In the vast array of information on travelling South East Asia, I found it particularly difficult to find information on the visa process and the land border crossings for Myanmar. With this in mind I have decided to draw upon my own experiences of the two, and aim to write a simple-to-understand post to help other travellers out.
The visa process
I don’t know about anyone else, but there’s something about obtaining a visa that makes me really nervous. I know fine well I have nothing to be worried about, I’m not a criminal, but never-the-less it puts me on edge. Much like when you go through immigration and you get this ridiculous idea that they’re going to turn you away, or when you go shopping and don’t buy anything, then tell yourself to act natural when you walk out … as if you’ve stolen something. No idea what that’s all about.
Anyway, the visa process for Myanmar is very simple, but I only know this from my own experience. I applied for the visa when I was in Chiang Mai; I can’t imagine it’s anymore difficult to apply from your home country or anywhere else though, just find the Myanmar consulate and go from there.
In Chiang Mai the Myanmar consulate is located here. I decided to walk there from my hostel on Thapae Road, because it was a good way to explore, however I know some friends who caught a Tuk Tuk for 40 baht.
It sounds obvious, but make sure you have a passport photo. Unsurprisingly I forgot to do this, so I had to walk to the nearest shopping centre and buy some. FYI the Kodak shop sells 5 photos for 100 baht! I can’t remember the name of the shopping centre but they’ll be able to tell you at the consulate, or at the public library you’ll pass on the way.
When I’d obtained my hideous passport photos I went back and filled in the application form; a bog standard visa application, then I handed over my 800 baht and went on my merry way. You have to leave your passport with them, and it will take 3 business days to get the visa: this is the perfect time to go and visit Pai before coming back down to Chiang Mai and travelling onwards to Myanmar.
Side note: I know people who applied for the online visa, and said it was just as easy. However it costs approx double the amount, but the plus side is you can get it quicker (next day I think) so it’s perfect for people who are short on time but want to fit Myanmar into their schedule.
From my own research I gathered that there are 4 land border crossings: Mae Sot-Myawaddy, Mae Sai-Tachileik, Ranong-Kawthaung and Phunaron-Htee Kee. I decided to go for the Mae Sot-Myawaddy crossing as it sounded like the simplest in terms of onward travel once crossing the border. For further information on the other three, check out Go Myanmar.
To travel from Chiang Mai to Mae Sot I took a bus: Green Bus Thailand to be exact. It cost about 300 baht from what I can remember, and for an 8 hour bus ride that’s not bad. It says on the timetable it takes around 6 hours, but we learned from a regular of that bus route that it’s always around 8. The bus itself was fine, no complaints, but unfortunately because it actually took longer to get there, the Myawaddy border was closed by the time we got to Mae Sot. My advice is to go for the earlier bus at 8:30am.
Having said that, we actually stayed at a really nice hostel called Sleep Nest, and Mae Sot is actually a lot bigger and houses a lot more expats than I would have thought, particularly American expats. The plus side of staying over for a night means that you’re cutting up your travel time, because who really wants to be on a bus for 18 hours? (18 hours being the total time between Chiang Mai and Yangon in Myanmar)
We got up in the morning and headed straight to the border. It should be noted that Mae Sot is not like your usual tourist destination in Thailand, which is crawling with taxis. We walked for 15 minutes before we gave up, went into a cafe and asked them to call a taxi for us. So I’d sort it out before you leave.
It took us about 10 minutes to get through the Thai Immigration, very easy, then we walked about 5 minutes over the ‘friendship bridge’ to the Myawaddy border. We were greeted instantly by the friendliest people who took us through to get our passports stamped; there were absolutely no queues and it was relatively quick. Then we were sorted and ready to explore one of the best countries I’ve ever visited!
If you want to know about my onward travel to Yangon, read my article on how to travel Myanmar in 10 days.
All in all it was a very simple, fairly quick process, with some beasty bus journeys in between. But that’s what us budget backpackers do right? Skimp out on smooth, expensive flights in order to spend more money on actual experiences. Plus, what’s an 8 hour bus journey in the grand scheme of things? It could be worse.