Don't overstay in Hakha
We arrived in Hakha on Friday evening. It's the capital of Chin state, somewhere above 6000ft, about three hours up the road from, maybe five times the size of, and at first impression not as lovely as lovely Falam where we had such a great time - praise The Lord - that writing about it will have to wait a while.
But first impressions can be mis-leading so I resist the temptation to move on too soon maybe by catching Saturday's lunchtime bus onwards. Which means staying until Monday it turns out; there are no buses on the Sabbath in Chin state. I'm fine with that. It will give the place some time to grow on me. Maybe I'll go to church. There are plenty to choose from.
Unfortunately the local Immigration officer (who reminds me of a story about Viv that Jim likes to tell) is not fine with me staying in Hakha until Monday. He's not fine that I stayed in Hakha last night and he's giving the manager of Cherry guesthouse a hard time about it. His problem with me is that my 28 day visa ran out 35 days ago. I'm overstaying as I've done before, as more people are doing.
There is so much to see in Myanmar, much more that you are now allowed to see, 28 days is nowhere near long enough and paying $3 a day for the now officially-sanctioned privilege of overstaying is a bargain in itself and much cheaper than bouncing back and forth to Bangkok for a new visa.
But that official sanction seems not to have reached up as high as Hakha and I spend a small part of Saturday afternoon in the Immigration office. Not that long though because my new non-friend throws me out of his office when I object to his moving of the goalposts. "Tourists are not allowed in Chin State." Yes they are; since November at least. "Overstaying is not allowed in Chin State." There was no problem at the Immigration office in Falam, also in Chin State. "Overstaying is not allowed in Hakha." Oh well, if YOU say so.
Which he did say to the guesthouse manager who told me that he could not allow me to stay even one more night let alone the two that I need to stay for before a bus is available to leave on. He seems genuinely upset about it and I'm conscious of not wanting to make any more trouble for him.
But I will need a place to stay. It's cold at night here. Too cold for camping but that's not an option anyway as I left my tent in Mandalay for that very reason. The prospect of sleeping on the street does not appeal but I don't think it will come to that. The Lord will provide. Or the Buddha (there is a monastery on the hill).
But more likely the Police. "May I Help You?" It says outside every police station in Myanmar. Let's put that to the test.
Inspired by my experience in Myawaddy last year when I learnt from inter-government-departmental rivalry working to my advantage I head up the hill past the near-abandoned, near derelict stadium that was built for the last National Student Games that were held here in 1998 (and never again anywhere since).
Inside the police station I explain my small problem to the plain-clothed duty officer who listens sympathetically and then calls the Immigration office. He's on the line for a good ten minutes saying not much more than "Yes .. Yes .. Yes". He puts the phone down gently and tells me that I will have to go back to Falam by motorcycle. Three hours on a bad mountain road, when it's already after 5pm, on the back of a motorbike with my rucksacks on my back? Sorry mate, nothing doing.
He's already woken a more senior officer who is sleeping in the next room. Rubbing his eyes he makes a couple of calls and I'm told to wait a while. Only now I notice that through the side door I can see the wire and wooden cage that is the cells. Four young men have their faces up against the wire looking at me. I ask if I can sleep in there maybe which draws laughter from a small group of other people sitting quietly on two rows of chairs in the main room. A uniformed officer amongst them wants to know where I have been in Myanmar. I start my long list of places visited and people start asking about their own particular home towns. The first cop is from Mandalay. His boss from Yangon. This is good news.
Ten minutes later I'm taken outside and into another building where two even more senior officers become involved. One calls the Immigration guy again and comes back with the same story about taking a motorbike to Falam. The second asks me for my story one more time. I explain that were there a bus Today or tomorrow I would be happy to take it but since there is not I cannot. "There is a bus at 1pm on Monday", he says. "Yes. I already have a ticket for it."
That does the trick. One more call is made to Immigration and very quickly a handshake is offered with the words, the first of all this spoken in English, "OK. You stay Cherry Guesthouse."
And with that we are off down the hill, me and my two new friends from Hakha Police (call 070-20129) to the guesthouse where the manager, my room key in his hand, is all smiles, "OK. Police no problem. Immigration no problem. Me no problem. You no problem."
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