Lashio, the Gateway to China,
Notwithstanding the events of the preceding night, on day thirteen I woke up late and felt well rested. But while taking a shower, I noticed insect bites on my back, possibly the result of bedbugs. We had to get out of that hotel fast.
Where Law and Order End
While Aung Aung was on the phone again, at last talking with Commander No. 9 (whom we referred to as "009"), I tried to evaluate our options for the next two days. We had to study the flight schedules, look for another hotel, get our permit for the border areas, arrange for a day-trip to Hsipaw, and decide which places to see in Lashio.
Commander No. 9 promised his cooperation and asked Aung Aung to call back at nine o'clock in the evening. For Burmese, "9" is an auspicious number, so could this phone call at nine o'clock be our lucky break? My travel agent in Yangon had received a first approval from the Ministry of Tourism and was talking then to the Ministry of Defense, that is, Military Intelligence. We would stay at least another night in Lashio. Besides, Yangon Airways had canceled all flights to Lashio, and Myanmar Airways flew only on Sundays. The only way out would be by train. I asked Aung Aung to call again and to make them an offer that, I thought, they could not refuse: given that the border area is not completely safe, we would suggest that one or two officers accompany us; and given that this would involve "expenses" for them-we did not specify what expenses-I would be willing to reimburse them one hundred US dollars. Much to my surprise they did resist the temptation and turned us down with the explanation that they did not have enough men available.
The Lonely Planet, a useful and reliable guidebook, especially for the independent traveler, had given Lashio's Nadi Ayeyar Guest House a positive review, and so we visited it, along with two other guest houses. All of them were cleaner than the fleabag we were in, and the Nadi Ayeyar was by far the best and not more expensive than where we were. Situated in a parklike compound comprised of several new buildings, it was the quiet, peaceful haven I had been looking for. An hour later we had moved in. This problem now solved, we could plan our excursions in and outside of Lashio. Let's have a look at the city.
Located at the end of the 160-mile-long (250 kilometers) railway line from Mandalay, Lashio is the starting point of the long Burma Road into China. From Lashio, it is some ninety miles (150 kilometers) farther along the road to the border town of Wanting and many hundreds of miles to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province. During World War II, this was the main route by which the British and the Americans transported arms, ammunition, and other supplies to Chang Kai-shek's troops in southern China, sometimes going as far as Chengdu and Chongqing. The other famous but much less well known route, the Ledo Road, leads from Myitkyina to India's Nagaland. The Burma Road of today is the trade route between China and Myanmar, but, as I mentioned earlier, much of that trade is illegal.
Now that Lashio is open to foreigners, it is easy to get there. Going by air and train are more comfortable than by car, which from Mandalay takes about eight hours. Lashio, or I should say the two Lashios-there is the bigger and newer Lashio Lay as well as the older Lashio Gyi-have a perfect natural setting in a valley surrounded by wooded hills upon which large temples and pagodas have been built. The climate is quite favorable here, and the air is cool and clear.
Another author, Ethel Mannin, made these observations about Lashio and its environs in her book The Land of the Crested Lion:
Bamboo and corrugated iron-what would the East do without it? The whole of Lashio seems to be constructed of these two things. From that verandah the town appeared as a sloping huddle of rusty corrugated iron roofs almost touching-many of them do in fact touch. A mist rose from the valley that held the town, and it was cold to the bare feet on the wooden floors. The minarets of the mosque were an unlit white against hills still dark. So beautiful is the setting of Lashio, range upon range of wooded hills, but the town itself is ramshackle and decaying, where it is not new and jerrybuilt and garish.
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