Thanks to all whose reports helped me to make my Chindwin river trip more prepared 🙂 My report is pretty long – I tried to share as much information as possible though.
A week before I went to Khamti (21.08), my Yangon friend called Myanma Airways to confirm the flight is on Sunday – info from previous reports and their website. She found out that it was on Wednesday and the rice was 54 000 kyat. As it sounded pretty cheap, though she has a travel agency and by default asks about prices for foreigners, I asked her to reconfirm it. She again heard the price quoted was for foreigners. As I am pretty used to changes in Myanmar and don’t like Mandalay so much to spend there more time than necessary, I asked my guide with whom I did trekking in Kyaukme to call and check if nothing changed. They confirmed the day and price. I went to Mandalay to Myanma Airways office (81st street between 25th and 26th) and learnt I needed to pay $75 and 54 000 kyat was the price for locals. In the morning I took it easy as check in time was 30 minutes the latest before the flight. I went to the airport by motorbike taxi and all went with no surprises till, after I checked in, a guy who showed me what door I should take told me I had to pay him 2000 kyat service charge. I showed him a ticket attached to my passport saying “Received the sum of Kyat ONE THOUSAND only against the PASSANGER SERVICE CHARGE” and told him I had no intention of paying anything more. He said “OK” and left.
When we landed in Khamti, immigration officer approached even before I entered the airport building. He wanted to know how many days I would spend in Khamti and what my next destination would be. I gave him a copy of my passport but he needed as well a copy of the stamp till when I am allowed in Myanmar so we went to the center together. As there had been no info on Aye Kaung Myain guesthouse before, I decided to stay there. Upon check in I heard I needed to pay 15 000 kyat a day but told the lady it was a little bit too much and reduced it to 10 000. Then when the officer left and I saw the room which was very basic, with a mosquito net, I asked her to make it 8000. She was very flexible and I felt she would make it even 6000 but decided not to bargain more. There were squat toilets and a bucket shower outside. Everything simple but clean. Light: 7-10 pm. When I went for a walk I decided to stop by at a random restaurant (An Kyin Nar Yate). Spent there 3, maybe 4 hours. I met Kaung San – a guy who spoke as little English as I speak Burmese – who brought a motor taxi guy for me. I decided to pay 50 000 kyat to go to Lahe and stay there overnight. I made an appointment with the driver for 6 am and we agreed that if the weather would be bad, we would leave no later than 8 am. Then, I thought, it would be good to check with immigration if I can go there (well, I know the order of doing things could have been different…). Kaung San went with me there and it turned out, as expected, I cannot leave Khamti. i heard from guides in Kyaukme that if guides take tourists to closed areas, they may finish in prison, so “no” in this case means for me “no”.
There is wifi in Khamti – I decided not to use the internet for a week, so didn’t investigate on that but my computer found a network once when I was using it in a guesthouse. Sitting in one of tea shops at the river bank I met Ivano, a 28 year old businessman from Hong Kong who came to Chindwin area to check on opportunities and rented a boat for 4 days for $2800. In the same restaurant a man just joined me without even asking – he brought food and invited me to eat but I was full. When leaving he paid my bill what I learnt just after the boys cleaned the table when he left. So these things happen not only to men 🙂 I didn’t go to beer stations as I know the Myanmar get drunk pretty easily and I just don’t enjoy this type of entertainment with strangers. Anyway, in many local restaurants I attracted attention anyway and being usually the only woman was not always comfortable – especially is smaller places. They have a ferry that functions as a “ship market” as I was told. On Thursday it was in Khamti, the next day I saw it in a village nearby.
The speed boat to Thamanthi (left at 7 am) cost 7000 kyat and arrived at the village around noon. You buy a ticket just before the departure. Though I travelled during wet season, there was no rain at all and it was pretty hot. In Thamanthi I stayed in the cheapest guesthouse I had ever stayed in Burma. I paid 3000 kyat. Thamanthi is super small with friendly people – I bathed with children in the river, had meals in different restaurants, visited pagodas and monasteries. Liked it and spent there two nights. Light is on 7-9.30 pm. Didn’t see anybody from immigration. As well, one of restaurant owners told me last time she saw foreigners was in January this year.
