Sunday, October 12, 2014

STR Adventure Day 6 - Victoria Point, Burma. 0 km

Many people go to Ranong to renew their visa, as jumping across to Myanmar or Burma is a mere 1 hr boat ride. We had heaps of time left on our visa but nevertheless, the chance to visit one of the poorest and most secluded (& beautiful) country cannot be missed. No bicycles for today though, which no one seem to mind!

We had an easy morning at Le Ranong and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at a Muslim cafe selling delicious pratas or pancakes, eaten with curry. Washed down with Teh Tarik (sweet milk tea), it left us very satisfied.

Pic KC

I made a mistake of forgetting to prepare US$10 bills for the Burmese visa fee so we spent the morning trying to find money changers. Unfortunately, despite our best attempt including a ride to Tesco some 5km away to await the opening of the local bank branch, we were unsuccessful.

Khun Nok helped us hail a Songtheow to the jetty and 20 mins of bouncing around in the 30 year old vehicle, we arrived feeling very excited indeed.

Immediately, we were pounced upon by boatmen touts who obviously spotted us "fresh" meat from a mile away. The opening price was 600B per person but I've been in this game long enough not to get our throats slit too badly.

So off we went for a walkabout around town, still looking for money changers but it was futile. Obviously, there is a great need for this and the law of demand and supply should have kicked in long ago but then again, this is Thailand/Burma border. They operate on different laws!

Returning back to the jetty, the brother of one of the boatman tout offered to take us to Victoria Point and back for 350B. Strategy of playing "I'm not desperate" paid off. We cleared Thai immigration and soon found ourselves packed into a Burmese long tail boat with friendly Burmese locals. It was good that life jackets were required and we zipped off towards Kawthuang, the local name for VP but not before stopping at several inspection points.

Pic KC

Arriving on the most southern town of Burma, it was like being transported to another world. Though the basic infrastructures were there, it was obvious that people were much much poorer than their Siamese neighbours. Yet, across the town on an island is a very popular Casino frequented by rich locals and Thais. A young Burmese man of 19, wearing torn clothes, came to meet us and offered his sightseeing service. He wanted 200B but we managed to get it down to 150B each and he seemed pleased with that. His English was decent enough and his warmth endeared him to us. Our first stop was the immigration office, and we had to walk 50m from where our boat docked. There was no control whatsoever, so if one decided to just scoot off in the other direction, so be it!

The immigration officials were very friendly, and it was good to see their earnestness in trying to welcome visitors. Burma was formerly a British colony and many of the older Burmese can speak decent English. However, the standard of English has obviously dropped a bit since Her Majesty's troops left in 1948.

Our guide got us into a very nice Toyota Hiace mini-bus and our first stop was to see some important folklore statues at the waterfront. The lady is said to be the mother of the nation and her children the citizens. We gathered obediently to take the obligatory group picture as instructed by our young guide.

It was then back into our lovely aircon mini-bus, which struggled up some very steep hill to reach the park of King Bayint Naung where we once again, took another group picture. Playing the tourist was certainly starting to get boring.

Fortunately our next stop was very impressive, a huge Buddhist temple on top of a hill offering splendid views of Kawthuang. We had to pay a small fee to go in and being in the middle of the afternoon, we had the place pretty much to ourselves except for a courting couple.

Since Aug 9 was Singapore's National Day, KC was bestowed with the powers to grant honorary citizenship rights to all he met that day since he had brought along the Red and White. The zealous civil servant wasted no time to do carry out his duty to include everyone, and I mean everyone.

Pics KC

Our guide wanted to usher us into some duty free places but we carried only 2 Orb panniers on our bicycles so shopping was a no no. Instead, we asked to be driven to a nice place for lunch. That he did and we enjoyed excellent local fare. 

Pic KC

We were glad our guide joined us for lunch and we enjoyed getting to know him. Things apparently are much better now under Aung Sang Suu Kyi though "better" is relative. In the days not too long ago under the old Junta, protesters would be shot and citizens existed to be exploited. Though not out of the woods yet, I sense a glimmer of hope for the lovely people of Burma. It was a real privilege to meet the owner of the restaurant. She spoke very good English and had the most adorable kids. I felt very happy that we could support her business in a small way.

It was soon time to leave Victoria Point and once again we proceeded to the Immigration Office to get our passports stamped. Hopping into our long tail boat, we arrived at Saphan Phalar Jetty in Ranong feeling happy to be back to civilisation. After Burma, Ranong felt like New York City!

Pic KC

Khun Nok was waiting for us at Le Ranong and we enjoyed afternoon tea at her excellent cafe. The agenda for the evening was to get a massage at the beautiful spa at the Siam Hot Springs before dinner. Nothing beats a great Thai massage after a hard day of "touristing".

It was a unanimous vote to have dinner at the same Thai Chinese eatery as the previous night and this time, we had the honour of Khun Nok eating with us. How often does one get to eat with the hotel owner? She ordered the most delectable dishes for us and her hospitality knows no bounds. After dinner, she brought us to her friend's soya bean stall for dessert, and gave all of us a treat.

 Pic KC

What a day of contrast this has been. So special entering impoverish Burma for the very first time for all of us together and ending the day with a luxurious massage and superb dinner with a VIP Host. This is what touring is all about - rich (& poor) and unexpected experiences!

Kawthaung - Pic KC

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