Myanmar, a country which has quite recently opened up to foreign tourists, is a big mystery when it comes to finding the right information on the internet. How to get in, where to apply for the visa, where to go, what to do, if it is a backpackers-friendly country or not; these are one of the very common questions that many travel enthusiasts have on their minds, and it is only fair because there is just not enough information!
I decided to go backpacking Myanmar when I was travelling in Thailand in 2016. I did some research on the internet; through travel blogs and Facebook groups, asking people for their opinions and recommendations. It all sounded very positive and doable. It was enough to make me start planning for my trip from Thailand to Myanmar and create a rough itinerary based on my research. Here is a brief account of what I did to enter this beautiful country:
As I was planning to enter Myanmar by land, I found out about the four land crossings from Thailand – Mae Sot, Mae Sai, Phunaron and Ranong. Out of all these four, Mae Sot/Malwaddy is the most trouble-free entry point. (For more details on land borders, visit: http://www.go-myanmar.com/arriving-and-departing-over-land)
Now, to enter Myanmar by land, you need to arrange a visa beforehand. Since I was in Chiang Mai, I went to the Myanmar consulate, which is near the North Gate in Old Town. The process is very simple: bring two passport-size photos, the original and a copy of your passport, a name of the guesthouse you would be staying at in Myanmar, fill up the form and submit everything at the window and come back after two days to pick up your passport!
Once you have your visa ready, your next step is to get to Mae Sot. There is a direct bus service from Chiang Mai to Mae Sot every day. I took the one that leaves at 8:30 am and drops you to your destination at around 3:30 pm and I paid 290 Bhat for an air conditioned bus.
Once you arrive in Mae Sot, you need to make your way to the friendship bridge. Now, you can either take a tuk-tuk which would cost you around 150 Bhat or; you can take a shared Songthaew, which shouldn’t cost you more than 30 Bhat (I paid 25 Bhat). It is a 15 minutes drive to the Friendship Bridge.
Simply walk to the Thai immigration, finish all the formalities and voila! You are out of Thailand! Wait, it isn’t over yet! Cross the bridge and walk towards the Myanmar immigration office.At the entry point, they would ask you to write your details on a register and escort you to the main office where you fill up another form, show your passport, answer a few simple questions like what is your first destination in Myanmar and planned duration of stay in the country. Now, as you must have noticed in your visa, you only get 28-day stay once you enter Myanmar as a tourist. So, just pick any date before the 28th day from the day of your arrival and you will be okay. Within 10 minutes the whole process will be over, and you will have your visa stamped by the officer.
Welcome to Myanmar!
Now, here things get a little weird and might seem a bit shady to some people. One of the officers would ask you to follow him and get you in touch with one of the taxi drivers. Since I wanted to go to Hpa-An, I was told that there was no bus to that town and a taxi was the only option. They offered a price (10,000 Kyats), and there was no scope for negotiation. I wasn’t quite sure about why the immigration was so pushy and taking so much interest into where and how I was going from there. Later, I found out that the Myanmar government likes to keep an eye on every tourist to make sure that they are going to the place they mentioned in the register and stayed only at one of the government-approved guesthouses. As a foreign tourist, you can not just stay at any guesthouse, and homestay is illegal in the country. So, the immigration officer wanted to be sure that we followed all the rules.
So, since I had no choice, I got into the taxi(air conditioned and very comfortable) and after a 3-hour ride filled with beautiful views and glimpse of Myanmar countryside, we arrived at the guesthouse called Soe Brothers. It was USD 7 for a single room and USD 12 for a double room for a night. Now, that’s the thing with Myanmar. The prices for food and transportation are very low, but the accommodation is ridiculously expensive! The condition of the hostel wasn’t very impressive, and the rooms looked pretty basic and old. But, it was alright. They had free internet, water and coffee facilities and the staff was very friendly and kind. Everyone spoke fairly good English, and they give you a map with all the important places to visit around Hpa-An.
So, all-in-all, it was a pretty interesting journey, moving from Thailand to Myanmar overland. An experience of its own and memorable, at the very least!
- In Myanmar, you will be required to pay for accommodation in USD. So, carry with yourself some fresh, crispy, unrolled and undamaged dollar bills.
- There are some areas in Myanmar which are not open to tourists yet. So, be careful while picking the entry point. Mae Sot is, so far, the easiest entry point and through here, you can easily travel within the unrestricted areas by road.
- Accommodation is pretty costly in Myanmar. Expect prices between $7 to $20 per night for dorms or single/double rooms, depending upon the area you are in. It’s recommended to make prior bookings through any of the hostel booking websites like Agoda, Booking or Hostel.com.
- Homestay and camping are strictly illegal in the country. While camping, try to be discreet and quiet during the night.
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