The speed boat to Homalin leaves around 1 pm (Khamti – Homalin boat stops in Thamanthi for lunch). The ticket is 7000 kyat. Boat From Khamti to Homalin it’s 10 000. Around 3 pm we stopped in the middle of nowhere and a bigger boat approached ours. It turned out that the bigger one went to Monywa with a stop in Homalin and we chose either. I went to the bigger one and after half an hour a man came to check my ticket. I told the man that I gave it to a ticket man on a small boat and he said ‘OK’ – nobody else had their tickets checked. In Homalin I was offered help with my backpack by a lady from the boat. She wanted to take me to a guesthouse. I accepted that and her friend joined us – we had a walk to heck on different options and it turned out that the most reasonable was Pyae Sone for 9000 kyat for a simple room with a fan when the electricity is on (6.30 -10 pm) (price for locals was 4500). Though I asked for reducing the price, the manager said it was not possible. Homalin was the first place where it was raining but still it didn’t lose its charm. I had a room just close to the reception which was convenient but the day/ night I was leaving, the manager with one of the guys were talking pretty loud and then started watching TV at 2 am and though I asked for tuning the volume down, it seemed as if they didn’t realize that acoustic was so good – I didn’t fall asleep again that night.
The boat to Mawlaik – I was recommended to take Aye Nyn Chan Tar company (later on, in Mawlaik I learnt that this is the only company that has the same prices for locals and foreigners) – left at 4 am sharp (it was the sharpest 4 am I have ever experienced in Myanmar :)) was 7000 kyat and we were in Mawlaik around 1.30 pm. No stops for lunch – maybe because we got stuck in the shallow water, maybe this company doesn’t have it in the schedule. In Mawlaik I went to Pwint guesthouse but they didn’t accept any guests as they are building more new rooms. I was taken by one of the guys to AKZ and it was great. From the very beginning I was taken care of. Tin Tun Hlaing contacted U Thant Zin (not asked to do that). He arrived in the late afternoon and asked the guesthouse to arrange a bicycle for me. We went to see rice paddies and around the town. On the way he stopped a few times to introduce me to some people. When we got back I met the immigration officer. When I asked him what I can do for him (this is what the Burmese always ask me), he told me that all was perfect and he just came to say ‘welcome’. Next day I just spent a few hours with U Thant Zin. I wanted to go to Kindat but without a permit from Monywa it was not possible. I liked Mawleik and spent there 3 days and 3 nights. The fact that the guesthouse has a small internet cafe was mentioned before so just to confirm – it is still there 🙂 (700 kyat/ hour). The room was 5000 kyat. It was simple but clean. I like the vibe among the staff there as well – felt good there.
I wanted to take a boat to Kalewa at 9.30 am but eventually I didn’t. When I was buying a ticket it turned out I had to pay 9000 kyat though the normal price was 3000. So far I bought tickets in “local prices” with no problem and just didn’t feel like showing them that I didn’t care how much I had to pay. I showed them the tickets I had and commented the one they want to sell me was unreasonably expensive and if they keep on making the price for foreigners three times higher than for locals, foreigners might stop coming to Mawlaik. Tin Tun Hlaing, the owner of the guesthouse, and me made fun that they are not precise on the board and it should sound “Warmly welcome your money and take care of it with pleasure“. He was awesome with help and eventually I jumped onto a cargo boat and after 2,5 hours was in Kalewa. The first question after I boarded was “Have you eaten yet?”. I told them I was not hungry, so was given a can of Shark and a bottle of water. Each guy who came to prepare a portion of betel nut, offered it to me as well 🙂 The captain didn’t accept any money so I left them a bag full of fruits I was given by U Thant Zin.
