Myawaddy/Mae Sot Border Crossing
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Crossing the Myanmar/Thailand Border Overland
In the true spirit of slow travel, we’ve done something most Myanmar visitors don’t go for: an overland border crossing. It shouldn’t be that daunting, you think – and it isn’t really. Just very time intensive, involving a little bit of logistics. However, opting for an overland Myanmar/Thailand border crossing in lieu of flying might save you a lot of money and not cost you that much extra tim in the end. Besides, going into Thailand from Myanmar overland works great for those visiting the southern parts of Myanmar. Here’s our step by step report of how OUR trip went and, thus, what you might expect if you opt for this.
Myanmar/Thailand Land Borders for Tourists
Myanmar has been increasingly opening up to tourists in the recent decade, due to active efforts by the government to promote the country’s flagship destinations and harvesting the immense potential the country holds. Still, however, getting in and out isn’t as straightforward as, for instance, Thailand or Indonesia, where a simple visa on arrival might suffice for many nationals. First off, you’ve got to obtain an e-visa for Myanmar, for which you can apply here. And though there are several Myanmar/Thailand land border crossings, not all of them are as easy for entering Thailand, as they are for leaving it.
Myawaddy/Mae Sot Border Crossing: The Best Bet for Overland Entry
Unless you’ve got money to burn (or you booked way in advance and scored a good deal), using the Myawaddy/Mae Sot border crossing might be your go-to solution for keeping the costs down. That’s what we went for anyway. For context, we entered Myanmar via Mandalay airport, and continued down to Bagan and then Inle Lake. After that, the plan was to spend a day or two in Hpa-An – a plan which got derailed by flash floods. Just look at the state of our hotel!
Regardless of whether you stop in Hpa- An on the way (maybe you’re more lucky with the weather – and the region there looks lovely, to be fair!), Inle Lake to the border is the same route as Inle Lake to Hpa-An. In fact, you’d take the same bus to both. So, assuming you don’t stop anywhere on the way, here is the mission to cross the Myanmar/Thailand land border, broken down into steps:
Get on a Long-Distance bus to Myawaddy
If you’ve travelled around southeast Asia already, you might know that long-distance buses are a thing. Sometimes a good thing, sometimes not so good. In Myanmar, covering lots of miles by bus is common for both tourists and the Burmese locals alike, and the buses generally offer a good standard. To get into Myawaddy, you won’t be spoiled for choice with the selection of bus companies. Additionally, JJ Express, the go-to VIP class bus known among many backpackers, doesn’t offer a route to Myawaddy, as of 2018, with Yangon being the only option for traveling south from Bagan or Inle Lake. We went with the Golden Shuttle (Shwe Loon Pyan), leaving at 4:30 pm, scheduled arrival at the border at around 9 am the next day. In terms of comfort, you can expect cushioned seat, a free bottle of water, a fruit drink and a small snack, and a blanket, in addition to being able to watch Burmese love songs on the bus TV. The seats recline to about a 45-degree angle, and there is a footrest. However, tall people might struggle a bit with the leg room: I’m short and even I had issues with where to place my feet vs my knees, once reclined.
Getting the tickets is pretty straightforward: shop around the ticket kiosks in town and/or check with your accommodation hosts. We paid 27,000 kyat to Hpa-An, but the going rate to travel all the way to the border was 32,000 kyat, as of August 2018. You won’t find much price variation – we’ve played the ‘best deal’ game, that there were no wild deviations. The bus should take roughly 15 hours, during which you’ll make several bathroom breaks, as well as 2 longer breaks (dinner and breakfast). However, some roads in Myanmar can be problematic during rain season, and you might get stuck in a giant jam (a friend had a 10-hour delay on a part of this route that should have taken 2 hours).
Arriving at Myawaddy Border Crossing
Once you get to the Myawaddy/Mae Sot crossing, it’s pretty straightforward. The border consists of a giant gate flanked by emigration booths, followed by a bridge. The bus will drop you off pretty much in front of the gate – you’ll have to walk just a few meters.
