Beyond Borders: Thailand to Myanmar overland

Now that Myanmar’s borders with Thailand are officially open to foreigners, it is a great opportunity to plan that overland backpacking journey that you always thought about.

A map showing the legal border crossings between Thailand and Myanmar (click to enlarge)
A map showing the legal border crossings between Thailand and Myanmar (click to enlarge)

Myanmar has in the past year or two opened many of its land borders with neighbouring countries to tourists. Only the land border with Bangladesh remains closed to foreigners. All the others, including one with China and one with India, are possible to use (albeit with various difficulties).

With Thailand, the border crossing at Mae Sot/Myawaddy is the best route into the country, as it is strategically positioned closest to Yangon and the Golden Rock of Kyaiktiyo. It is also a popular option for “visa runs”. If you then wanted to explore the rest of Myanmar on a backpacking circuit that incorporates Bagan, Mandalay, and Inle Lake, you could exit the country overland back into Thailand at the Tachileik/Mae Sai border crossing, which is closest to Inle Lake (I think you will need to fly from Inle Lake’s local airport at Heho to Tachileik as travel for foreigners is restricted to and from the Tachileik area by bus). This exit will mean you are fairly close to the far-northern Thai city of Chiang Rai, so you have basically backpacked on a horseshoe route beginning and ending at different places in Thailand (both popular backpacker hideouts) while taking in the major sights of Myanmar as well!

The border market at Mae Sot in Thailand
The border market at Mae Sot in Thailand (notice the Burmese writing on the shop fronts)

There is actually a 5km distance between “downtown” Mae Sot and the actual border crossing, so walking is not advised. Some tuk tuk drivers tried to charge me upwards of 150 Baht for the ride to the border, but as it is a journey that needs to be made, perhaps you just have to bite your lip and pay the price! I certainly did!

There is hardly any accommodation in Mae Sot, so finding a room for an overnight stay may be extremely difficult if the border crossing is not open when you arrive in the evening (the Thai side is open from 6am-6pm). However, there is a market near the border crossing that is very popular with backpackers, and you can usually find some good food and interesting souvenirs here from both sides of the border.

maesot2

When you get to the Thai customs office at the border, situated before crossing the Friendship Bridge, you must give them your Myanmar Visa and you will be asked how long to intend to stay in Myanmar. I just picked a random number of 14 days (must be under 28 days). Then you get your passport stamped by Thai exit customs and on to the Friendship Bridge you go! Next stop Myanmar! Remember that there is no Visa on Arrival for most nationalities in Myanmar, so you must obtain one before trying to enter the country (regardless of it it’s by air or overland).

Walking across the Friendship Bridge between Mae Sot (Thailand) and Myawaddy (Myanmar)
Walking across the Friendship Bridge between Mae Sot (Thailand) and Myawaddy (Myanmar)

The Moei River separates the Mae Sot district of Thailand and the town of Myawaddy in Myanmar. The river is crossed by using the Friendship Bridge, which was built in 1997 to ease diplomatic relations between the two countries (and to cut back on illegal immigration).

Everybody seems to walk across the bridge, but it is very busy with traffic, and I nearly got mowed down a few times early on (this is pretty normal in SE Asia, right?). Luckily for most of the walk, there is a proper pathway separated from the road – but keep an eye out for cyclists nonetheless! The notoriety of this border crossing is pretty cool, and you can see young Thais with their girlfriends and boyfriends on backpacking trips taking selfies as they cross the Friendship Bridge – just like international tourists do!

Myawaddy Border Control
Myawaddy Border Control

Upon arrival at the Myanmar Immigration desk, you will be prompted to fill in a form with some basic details, one detail of which is how you intend to leave the country after your designated time is up. If you are merely border hopping for the afternoon before returning to Thailand, then you cannot leave Myanmar apart from at the exit you wrote on your visa form. I have been informed that if you intend to travel around Myanmar and then return to Thailand overland at a later date, then you can leave Myanmar at any border (preferably further north at Tachileik).

I was surprised at just how friendly the Burmese people were here at Myawaddy border crossing. They were genuinely helpful towards me as a solo traveller who couldn’t speak a word of their language! In addition, I was not aware of any scams that operate at this border crossing, unlike some of the others in South East Asia, such as Aranyaprathet/Poipet between Thailand and Cambodia, or Voueng Kam/Dom Kralor between Laos and Cambodia. All things considered, I had a stress-free time at Mae Sot, and the hardest thing for me was actually safely negotiating the Friendship Bridge on a very stuffy and humid morning!

myawaddy5

Once clear of the immigration formalities, I discovered that life on the Myanmar side of the border is even more hectic than on the Thai side (yes, that is possible!). Even local Burmese and Thai people don’t seem to know what they are doing! It was a little worrying to think that Myanmar and Thailand also drive on opposite sides of the road so you have to get used to the change whether you are a driver or not (ah, so that’s why it gets so hectic across the bridge?!). Also remember that Myanmar is 30 minutes behind Thailand on the world clock, so adjust your watches accordingly and don’t get caught out if you’re going to catch a bus onwards to another town!

