Gloomy and dirty wasteland, rain and humidity: in short, a picture faithful to what one would expect to find in a border town. School catch-up session, new day under the truck for Loïc for cleaning another valve in the leaky air circuit, and, finally, meeting with Irina and her dog Greta, who will make up the second part of our convoy… Then it will be time for currency exchange, purchase of a SIM card, and going to the hairdresser (but still not at the barber) for Loïc. We are ready! On the other side of the border, Zawmin, from Myanmar Senses Family and our guide are also present for this last evening before starting the crossing.
We will once again be almost the first, at 7:00am, to reach the compound of the brand new integrated border post at Moreh. Extreme limit of India and most remote border post on our route: quite a symbol!
The formalities are not yet finished on the Indian side, as already Zawmin and Kyaw, our guide, arrive, dressed in the traditional male outfit of Myanmar, the longyi. Another half an hour to fill out forms checked and rechecked by the somewhat overzealous officer, and that’s it, we are leaving Manipur and India, for good this time!
Behind Zaw’s white car, Kyaw (not very reassured by Greta’s barking) embarks on Irina’s Hyundai, and we follow with Arty, on the No Man’s Land portion before arriving on the “India- Myanmar friendship road ”, whose sheets are as noisy as those of the last Indian bridges. New language, new alphabet, back to right-hand drive (it’s been a while): Myanmar, here we come! Nearly 27 000km and twelfth country for us, little players next to Irina and Greta: gone for 2 years from Russia, more than 100,000 km on the clock with an epic crossing of Africa, including Gabon!
A little less than an hour later, our visas stamped in our passports and our (very expensive) temporary authorization to circulate prominently on the windshield, we take some time for the traditional « starting » photo in front of the office of immigration in Tamu. Then, here we go for a first day, which sets the tone of this crossing of 1700km over 10 days, with a guide, stages and obligatory nights in hotels for the pretty sum of 1500 USD: no less than 250 km to reach Gangaw!
We then follow the Indian border to Khampat, where we will make a short stop in Khal to withdraw some kyats, and fill with gas (well, first country, including the europeans ones, where we see women working in petrol stations). Finally, our convoy sets off for good, with our Arty which follows rather well in the back, on an uneven strip of bitumen and not always very wide, but in the end of fairly good quality. Between rice fields with tall shoots, crossing small streams on bridges that are always as noisy and shaded villages where the locals come out from mass, we are already in love with this country.
Many faces of all ages under traditional hats, turn around when we pass by, often covered with thanaka, traditional cosmetic preparation produced from the wood of several trees, both beauty treatment and protection from the sun. We are surprised to see that the longyi, in rather sober tones, is very present among the fairer sex as well as the masculine one. The chewed tobacco and the damaged dentition that goes with it will be almost the only sign that reminds us that we are still very close to India…
First lunch break, offered by the agency in a local restaurant: explosion of tantalizing smells and delicious flavors, no doubt, we are well into Southeast Asia! We all enjoy together, before hitting the road, without Zawmin who must take his plane to Kalaymyo to return to Rangoon.
We continue in the plain, against the backdrop of the hills covered with beautiful dense vegetation, in this very rural and rarely visited part of the country, a guarantee of a certain authenticity. In addition to the photo stops, we will take a short break in a dragon fruit plantation, before the little troubles start…not for us this time, but for Irina, who has a leak in her cooling system. System D, we stop every 10km so that she can fill her tank; at this pace, no worries, Arty can follow!
We improvise a dinner break, a good idea from Kyaw because we will not arrive at the Gangaw hotel until around 10pm. Finally, not dissatisfied after this long day, not to have to sleep in the truck, to be able to take a good shower and to have a good cool night!
The hearty breakfast the next day on the rooftop terrace of the hotel will suffer no objection, before finding Irina and Kyaw who got up at dawn to manage the mechanical problem.
We set off again, another beautiful stage of 200km partly in the hills, before arriving at Monywa, located on the banks of the Chidwin river (which we will not have time to see).
This time, the difference in average speed is felt, and even more when we arrive in the city, with the traffic lights and the cables a little low. A little behind (we allowed ourselves a short stop in a market to buy traditional hats promised to the kids), but phew, we arrive just at the right time to admire the sunset on the golden statues overlooking the city, including that of Bodhi Tataung Laykyun Setkar, the second largest standing Buddha in the world (116 meters). We will have to content ourselves with just admiring it from the outside, the access to the levels inside (enamelled with representations of the Buddhist teachings) being closed. We will take the time to enjoy the view, the last light of day and the space so that the children can let off some steam a little, before the voracious mosquitoes come to break the spell and remind us at the same time that it is time to find our hotel!
Second and last part of the visit to Monywa: the peaceful monasteries and pagodas including that, very beautiful, of Thanboddhay, with 500 000 miniature Buddhas decorating the interior, and several hundred golden arrows spread over its splendid red and gold roof.
After this appetizer, we leave the city, towards Bagan and its some 2000 temples and stuppa, 10 centuries old for the oldest!