Leaving Ranong was a prolonged affair. As the days counted down to our departure, there was a steady succession of sad goodbyes – the last day of each of our classes, the official farewell with all the MMR staff, a nice dinner out with the community at the place they’ve been saying we should try since our first week here, some wonderful visits to our students’ houses, the last afternoon at the Prayer House, the last Thai Mass, the last Burmese Mass….. – many of which were premature, as we would usually see the people involved the next day anyway. So I’m sure there were sighs of relief all round when we finally, really and truly, actually this time, LEFT.
We had booked many tickets on the Bangkok night bus for our visitors, but this was the first time we had taken it ourselves. It was a holiday weekend and the VIP busses were all booked out by the time we went to buy our tickets so we had to make do with the 3rd class option. Luckily, our fears of an uncomfortable 10 hours were unfounded. If anything, the absence of Thai music videos blaring all night made this bus even better than the luxury one, and even I managed a few hours sleep. Andrew, of course, slept right through…..
Now we’re settled into a nice cheap wee guesthouse in Bangkok, a few hundred metres away from the main backpacker strip of Khaosan Road – close enough to be interesting, far enough away to be quiet. We haven’t yet been taken out by a bus/tuk tuk/other crazy Bangkok driver, although I have gone one up on Andrew by being the first to be hit by a taxi. (Ok, ‘nudged’ might be more appropriate. It was moving at roughly the same pace we were walking, and the wing mirror just caught my elbow. The driver was very apologetic.)
Our first day here was taken up with navigating our way through the complexities of the Burmese visa application process. Finding the location of the embassy (the complete lack of a website and the embassy’s tendency to neither answer the phone nor return phone messages meant an address was hard to come by) in hindsight, turned out to be the easy part. I don’t know what it was that made the guy behind the counter so intensely suspicious of us, but for some reason he just didn’t seem to believe that we were only tourists. We suspect the six months in Thailand on non-immigrant visas didn’t do us any favours. Long story short, after much questioning we were told to produce a letter from our employer in Thailand certifying that our trip to Myanmar had nothing to do with them. Since the closest thing we had to an employer was a 10 hour bus ride away, some quick thinking, a few phone calls, an email or two and a pp’d signature were required to get the requisite letter to Mr Suspicious before the close of business. But mission accomplished: two Burmese visas in hand by the next afternoon
(Mr Suspicious, dangling our passports just out of reach; “Just tourists this time, right?”
Us: “yes, yes”.
MS: “Ok”. Pause. “I believe you”.
Us: earnest smiles and inward sighs of relief.)
The Iranian visa by comparison was a walk in the park. We eked a small smile from the serious man behind the counter as we proved ourselves to more organized than he imagined possible, by pre-empting his every request for further information/documentation/authorization codes/proof of payment in advance. Most bizarre moment at the Iranian embassy: we had both dressed as conservatively as possible for the occasion, with full length pants and long sleeve loose fitting shirts. Our attire was duly inspected at the gate and I was given a headscarf to borrow before we were allowed to enter. But when we walked into the waiting room, one of only two other people waiting was a Thai woman in short shorts, a t-shirt and no headscarf in sight. Bet her visa wasn’t processed as quickly as ours…
Of course our time in Bangkok hasn’t all been hanging out at embassies. We’ve seen the grandeur of Wat Kaew, Wat Po and the Grand Palace, climbed the spires of Wat Arun (The Temple of Dawn), wandered through the chaotic markets of China Town at night, eaten cheap and tasty wanton noodle soup by the roadside, and spent hours walking off the good food we indulged in far too much of in Ranong!
And tomorrow the travels really begin, as we set off for Burma – our crack of dawn flight to Yangon will be followed immediately by a 17 hour bus trip to Taunggyi. Prayers of all fashions are most welcome =)