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Travel: A trip across the border to Myanmar

During a recent stop over to Prachuap Khiri Khan, I decided to take the family for an afternoon outing to check out the recently opened Thailand-Myanmar border checkpoint Singkhon, an up and coming gateway to the mysterious Singkhon Pass (Daan Singkorn ด่านสิงขร in Thai).

By Steven Layne

Sunday 27 September 2015, 09:00AM

About a 20 minute drive from the Prachuap city centre, the Singkhon checkpoint is a strategic and historical smuggling, migration and military mobilisation transit point, north of the Thai-Myanmar Isthmus of Kra.

Only recently has it opened up officially as part of bilateral agreements, though international travel is still limited, but to exactly what extent was not clear from basic Google searches.

Only one way to find out.By the time we arrived, it was about noonish, later than we’d initially planned, but on the bright side, we missed the crowd, which according to smartphone, peaks at about 8-9 am.

On the Thai side, there’s a market with various shops tended by Thais, Nepalese and Myanmar merchants selling cheap clothes, gems, jewels, and furniture.

As expected, the main clientele were domestic Thai tourists – government officials and weekenders from Bangkok – in addition to Myanmar nationals stocking up on goods to bring back to their side of the border.

There were still a handful of Thais wondering the allies, and taking selfies in front of the big white gateway, but none of them seemed to be crossing over and in to the other side; only a few vehicles – trucks, rot saleng and motorbikes driven by Myanman merchants were – making the cross every few minutes.

We were told that the crossing is still not open for international tourists, but Thais can get a temporary pass simply by submitting their ID and paying a nominal fee.

Another question that didn’t seem to have a readily googlable answer, though, was what exactly we would be crossing into? Google maps confirmed there was some kind of village called Mawdaung not so far from the border.

We’d come this far, and my goal was to bring the family into Myanmar, even if only for lunch.

Border police pointed us up to a room where we could apply for a temporary pass.

We submitted our Thai Ids prompting the official to dig up our files from the national database, copies of which were then printed out for us to sign and take with us to present at several checkpoints up and along the pass.

Motorbike taxi appeared to be our only practicle and affordable option to go over the pass. Live a little every now and then…

The fee on the Thai side was something like B30-40 each. We took our signed copies, walked through the first checkpoint after the Thai officer signed them off, and hopped on our Burmese escorts’ motorbikes.

Then we were on our way, up the jungle hill into oblivion, me on the back of one bike, the missus and the boy on the back of another. The initial climb was fairly steep; my heart was pumping fast as my escort’s bike’s engine reved against the resistance of my body weight.

At the top of the hill, and around one bend, we reached another checkpoint manned by soldiers in jungle fatigue. To my surprise, this was still part of Thailand, the last point before officially crosssing over into Myanmar, after getting our papers signed and crossing again by foot, our drivers waiting just the other side of the arbitrary line.

Alas, we were in Myanmar, and the first noticeable difference, aside from a billboard in Myanmar language, was the quality of the road, partly paved in sections, though it wasn’t too bad. Up and around another bend, and we’d reached the final checkpoint, a quiet immigration checkpoint at the top of a hill, where a young officer took our signed papers and collected another B20 each.

To the dismay of my companions, who proudly insisted I speak Thai with everyone, I drew some blank stares but also encouraging smiles with the two Myanmar phrases I had committed to memory: Asa Asa= eat, and Dtao Ye= drink water – the purpose of today’s visit.

There was an official welcome gate, and the road winding down and into a wide open meadow leading to the village, now visible in the horizon. I felt as if I’d seen this road in a recent dream. A small Myanmar flag waved at one outpost just outside the town.

Adapted, with permission, from Stay tuned for the conclusion, to be published in a fortnight.

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