For travellers wishing to travel to Yangon, it will take around 10 hours by bus from Myawaddy once you’ve entered the country. I am aware of one bus that runs on this route, but it is not daily (every other day). The price is typically 9,000 Kyat per person. From Yangon, you then have the chance of undertaking the popular journey to the temples of Bagan.

Advertisements

15 thoughts on “Beyond Borders: Thailand to Myanmar overland

  1. I’ve just known that now we can enter Myanmar from Thailand by crossing the land border. And I think if I have enough time I would like to try to travel Myanmar overland with this route from Bangkok. But my concern is still the transportation in Myanmar, since it would different and maybe more unorganized as in Thailand. But still, it’s an interesting idea …

    Like

    1. You are correct that transport in Myanmar can often be unpredictable but I bet it is much better than you think! Tourism is booming in Myanmar at the moment, and especially to and from big cities (like Yangon to Bagan) you can buy tickets on overnight VIP luxury buses! 😀

      Regarding the route I highlighted in this article, it’s definitely doable for the adventurous! On a scale of 1-5, I’d say it’s a 3.5 in difficulty! People do much harder backpacking routes in Vietnam/Laos/Cambodia but these are tried and tested routes, so everybody feels more comfortable about trying them! In Myanmar’s case, it has only been truly “open” for tourism for a few years, so hopefully in the years to come, there won’t be so much apprehension when travelling there! 🙂

      Let me know if I can help you with any plans! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for your fast response. Well honestly I still clueless about Myanmar, but I have read about some interesting points to be visited and explore on it.

        And based on your map, it should be possible to do overland from Maesot/Myawaddy to Mt. Kyaiktiyo – Yangon – Bagan – Mandalay – Inle Lake and then exit via Tachileik/Mae Sai.

        I think I will need more advices if I’m going to do that someday.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. For me this is more interesting especially for a backpaker type. Yes they are not so organize compared to Thailand. But there are thousands of public transport; Express, Van and private transport; Van, Taxi, Motorbike (to Pha-an) joining many other cities. So transportation is not a concern in Myawaddy (the border city). And for the time limit you might have, those destinations will be quite enought for you to visit. Karen State and Mon State.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You cannot go over land to tachilek because travel is restricted between Inle lake and the border there, you can fly from heho though if you wanted to

    Like

  3. Good report but a couple of inaccuracies, which are important to point out in order not to mislead travelers.

    First of all, only 4 Thai-Myanmar land borders opened on Aug 28, 2013 and the borders with India and China require a permit. Although there is a bridge between Laos and Myanmar now, that crossing is shut with no indication of when it might open.

    Travelers are allowed to exit at ANY crossing after entering at Mae Sot/Myawady; it does not matter what you write on the passenger arrival card. It is not binding at all. Changing your mind later on is fine; no idea where you got the idea from that what you write on that flimsy piece of paper binds you to what you wrote on it. I’ve never heard anyone make that suggestion before and it’s simply not true.

    There is one caveat though. If you enter Myanmar on a one day pass, then you MUST return the same way you came. Immigration will give you a plastic card and hold your passport in the meantime, and you are restricted to a certain radius from the border. In such cases, there are no forms to fill out and the entry fee is US$10 or 500 Baht. Better pay in US$ as it’s cheaper.

    Day passes are used by expats and travelers wanting to renew their Thai visas or just for shopping. Being allowed to leave Thailand on a one day pass to Myanmar is at the discretion of Thai immigration, who nowadays do not allow visa runs for travelers not in possession of a multiple or re-entry visa. At their discretion, a one time visa run may be possible for travelers in possession of an outbound plane ticket.

    Haven’t seen very many Thai travelers travel to Myanmar – most of the time, couples embracing on the bridge and taking snaps are either western backpackers or Burmese couples. Thai overland tourists may increase in number as Myanmar attracts more interest from them. In the meantime, most Thais traveling to Myawady are traders and business people, rather than tourists.

    Like

    1. Thanks for the detailed information Tom. I will change the post in due course and rewrite the errors. Thanks for letting me know. Hopefully your updated info will help all travellers looking for advice on this route.

      Like

  4. Hi all,

    Im flying into Bkk from Heathrow on the 16th Feb 2017.
    leaving Bkk the next day by train to Kanchanaburi. site see then want to enter Myanmar from
    Htee Kee border and travel overland north through Myanmar
    I read they wont except Evisa at this border crossing?
    I read you can get a visa in BKK but i dont want to hang around and wait for it.
    What are my options? can i get a visa in london now that will allow me through the crossing?
    Many thanks Kev

    Like

    1. Hi Kevin. I am not sure about that border crossing and the visa situation there, although I did find this link for you of people who did the same journey from the other direction: http://www.travelinthemix.com/destinations/myanmar/border-crossing-myanmar-thailand/ . Also this link says that E-VISA cannot be issued at the Htee Khee border.

      You will need to get a Myanmar Visa in London before you travel, which is very easy to do. I did it myself most recently earlier this year, which I talked about here.

      I hope you have a great time in Myanmar – and make sure you check out the marvellous temples of Bagan at some point.

      Like

Tell me what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s