Thandaung MyanmarMyanmar Thandaung
At the beginning of the year, when the Ministry of the Interior published a listing of the previously closed areas that are now accessible to international visitors, I noticed Thandaung in the state of Kayin. But I knew it was an old UK mountain terminal just south of Taungoo - and therefore not very far from Yangon - but not much more.
Fast researches resulted in the fact that there are two Thandaungs: THANDANDANDUNG LY, 21 kilometers (13 miles) eastward of Taungoo, and THANDANDUNG GYI, another 23 kilometers eastward, on a much higher mountain. Thandaung Gyi is on the Ministry's register as an area in which there is no need for a previous permit, but which "may only be used in the city centre".
One of them phoned the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism in Nay Pyi Taw a fortnight before the journey to verify that Thandaung Gyi was now open and that no specific authorization was needed. A man at the other end of the line spends 30-minute conversations with others in his offices before making an urgent suggestion to obtain approval.
When we arrived in Taungoo in the Bago region, we got more disturbing advices where we stayed one of the nights before we left for the old mountain terminal. After that we visited Dr. Chan Aye, who is leading some of the favourite Elefant Tours to the Bago Yoma just outside Taungoo. "Thandaung Gyi is open to aliens from a technical point of view, but if you don't have a permit, you may be asked to turn back," he said.
However, he added that he had never tried to bring foreign nationals there, so that he was not sure about the moment. A co-worker said we would return to the Sittoung River check-point on the east side of Taungoo. Just a few weeeks before, he said, a group of Japanese-stayers had tried to get to the top of the mountain just to be pulled over at the first check point.
Later, the immigrant officers came to the motel and made it difficult for the personnel to "send aliens to Thandaung Gyi". We also made a call from Taungoo to Zion Baptist Church, which operates a simple guest house in Thandaung Gyi. Countering the negative by reassuring us that there would be no problem, they added that a few aliens had recently shown up on motorbikes and stayed the same.
I' d chosen to go by bike from Taungoo to Thaundaung Gyi and was probably the first alien to bike on the 44 km long track. Leaving Taungoo around 7:30am, I was glad to see that the feared Sittoung River check-point was not manned. But the cheering was only of brief duration, as I was about 5 km further at another check point stop.
I was immediately asked by an immigrant officer for my passport. Meanwhile, another officer came by and made a few movements that indicated that I had to turn around and go back to Taungoo. Then my boyfriends drove into their vehicle and told the officer that I was a reporter who wanted to talk about Thandaung Gyi.
That message - which two years ago would have made me go back to Taungoo, if not to Yangon International Airport for a forced plane to Bangkok - somehow saved the world. With the proviso that I would make a photocopy of my pass in Thandaung Gyi and hand it in at the check-point on the way back to Taungoo, we were permitted to continue.
I drove three hrs and 1200 vertical meters later - Thandaung Gyi is 1260 meters above sealevel - to the second check point, about 100 meters behind the bullish shield "Welcome to Thandaung Gyi" and in the city. Immediate response among migration officers was no, I could not get into the city.
I had a few days to get back to my Myanmar friend and negotiated with the officers that I could go into the city but not stay overnight. After a little more debate it was agreed that I could come in and maybe even stay overnight if it were okay for the folks who run the guest house of Zionskirche.
Thus our one-car one wheel procession triumphed in Thandaung Gyi. Stop to buy a snack at a store run by a Nepali -born Daw Suu, who said that two Americans had come to the city last weekend but were supposed to go before noon.
Like a keyword, at that point we were addressed by a police officer who asked me to know how I had been able to get to the city without being turned around. The Zion skirche hosts us with a warm welcome, inviting us to their home and offering us dinner and cafe.
"but when they get here, tell them to go. He hastened to withdraw after deciding that these extenuating circumstances made it somehow tolerable for me to sleep and we did not encounter any more difficulties during our time in Thandaung Gyi.
We met a Myanmar military commander called Maung Htwe, who ran a small plant that was processing local growing for use by the troop. We were shocked when we reported to him about the difficulties with which we had to reach the city. "thandaunggyi' s open.
As he found out that I was a novelist, he was very grateful to me for having come to support the city as a traveler. However, the issue is whether Thandaung Gyi can still be regarded as a sustainable traveler' s goal.