Day29 Mai Sai, Thailand (and Myanmar)

Motorbike/Motorcycle, Myanmar, Thailand, Travel 1 Comment
Distance Travelled 39km, including 27km in Myanmar

Day29

The hotel was only 200m from the immigration building, where we arrived at 8:53am.  It was very interesting to see all the different goods going across the border.

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After we had cleared Thai immigration and customs, a Thai immigration official came up to me and requested to have more forms filled out.  Having seen this scam before , I let him fill them out, and when he asked me to sign them, I asked "Why? I have crossed Thai border many, many times before with the motorbike, and never had to do this."  He said that this was a special case because I was going to Myanmar.  So I asked him how leaving the country was different based on the location I was heading.  Myanmar has nothing to do with Thailand from a departure perspective.  When he realised that I wasn’t phased, he turned around and said "No money payment."  So I signed the form and was on my way.  He realised that this wasn’t going to work – and a customs official who had been very friendly earlier was watching the whole thing and smiled at me when I left.

This is our arrival at the Myanmar checkpoint.  Notice that we are now on the other side of the road?  Myanmar drives on the same side as Laos, Cambodia and China.

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The way the visa at the border works in Myanmar, is that you leave your passport at the border, but they give you a 14 day pass. The following photos show the  pass.  Of course, if you have a prearranged visa (which takes several weeks to process at the moment, then you can keep your passport with you.  The cost of the "border visa" was 500 baht each (about US$15).

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Then we were told that we couldn’t take the motorbike and that we had to leave it at the border.  I thought that this was going to be the case, and we were prepared.  However, as we were contemplating where to park the bike, a different official came up to us and said that as long as we buy the compulsory insurance, we could take the bike.  The cost of the insurance was 20 baht (US$0.60).  So I thought that at that price I had little to lose – it was worth the investment, though I still wasn’t convinced that I would get the bike across the border.  After all, I hadn’t got to the customs section yet.  Of course the insurance isn’t worth the paper it is written on – but I was having a great time trying to get my motorbike into yet another country.

Once we got to customs, we were told that we had to pay another 25 baht (these costs are not really adding up – I am up to spending just over US$1 at this stage).  I have no idea what this last payment was for, but I received two different documents (picture on the left).

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After the formalities were completed, there were several customs officers showing a great interest in the bike.  So I put it on the center stand and allowed them to sit on it.  Wow – that really got their interest.  There was lots of laughing and carrying on.

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We were finally done and headed down one of the main roads of Tachilek.  It was the season where the different monasteries collect money.  Many of them had a procession, but none was as long as this one – there must have been about 20+ vehicles.

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We were told that we should stay within 3kms of town – but I had read before that in reality you just can’t ride past the first checkpoint in each direction.  So we headed out of town to see the countryside.  We hit the first checkpoint about 12kms east of the city.  We didn’t ride north, but headed back into town and west.  Here is a selection of things we saw.  Of particular interest was the fact that there were nice cars – not many, but hey were around.  The blue one is a SangYong from Korea.  The cars were a mixture of left and right had drive – I guess they take whatever they can get.  The bus has Radisson Hotlel on it – which surprised me, as that is a large US hotel management company, and I thought that there were significant sanctions in place to prohibit this.  Interestingly, there are no hotels listed in Myanmar on the http://www.radisson.com/ web site.  And this bus is clearly registered and operated in Myanmar – the script gives it away.  The sign disallowing more than one passenger seemed to be well enforced – in fact, traffic in general followed the road rules – not like some other countries in the region.  The woman was interesting, as she was carrying two babies – one in the front and one in the pouch on the back.  There was also a Muslim mosque.

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We rode east and hit the security checkpoint within about 3kms.  There was an immigration official in uniform (wearing the gray cardigan) telling us that we couldn’t travel any further.  However, he was very friendly, and we walked around taking photos.

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Here are some more miscellaneous photos – the second one is from inside a home.  Notice also the church and Christian cemetery.  An  interesting point is that in both Thailand and Myanmar there is little differentiation in the work that is done by a given gender.  Here you can see a photo of four women who have been working on the roads – probably sweeping, but often also doing other physical labour.

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We then took a wrong turn and ended up in a Buddhist monastery.  They immediately came out and asked us to come in and join them.  They had the head abbot visiting from Yangoon, and said that he would like to extend his hospitality to us.  This monastery was very basic – there was no expensive shrine, just basic buildings.  They were about to have lunch, as the tables were set when we entered the building.

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After the monks had eaten, we were invited to eat also.  They were intrigued that we were vegetarian, but the food was great.  It was a mixture of plain rice, cooked and pickled vegetables, and lots of chili – very tasty.  There were other "non-monks", who all ate at the same time as we did.  The person sitting at the table with us was an English teacher who is there to teach the monks and novices (boys).  The person sitting in the middle is the abbot, and to his left (right in the photo) is the deputy.  Those sitting at the abbot’s table got some fruit and sweets for desert, which they shared with their guests.  In fact, they even brought out Sprite for us!

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Later we went for another ride through town, and found that you could buy almost anything in Tachilek.  The first picture shows a satellite dish, of which we saw quite a few, and the second shows an army supply store that appeared to have everything from weapons to bullet proof vests.

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There were no issues leaving Myanmar, and we had our passports back in record time.  However, when we went to re-enter Thailand, I decided that the paperwork for my motorbike needed to be done correctly – it was incorrectly prepared when I arrived in Narathiwat.  I was listed as coming from New Caledonia, the bike was supposedly registered in Malaysia and there were several other irregularities that I wanted to correct.  However, that meant that the customs official (who were very helpful and friendly) wanted to ensure that it really was done right this time.  So they wanted to see the engine and chassis numbers on the bike.  Here they are looking for the numbers – which took 10 to 15 minutes.

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While we were waiting for the formalities to be completed, Rebecca took several border photos – here is just a sample – two microwave ovens being taken into Myanmar.

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We had a great time in Myanmar, and won’t forget it in a hurry – it just wasn’t long enough.