The head of Surveillance I met in Kalewa told me I could go to Falam, Hakha and Tidim but commented it would be difficult without a guide as I cannot speak Myanmar and nobody speaks English there. We had a very simple chat in Myanmar and he told me I should survive. He gave me his number and told to call him if I had any problems.
I took 7 am pick up to Kalay and was there around 9. I took a motorbike taxi and asked the driver to take me to the bus station from which I can go to Tidim, Hakha or Falam. He stopped on the way to ask a policeman if it was ok for me to go there. A policeman asked me for permit but I didn’t have it, told him I didn’t think I need one and asked where I can check if I really needed it. He told me I could risk and go but they can turn me back at the Kalay checkpoint. I asked him how far the checkpoint was (16 km away) and decided to go there and check. A guy there told me it is ok to go. When I started asking questions, he just took a map of Chin state from the wall, draw lines, circled open towns with a marker and asked me to give it back when I am done with my travel. It was Saturday. Chin state is Christian so no buses go there on Sunday which meant I would have to wait two days. A motor taxi driver told me he could take me there and we just continued driving – 8 hours on a motorbike in the mountains. A short pick up within the city borders turned out to be a two day journey (207 km one way) for a motor taxi driver J It cost me 65 000 (room, food, petrol and chain included) and I feel like it was a fair price.
We stopped in Falam as there were some problems with the chain so I went to a tea shop. I meat Daniel, who knows 10 languages – majority are dialects but he speaks decent English. We agreed that when I am back in town, I will give him a call and he will show me around.
In Hakha we stayed at Rung guesthouse. I paid 10 000 for my room and half the price for the driver’s. I got discount as I stayed two days – normal price for foreigner is 15 000. The room had a western toilette, a shower and a bucket shower. I saw two more guesthouses which looked better with good cars outside. One looked like a good hotel built not long time ago. There are many buildings being built now, so there might be more guesthouses soon. A girl from the reception didn’t know if other guesthouses had licenses.
I was surprised so many people spoke English and couldn’t understand Kalewa policeman’s concerns. I met a few people as well with whom I was not able to communicate in Burmese – they only knew Chin. Along the main street I saw 3 internet spots – 2 of them were open on Sunday and the internet was really decent – probably because it was Sunday. A handful of simple convenience stores were open as well but 98% was closed. There is a restaurant with good food just close to clock tower on the left when you face the tower. Its existence is not obvious as it is on the first floor and signs are just in Burmese. Its name is Chin Taung Taan (Tan – I saw different spellings).
I heard from 8 or 10 people that the bus to Falam or/ and Kalay leaves at 6 am. The girl in the guesthouse told me it sometimes leaves at 5 am. I decided not to spend additional day in Hakha and woke up at 4.30. The bus was 5.40 am but I am pretty sure it can easily be at 5.15 or whatever. I was in Falam at 9. The ticket cost 2000. There were 4 landslides on the way and the guys got out of the bus to remove the stones and make the road passable. I went with Golden Lion Express Hakha Kalay. There was one more bus with the name written on it “Chin Taung Taan” – same as the restaurant I recommended but I didn’t see it taking people on the way.
In Hakha i stayed at Moon guesthouse and the owner is a charming, very welcoming person and speaks English. The room is 8000 and I got a key to a private bathroom with a western toilette. I met as well He Dun who speaks very good English, shared with me many stories and his knowledge about Myanmar and Chin state is really impressive. He helped me as well with the names of places that were marked on my map and are open to foreigners in northern Chin which don’t require permit. These are listed from the south:
Tedim (Tidim – both spellings used),
I am pretty sure He Dun will be happy to meet you when you travel to Falam. There are at least two internet cafes that are open 7-9 pm.
The next day I took a minibus back to Kalay. It was 7000 and we were in the city at 1.00. The normal, regular bus leaves at 7 and after 9 am – the later is the bus from Hakha. I was told the ticket was 3000. The road from Hakha was really bumpy though, so I wanted to make it to Kalay in a more comfortable way. On the way back I left the map, so you might get it when you decide to go to Chin state 🙂
Each time I took a bus or mini bus in Chin state it stopped at some point in the very beginning of the journey and all people prayed. Religion plays a huge role there and the strongest minority is baptists. Typical names in Hakha and Falam were “Mercy” tea and net café, “Holy” guesthouse, “Nazareth” fashion shop, “Genesis” café any my favourite “Belssing” internet café 🙂
It has been my second time to Chin state and I find it a little bit strange to feel the difference between Christian and Buddhist people in Myanmar. Dogs definitely look better in Christian area but I saw twice – village are – people kicking them. In Buddhist states dogs look really miserable. So is their life. But, on the other hand, I feel super safe in Buddhist states where I sometimes leave door to my room open when I go to have a shower. Padlocks and chains in Chin state make me feel strange. Nothing has ever disappeared from my room in either places but this is just the feeling of trust which changes a lot. In Falam i was taken by a guy from the guesthouse to a Baptist church and after a mass, a woman approached me and was trying to explain something. I told her in Myanmar that I didn’t understand but she kept on speaking Chin. I just left but she followed me, I turned out and repeated I didn’t get the point, so she pulled my bag and wanted to open it. I guess she wanted to be offered some money. It might be just simplification referring to religion but this is just what I came up with.
In Hakha I heard from the owner of the guesthouse and He Dun that last traveler was in Falam in October 2012. I am really glad I did it. This part of Myanmar is amazing nature-wise and people are really happy to see foreigners. Except of poor infrastructure which makes it more difficult to travel, it has a lot to offer and is still untouched which is a great value. Strongly recommended!
I decided not to go to Tidim because of the weather and I felt as well that Chin state can bring nothing new to my so far experience. I went back to Kalay and Kalewa to go to Mingin and further down. In the morning in one of Falam tea shop I met an immigration officer who told me I could make it to Mingin and they had one guesthouse for officers which had a license. He promised to call his friend who is an immigration officer there and tell him I was to arrive in the town the following day.