Diana and I are running late when we arrive to the Tha Saphlan Plaa jetty, where the Thai immigration post is located. Despite being woken up at 7 in the morning by a strange and very loud parade passing under the balcony of the Ranong hostel dorm we are sharing, we may have gone out for breakfast a bit too late. The driver of the red pickup truck that is supposed to drop us off at the pier doesn’t seem to be in a hurry either, making a few extra loops through the centre of town looking for extra passengers before finally moving in the direction of the Thai border post. I hand over 30 baht for the both of us and jump out, dragging my backpack behind me. We are immediately greeted by the accomplices of a few long tail boat captains. They guide us to the immigration post where both our passports are stamped. After almost a month I’m finally leaving Thailand! Diana is just doing a visa run and needs a crisp 10 dollar bill as opposed to a visa to be allowed to enter Myanmar for a few minutes. I keep my e-visa close at hand while the guys charge her 500 baht for the dollar bill and guide us through a mass of long tail boats to the one of their friend. The captain is already waiting for us. We’re the last passengers he needs to fill up his boat and soon we’re off on a 25 minute boat trip across the border to the Myanmar village of Kawthaung and its Point Victoria, the British name for the country’s southernmost point. The boat docks for a few minutes at another immigration post on the water where the captain makes sure all the locals’ passports are stamped too. Apparently they have different procedures for foreigners and locals.
Twenty minutes later the opposite shore comes in sight. Again the locals have a separate immigration office on the water while we sit tight and wait for the boat to dock at the Kawthaung jetty. The captain takes us along to the foreigners immigration post located a little further down the road. Here an Indian looking guy with a deformed hand takes over. His English is excellent, and with an almost British accent he asks us for a copy of our passports, the passport itself and our visa. 5 minutes later we’re stamped in and I say goodbye to Diana who is stamped out again straight away and jumps back in the boat to make the return journey to Thailand, armed with a piece of paper saying she’s allowed another 30 days of fun in the kingdom of elephants. Meanwhile mister Littlefinger asks me about my plans for the rest of the day. I inform him that I want to take the bus to Myeik, a city about 450km further north. I tell him about my concern of making the 12.30h bus but he tells me that there’s plenty of time because Myanmar is 30min behind on Thailand time, and that it’s a better idea anyway to take a minivan at 5pm to save some money on a night of accommodation. He walks me to the nearest atm that takes foreign cards and armed with a bundle of kyat bills delivers me to his friend who coincidentally sells minivan tickets. 25.000 kyat (about 15€) lighter I say goodbye to Littlefinger who, as a last act of being the perfect host, points me in the direction of the best bar in town with the wise words “cheap beer and pretty waitresses”. I enter the Café that weirdly enough seems to be called “Mark”, half and half expecting all the waitresses to have grotesque hand deformities. I scold myself for having such stupid thoughts while I sit down obediently and welcome a 800 kyat beer (0,50€) into my life. I make a toast to myself: to one of the easiest and least stressful border crossings ever, and a new country to explore!
One beer turns into two and later three. not knowing how much a beer costs in the rest of the country, I make the most of the situation. For a while I write a bit in my diary and observe a group of Burmese men discussing unknown subjects in yet a new, exotic language. I’m lucky they have English translations in the menu, because the Burmese alphabet is nothing like I’ve ever seen before. I immediately notice that many people have a kind of yellowish paste on their faces. I later learn it’s called Thanaka, used both to protect from the sun and as a sort of makeup.
I decide to take a stroll through town to check out the true Victoria point and climb a hill to see some warrior statue. In a park I meet a few children that are fascinated by my white skin (although I consider myself quite tanned by now) and the camera in my hand. They’re very pleased when I applaud their bicycle skills and most of them crash trying to impress me further. Then I return to Mark for a late lunch and accompanying beer. I position myself strategically on Mark’s terrace with a direct view to the minivan place. 5pm approaches and passes by. No one at the minivan place moves. At 6pm I walk nonchalantly over to the place where the ticket selling guy is having an argument with another waiting passenger. Before I can open my mouth he shouts that they’re waiting for a few packages that have to make the journey to Myeik with us. At 6.30 we’re finally off. “White guys in the back” is announced and the other passengers laugh. I’m seated next to David, an Australian expat living in Myanmar. He speaks some Burmese and translates the joke to me. An image of a black woman unsatisfied by the bus seat assigned to here comes to mind, but I repress it. Only 6 other people climb into the van with David and me before the co-pilot slams the door shut and immediately turns up the music, a terrible local poprock hit that would still rattle my brain several days later.
An hour into the journey David and I figure out that the backseat is actually empty apart from some luggage piled on top of the seats. After some rearranging I call shotgun on the whole backseat and manage to jump over the wall of suitcases that separates it from the rest of the van now. David has to be content with our original two seats and a suitcase for a third. At least we can both lay down.
Another hour or two later the minivan stops at a roadside eatery. The toilets are made of empty jerrycans cut to the shape of urinals and the meal consists of a lot of different small bowls filled with a variety of foods, most of which don’t appeal much to my spoilt Thai tastebuds. I make my selection feeling like I’m about to be put on the electric chair and thank the lady with a silent “Justin Timberlake”, a word that David has just taught me, which means thank you (actually it’s Jayzu ting ba le, but Justin seems to work just fine). I wash the meal away with some free tea and fold myself away on the backseat of the minivan again. David pops a Valium and snores for the remainder of the way. I drift in and out of consciousness, trying to filter out the car radio with some music of my own.
We arrive in Myeik at 5.30am. David has booked a hotel and I decide to get out of the van at the same place to ask if they still have a room. David suggests I sleep in his room as he has a spare bed anyway, and so after a hell of a first day I catch a few more hours of shuteye for no cost at all.
⁃ The long tail boat between Thailand and Myanmar costs around 50 baht for locals but they charge foreigners 150 baht. Haggle down to 70.
⁃ If you have no passport copy the guys at the Thai side are happy to make one for 5 baht.
⁃ Make sure you print your e-visa, for some reason they stamp it as well at the border.
⁃ The journey from Kawthaung to Myeik used to take 15h, road improvements and organisational changes cut it down to 9-10h now.