Crossing from Myanmar to Thailand overland, you’ve got to go through a handful of simple steps – the first of which is ‘checking out’ of Myanmar. When you enter the country, you’ll be asked to fill out an arrival card. Conversely, when leaving, you’ll have to fill out a departure card. This you’ll do at the Burmese emigration kiosk, located at the left-hand side of the ‘gate’. In addition to the filled out form, you’ll be asked to show your e-visa confirmation as well as your passport, and you’ll get your picture taken via the officer’s webcam. Stamp, stamp, and done!
After you step out of the emigration office, you’ll turn left and cross the border bridge on foot. It’s about a 3-5 minute walk. On the other side, you’ll need to enter Thailand. Fill out an entry form and present your passport (provided you’re a national of one of the countries that can enter Thailand visa-free). You’ve arrived in Thailand!
After going through the Myawaddy/Mae Sot border crossing
You might be in Thailand, but chances are you’re not looking to hang out right there at the border, so connecting transit is needed. This is where things might get a bit tricky. You’ll have a choice of songthaews (public ‘taxis’, which are basically small trucks with 2 benches in the back that work as shuttles), and motorbike taxis. We’ve seen posters for ‘normal’ taxis but haven’t seen one near the border, and, upon inquiry at some of the surrounding cafes, we were only directed towards the songthaew shuttles.
Now, this might depend on the time of arrival, but it seems that the shuttles only operate routes/destinations that are convenient for them at a particular time. Meaning, if you and, say, 8 other people show up, wanting to go to the same area of Mae Sot, you might have yourself a ride – which may be likely if you get off of the long-distance bus along with a bunch of other tourists. However, if you somehow alter your route (as we did, since we stopped in Hpa-An), you might have to work with a shuttle dropping you off at some general location in the city – most likely the market. This should cost you 20 baht per person. Be warned that there are not that many metered taxis in Mae Sot proper, so look for bigger taxi parking lots (for instance at the Tesco Lotus shopping mall) to find your next ride, or hail a tuk tuk if your hotel is not within walking distance.
Organizing onward travel
Since Mae Sot is a highly frequented point of entry, there’s a variety of routes you can use for transit to other parts of Thailand. However, I’d advise you to not book any tickets for your onward journey for the same day as the crossing – as mentioned, traffic jams and delays are very common on the Burmese side. Book a night in Mae Sot, get some rest after the bumpy bus ride and start your next travel fresh.
If your next stop is Chiang Mai, the most convenient is the direct connection via Green Bus, leaving daily at 6 am and 10 am. Tickets can be booked online – however, you’ll need a Thai phone number to complete the booking (we did this with the help of some very accommodating 7-Eleven staff). Catch the bus from the Green Bus office on road n. 12, along the north side of the city, or from the bus terminal on the side of the airport. These buses are fairly spacious and with lots of leg room. You’ll get water and a snack and can expect a pit stop or two along the way. Also, the Mae Sot – Chiang Mai road is a proper one, whew!
Though we didn’t explore any other routes out of Mae Sot, you can reach Bangkok and the south of Thailand easily as well. Look for bus or train or a combination of bus/train and boat tickets, in case you’re headed to the Andaman Coast, or to Koh Thao or Koh Phangan, as well as Koh Samui.
Myanmar/Thailand border crossing tips
So there you have it – as easy as 1, 2, 3, though arguably a LOT longer. To wrap it up, here are some border crossing tips to summmarize our experiences.
- Organize your bus to the border in advance
- Dress comfortably and prepare for possible delays
- Leave a buffer before any onward travel within Thailand
- Have your Burmese e-visa for emigration puproses
- Have a pen ready for filling out departure and arrival forms
- Get small bills for shuttle to Mae Sot (20 baht)
Write-ups of our experiences in Myanmar are coming up, so watch this space!