In Kalewa I stayed in Chit Ko Ko guesthouse. My room was clean and comfortable. They have squat and western toilets, bucket and normal shower. The only new experience there was a mouse sitting on my flipflops but it got scared and run away when I clapped my hands 🙂 I thought it left my room. Then it turned out that instead of sunflower seeds I had leftovers. The disgusting thing is I had the seeds in my handbag on the bed where I was lying. I took a picture of it when it came to drink water which I spilt by accident on the floor. I showed the reception guys the picture. It was amazing to see smiles on their faces when each of them in turn said “mouse!”. I told them I don’t want to have it my room and complained that it ate sunflower seeds from my handbag which was lying close to my legs when I was reading. The only one who understood said “mouse like sunflower”. Priceless experience…
I guess I spent in Asia too much time as I was pretty relaxed. How could I get mad if our perspectives are so different… Well, I am just a guest in a Buddhist country…
Anyways, a single room was 9000 but when I asked they reduced the price to 7500. When I had a walk, I met Kalewa head of Surveillance who speaks little English. He showed me a handwritten piece of paper with my passport and visa details and asked for confirmation. I checked with him if I can go to Mingin and he said “yes”. When I asked if I could stay overnight and if they had licensed guesthouses he told me he didn’t know. I decided to risk. As well, when I asked if I could go to Falam, Hakha and Tidim, he told me it will 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 his number and told to call him if I had any problems. I went to Chin state for 3 days and my report from there is here http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?newPost=true&threadID=2346250. My computer found a wifi network when I was using it in the guesthouse late in the evening. The electricity was 6.30 to 11.00 pm.
When I was back in Kalewa from Chin state I found out there were two internet cafes – in one of them the internet was worse than bad and my pendrive got infected with a virus. I met as well a new immigration officer. He served before in Hsipaw and was relocated “to help tourists” for half a year. In the very beginning very serious but after we chatted, he got relaxed. He doesn’t like Kalewa, so try to make his life easier 🙂 It was not the first time that the page with the stamp of my stay due to was crucial. As well, he wanted to know how I got to Kalewa – showed him a ticket so he could copy the name of the company. The funny guys in the guesthouse wanted to give me the same room as I had before and started to laugh when I asked jokingly for a SINLGE room, with no animals 🙂
I was told by a few people that a boat to Mingin leaves at 1 pm. I wanted to be there by noon so I just waited and asked each boat’s crew if they stop there. I left at 8.30 and was in Mingin before 11 am. I paid for the ticket 5000. A ticket from Kalewa to Monywa is 5000 as well. No matter where you leave, you pay the same amount. They wanted me to give them 10 000 but I insisted on paying less. It turned out they stopped there just for me. In Mingin I was met by police and immigration and directed to a place where officers usually stay. It is not a proper guesthouse. Actually I was told there is no guesthouse in Mingin. Immigration officer interviewed me for 15 minutes or so. He was very interested why I have so many visas and why I want to spend so much time in Myanmar – his idea was I was a journalist. Ko Nay Linn and his lovely wife welcomed me warmly. Ko Nay Linn is a civil servant in charge of a township. He tried to convince me the same day but after we had a talk we agreed I would take the 4 am boat – the only reliable and planned boat from Mingin down the river. His concern was my safety – drunk men are annoying and I am a single traveler so shouldn’t feel safe. He lent me a bike and I went to a nearby village stopping to take some pictures. I was followed by two men – a policeman and immigration officer. I felt strange but said thank you for securing my safety. People reacted to me as if they haven’t seen a foreigner for a few years but I heard there have been a few lately, including organized groups stopping just for an hour or two. I slept where the officers normally sleep – with all windows and door open – I confirmed with Ko Nay Linn it was not unsafe… I really liked Mingin – it is a cute little town with a few nicely looking pagodas.
There is no internet there, no buses, just one type of phones working (neither GSM nor CDMA), electricity from 7 pm to 9.30. Great place if you want to be left in peace.
I was to take a boat at 4 am but I saw it leaving at 3.30 am. I woke up Ko Nay Linn and hoped he can call them or something. Just after 10 minutes another boat appeared and luckily stopped as a few people wanted to leave. They wanted me to pay 30 000 though the ticket was 5000. A man who as very polite and spoke English told me that I have a different price I was a tourist. I showed him again other tickets to prove I have always paid local rate and told him I live in Myanmar and I am not a tourist here. Luckily he didn’t use t he argument I was a foreigner 😉 He needed to talk to the manager and at the end I paid 5000.
It took us 6 hours to get to Monywa where I finished my Chindwin river adventure. I traveled down the river for 15 days (including 3 days in Chin state). My small success was that for all tickets on the way Khamti-Monywa I paid like locals. I was shown in Khamti, Thamanthi and Homalin it is natural so then just insisted on continuing this. It was a really great time and if you like small city and a lot of contact with locals, I would strongly recommend the route.