Mekong TrailsFrom the north of Thailand to the Mekong river, spiritual Luang Prabang, Pakse, Paksong and the stunning archaeological ruins of Siem Reap
Our departure from Mandalay coincided with an auspicious event in Myanmar’s political landscape. Ang San Suu Kyi, leader of the victorious National League for Democracy, called all the successful candidates to a meeting in Yangon to in order to put them on notice. According Mr Soe Moe, our escort, guide and mentor on matters Burmese, the Lady’s message was short and to the point. I guarantee that you will go directly to jail if while in government you steal from the people, engage in corruption, employ corrupt officials or permit your families to steal or behave in a corrupt way. Sounds as if any portfolios that she dishes out won’t come with get out of jail free cards.
Our route has taken us over the Ayeyarwaddy from Mandalay to the provincial capital of Monywa. It’s a pleasant spot on the bank of the Chindwin River which is a mighty tributary of the Ayeyarwaddy. Our evening stroll along the river front port provided some stunning sunset vistas across a flotilla of abandoned Irrawaddy Inland Navigation Company hulks. There was no chance that these once stately steamers would ever get their paddle wheels a clunking again.
The disastrous floods of July took a heavy toll on the region’s infrastructure and on the people of Saigang Division. Bridges are still down and communities were devastated and displaced. It was the worst flooding ever known. As a consequence our road to the west was going to be long and circuitous by secondary roads over forested mountain ranges to Kale and then to Tamu at the border with India. It was a good chance to get in touch with countryside Myanmar. There is a lot of agricultural enterprise going on in this part of the country and not all of it is your usual run of the mill plantations of teak, rubber, rice paddy and horticulture.
At one comfort stop we encountered a mini oilfield operation where locals were plumbing the depths of a petroleum seep by means that looked Dickensian and definitely wouldn’t pass any occupation, safety or health scrutiny. The township markets are bursting with produce and imported goods, both locally made and from China. It seems a prosperous and forward looking region despite the dislocations and damage caused by the flooding.
Today we rose late, breakfasted leisurely and departed from Kale sedately for the 130km drive to Tamu. Teak and rubber plantations lined the road for most of the distance. To the west the hills of the India-Myanmar border closed in on the India-Myanmar friendship highway and pretty soon we were in Tamu, a bustling town where the border gate was attended by a gentleman sporting rotten teeth, a torn beetle nut stained singlet and a serious looking rifle. Our pre border foray to get the lie of the land was starting to raise a few hairs on the back of my neck.
When we fronted the border this morning in a slightly apprehensive frame of mind the post was occupied by a pleasant man in an immaculate uniform. Bustling about in the immigration station nearby were helpful young men wearing freshly pressed white shirts, name tags and smiles. It was all very relaxed on the India side as well and equally efficient if not just a tad over the top in the form filling out department. It was time to farewell Mr Soe Moe and our courteous driver Mt Than and greet out Manipuree Hosts Mr Pranam and Mr Rajip. Bye bye Myanmar and Hello India. Imphal was a 3 hr drive to the west across the forested hills of the historic Senam Pass where British and Indian armed forces had turned the tide of the Japanese advance into India in July 1944.