. Without waiting for anyone to change their minds – we’d already been told that we needed insurance but then subsequently this requirement had wavered and then vanished – we were back into our hot riding gear and squeezing between the lines of incoming and outgoing traffic filtering slowly through the control point. The last we saw of the three 4×4’s we’d travelled through Myanmar with was of the cars still stuck in the line as they waited to be processed.
In to Thailand and out on the road we had a short ride to the hotel we had booked for the night – the Hop Inn in Mae Sot, about 5km from the border post. The distance was short but the degree of change from Myanmar, India and beyond was huge. A lot of the cars looked very new – a lot of them single or dual cab SUV’s. We passed the equivalent of a Bunnings hardware superstore, and then passed a Tesco’s store that was advertising KFC and The Pizza Company, along with ‘Spectre’ – the latest James Bond movie, just released last week.
We checked into our hotel – new, fresh, clean, Spartan but practical and comfortable, and then after a shower we walked the two km’s back to Tesco’s for a pizza dinner at The Pizza Company, stopping enroute for Karen to throw a leg over the first motorbike she’s been easily able to reach the ground on – a GO-125 by NKT (see http://www.nakornthaimotor.co.th/). Much discussion ensued about buying this little pearler – about AU$2,000 – for Karen – so she could live the dream to the max and ride along with us, but comfort prevailed and she opted to stay on the back of our GS Adventure.
Pizza for dinner was great, and afterwards we almost bought tickets to see 007 in ‘Spectre’ – but the English version wasn’t on til 8:30pm and we were all knackered after a long day so it was a hot and humid walk back to the Hop Inn where we said goodnight to Aad and Mike and then worked on our computers til about midnight, enjoying the first high-speed internet we’ve had in ages 🙂
FOOTNOTE: Karen has now added and/or updated the photo galleries from Shillong – Darjeeling all the way through to Inle Lake, Myanmar – so feel free to go back and check those posts again to see her photographs !!! Fingers crossed she will add the remaining galleries tomorrow so then we’ll be all caught up with ourselves. And I take my hat off to her as it’s a big chore, made much harder when the internet is slow (which is almost all the time….) … plus the power cuts etc etc etc 🙂